Friday 30 August 2013

Deaths on the footpaths

Bangalore is rather very liberal in giving a permanent send off to the people who walk its streets. On an average, it sends at least one person to Yama Loka every year and there seems to be no let up in this dubious statistic.
Hundreds of pedestrians are killed and thousands injured in Bangalore and this annual dance of death and injury continues unabated even as the road length remains the same, the footpath shrinks and the vehicle population shoots up.
At least 50 per cent of the accidents are on thirteen roads which have been identified by the Bangalore Traffic Police. Unfortunately, all the preventive steps they have taken seems not to have paid full dividends as rash and negligent driving, reckless attitude of  drivers and casual walking by pedestrians seem to fuel the deaths.
Of the 800-plus deaths that occur on the roads of Bangalore every year and 10,000 injuries, about 450-500 fatalities are of pedestrians. The number is likely to increase in the future, because of the indifference of the powers-that-are.
What is more shocking is that the number of those suffering minor injuries is around 40,000 to 50,000 people. OF them, six per cent of fatal and 15 per cent of non-fatal pedestrian injuries occurred in children below 15 years. Added to this, 51 per cent of those killed and 58 per cent of injured were in the age group of 16-45 years. Women were involved more in extremes of age groups with the elderly contributing to 17 per cent of pedestrian deaths and 10 per cent of non-fatal injuries.
Studies by the Bangalore Traffic Police and NIMHANS have shown that a majority of the pedestrians killed were those with lesser education and they belonged to moderate income levels. While 24 per cent of pedestrian deaths occurred at the site of accidents, 21 per cent of them died enroute hospital.
The surveys found that pedestrian deaths is higher in the outer areas of the city and in the suburbs while injuries were more in the central parts of Bangalore.
With the footpaths being encroached and frequently being dug up,  pedestrians were either forced to walk on the roads or walk on their edges. They had to regularly navigate or get around illegal mini gardens, badly installed streetlights, huge transformers, insensitive hawkers and awkwardly built bus shelters.
It is generally believed that for any progressive city, footpaths should not be less than 18 per cent of the roads where as at present it is only 12.25 per cent.
Adding to these woes is the footpaths being cut down to make way for more road space: signages and hoardings coming up, shops and business establishments encroaching on foothpaths and schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics using them to park vehicles.  
What worsens matters is the failure of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) to have a proper road and footpath policy. BBMP records 5600 kilometres of roads but it has no exact figure of footpaths.
The footpaths are paved by a variety of cobble stones, granite, slabs and even mud. The average width of a footpath in the city is anywhere between 0.5 and 1 metre, thus jeopardising the pedestrians’ right to sidewalks.
On roads like KG Road and Commercial Street, the walkers’ space should be above 2.5 metres. It is just a little more than half.
The traffic police too add to the woes of the pedestrians by failing to regulate parking on footpaths. A majority of the footpaths lack guard rails and this makes it easy for a pedestrian to jaywalk or for a vehicle driver to drive on the pavement.
There have been many studies on roads and foothpaths of Bangalore but one of the best is by the Union Urban Ministry’s national study two years ago of major cities including Bangalore. The study placed Bangalore 12th among the 30 sampled cities on the ‘walkability index.’
The walkability index is calculated as (W1 x availability) + (W2 x facility rating). Here, W1 and W2 are parametric weights, assumed as 50% for both. The availability is the footpath length/ length of major roads in the city and facility rating is the score based on the opinion on available pedestrian facilities. A higher index reflects better pedestrian facilities in the city concerned.

