In our last post, we documented the death of an Aurobindo Marg median at the feet of pedestrians: those who walk and scuff are, for Delhi’s municipal infrastructure, the harbinger of death.
And the city knows it: its city planners and traffic engineers, toiling in futility in some governmental sub-basement, are fully aware that the longer they can keep feet off of where feet don’t belong, the further their infrastructure investments will stretch.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to protect the life of the infrastructure. The right way is to give pedestrians better options, because few people would risk crossing busy streets if there were safer alternatives. The wrong way is to arbitrarily cut pedestrians off from where they want to go, as Jenny and I discovered one lovely evening after indulging in Rajasthani handicrafts and Kashimiri tea at Dilli Haat. Upon exiting to Aurobindo Marg, we learned the hard way that the city had attempted to extend the life of a bit of infrastructure—and, perhaps, of a few citizens as a secondary consideration—by installing a jagged iron fence across the median to prevent people from crossing the street.
(This isn’t the actual fence, but it’s the same style. Photo by ex_pandora on Flickr.)
The problem was, Jenny and I always capped off our trips to Dilli Haat with a heart-stopping game of Aurobindo Frogger. That’s because if we picked up our autorickshaw at INA Market, just across the road on the southbound side, it was a straight shot home. But from the Dilli Haat side of the street, we faced an extra twenty rupees fare and fifteen minutes navigating the back streets behind Dilli Haat, merging on to the Ring Road, and joining the off-ramp crawl towards southbound Aurobindo Marg.
Twenty rupees and fifteen minutes: always worth playing chicken with a Blueline bus.
And we weren’t the only ones frustrated by this new blight on our commute. A constant stream of commuters debarked from buses on the sidewalk outside of Dilli Haat, many of them accustomed to crossing the street to continue their journey from the opposite bus stop at INA Market. Like us, these commuters stared unhappily short at the new fence. And like us, they looked around to consider their options, which were few: there were no nearby pedestrian bridges, no underpasses, no gaps in the new fence, and angry-looking points on top of each picket.
Some people sighed and began trudging to a distant overpass.
Some people cursed and counted their change to see if they could afford another northbound bus to a different transfer point.
And some people risked life and limb and groin as they climbed over the fence’s sharp pickets anyway.
In all cases, faces showed frustration bound to manifest in destruction. Sure enough, our return trip home from Dilli Haat was much easier a few weeks later, thanks to a freshly-torn gap in the fence. We joined a group of commuters that dashed across the traffic, squeezed through the hole, and sprinted to safety in front of INA.
(Also not our picture, but you get the idea: there’s safety in numbers when crossing the street, if for no other reason than the fact you’d rather be the last bowling pin than the first. Photo by Joshuacw on Flickr.)
The city is right to protect its investments in infrastructure and its citizens from becoming further sad notches on the Blueline’s belt. But pedestrians as a collective do not take kindly to arbitrary dead-ends. The aggregated incentives of fifteen minutes and twenty rupees, multiplied across thousands of people who want to save the money, is far more powerful than a mere iron fence.
Pedestrian deterrence only works in two instances: if alternatives are provided, or behavior is enforced. Had the city built a pedestrian bridge, or an underpass, or even just a gap in the fence where those truly determined to cross could squeeze through, that fence would not have been uprooted and twisted the next time we saw it, and the median would still be protected from the inevitable.
But if alternatives are not provided, enforcement is the only option. Take the rinky-dink medians that divide Delhi’s Bus Rapid Transit lanes; a few inches high and wide, they would be but a distant memory if it weren’t for the men in uniform standing astride them and glaring at anyone who tries to cross. It worked wonders for that one stretch of road, at least; and if men with mustaches and guns were spaced every twenty feet along every single road in the city, the municipal infrastructure would last a whole lot longer.
Impractical, obviously. But probably cheaper than repairing medians (and fences) every few months.
(Again, not our picture. I don’t think we’d be brave enough to put so many cops in one frame. Photo by praja_subba1 on Flickr.)