'Poor footpaths = uncivilised society'

Bangalore Mirror - Bangalore, 15 March, 2014
 
Gil Penalosa, the creator of 'Ciclovia' concept, is shocked by the disrespect for pedestrians in a city like Bangalore. Gil Penalosa is a former parks commissioner of Bogota, Colombia. He is celebrated for his unique concept of Ciclovia, or 'Open Streets' on Sundays. It was a huge hit in Colombia and many countries have emulated the same. As he told Bangalore Mirror, "During Ciclovia, we close streets for cars and open it to the public for 10-12 hours, and they can do whatever they want. Bogota is almost the size of Bangalore and on every Sunday, about 7 million people occupy about 121 km of open street and just walk, skate, or cycle around. Having concepts like these would change the mindset of our leaders and bureaucrats." 
 
Currently working as executive director of Canadian NGO 8-80 Cities, Gil was in Bangalore for a conference organised by Embarq India. Gil spoke to Bangalore Mirror on the sidelines of the conference, about the importance of safety for pedestrians in Bangalore. 
 
What is your impression of Bangalore?
Bangalore is a great city, but I must say that there is no respect for pedestrians. This is something very bad and shocking. 
 
Are you aware that Bangalore hardly offers footpaths (free space) for citizens to walk around?
Oh yes. There are many pedestrians killed in Bangalore. Between 30 to 40 per cent of the traffic deaths are of pedestrians. The world average of pedestrian related casualties is about 14 per cent. But in Bangalore, it is more than three times the world average.You cannot have a civilised society where you cannot walk safely. You cannot keep building Bangalore for 30-year-old athletic people. You need to build Bangalore for everyone. 
 
Have we deliberately let down pedestrians?
The major problem is that pedestrians are not united. You go to any city around the world. There are at least five to six different groups for cyclists, who may constitute only 1-2 per cent of the population. But you will not even see a single group for pedestrians. Despite everyone walking during some part of the day, there's no platform for walkers. This is where the media plays a crucial role in raising awareness. I congratulate Bangalore Mirror for its 'Footpath? My Foot' initiative. You need to be applauded for taking up the cause, and creating awareness among both the general public as well as policy makers. 
 
How do you dispel the notion that only the poor walk on roads?
As I told you, whether you are rich or poor, all of us walk. In a rich city like Copenhagen, 38 out of 100 trips of an individual are done on bicycle. Walking and cycling are the only individual mobility option for many people, particularly children and youth. 
 
Is building or widening roads or subways the only solution to help pedestrians in a city like Bangalore?
I have seen people who are stuck in traffic jams in Bangalore complain that the government must build more roads. But it is impossible. There is no city in the world of the size of Bangalore which moves through private cars alone. That is why you see cars parked everywhere in Bangalore, including pavements. Last year in India, about 3.8 million cars were put on the roads. Assuming that each of these cars require about 10 metres of space just to park, you need to create 38,000 km of roads just to park these many cars. This is, like, 19 times the distance between Bangalore and New Delhi. It is like mission impossible! Even if you have the funds, is that the best way to invest money? Better to invest in building parks, schools, and hospitals, and have a public transport system. Some want to do subways thinking they are going to run the same people on the ground and below the ground. But I think subways are not that nice and it is where usually the rats go. People have to go above the ground. You need to decide whether we are going to build 20 km of subway or 200 km of rapid transport system. Do you think politicians or the system would agree? Whether you agree or not, many other cities around the world are lowering the speeds of vehicles to eliminate the massacre of pedestrians on streets. No one should speed more than 30 km per hour. On the big or arterial streets, let them go beyond 40 or 60 km per hour. 
 
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