India’s urban population explosion over the last two decades has resulted in a rapid increase of economic activity. This has caused a fast escalation in urban travel demand.
Urban residents’ mode of transportation is determined by various parameters; the most important determinants being population size, city size and per capita income. Most residents of Indian cities rely on motorized as well as non-motorized means of transportation such as public transport systems, four wheelers, three wheelers, two wheelers, cycle rickshaws, bicycles and walking. Smaller cities and towns in India rely more on non-motorized forms of transportation, mainly through walking and usage of bicycles and cycle rickshaws, but nonetheless, even in larger cities walking is used as a mode of last mile connectivity.
Walking provides mobility to a large percentage of people in Indian cities and is accessible to all layers of society, specifically for the poor who often do not have other alternatives. Improving this means of urban transportation is essential in supporting public transport facilities, improving overall livability of cities, providing accessibility within built areas, and providing an alternative to private vehicles for short distance trips.
Infrastructure investment for improving walking transportation system not only benefits the commuting class but it also promotes environmental sustainability and less reliance on vehicular modes of transportation. It makes a city much more socially and economically vibrant and inclusive, promotes social cohesion and healthy living.
But in India the situation is the opposite. Rapid motorization combined with limited attention to walking and pedestrian facilities has resulted in the promotion of private two and three wheelers. Also, research studies have stated that with limited institutional and policy attention to improve walking and pedestrian facilities, city dwellers are likely to shift to motorized commuting. This shift, as per projections by some research studies, is most likely to increase the number of private vehicles on the road.
Walking and its relation with different category cities
Walking is one of the major means of urban transportation in various Indian cities irrespective of their population and geographical size. This means of transportation is more important for smaller cities having a population less that 50,000 because of smaller trip distances.
A late 90s study by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), covering 21 cities in the country, shows that around 30 percent of total trips undertaken in various cities were done by walking. As per a 2007 report by Wilbur Smith Associates and MoUD, the statistics point out that walking has a dominant share of transport. The below data extracted from their report gives a percentage share of different modes of transportation in different class cities:
Category 1a, 1b and 2 cities with population ranging from <.5 million to .5 million, will encounter most of the economic growth in India as per the latest urban growth and investment trends. Therefore the need of the hour is requirement of an impetus for innovation in sustainable urban infrastructure development, specifically in improvement of walking infrastructure in such cities.
This is also relevant for Category 3, 4 and 5 cities where walking occupies a 25% share of overall transportation mode. Even in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, having population >8 million, past survey-based studies show that high income households rely heavily on personal vehicles in Delhi while the low income households rely more on non-motorized modes (2 percent share of walking for high income category and 22 percent share of walking for low income category). Whereas in Mumbai walking constitutes a high share for both categories followed by a reliance on public transport (45 percent share of walking for high income category and 61 percent share of walking for low income category).
Need for an impetus to promote investment
The above statistics clearly point out that a huge portion of population rely on walking as a means of transportation. So if more investment is put in to improve walking infrastructure, Indian cities will not only provide a congenial living atmosphere for its residents but it will also have far reaching positive effects on the environment.
But over the years, the policies and budget allocation for improving urban transport infrastructure has shown a sheer neglect in investment for improving walking infrastructure in India. In most of the cities, investment has been directed towards capital-intensive rail-based projects and widening of roads. For example in Delhi, the total funds allocated for the transport sector in 2002–2003 had doubled in 2006–2007. However, 80 percent of the funds in this time frame have been allocated for road-widening schemes benefiting primarily car and motorcycle users. This directly contributed to rising vehicular pollution levels in the city along with higher road congestion issues.
The National Urban Transport Policy 2014 encourages use of non-motorized means of transportation but has not put much light on the subject. In order to combat the urban cities challenges of transport infrastructure and in pursuit to support environment friendly sustainable development the following recommendations should be looked upon:
- Urban planners needs to put more investment on walking infrastructure such as side-walks and foot-paths, under/over passes like overhead bridges and subways, shade covers, street-lights and safe road crossings.
- More focus should be given to improve pedestrian facilities and every state should come up with a comprehensive pedestrian policy or a master plan. Cities like Pune and Bengaluru are a successful case point to it.
- There has to be a dedicated institution that undertakes the maintenance of walking infrastructure. In many Indian cities, Hyderabad for example, research studies have pointed that institutions are not clear as to who is responsible for the maintenance of walking infrastructure. Thus better coordination between institutions or setting up of a separate cell is an answer to this issue.
- Pedestrian policy should closely look into the safety of the people. It should also look and provide solutions to issues of footpath space hogging by vendors, haphazard parking, etc.
- Traffic regulations must be made strict with penalties to control vehicular as well as pedestrian movement to ensure safety for both.
- There is a need to integrate different stakeholders for investment and maintenance of walking infrastructure. This includes involvement of public players, private players, NGOs, communities and also the people.