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Paving the way

We had a successful community design workshop in Nanganallur in July 2013, where nearly 50 residents of the community participated in the hands-on exercise to design an ideal street in their neighbourhood. Following the workshop, we assimilated the ideas the community had given us and using that information, I started the process of final designs for the surveyed roads. Besides using the feedback and suggestions given to me by the community, I also incorporated the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) standards for footpaths into the final designs. First, the base plan was put together from information collected during the surveys. This information included all the basic physical entities of the roads like the lengths, widths of footpaths, property entrances, parking areas, compound wall heights of the abutting building etc. The design has been represented through plans as well as cross-sections to create a better understanding. Plans give an overview of where the proposed parking slots are and the cross-section shows the pedestrian zones which are explained below.

While approaching the design of these footpaths, I kept in mind that, generally, good pavements are divided into three zones, as shown in Graph 1. The adjoining land-use of the roads dictated the widths of the three zones.

  • Frontage zone: This is the area abutting the property line and is mostly provided for commercial areas where commercial activities spill over. The width of the frontage zone varies based on the density and character of the commercial activity, and can be avoided in a completely residential zone.
  • Pedestrian zone: This is where pedestrians enjoy an obstruction-free and unhindered walk. The minimum width of the pedestrian zone is 1.2m in a completely residential zone and can be up to 3m in a high commercial zone.
  • Furniture zone: This zone is adjacent to the road and forms a buffer between the pedestrian zone and vehicular traffic. It accommodates all the utilities like lamp posts, telephone boxes, trees, street furniture, electric poles etc. and also vendors. The widths vary from 0.5 to 1.5m.

Figure 1: Sketch showing the cross section of 6th main road, Nanganallur

Some important aspects that had to be kept in mind during the design process included:

  • In residential areas, the property entrances are provided with access ramps that slope from the pedestrian zone to the road lane. This prevents frequent breaks in the walkway, giving users an uninterrupted walkway.

Figure 2: Cross-section of Station road showing a completely residential area with a ramp at the property entrance

  • Nanganallur has many schools and hence pedestrian traffic is more outside the schools. In response to this, the footpaths adjacent to school campuses are designed to be wide. They have bollards that act as barriers and prevents children from stepping into the roads.
  • Vendors are accommodated within the furniture zone and are allocated space according to the areas identified from the survey. The design allows for vending space without disturbing the movement of pedestrians.
  • Two-way traffic lanes are separated by a median. This acts as a buffer between opposing traffic, provides refuge to pedestrians crossing the road and also allows for rain water to percolate into the water table below.
  • The lane width measures about 3.5m minimum from the edge of the median.
  • The lamp posts are placed along the furniture zone at regular intervals. Two-way posts are recommended to light both the footpath and the road.
  • Stretches of road that do not have shade will get shade-providing trees planted at regular intervals.
  • Parallel parking is provided at places along the length of the road. This space is carved out of the furniture zone so that the parking poses no hindrance to the flow of pedestrians or traffic. Metered parking will ensure that cars use this parking for short durations.

Figure 3: Plan showing the proposed parking area, furniture zone, property line and the ramp to the property

  • Water drains are provided along the furniture zone. We recommend that the Corporation builds storm water drains and service ducts directly below the furniture zone to avoid disruption at the time of maintenance.

In the coming weeks we will submit an implementation plan to Corporation officials and work with them to create better pedestrian infrastructure for the residents of Nanganallur.

Written by Lalitha Selvarajan, researcher, Transparent Chennai
Sketches by Lalitha Selvarajan

Interpreting the informality of public roads and footpaths

In a recent blog, Ranjeet Joseph had described the efforts the Walkability team is making to create awareness about an inclusive street design, which is gender sensitive and where pedestrians, street vendors and other users share the space equitably. Vendors are often perceived as encroachers of essential public space by the authorities. Corporation of Chennai officials argue that widening footpaths will encourage informal markets to thrive on them, reducing the space available for pedestrians. Intuitively, spaces that have high pedestrian traffic, such as transport hubs, places of worship and institutions, tend to attract street vendors. However, it would be inaccurate to say that vendors are the only ones who encroach footpaths. Shops adjoining footpaths often extend their displays to footpaths, private vehicles park on footpaths, all jostling against telephone pillar boxes, electricity transformers, hoardings, and autorickshaw stands. Storm water drains, which are meant to be covered and designed to double up as footpaths, are left uncovered for large stretches. Yet, street vendors, an important part of creating a shared public ethos, typically face the ire of disgruntled pedestrians and planning officials.

