Straphangers United participated in the well-attended Chennai Walk-a-Thon organised by Walking Classes Unite on September 21, and lent fraternal support to the citizen body’s demand to reclaim space for walkers.
The walk drew people from various walks of life, such as office-goers, construction workers, retirees, spastic children, their parents, academicians and journalists. The overwhelming message from the walkers, who wore sky-blue headbands and held placards aloft, was that politicians, bureaucrats and the police can no longer ignore the demand for equitable walking space as a matter of right.
BBC News gave a curtain raiser for the event, indicating the seriousness of the problem and the failure of the Chennai administration. The major newspapers The Hindu , the Times of India and News Today reported on the walk with photos, and we made this one minute video to give a glimpse of the spirit of the event.
On behalf of Straphangers United, the author of this post spoke to Venkat, organiser of the walk-a-thon expressing wholehearted support for the egalitarian agenda. The area chosen for the walk from the Labour Statue on the Marina to the Foreshore Estate Housing Complex is among the relatively better pedestrian spaces available in Chennai today. It is our view that such walks should be organised in the worst locales, to highlight the plight of the pedestrians.
Also, walking events could be held every month to encompass the bus termini of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation which are hazardous and unapproachable in the absence of clear pathways, the stations of the suburban railway and MRTS, and important institutions. This would be only a symbolic gesture, as all roads should ultimately become sane and civilised enough.
If you are interested in pursuing this agenda for Chennai, Walking Classes Unite has offered to run a series of programmes in your neighbourhood.
- organising a road audit or an area audit
- conducting outreach or public awareness programmes in schools, colleges, resident welfare associations and so on
- organising a photo exhibition on the state of the pedestrian with photos supplied by WCU
- launching collective efforts to end violations of public spaces in the city
We urge WCU to publish its audits done so far on select roads on its blog for the benefit of the public at large. Although media has covered some of the audits, the reports are sketchy at best. We need detailed information on how many obstacles — power transformers, junction boxes, lamp posts, display boards by Police and other agencies and so on — are encountered.
The literature distributed by WCU at the walk-a-thon was commendably focused on rights of marginalised road users — pedestrians, bicyclists and riders on public transport. The point was also made, which we have highlighted as well all along, that millions are spent on flyovers and road widening, but hardly any funds have been devoted to facilities for people.
By prioritising huge encroaching commercial structures over livelihood concerns of vendors, the Chennai Corporation, CMDA and the Police have ensured that neither vendors nor pedestrians can use the footpaths. Only corrupt officials appear to be the beneficiaries in the bargain. Integration of walking and hawking spaces is the need of the hour, in a mutually beneficial design.
WCU could make a difference here by publishing on its blog, the full report of the Justice Kanagaraj Committee on street vending.
Lastly, Straphangers United welcomes the editorial “Navigating the City Streets” in the New Indian Express today, describing the insane character of cities and towns in the country today, and the marginalisation of the pedestrian. We would like to add that the majority of road users have been affected not by the lack of development, but by the lopsided development resulting from neo-liberal economic policies — starting with unprecedented rise in automobile numbers.
We hope such strong criticism brings about the realisation in the Urban Development Ministry and the State Governments, not to speak of civic agencies, to turn a new leaf.
The invitation post from WCU for the September 21 walk is here.