Every morning, six days a week, Dinesh Kumar, who hails from Bihar and works as a driver for a family living at Gurgaon’s MG Road, walks from his rented accommodation in Sukhrali village to the foot overbridge (FOB) on his side of National Highway 48. Here, he boards one of many shared autorickshaws, and travels with co-passengers to IFFCO Chowk. He deboards at the junction in front of ABW Tower.
A bag strapped across his shoulder, Kumar looks left, then right, then left again, before making a dash across the road. He reaches the other end after having to step back once midway, barely avoiding being hit by a motorcyclist driving towards the Expressway.
“Today was a comparatively smooth crossing. I am always nervous walking across this intersection, but I really have no choice,” he said, even as a foot overbridge, opened to pedestrians barely a year ago, looms in the background.
Kumar is among scores of residents and commuters in Gurgaon who travel to and from their homes and offices on foot each day, but choose to ignore the foot overbridges installed at crucial junctions for their convenience. Almost all of them are aware of the risk of manoeuvring through the maze of high speed vehicles.
The reasons range from a desire to take the shorter route to lack of maintenance and safety on the overbridges.
Even as the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) contemplates permitting construction of three more foot overbridges at two major junctions in the city — one at Shankar Chowk and two near the HUDA City Centre Metro station — The Indian Express found that those already installed find few takers and lie in a dilapidated condition.
It was in 2016 that the Haryana government announced that development work would be undertaken at three major junctions in Gurgaon — IFFCO Chowk, Rajiv Chowk and Signature Tower junction. Apart from construction of underpasses and flyovers, the intersections would see creation of subways for non-motorised transport, and installation of two foot overbridges for pedestrians at each junction.
In June 2018, the six overbridges were opened to those travelling on foot. A year later, however, five of the six structures are barely utilised, and the sixth, although receiving a better response, sees almost as many people crossing the roads below it each day.
Visits to each of the six FOBs revealed that the structures appeared neglected, with escalators not working, paan stains lining railings and walls, and the smell of urine at several entrances and exits.
At the foot overbridge installed towards the HUDA City Centre side of Signature Tower junction, for instance, only one of the three sets of escalators — both up and down — work. As a result, more people cross the roads below it rather than using the structure.
Shalini Sharma, who works at a firm in the area and lives in DLF Phase IV, said she crosses the road each day to hire either a three-wheeler or a cab to get home.
“Drivers are usually reluctant to take a U-turn across the Expressway, so I end up having to cross the road most evenings. But with escalators not working, I prefer to do so on foot. I have a laptop bag, a purse and a lunch bag, and lugging all of those up and down the stairs is too much effort. Instead, I just cross the road carefully. There are many others who do so,” she said.
Even at the second overbridge at the junction, which lies towards the Gurgaon road side, two of three sets of escalators work. The third appears to have been lying defunct for some time, with berries and leaves scattered along its length and breadth, and layers of dust accumulated on it.
Officials from Bloom Companies LLC, responsible for maintenance of the structures, insist they are regularly checked and fixed.
“The escalators usually do work. Sometimes there are electricity issues. The other problem is that these escalators operate in the open, as a result of which dust tends to collect in the machines. In addition, people also tend to throw garbage on the escalators, which gets stuck and clogs them. We try to ensure regular maintenance from our end but these are issues even we have to combat,” said Saurabh Singal, team leader and traffic transportation expert, Bloom Companies LLC.
For the former, the direct route to the entrance is obstructed by an underpass created for non-motorised transport at the junction. As a result, anyone looking to access the structure has to first walk either 100 metres towards one side or 200 metres towards the other, and then double back and walk the same distance to the stairs.
At the other foot overbridge, while the entrance to one side is clear, that to the other is hindered by overgrown shrubs and plants to the extent that it is completely inaccessible via the original route visualised for it. The only way for pedestrians to access the overbridge from that side is to first walk through a vacant plot used as a parking lot for trucks and buses, before reaching an extreme corner of the lot from where one can walk down to the pavement in front of the FOB.
A college-goer who lives in the area explained why she skips the FOB every day: “I don’t feel safe walking through the parking lot. I have done it a couple of times… For men, using this foot overbridge only means walking a little extra; for women, it’s a matter of safety.”
The foot overbridge located near Westin Hotel at IFFCO Chowk junction is an exception in that it sees hundreds of pedestrians using it each day. Despite this, there is dust along its railings and floors, along with paan stains and a stench at one of three entrances.
A tattoo artist who set up shop on the overbridge a week ago claimed nobody had come to clean the structure in the time he had been there. Officials from Bloom Companies LLC claim otherwise. “Cleaning of the foot overbridges at all junctions is done daily, but it makes little difference due to a lack of respect for the infrastructure on the part of pedestrians. People tend to throw garbage and spit while using the overbridges and, despite our efforts, it becomes dirty by evening. Commuters need to be sensitised to keep such infrastructure clean,” said Singal.
Studies conducted by different organisations and statements by transportation experts and urban planners indicate pedestrians in Gurgaon are not alone in ignoring foot overbridges.
According to an ‘Assessment of Road Accidents and Accident Hotspots’ conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “about 16 people die and 58 are injured every hour in India due to road accidents”.
“Globally, walkers and cyclists together make up a quarter of the road injury and death victims. In India, the national database on pedestrians and cyclists is very poor, but data from individual cities shows very high risk,” states CSE.
Despite this, the assessment insists foot overbridges are not a viable solution. “There is a growing tendency to remove people from the road while making signal-free corridors — by building foot overbridges and subways for crossing. But as the traffic police’s own review of foot overbridges indicates, this has actually increased the safety risk as people still prefer to cross roads,” states the assessment.
An opinion survey conducted by CSE similarly showed that “90% of walkers and cyclists prefer crossing on the ground as foot overbridges and subways increase the distance and are inconvenient”.
A survey conducted by Anik Das and Saurav Barua on ‘Foot Over Bridges in Perspective of Dhaka City’ in September 2015 similarly found that a “significant portion” of pedestrians avoid such structures because they “require long walk to climb” and “pedestrians have to spend more time to cross the road”.
“Proper law enforcement and blocking unlawful road crossing by providing high guard rail in the median can force people to use the foot overbridge,” Das and Barua suggested.
This suggestion finds an example in another part of Gurgaon — Cyber City. Here, two foot overbridges are the only way for pedestrians to cross the road, since the median is lined by guard rails.
According to Rohit Baluja, president, Institute of Road Traffic Education, the only way to ensure foot overbridges are better utilised is through more effective planning and proper provision for maintenance and security of the structures.
“The biggest issue is that we are constructing foot overbridges without any understanding of the people who will be using them — do they have luggage, are they differently abled, are they older people… People will not climb such high overbridges. The height of foot overbridges must be reduced and, in fact, foot underbridges should be preferred because their depth is not so much,” said Baluja.
“Maintenance, safety and security must also be taken care of. The mindset of planners has to change. We make everything for the convenience of motorised traffic, but pedestrians are not considered important stakeholders. They must be given priority; in fact more priority than motorised traffic.”
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