In a majority of Indian cities, traffic safety is a deadly serious business. The 562 traffic fatalities across Mumbai in 2016 alone, with over 50% of them being pedestrian deaths, equal more than three times the lives lost in the 26/11 attacks in the city. In Delhi too, according to the police data available for the past few years, the number of pedestrian deaths has been on the higher side. In 2015, of the total 1,622 persons killed, 684 were pedestrians.
If you fix the street for the person on foot, you make that street work better for everyone else too.
Some years ago, in many cities in India, the traffic police started penalising pedestrians who carelessly walked on roads. In the National Capital, though, the fine was removed. Some police officials said that this was done because the amount of the fine was ridiculously small and defeated the whole purpose.
They may have a point but I often wonder, is jaywalking really the issue here? I mean do pedestrians really get preference over cars on our streets? Many times, the signal cycles leave pedestrians waiting too long or allow them too little time to cross safely. In such a scenario jaywalking becomes a habit one must develop as one jostles for street space with vehicles. So how should the civic authority deal with this quandary? The answer it seems may lie in a can of paint and a few pieces of chalk.
Last year, one of Mumbai's busiest intersections in the tony suburb of Bandra—known for its chaotic traffic—witnessed a seminal transformation.
The HP Junction where the plush residences on Turner Road meet the arterial SV Road and Linking Road underwent an overnight makeover to become a much safer intersection. What was done in this process was that the streets were literally redesigned using some simple tools. The idea was that if you fix the street for the person on foot, you make that street work better for everyone else too.
A group of people outlined colourful, geometrical patterns on the road with chalk. They then used barricades provided by the Mumbai Traffic Police and set them up along lane dividers and around traffic islands. The chalk-drawn outlines were gradually filled in with paint and in less than six hours, HP Junction was transformed. Tighter corner radii, reclaimed public space, and median refuge islands shaped the street geometry as Mumbaikars woke up to a safer and more efficient intersection as dawn broke.
The HP Junction trial exercise was undertaken as a joint collaboration by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Mumbai Traffic Police (MTP), the coalition of "street fighters" under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) and was led by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The trial was a major success. The intersection improvement led to about 30% reduction in pedestrian crossing distances including refuge area in the median divider, on each approach. Following the success of the HP Junction transformation, a similar initiative was held at the Mithchowki junction—another busy intersection in the city's Malad suburb. This was undertaken as a part of NACTO's Global Designing Cities Initiative (NACTO GDCI) and encompassed six official city approvals, 350 litres of paint, 120 barricades, and over 70 people including students from the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture.
Urban street geometry design offers a simple and cost-effective solution to making our streets safer for pedestrians and traffic alike.
In fact, around the world, there are several stellar examples of how street redesigns have had the biggest impact where some cans of paint, some chalk and a little bit of planning have changed the picture. The redesign of Times Square in New York is a living example of how one of the busiest intersections in the world could be transformed to dedicate more space for pedestrians and yet improve traffic flows, increase bus ridership, and generate huge economic benefits for the local businesses. Under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) program, the cities of Addis Ababa, Bogota, and Sao Paulo have already completed several pop-up intersections. In fact, changing the street for just one day using paint, bollards, chalk, and planters have helped catapult over months of study, traffic modelling and planning.
Going by the results, it may seem that urban street geometry design offers a simple and cost-effective solution to making our streets safer for pedestrians and traffic alike. A can of paint, chalk and some colourful geometry is perhaps all it takes to deliver an artistic masterstroke that can free our cities from their traffic woes.