Parks and Urban Safety

On Wednesday evening, I walked to Gandhi Bazaar for an evening snack. It’s not often that I do that, for it’s not a pleasant walk. Firstly, there is the Tagore circle underpass which was built after much controversy. The underpass has had the desired effect of clearing the traffic bottleneck at Tagore circle, but it has become a nightmare for pedestrians, for there is now unmitigated flow of traffic and footpaths are non-existent.

The second reason I don’t like walking to Gandhi Bazaar is Krishna Rao Park. Yes, you read that right. It’s a rather nice large park, and fairly well maintained. But the problem is that the structure of the park means that the roads around it don’t appear particularly safe to walk on, especially after dark. The presence of the park means that there aren’t enough “eyes on the street”. There is a third reason, too – the roundabout at Armugam Circle. Roundabouts are inherently pedestrian unfriendly.

If you ask anyone who grew up in or around Jayanagar what their favourite street is to drive on, the answer is likely to be one of “Rose Garden Road” or “4th Main Road” or “That nice road with Lakshman Rau park on both sides” or “The road where the metro has been built”. All of them refer to the same road, btw. However, if you were to ask the same people about their favourite road to walk on, you are unlikely to get that answer. For 4th Main (or Rose Garden Road or whatever else you call it) is simply unwalkable. The park on either side means that there are not enough eyes on the street, and for this reason, people prefer to not walk on this road, choosing one of the parallel roads instead.

While presence of parks is generally seen as desirable and creates valuable green space and makes the area more beautiful, careless design can mean that the roads around can be rendered unsafe. It mainly has to do with the entrances. In Bangalore, parks are usually fenced, with only the odd small gate here and there allowing for entry (a design element that is imperative due to stray cows). What this means is that while the area around the park entrance is usually crowded and well populated (and thus safe), there is little human traffic around the rest of the perimeter since there is nowhere to go to from there!

So the hypothesis is that for a road to be walkable, it needs to have a large number of “doors”, that is exits that get you somewhere – either a house or an office building or a park or a shop or whatever. Presence of a door means that users of the door have an incentive to step out of the door and walk along, which increases human traffic. Which makes the stretch a wee bit more walkable.

Absence of doors means that the only people who will want to walk along that stretch are those that intend to go from one end to the other, which means that there aren’t as many people. Absence of doors also means vehicles can move much faster along the stretch, making driving a more pleasant experience, but making walking even more unpleasant. And then you have positive feedback and network effects and all that, making such roads even less conducive for walking on!

Our cities here are simply not designed for walking, and features that ostensibly promote walking, such as parks, are so badly designed that they make walking even less pleasant!