Can the middle classes be stirred to assert pedestrian rights?


The narrow footpath suddenly terminates in a power transformer structure, creating an inviting public toilet for some
College Road, Nungambakkam: The narrow footpath suddenly terminates in a power transformer structure, creating an inviting 'corner' public toilet for some

This morning’s papers carry prominent reports about an initiative by Walking Classes Unite (WCU) to report on the state of Chennai when it comes to pedestrian access. This is no doubt a fine initiative that will hopefully achieve traction and persuade our political masters that collective action by the biggest class of road users is finally a reality.


The report in The Hindu on the pedestrian audit done by WCU is here, but the Times of India does not have today’s story online. A related story in the Times is here.

The Hindu report does mention that WCU has spoken of the needs of public transport users along with pedestrians and cyclists. We welcome this emphasis and would like to point out that pedestrianisation is an integral component of public transport use, as many discussions have highlighted. It is therefore imperative to strengthen both, to make a quantum leap from a rights perspective.

In fact, we would like to take the discussion one step further by pointing out that pedestrians, cyclists and riders on public transport are participants in a multi-disciplinary endeavour that spans such concerns as public health, pollution mitigation and climate change.

As we have pointed out many times in the past, there is documented, researched and published evidence on the link between walking to public transport (or transit, as they say in America) and good health. Ironically, in general, all walking except in a limited, faddish, cosmetic sense, and use of public transport are looked down upon by our political class, and even by many sections of our middle classes.

Car ownership, sedentary lifestyles and junk food have for a long time now been implicated in health crises in the West, particularly in the United States. It is condemnable, that our politicians, bureaucrats, police officers and influential industrialists are pushing that vision for the middle classes today as a marker for success.

It is therefore imperative that our activists understand the sinister underpinnings of public policy today, that privileges the automobile culture over pedestrian, health-oriented and open air lifestyles.

We are glad that WCU has taken the initiative to organise the pedestrians into a rallying group that will go on a walk along the Marina from Labour Statue to Foreshore Estate on Sunday, September 21, to underscore the inalienable rights of pedestrians. It would be pointless to get politicians to participate in such an exercise, although mass participation in the event will send out the message that pedestrians are now rolling up their sleeves for the big fight, and the first of the blows that they will deliver will be in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

It would therefore be good to put out the demand that all road projects in Chennai must compulsorily have a pedestrian component, consisting of demarcated, encroachment-free footpaths, where only compatible activity such as regulated hawking is possible. Ill-planned public facilities including transformers, power junction boxes, traffic sign posts and so on have no place here.

Equally important, the political agenda should include a consistent pursuit of subways as integral part of any overbridge projects. We need pedestrian access that is “always open” in the form of accessible subways that are as good for able-bodies as for those with disabilities.

The challenge is really to participate in the Walk-a-Thon on Sunday and send out the message. Here is the post from WCU on the event.


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