Stills from Nikhil Chaudhary’s new comics film, titled ‘I, Pedestrian‘, which brings to the fore the need for safer infrastructure for pedestrians in urban spaces
Evoking the works of Joe Sacco, famous for his non-fiction graphic novels, Nikhil Chaudhary says, “If there can be comics journalism, then why not comics urbanism?” Take Gotham or Metropolis. The city has been the backdrop for many a grimy and gritty comic, but Chaudhary says, “How about if you bring city planning issues into popular thought through comics?”
Chaudhary has twin loves. He is an architect who works with World Resources Institute India, a non-profit and environmental think-tank that has looked into road safety, among other urban development goals, since inception. Alongside this, this urban design postgraduate from the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University, Ahmedabad, is also a comics creator commenting on issues of urbanism through the visual medium since 2011. After having discussed various aspects of road safety and planning in his comics, Chaudhary released his first comics video last week on his Facebook page, Linear Expression. The three-minute-long video, titled ‘I, Pedestrian’, highlights the poor design of infrastructure for pedestrians: loose paver blocks, garbage and potholes on the footpaths, and motorists who whizz by too close for comfort.
Mid-week, we met Chaudhary to take us around the Ghatkopar side of the 22-km-long LBS Marg, a road notorious for fatalities. “Data from a 10-km stretch of this road reveals that there have been 50 fatal accidents in the last 3.5 years, most involving two-wheelers and pedestrians. We are sending missions to the moon but have accidents on street corners,” he says. As an aside, Chaudhary suggests the need to change the vocabulary of road safety. “Road safety researchers and practitioners prefer not use the word ‘accident’. An accident implies fate. Instead the word ‘crash’ is preferable as it suggests flaws in urban design,” he explains.
He says that streets are like the skin of urban cities, the largest public spaces available, and therefore, must be paid utmost attention. Choosing a 10-km section of LBS Marg from BKC Junction to Vikhroli, a pilot study on improving its design under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety is underway. World Resources Institute India and the MCGM are studying safe infrastructure in this project. Called the LBS Road Safety Improvement Plan, it is helmed by a five-member team and coordinated by Chaudhary with the end goal of reducing traffic fatalities through effective urban design. Suggested solutions based on findings from this study are likely to be implemented by the MCGM in the coming months. Chaudhary shares four major ways in which LBS Marg can be revamped to improve the safety of pedestrians using this major city road.
Unsafe in numbers
Experts point out that 51 per cent of Mumbai’s population chooses to walk to its destination. Private four-wheelers and two-wheelers form barely 2 per cent of the population. A study in 2015 indicated that 61 per cent of the fatalities in road accidents are not motorists but pedestrians and cyclists. In 2014, 1.4 lakh people died on the road across the country, while 600 died in Mumbai alone.
Intersection of LBS Marg and Hirachand Desai Road
Problem: With long stretches of the road to be crossed, there isn’t enough time for pedestrians, especially bunches of school-going children and their parents, to finish well within the signal’s duration. Pedestrians are left vulnerable to moving traffic and resort to safety in numbers.
Recommendation: Building more refuge islands across dividers will help people to be fortressed while crossing and also channelise traffic.
Throughout LBS Marg and intersecting roads
Problem: Footpaths are blocked by shops, hawkers, parked vehicles and garbage. This pushes pedestrians to the motorable area, leaving them exposed to traffic.
Recommendation: The National Standard of Indian Roads Congress states that the width for uninterrupted and dedicated width of paths for pedestrians is two metres. Whatever the encroachment or physical object may be, planners add two metres of pedestrian paths to the space.
Intersection of LBS Marg and andheri ghatkopar link road
Problem: Road authorities are misled that generosity of space for pedestrians leads to traffic congestions. Wide left turns allow vehicles to speed, and, with no pavement, puts pedestrians at risk.
Recommendation: Through the ideology of “safer by design”, minimising the space at intersections and having evenly wide roads will reduce bottlenecks. Reducing the curve of roads and narrowing the angle will force motorists to slow down as well.
Gandhi Nagar junction in Vikhroli
Problem: This intersection sees a number of fatal accidents and has earned the title of a black spot. A storm drain running underground has led to the footpath being built a metre high from the road level, making it difficult for pedestrians to cross the road.
Recommendation: Building more refuge islands and shorter crossings will help. A 3D model of a new accessible footpath has also been devised.