Enjoy Your Trip
Many Indians who have been to the US or Europe tell me that the first thing that strikes them is the lack of people on the street. Everyone seems to be in a vehicle, with relatively few pedestrians about. And I think I know what they mean. City centre streets can be packed with shoppers or employees making their way to work, but away from this area, and certainly compared to India, there is a lack of people. People are everywhere in India. More people go by foot and, in stark contrast to many European cities, give the place a lived-in feel.
European pedestrians are very fortunate. They compete with less people for more space, sometimes having access to wide, smooth and obstacle-free pavements. There are laws to prevent businesses from obstructing the pavements with advertising boards and parked vehicles from intruding.
Compare this with the unfortunate Indian pedestrian. “Pavements” in towns may consist of paving stones (or gravel, or sand), interrupted by covered manholes that protrude vertically by at least 10 centimeters. Or there are holes covered with a slab of concrete. Or the paving is so uneven that it will cause serious injury to anyone who stubs their toe and trips (probably into an uncovered manhole).
Indian pavements can seriously damage your health. Pavements are so cluttered with protruding manholes and advertising hoardings strategically placed to cause maximum inconvenience that the poor old pedestrian is often relegated to walk in the road.
Of course, this assumes that pavements exist in the first place. Very often, they don’t. Why walk on a nice pavement, when you can put yourself in danger of serious injury by walking in the road, adjacent to motorized vehicles of every description? It must save city authorities a lot of money by not having to provide superfluous things like pavements.
I have lost count of the amount of times that I’ve avoided serious injury by walking along the road in India. Having been forced onto the side of the road, it would help to have four pairs of eyes in the front, side and back of the head. There’s no guarantee on a one-way section that vehicles go only in one direction. I have learnt to look in all directions as bicycles and mopeds tend to appear from nowhere, driving on the wrong side of the road. When I look at them after they have missed me by a millimetre, their attitude is that it’s all really my fault for being in the way. So after having been forced into the road, I’m now being forced from the road. The pedestrian is an inconvenience to traffic and city planners alike!
The more pedestrians there are, then, the more that people get pushed toward the middle of the road. And the more they are pushed to the middle of the road, the more likely it is that they risk being mowed down. Of course there is a simple solution to all of this. Give pedestrians those four pairs of eyes, which may turn out to be rather difficult, or quite simply build more and more flyovers and wider roads with ever-diminishing pavement space. Problem solved. Force people from venturing out on foot and do away with the pedestrian altogether. Just imagine a pedestrian-free world, with flyover upon flyover, from Mumbai to Milan. It’s worked in Europe, and it’s beginning to work here.
Colin Todhunter writes for the New Sunday Express in India and is the author of Chasing Rainbows in Chennai.