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Vol. XXVI No. 16, December 1-15, 2016

Making pavements narrower no solution

by A Special Correspondent

And, so the Corporation of Chennai has gone back to laying narrow sidewalks. After a brief flirtation with the idea of broad pedestrian walkways clear of all encroachments, the civic body has thrown up its hands. It has claimed that it is not in a position to keep the broad sidewalks free from vendors and other temporary structures and has opted to take the easy way out. Can any civic body just -absolve itself of all responsibility? Why then do we need a Corporation?

The pavements of Chennai are at present in a deplorable state, mainly due to the infiltration of commercial establishments into the spaces provided for pedestrian use. Pedestrians are forced to confront unevenly laid blocks, encroachment by vendors, vehicles haphazardly parked across and even daredevil footpath riders. In a traffic jam, the two-wheeler rider invariably hogs the pavement, making the hapless pedestrian scramble for his life. The road and the pavement seem to merge and the speeding vehicles appear to own the space. Pavement dwellers and the Metro line construction add to the woes of the pedestrian. The Corporation of Chennai that is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of this vital civic necessity appears to be helpless in the face of many obstacles that impede the improvement of pavements.

The primary problem the Corporation has faced is its inability to protect public spaces. This was repeatedly brought to the notice of the Courts and the subsequent judgements placed the onus of correction on the Corporation. Consequently, in 2014, the Corporation had adopted the Non-Motorist Transport Policy to regulate and relocate vendors and widen the pavement for pedestrians. The aim was to build sustainable pavements for 80 per cent of the roads by 2018.The pavements of 26 roads (including NSC Bose Road, Ibrahim Salai, Broadway, Besant Nagar 2nd Avenue, etc.) have been widened in the first phase and the civic body was to carry out this task on twenty roads in the second phase and 48 roads in the third phase. The Corporation won the International Sustainia 100 Award in Paris for designing streets for walking and bicycling.

With regard to the quality of the pavements, the Corporation in consultation with urban planners and engineers tried to improve the usability and durability of the pavements. Th earlier granite pathways gave way to rubberised cement paver blocks in 2015 which were more durable and cheaper. A recent High Court order in Chennai directed the Corporation to provide top-quality pavements, but poor design and execution made them slippery and unusable. The contractors have been accused of using sub-standard material and placing concrete slabs on beach sand.

But the widening of the pavements has only been to the enjoyment of the vendors who have increased in number due to a larger space now available to them! And for this, the Corporation can only blame itself. The Town Vending Committee, to be constituted to regulate vendors, as directed by the Supreme Court, has not yet been set up. The Corporation has also not demarcated areas for the relocation of the displaced vendors or identified no hawking zones. In 2016, a study conducted by a private consul-tancy body revealed that arterial roads like Police Commissi-oner’s Office Road, Harrington Road and Pantheon Road did not have adequate pedestrian usage. The placing of bollards at close intervals on the pavements to prevent vehicles going through has also not been effective. The problem of illegal parking can be monitored only by the police.

The common man is, of course, disillusioned and believes that the nexus between the vendors and the local politicians contributes to the misuse of pavement space. The Greater Chennai Corporation has introduced an online grievance portal where citizens can register their complaints about encroachments and also attach photos. It is hoped that in the future, with public involvement and official intervention, we can have unimpeded wide pavements and bicycle tracks. The fact is that narrowing sidewalks is not a solution at all.

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