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North Chennai pedestrians battle for space

Meera Srinivasan

Several areas lacking in pavements, zebra crossings and speed breakers

— Photo: K.V.SRINIAVSAN

Pushed to a corner: A woman and a child make their way along the busy Tiruvottiyur High Road.

CHENNAI: Pavements that seem only about one metre wide, construction debris dumped on them, rows of shops selling vegetables and flowers along the road margins, garbage bins placed haphazardly and speeding vehicles — everything on Tiruvottiyur High Road seems to be working against the pedestrian.

For residents of north Chennai, problems of congestion and increasing volume of traffic have been compounded by the lack of facilities for pedestrians such as pavements, zebra crossings and speed breakers. In fact, in some places there are no pavements at all.

“Accidents are becoming common along this stretch. There are no pavements here and pedestrians have to manoeuvre their way, negotiating with vehicles that zoom past and the innumerable roadside shops put up,” says S. Saravanan, whose family has been running a juice centre on Tiruvottiyur High Road for over 60 years.

“Look, there is a Chennai Higher Secondary School in the area where hundreds of children study. But there is no speed breaker here for the vehicles to slow down,” Mr. Saravanan says, pointing to the school opposite his shop.

Students of the school said that every morning, they had a difficult time crossing the road. Enquiries with the residents of the locality revealed that though a traffic policeman was supposed to be on duty at the point he was not to be seen everyday.

Pedestrians using T.H.Road, and several roads in north Chennai localities such as Kasimedu, Tondiarpet, Old Washermenpet and Royapuram, are at great risk all the time, as they have hardly any space to walk.

School zones

On West Madha Church Road in Royapuram, which has no pavements and vehicles are parked along the road, students are forced to walk on the carriageway. Several schools are located on the road and the school zones do not have speed breakers or pedestrian crossings.

East Kalmandapam Road poses a different challenge, according to residents. With several small marriage halls on the stretch, both sides of the road morph into parking lots in the evenings, leaving very little space for the pedestrian.

S. Jeevarathinam, a long-time resident of north Chennai, said that often garbage bins were pushed to the roads.

“There are no public toilets in the vicinity and the existing pavements are used as urinals. Imagine the pedestrians' plight.”

The area around the Communicable Diseases Hospital in Tondiarpet is also evidently unsafe for pedestrians. “The pavements are either too narrow or vehicles take over whatever space is earmarked for the pedestrians. Are authorities implying that only those who travel by vehicles are fit to use these roads,” asked S. Leela, who walks to her workplace in Royapuram from a nearby bus stop.

Officials of the Highways Department said that the width of the pavement would depend on the width of the road and the density of traffic.

Noting that T.H.Road came under their purview only from Toll Gate to Ernavur, they said the Department was giving attention to pavements along Ennore Expressway that was currently being converted to a four-lane stretch.

Long-time residents and persons who frequent the localities said pedestrian safety was neither isolated nor specific to that part of the city. It had to be seen in the larger context of growing traffic and congestion.

Ensuring adequate public transport facilities was one way of addressing the issue, according to some of them. S. Dhanam has a small shop in Royapuram where she sells flowers. She relies largely on the 1-series bus service of the MTC to get to her shop from Tiruvottiyur every morning.

“The service is not too frequent or reliable. On several days, I end up spending Rs.10 on share autorickshaws so that I start my business on time. It is expensive for me as a bus ticket costs only Rs.3.”

The growing dependence on share autorickshaws and many preferring private vehicles adds to the chaos, residents noted.

M.S. Koil Street in Royapuram serves as a link to several other localities further north. It invariably gets choked with vehicles, particularly during rush hour. “We have to inch ahead. The smoke and dust in this part of the city is enormous and makes us feel very sick by the time we get home,” said R. Ravi, an autorickshaw driver in the locality.

‘No order'

Residents said that while businesses flourished in north Chennai, drawing many to the area, the lack of basic infrastructure facilities gave it the tag of “being backward”. As Mr. Saravanan put it, “If you want to make some good money, north Chennai is the best place. But there is simply no order and we are living with it.”

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