PEDESTRIAN PATHWAYS, THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND A ROAD TO SUSTAINABILITY : Panel discussion conducted by Centre for Environmental Efficiency Dated 11–6–2022 10.30 AM to 12 PM-Brief Summary of Proceedings.

From left to right-Dr Manojkumar Kini, Adv. Suvidutt Sundaram, Architect Maria Katticaran, Dr BG Sreedevi and Dr May Mathew

The panel discussion was convened by Dr May Mathew under the aegis of the Centre for Environmental Efficiency, the NGO based at Kochi and striving to establish the theories of Environmental Efficiency and Carrying Capacity which are useful tools to achieve sustainability from Global to Local.
The entire event was moderated by Maria Katticaran, Licensed Architect, San Francisco, California. The following panellists were invited by the Centre.
Dr Manoj Kumar Kini, Architect and Urban Designer
Dr B G Sridevi, Transportation Expert
Suvidutt Sundaram, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India

God made us walking animals called pedestrians as a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, and a deer to run. We need to walk not to survive but to be happy.’ This was the best quote from Maria Katticaran in this session.

Dr May Mathew, opened the panel discussion and started the session with a silent prayer to the ALMIGHTY and reiterated the need for a harmonious co-existence of all human beings irrespective of caste, creed, religion or nationality and so also all kinds of flora and fauna.

She mentioned the hindrances to the free movement of people like transformers right in the middle of the pathways, dislocated drainage cover slabs, and vendor activities She pointed out that human-centric investments are to be inculcated. The present situation is a GDP-oriented linear economic system where people are bothered about business and money-making. What is happening holistically around the world is never evaluated. Wastes were thrown away which reflects negative externalities to human prosperity and progress.
She also told that walking will become a tedious and risky activity without proper footpaths. People will resort to personalised vehicles. Fossil fuel consumption and associated emissions multiply. As a result, the air gets polluted resulting in discomfort which kills productivity and innovations in cities. Discomfort ultimately reflects as a disease. Most people will depend on hospitals. The hospital industry is flourishing in Kerala because of the prevalence of diseases. Oil companies and petrol bunks were also economically benefitted contributing to the GDP of the City/Nation. Automobile industries too are economically benefitted. But human development is regressing while the city, state and nation are gaining through better GDP. This will again be reallocated for better health programmes for governments. It is a vicious circle- creating the problem and then solving it.

She pointed out that if there is a dedicated footpath, people will be resorting to either walking or mass transport systems and will be using fewer fossil fuels. there will be less air pollution and they don’t have to go to hospitals. In the short run, so many people are dying because of pedestrian accidents. The provision of fool-proof pedestrian infrastructure in cities amounts to the right to life and a road to sustainability.

In response to the various queries raised by the Moderator Architect Maria Katticaran,
Dr Manoj Kumar Kini talked about the importance of walking in urbanism and sidewalks in urban cities. In cities, more than 80 per cent of life is confined to an artificially built environment where people depend mostly on artificial light sources, ventilation, etc. So, a significant portion of the working population is confined to a created environment and pedestrianisation is the only way to bring the people back to nature.

He also states that it is not easy to design guidelines for streets because several agencies are running the street network. He also mentioned that in legal aspects, the Sustainable Development Goals SDG 2015 speaks about walkability and access to amenities as a civic right. SDG-11, ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities, connects to the heart of pedestrian space with its mission statement to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. He pointed out that we do not have a single authority in charge of different aspects of maintaining and designing the public space or streets. Professionals like urban planners, transport designers, local self-government engineers, and several town planning agencies are not considered in the whole process.

