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Walker whines

January 29, 2012

A recent article written by a friend on ‘walkability’ in Chennai was the voice in my head. Life for a public transport aficionado in this city can be tough, even if you resign yourself to the general harshness of everyday life in Chennai (the heat and the traffic, for instance). Now, difficulties seem even more pronounced after spending the last several months in what is probably pedestrian capital of the world, New York City. Most days, I am just glad to be home alive with only a battle wound or two to show for the day’s commute.

Getting to work every morning is nothing short of an ordeal. My bus ride from K K Nagar to CLRI-Madhya Kailash sometimes lasts up to an hour, almost always spent standing all the way, and that’s the easiest part. Crossing the road from the CLRI side to Madhya Kailash, and then across to the Kasturibai Nagar station usually means 20 minutes of waiting and darting across in the few seconds that the traffic policeman allows you. A five minute ride in a share-auto-spilling-people later, I am standing opposite Tidel Park with thumping heart, wondering if I am going to get to work alive. Minor gap in the traffic caused by exactly two vehicles speeding at less than 70 kilometres per hour, and I run across and climb atop the median, counting my stars – halfway intact. Except, there are at least 5 IT employees who have done the same, and we are all now competing for space on that narrow median. It only takes one to mildly nudge another out, for someone to be mowed down by the relentless speeding traffic. Another minor gap, and we all leap off and run across, feeling like marathoners at the finish line. We’ve made it.

Now for the actual data (Thank you, Google Earth).  The stretch from the Madhya Kailash signal on Sardar Patel Road to the Tidel Park signal on Rajiv Gandhi IT Expressway is a little over two kilometers long. Along this whole stretch, there are only three foot overbridges to get across to the other side – one each at either end, and one in between somewhere, over 700 metres from the nearer one. Admittedly, these three foot overbridges are located at the three train stations on the corridor – Kasturibai Nagar, Indira Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur. But what about people who use the bus stops, which can be up to 300 metres from each of these bridges? What about the people who take share autos to go to the innumerable research institutions and IT parks on the other side? The gaps in the vegetation on the median where these people cross the road, are a very telling picture of the negligence of people’s needs.

To put it in a clichéd nutshell, workplaces on the IT corridor are inaccessible for public transport users. When the stated goal of the country’s transport policy is to encourage public transport use, why are pedestrians so grossly ignored? Even an ‘expressway’ – deserves a few pedestrian crossings, signalized perhaps, or at least subways that don’t hinder speed.

My world needs more safety for pedestrians and public transport users. I am sure much of Chennai agrees with me.

- Priti Narayan, Research Analyst