A poster on traffic norms, often used during awareness campaigns, shows a lion crossing the road on a zebra crossing while all other vehicles stop for him. The poster reads, ‘Pedestrian is the King. Respect pedestrians.’ The ground situation in Pune, however, is in stark contrast.
Every year, Pune city police record almost 400 deaths due to road accidents; 25 to 30 per cent of the deceased are pedestrians.
A closer look at the issue shows that severe lack of pedestrian-centric traffic infrastructure, and negligence on the part of both drivers as well as pedestrians, are the key reasons behind this situation. In a horrific accident in Baner on Monday, a car spun out of control of the driver and smashed into five persons who were standing on the median to cross the road. While a three-year-old girl and her mother died, three others were critically injured. The accident has once again highlighted the urgent need for safer roads for pedestrians. Here are some comparative figures: in 2003, when Pune city had over 13 lakh vehicles, the average number of accidental deaths was around 300. Now, as the number of vehicles is approaching the 50-lakh mark, the average number of road accidents per year is around 400.
In 2015 and 2016, the number of deaths due to road accidents in Pune was 399 and 420 respectively; the number of pedestrians who died in these accidents was 119 and 132 respectively. This year, till the end of March, the number of deaths due to road accidents was 91; 22 of them were pedestrians.
Speaking about the incident of pedestrian deaths, an inspector in-charge of a traffic division in Pune city said, “We have seen several scenarios in which pedestrians are killed in road accidents. There are many mishaps in which heavy vehicles mow down pedestrians during the night… in some cases the vehicles remain unidentified. In some cases, the vehicles are driven at high speed while the pedestrian is crossing the road from an odd point that is not meant for crossing. We have hundreds of points where there are designated pedestrian crossings, but no signage for vehicles on either side… so, vehicles do not slow down at these points.”
“At certain points… there are no street lights. These are responsibilities of civic bodies, such as the PMC, PCMC, cantonment boards and…. gram panchayats. We can only keep telling them,” added the officer.
According to the list of priorities in the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC’s) policy documents, pedestrians come first, public transport comes next and then come private vehicles. Taking a cue from trends across the world, the PMC’s policy states that instead of building foot overbridges and subways, pedestrians should remain “upfront, and not underground or overground” and road designs should be altered that way. But traffic police, who have the mandate of regulation and enforcement, say the infrastructure is far from pedestrian-friendly.
Another in-charge of a traffic division said, “We have seen several accidents at blind turns and at signals, which have free left or right turns… I have seen accidents in cases when a man is walking on the road because there is no footpath and his back is facing the flow of vehicles. So here, there is no infrastructure, the driver is, of course, reckless… but if the pedestrian is walking while facing the flow of vehicles, the accidents could have been averted. In such a case, whom do you hold responsible?”