The shocking incident, in which leading Indian environmental activist Sunita Narain was seriously injured after being hit by a car while cycling in New Delhi, has raised several questions about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the country. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based and highly respected public advocacy organization for sustainable development, headed by Ms Narain, five people are killed and at least 18 more injured every day in road accidents in the national capital of New Delhi. The statistics are part of the road accident data for 2012 released by India’s Road Transport and Highways Ministry.
“It is shocking that every hour one person is either killed or injured in road accidents in Delhi. This adds to the disability related public health burden of the city enormously,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s Executive Director (Research and Advocacy). In a press statement issued on the day Ms Narain was discharged from hospital after eleven days of treatment, CSE said it was also an occasion to send out a grim reminder that the road and urban design of Indian cities is also responsible for the increasing accident risk.
Ms Roychowdhury says it is ironical that while cars and two-wheelers are taking over roads, the city is not noticing the staggering number of walkers and cyclists who form a majority in the city. Figures released by CSE show that while the total number of daily car trips in Delhi is about three million, that of walking and cycling is eight million – 2.5 times more. Cycling trips at 2.8 million are almost equal to car trips.
However, Delhi’s roads are designed for motor vehicles, building little infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Experts say that the urban road designs, which are weighed heavily in favour of motor vehicles, force people to shift to personal vehicles, further increasing vehicle congestion and pollution.
According to transportation specialist Anil Chikkara, building infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians can actually reduce congestion on the roads. “The travel demands of as much as 60 per cent of the Delhi commuters are less than 5 km and therefore they walk or use cycles,” says Mr Chikkara, who was head of traffic operations of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “We, however, overlook this important segment,” he adds.
Mr Chikkara, a Regional Transport Officer with the Delhi government’s transport department, says if Delhi is able to increase the total demand on public transport by winning personal car users, the right infrastructure can be created for pedestrians and cyclists as broader roads won’t be required when a sizeable number of cars disappear from the streets.
“Delhi also needs pedestrian-friendly skywalks like in Mumbai or Hong Kong and Tokyo, which will help people walk distances up to 2km with ease,” says Mr Chikkara, who has published several books and papers on traffic regulations, enforcement and technology issues
by Faizal Khan