Guest post by Ananya Iyer
Quickly having transformed from a sleepy town idealized for retirement to a fast-paced megalopolis, Bangalore faces the issues of a city that grew up too fast. Issues related to major planning discrepancies are commonplace, and the rapid pace of development yields a resistance to correct the prevailing concerns.
According to the Bangalore Traffic Police, there are an average of 4 vehicle-caused accidents a day. An alarming 20% of these are fatal. These accidents happen for a variety of reasons- pedestrians crossing the roads fall victims to wide junctions with little coordination, driver belligerence and disregard of traffic rules. The elderly and disabled are left at an unimaginable disadvantage, with only a few seconds to cross. The obvious question here is- what about the skywalks?
Skywalks exist for the sole purpose of pedestrian safety, but are rarely used. For the average Bangalorean to incorporate skywalks in their daily commute, they would have to be as convenient as possible. This convenience would include minimizing time and physical effort, adequate lighting and safety. Moreover, it would require immaculate planning- the skywalks would have to be as close to bus stops as possible. They would also need to be located in areas where pedestrians cannot cross the road because of endless stretches of moving traffic in the absence of signals. These issues are highlighted in the inefficiencies of the existing skywalks in Bangalore.
Coming back to the elderly and disabled, including an elevator facility is the only way skywalks could be considered at all. While there are skywalks that do have elevators, a majority of them are either nonfunctional or extremely unreliable. Frequent power-cuts make the provision a safety hazard. In late September of last year, three civilians found themselves stuck in a faulty elevator of the skywalk ironically in front of the BBMP headquarters. With no way of contacting help, they were rescued after half an hour when passers-by heard them and contacted BBMP officials. This incident is a reflection of the lack of maintenance and safety measures undertaken.
Another example of this is the Domlur junction skywalk, a project that cost the taxpayer 2.5 crore rupees by virtue of the elevator facility that was reportedly disabled within three days of its inauguration to “prevent misuse”. In February 2018, the BBMP announced that it would be upgrading all existing skywalks with elevators for pedestrian comfort. The estimated 10 crore rupees would be a huge waste of taxpayer money if the elevators are not kept functional and maintained.
There are also an abundance of security concerns in the consideration of skywalk usage. Poor lighting during the evenings, occupation by local idlers, instances of muggings and frequent appropriation of the passages as urinals strike an aversion to using skywalks. There have been several instances of pickpocketing reported in the Manyata Tech Park skywalk. At the Kempegowda bus stop in Majestic, the terminal of the skywalk is reportedly swarming with sex workers,making the infrastructure off-putting despite extensive planning and the installation of a disability-friendly ramp.The scarce usage, in turn, hinders the prospect of regular maintenance and better ambience.
Skywalks also involve the burden of physical exertion- it is much easier for most pedestrians to cross the busy roads instead of climbing a large flight of stairs, even if it means risking their safety. Even in the presence of medians to prevent this, instances of jaywalking are extremely common near Manyata Tech Park and Sophia’s High School despite there being pedestrian crossing facility. The High Grounds skywalk in particular has an exasperating 65 steps one way, making it inaccessible or unappealing at the very least. Accidents of road crossers trying to jump the median are becoming an increasing contributor to road accidents in Bengaluru.
Apart from median accidents, the poor planning of skywalks often make the footpaths discontinuous, an added risk of pedestrian accidents. Planning authorities cannot consider acquiring space from the carriageway as it would create traffic bottlenecks on already congested roads.
The common theme observed in most of these problems is a seeming lack of research. While the BBMP claims that the skywalks are built based off of data in feasibility reports, the physical dimensions of the skywalks that have been built have a one-size-fits-all approach. This is a serious oversight that contributes to the problem.
While some skywalks like the one in Domlur are severely underutilised, there are areas in the city that desperately need some sort of crossing facility to be implemented. Residency Road is such an area. With long stretches of traffic without traffic signals, pedestrians have no choice but to dash across the road.
As skywalks are now built with Public-Private-Partnership money, there is always the issue of strategic funding made by the bidders that entails the location of the skywalks in areas where they may not necessarily be needed but the advertisement revenue is maximum. A sort of conspiracy theory arose when the BBMP announced that they would entertain PPP-based funding for skywalks shortly after the advertisement flex ban. There have even been security issues raised as a result of the hoardings on the skywalks reducing the visibility from the outside, making it a hub for miscreants and numerous chain-snatching incidents.
Many criticise the BBMP for building skywalks for the advertisement return and not pedestrian safety. A zebra crossing system, they say, will be a far cheaper measure to implement and infinitely more convenient for pedestrians themselves. The obvious issues here are lack of discipline and the inefficiency of pedestrian-operated traffic lights.
As for current plans, the BBMP announced its plans of building more skywalks across the city this year. They also plan to install CCTV cameras in every skywalk for security purposes. While cameras are a step in the right direction, surveillance needs to be taken care of and it is yet to be seen how it will be implemented. Building skywalks in the city can only be justified if the concerns regarding safety and convenience are taken more seriously.