In the past, cities in India were planned to include pedestrians and vendors, and had thoroughfares and public squares which catered to the commercial and social needs of the people. The informal bazaars on the streets of the Fort area in Mumbai, old Hyderabad and the planned city of Jaipur remain examples of inclusive planning which is not practised in modern days. But Indian cities are not the only ones which are the battling grounds between pedestrians and vendors, and it is obvious that what we need is a combination of regulation and enforcement, along with an approach to planning which is inclusive of the different uses of streets.

Image 1: Mumbai’s pedestrianised shopping zones

Image 2: Pedestrian lanes abut shop fronts in Jaipur

The multi-faceted use of streets, a measure of vibrancy, is often misunderstood as chaos and will remain so unless authorities plan for the unplanned. Fortunately, the parliament recently approved the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012, which aims to protect street vendors’ rights to livelihoods, mandates local authorities to restructure the road and pedestrian space to accommodate vendors. However, legislations need to be accompanied by planning, regulation and enforcement.

A lot has been reported about the deteriorating and diminishing footpaths, but the question of prioritising people over motor vehicles remains neglected. Thirteen percent of Chennai’s land is used for roads, not all of them have footpaths. But this space is still insufficient for the number of vehicles in the city, something that is not regulated. Footpaths are reduced in the course of widening roads and building flyovers, and existing fixtures such as utility boxes and hoardings occupy much of the remaining space, forcing pedestrians to walk on the carriageway thus putting their lives at risk and also slowing down traffic. As a result, pedestrians are the worst affected in road accidents, as reflected in the data collected and maintained by the Chennai City Traffic Police. Rather than increase the number and space for roads, the government needs to discourage people from buying more private vehicles and improve the public transport network and facilities.

The city also needs a stringent parking policy to control unauthorised street parking that results from the non-adherence of parking norms by builders. Buildings not only encroach road and footpath space, but also do not adequately cater to the need for parking within the premises. On-street parking takes away anywhere between 15 and 60 percent portion of the road width. In addition, the parking charges in the city are illogically low and cannot be equated to the rental value of the surrounding real estate. Why should the government subsidise crucial public space for parking?

The Corporation of Chennai should also designate space to approved autorickshaw unions and public utility infrastructure, something that would require the local authority to coordinate with other public agencies that install or regulate these services. Utility boxes, transformers and street lamps should be organised such that they are not obstacles for pedestrian movement. Local officials are not able to prevent encroachments by other public agencies either, or enforce legal orders such as the Supreme Court’s ban on shrines and statues on public roads. They should also designate space for pandhals or tents during festivals so that they do not become obstructions to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. If we could resolve these recurring problems, the restructuring of roads and maintenance of footpaths would occur efficiently and smoothly.

Instead, the inadequate footpath space places pedestrians in direct conflict with vendors. Vendors are an important part of the informal market economy of any city and pedestrians are also consumers, which is why vendors are there in the first place. Unfortunately, inadequate attention has been paid to incorporate informal economic activities into official planning processes, and vendors have been marginalised by existing policies, which have tended to be elitist and exclusive to certain kinds of uses. They lack adequate access to formal markets and jobs, and also find it difficult to obtain vending licenses and space in the city. Often the only idea proposed and implemented has been multi-storeyed retail spaces, which is at complete conflict with the needs and rationale of street vending.

We have been involved with the design of the footpath along 4th Avenue in Anna Nagar, where both authorities and residents questioned the widening of footpath because they believe that it would encourage vending and result in encroachment. While we were able to convince the contractor and officials from the Corporation about the need to widen the footpath as per design, it has been an uphill task to get local residents to participate in multi-stakeholder meetings. Vendors have as much a right to the city as pedestrians, and the symbiotic relation between pedestrians and street vendors needs to be brought to the fore when creating safe and inclusive public spaces.