He also pointed out the present situation that, the local engineers design and do whatever is possible depending upon the size and shape of the road in an area. Most of the time, the problem is that more importance is given to the motorised streets than the pedestrian pathways. What happens is that there is a lack of sidewalks, non-integration of services, skewed priorities, accessibility issues, safety concerns, vendors blocking the thorofare, inconsistent signages, waste dumping, etc. Also, the footpaths do not cater to climatic challenges, and the streets are not organically structured.
He also pointed out that in some situations the footpath had been split. This is because there is a strict guideline for the road, not the footpath. Here, the whole thing is diluted on the footpath, not the road. He also mentioned the study conducted by NATPAC on the distribution of footpaths in Cochin city. Footpath on one side is 2 per cent, both sides are 6 per cent, and there are no footpaths in 92 per cent of the city. If we look into the distribution of drainage facilities in Cochin city, we can see that covered drainage is 8 per cent, uncovered drainage is 24 per cent, and no drainage is 68 per cent.

Adv. Suvidutt Sundaram stated that the Indian constitution guarantees every citizen a fundamental right to move freely across the country. Today in most cities, the roads are meant for automobiles, and urban planning is based on the policy recommendations and designed directives borrowed from automobile industries. Citizens’ right is not given importance. So the problem is with the insufficiency of the government, policymakers, and law. Then he said the vulnerable group includes women, children, senior citizens, and even people with disabilities. So, it is unsafe for these people to walk beside the road due to the lack of proper pathways. So, it is high time to come up with good policies and regulations.
He said whenever any urban development or planning is done, equality should be considered. The right to equality plays a fundamental role in deciding the issues of policymaking concerning walking as a right. The main problem is with the people, not the system. In India, we have legislation and statutory provisions like IPC, Motor Vehicle Act 1988, etc. Ultimately the people are dissatisfied even though several provisions are there to protect them. One of the valuable points is each state should develop specific laws based on its demography and regional situations by which so many issues can be sorted out.
He also pointed out that we have laws, but we cannot address them because there are so many laws, and people are not aware of the system and what is happening around them. If the right of the pedestrian is equated with the right to life, it has to be a part of Fundamental Rights. Therefore, people will be much more aware of seeking out their fundamental rights in the court of law to get justice.

Dr B G Sridevi stated that all roads in India are to be designed based on the standards and stipulations given by the Indian Roads Congress. IRC has developed many standards, and they keep improving or changing them. There is a specification IRC: 103–2012, which says there are five basic principles: safety, security, dignity, comfort, and liveability. The roads should be designed in such a way that it is inclusive of all the facilities provided for a pedestrian. IRC stipulates that footpaths should be stable, firm, and have steep resistance and should not have cracks or bumps. The width of the footpath should be based on the detailed analysis of accommodating pedestrian flow at a given point in an urban setting.
Agencies which are responsible for maintaining and establishing sidewalks in Kerala are as per the ownerships. National Highway Authority of India owns the National Highway, and Public Works Department owns the State Highway and the village roads are maintained and owned by the LSGD or local self-government. Also, there are roads owned and maintained by the Forest Department. Then she added about Highway Protection Act to protect the roads by taking legal action against intruders or anyone who does any unwanted activities on the road.

She then said in places like San Francisco, many sidewalks are managed by the site owners or the property owners. In India, the road is a public property where the concerned authorities are the owners of the road. Also, there are very few cases where certain agencies maintain these mediums as part of their advertisement. It is not promoted in Kerala since we are in the development stage. The roads in Kerala are developing under various schemes. The Indian Road Congress publishes well-established guidelines for all types of roads. But the situation in Kerala is that whenever we design a new road, we can incorporate all these components into it. The problem is that we cannot implement all the stipulated guidelines on the existing roads.

There are strict guidelines for pedestrian facilities also, but we cannot follow those guidelines for pedestrian facilities because of the want or lack of space availability. So, we will save in terms of footpath if there is only a minimum carriageway. The land is a major problem in all parts of Kerala. Even for the widening of the National Highways, the land is a major constraint. She suggested that we should never compromise on providing facilities to pedestrians and cyclists. But we are unable to do that, which is our real problem here owing to the overall situation.

Full panel discussion is posted as per this link

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Centre for Environmental Efficiency

Centre for Environmental Efficiency

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Public trust dedicated to bring the environment and development hand in hand through environmental efficiency and carrying capacity theories. By Dr May Mathew