In the last week, I read two contradictory news items from Delhi and Ahmedabad. The Delhi Traffic Police took out a drive for unruly motorists to respect pedestrians by giving them enough space on zebra crossing. Motorists who stopped before zebra crossings were given chocolates and key chains and the ones who did not were fined. The reason for this drive was the data of road fatalities – almost 46% of the people who died in road crashes in Delhi were pedestrians. Pedestrians do not have proper footpaths to walk on or safe crossings to go across the roads. It is commendable that the Delhi traffic police took the road fatalities data seriously and ran a campaign of supporting pedestrian rights.
The other news items came from our own Ahmedabad (DNA, 29/06/15) where pedestrians were termed as ‘rash pedestrians’ by the Traffic Police and blamed for their own death or injuries in road crashes. The pedestrians were asked to use zebra crossings and footpaths to be safe. Great! It would have been utmost helpful, if the Traffic Police took some efforts of showing the said zebra crossings and footpaths by walking for about 200 meters on any city road! Where are the footpaths and zebra crossings in Ahmedabad? Footpaths are mostly covered by parked vehicles, roadside businesses and other things. There is no space left on the zebra crossings for the pedestrians to cross. The zebra crossings start and end in blank walls, planters and hoardings. With such sorry state of pedestrian infrastructure in the city, they are still blamed as ‘causes’ of accidents.
How can the pedestrians alone be the ‘causes’ of these accidents? When there is a collision can you only blame one side? I can only picture these ‘rash’ pedestrians as being zombies who are crashing themselves into the fast-moving vehicles and committing suicide. Calling pedestrians as the sole reason for accidents amounts to blaming the victims. Pedestrians are victims and not perpetrators of traffic crimes because they are at higher risks and are more vulnerable during road crashes. Victim blaming has its own logical fallacies and besides, it is convenient to blame someone – it distracts the attention from the real problems. If you blame the victims like the pedestrians then no one will ask questions about systemic problems like why there is no safe infrastructure for pedestrians in the city? OR why the Traffic Police is only concerned about protecting the vehicular traffic and why do they ignore the pedestrian or the non-motorised traffic?
Traffic Police in Ahmedabad and in other cities are doing commendable job of managing the unmanageable – the never-ending traffic. They have scarce resources, inadequate staff, limited equipments and a thankless job. But an important part of their job is to reduce road fatalities and injuries. Blaming the victims does not help their job at all. Rather they should proactively work with different road users to make them safe on our hostile roads.
About one-third of the total intra-city journeys in our cities are by walking. We all have to walk sometime or the other. Unsafe pedestrian environment affects everyone in the family. When pedestrians are using the roads, they are scavenging for safe spaces to walk on. They operate with a different logic compared to the motorised traffic. Beyond the usual contest over road space, it is essential that both the pedestrians and the motorists understand each other’s way of dealing with the road space and have mutual respect. Cities, which are built on mutual respect and shared spaces, are the most beautiful cities in the world.
(6th July, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)