Written by Roshan Toshniwal, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Meeting with residents of KK Nagar to discuss pedestrian infrastructure

On August 4th, Transparent Chennai held its first community meeting in KK Nagar to bring the residents of the locality together advocate for improvements of pedestrian infrastructure in KK Nagar. About 25 residents from the community including the ward councillor, resident welfare association members and other residents participated in the meeting. Prior to this meeting, we had worked with a few residents to survey the quality of footpaths but less than ten had participated. The poor response from the residents prompted us to organise a community meeting to elaborate the walkability project, create an awareness about the importance of pedestrian infrastructure, its condition in their neighbourhood and demand for change.

Image 1: Starting the meeting with a description of Transparent Chennai and the Walkability project

The one hour session was organised with two objectives in mind. First, we wanted to create awareness about pedestrian infrastructure and participatory planning. Second, we wanted to conduct an activity that would stimulate them to differentiate between good and poor pedestrian infrastructure. We started by explaining who Transparent Chennai is and does and described the walkability project in detail. We briefly took them through the methodology and the process involved in the project starting with community outreach, surveys, mapping and data collection to digitisation and analysis. We also elucidated the steps of conducting design workshops, finalising designs and drawing up an implementation plan. The final step in the process is to follow up with the appropriate people responsible for the implementation and hold them accountable. We illustrated the Nanganallur experience, which has received an incredible response from the residents and is in the design finalisation stage. The residents were enthralled about the Nanganallur project and were inspired to make it work in KK Nagar as well.

We also briefed the residents about the various components in the footpath design, how we envisage the project from the point of view of equality in public space and good pedestrian infrastructure, and how we work with local elected representatives to provide leadership for the change.

The ward councillor, who has shown keen interest in pedestrian infrastructure in the past, addressed the group about the importance of footpaths and how there are conflicting uses of that space. He also pointed out how the footpaths of 2 feet wide on each side of the interior roads act only as a place for planting trees. As a result, people tend to park their vehicles next to them and block the movement of vehicles. One suggestion he made was to have railings along the footpaths to ensure safe walking to the pedestrians. The residents agreed with most of the points and appreciated the councillor for participating in the meeting.

Image 2: The ward councillor addresses the meeting

The second half of the meeting was an activity which had residents look at images of pedestrian infrastructure from around the world. They were given stickers of two colours: red and black and asked to place the red ones beside images they liked and black for those they didn’t. This exercise was to compel them to look at various features of footpaths and differentiate between good and bad designs. The residents participated actively and enthusiastically and promised that they would get involved and help us in getting more people for the next stage which is surveying of the streets in KK Nagar.

Image 3: Participants evaluating images of pedestrian infrastructure from around the world

The lively session got the residents to interact and made them think about the various issues that affect pedestrians. By creating awareness about the importance of footpaths among the residents of KK Nagar, this community meeting made it easier to overcome the initial scepticism about the project and helped pave the way for future endeavours in the neighbourhood. We look forward to the next stage of the walkability project in KK Nagar and to working with the councillor and residents.

Written by Lalitha Selvarajan, researcher, Transparent Chennai
Photographs by Ranjeet Joseph, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Learning from past mistakes

1. An article in Hindu looks at Chennai’s increasing traffic woes and the response to this problem:

Building more and more flyovers can help ease traffic congestion only in the short run. Various studies have shown that flyovers actually increase congestion and the total number of  automobile trips made per day, in the longer run.

2. As new bicycle lanes appear in New York city, people complain about the loss of parking space and constricted traffic:

3. Worried about the increasing air pollution, France looks at alternate ways of reducing it: boat transport, eco friendly bicycles, strengthening public transport:

4. Government plans to restrict private cars in Dhaka to reduce traffic jam:


Why are we the only ones looking at building flyovers at a time when the rest of the world is propagating environment and people friendly solutions? Why would we go for solutions that have actually failed in the past?

Somya Sethuraman