Bhubaneswar: As the state battles with the rising number of road fatalities, experts and local residents have raised concerns over lack of pedestrian space and improper traffic management in the smart city itself.
In a recent reply to a question on road accidents in Odisha, Transport Minister Nrusingha Charan Sahu stated that about 5,315 people had lost their lives in 2018 in accidents. That was an average of 14 deaths every day and 1.2 deaths every two hours.
Out of the 5,315 cases of death due to accidents, the State Transport Department revealed that 400 road deaths were from the Capital city. Meanwhile, with 478 cases of pedestrian deaths, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways placed Orissa second only to Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
“The apathy towards the pedestrians in the city is largely due to lack of walking space and disorganised traffic management. While the footpaths are usually encroached by illegally parked cars and motorbikes, the zebra crossings are reduced to a joke as the vehicles waiting at the traffic signals stop right on it,” said Dileep Panda who runs a city-based NGO for road safety.
According to a 2017 report by the Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited (BSCL), the vehicle population registered in that year was about one lakh, excluding two-wheelers. These numbers were expected to double in the next two years.
This comes in stark contrast with another BSCL report that suggests that major lanes like Janpath which has 46 metres on both sides, has 22 metres dedicated for carriageway, 6 metres for parking area, and 18 metres for pedestrian space. However, almost all pedestrian space is occupied by unorganised street vendors, encroachments and unregulated parking.
While large scale encroachments of footpaths can be seen in areas of Jagamara, Janpath, Kalinga Nagar and Patia, lack of zebra crossings and major gridlock are common sight in areas like Rasulgarh, IRC Village and VSS Nagar.
“Last year I lost my brother to an accident. He was trying to cross to the other side on the NH-18. There is no over bridge and the nearest underpass is about 300 metres away from my house. Even that is usually busy with vehicles coming from either side,” complained Pradeep Chandra Behera, a resident near IRC Village.
Responding to this, a senior official at the Commiserate of Police commented that both pedestrians and drivers should be aware of road safety rules. “To be honest, we are short on manpower and can’t be present everywhere. This is where an individual has to be aware of his own and others’ safety,” he added.
For the capital of the state competing with the best smart cities in the world, the designated pedestrian space has come as a huge challenge. Responding to this, Lalatendu Sahoo, head of South West Zone, stated that they go on regular rounds and evict illegal vendors who occupy the walking space.
“This will be of no use,” argues Panda. “These rounds are not done on daily basis and these vendors creep in again when the officials are not around. Stricter enforcement and better management combined with hefty fines levied on repeated offenders can curb this problem,” he suggests.
Aviral Mishra, OP