While living in Pattom, Trivandrum, a walk to the museum grounds was a regular activity. To keep company, there were buildings, graffiti and a few trees along the way. But come dusk (read 6-7 pm), I would hurry back, often running to cover the distance faster. Because there was a stretch in the walk where activities and/or people were minimal, and if the signal was red downstream, there would be no vehicles on the road for a couple of minutes.
Later, when I moved to Begumpet, Hyderabad, I lived in an area where there was no footpath, and even pocket-roads in some of these areas disappeared following the rains. However, this was not the case with the whole city; both had areas with well-maintained, safe and comfortable footpaths. So, is footpath a privilege limited to a few?
There are multiple reasons to promote the construction of well-maintained, safe and comfortable footpaths.
As per ‘Household Expenditure on Service and Durable Goods’, monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) on transport services accounts for approximately 19-20% of the total expenditure on consumer services. The survey was conducted by NSSO as part of its NSS 72nd round (July 2014-June 2015). The survey analysed expenditure by households on miscellaneous services as well as durable goods. Given this context, a well-maintained, safe and comfortable footpath could provide individuals with an alternative to automobiles.
Thinking “can I make this journey on foot?” will provide one with multiple economic benefits. It ranges from monetary savings to savings in terms of time and energy spent in traffic congestion. All of this can in turn be put to more productive use.
India has been experiencing a rise in obesity in recent years. This increase is often connected to change in the food habits and sedentary lifestyle of individuals. Therefore, for India, incorporating, footpaths and consequently walking, into the daily lives of individuals can provide significant public health benefits. It will help them take a step towards a physically active lifestyle.
In line with Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, India has been trying to scale down its per capita carbon footprint. One of the several strategies pursued by the government is to promote non-motorised urban transport. It includes footpaths, dedicated cycling tracks, foot over-bridges, etc. Therefore, building and maintaining more footpaths perfectly sync with the environmental goals set forth by the country.
A space becomes liveable when it takes into consideration and implements the prerequisites for a decent standard of living. Having a footpath, that is designed and retained for pedestrians, makes movement of people easier.
To give an example, not everyone in our country owns a private vehicle; a large section of people depend on the public transport system. So in the absence of a footpath, one that is comfortable, safe and well-maintained, where do these people walk once they get down from the various modes of public transport? Is it that they are invisible to the institutions that design, plan and build these spaces?
A footpath is “walkable” if it facilitates walking for pedestrians. I am no urban planner, and hence this checklist is more of one that has emerged from my experience being a pedestrian across different cities in India.
Some of the necessary conditions are that they must be:
Further, the presence of the following factors can boost the popularity of footpaths :
Decisions based on observation of human movements in streets, combined with intelligent and right designs, can go a long way in creating walkable spaces. Also, given the array of benefits associated with footpaths, policymakers, and planners must focus on it. However, this is not rhetoric against automobiles; rather, it is an attempt to highlight the importance of finding the right balance—the right balance between automobiles and alternative modes of transport.