It estimated that 16 per cent to 58 per cent trips by citizens in Indian cities are made on foot. Yet, there is no balanced and proper approach to provide pedestrian infrastructure, amenities and services. None of them figure during the urban planning process. What is shocking here is that cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad ranked higher than Bangalore on the index.
A higher index reflects better pedestrian facilities and Bangalore has 0.63 as the index. Chandigarh, with 0.91, topped the list of sampled cities. The average index for all the cities stood at 0.52.
The problem in Bangalore is that there are eight major stakeholders, including the BBMP, BDA, BESCOM, BWSSB and others and all of them seem more than eager to keep on digging road sand footpaths year after year. None seems to know what the other is doing.
By the way, the Indian Code for the Pedestrian Facilities — IRC 103-1988, recommends that: There should be a footpath on both sides of the road and that the minimum width on both sides should be of 1.5 meters  The Level of Service (LOS) concept dictates the maximum width dead width should be  0.5 metres and 1 metres to be added to sidewalk along houses and commercial areas. It says footpath width has to be increased in cases of bus stops and recreational areas. It also says that the height of footpath should to be above the carriageway supported by an un-mountable kerb.
But what do we have in Bangalore.
There are no footpaths on several roads. Check out the Lavelle Road or the junction of Nruputunga Road with Hudson Circle. Wherever there are, a majority of those are less than one metre for example the Lalbagh road connecting Double Road to Richmond Circle. Gardens are grown by house owners on footpaths and this can be seen in many parts of Jayanagar, Sadashivanagar and JP Nagar. Vehicles owners use footpaths for parking bikes and cars and this is so common that all localities have this free facility.  All kinds of public utilities like bus stops and electric poles are located on footpaths.  While shopkeepers block the way for pedestrians by placing display boards, hundreds of darshinis (fast food joints) place tables on the pavements. Public toilets are constructed on pavements and this includes even the Sulabh toilets. Check out the one in front of Siddapura Gate opposite Lalbagh. There are no guard rails on most of the pavements. In some areas, pavements and roads are at the same level.  Pavements are used to store construction material like sand, bricks and steel and this is so regular that all areas and all pavements can be cited as examples.
With Bangalore’s population crossing the one crore mark and the number of vehicles touching half a crore, pedestrians continue to be killed and last year Bangalore reported 565 road accident during the first nine months of the year. Nearly half the victims of road rage were pedestrians and this data is by none else but by the  Bangalore Traffic Police.
The police cite  uneven and insufficient footpaths, unsafe pedestrian crossings, poorly lit roads and pedestrians’ ignorance as the major causes of all pedestrian deaths.
So what has it done to the pedestrians.
In the last few years, it has claimed half of the total road accident deaths in Bangalore. In 2007, 518 pedestrians were killed and this was followed by 455 deaths in 2008, 365 in 2009, 400 in 2010 and 337 in 2011.
The police themselves have identified some of the major accident spots leading to pedestrian deaths. These roads are Tumkur Road (between Goruguntepalya and 8th Mile) and Hosur Road (between Garvebhavipalya and Electronics City), both below the elevated highway.
Mysore Road has been in a state of disrepair for over four years and the stretch of road between Muslim Burial Ground and Nayandahalli Junction does not have a footpath, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road. The result: Pedestrian deaths.
This does not mean that pedestrian deaths does not occur in other roads. Almost all roads are death traps for pedestrians and walking on roads or trying to cross them, especially during peak hours, means risking one’s life. In 2012, one  person was killed every day while walking or trying to cross the road.
A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) said that every fifth casualty admission at the institute was an injured pedestrian. Besides, 26.2 percent of the hospital mortuary cases were pedestrians.
NIMHANS commissioned a study called “Magnitude of Pedestrian Head Injuries and Fatalities in Bangalore” and this was taken up  between 2007 and 2009 by the neurosurgery department at NIMHANS.
The study revealed that the elderly and children faced greater risk while walking on the roads and that they constituting 47.6 percent of pedestrian trauma cases. The trends continue even today with a few minor changes.
Almost one-third of these injured pedestrians could reach the hospital only 24 hours after the accident or even later. Half of these belonged to the paediatric or elderly age groups. A two-wheeler was involved in almost every second pedestrian head injury case.
More than half of all these patients sustained moderate or severe head injury. Every second or third patient had an abnormal CT scan. Almost all of these patients sustained associated injuries. Nearly every fifteenth patient succumbed to the head injury. 
Contrast these medical figures with the road deaths last year. In 2012, Bangalore killed 358 pedestrians and they constituted 48 percent  of all accident deaths: Their fault-they were either crossing or attempting to cross the road. While 39.9 per cent of the accidents involved two wheelers, 27.9 per cent were caused by four-wheelers.
The most common autopsy finding at NIMHANS was diffuse
brain oedema (96.6 per cent. Interestingly right sided
hematomas were more common as compared to the left sided ones (contusions, extra dural hematoma, brain lacerations). Associated injuries were detected in 310 patients (95 per cent). The most common cause of death was head injury alone (277 out of 326 and  this meant 84.9 per cent). Significant associated injury in addition to head injury was the cause of death in the remaining 49 patients (15.1 per cent).

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