On your marks, get set, go! This three-command start at the beginning of a race may well apply to a majority of pedestrians across multiple intersections on Pune roads. Barely does the traffic light change from green to red than those who can make a dash for it to cross to the other side, negotiating the daily battleground with practised dexterity (and perhaps a prayer on their lips). For many others not able to cross in those 15 crucial seconds, it’s a long wait for the next attempt. This daily ordeal is so common now that citizens have even forgotten their basic rights as pedestrians.
In this three-part series, The Indian Express has carried out a spot check across some prominent intersections in Pune, only to find non-functional pedestrian signals, faded or non-existent zebra crossings, and signals that give pedestrians mere seconds to cross.
The first part looks at some prominent intersections along Pune Sinhagad Road and Pune Solapur Road.
One of the busiest roads in Pune, the Sinhagad Road provides access to the Mumbai–Bangalore bypass. The junctions at Dandekar Bridge, Rajaram Bridge and below the Mumbai-Bangalore bypass witness heavy traffic congestion. The Dandekar bridge junction is a point where commuters change buses to reach their destinations. “The zebra crossing on the roads near the junction has faded and is not easily visible. So pedestrians cross from anywhere, putting their lives at risk. If they cross one lane after traffic halts due to a red signal, they have to wait at the signal till the flow of vehicles in the other lane stops. The road is also uneven,” said Suresh Kamble, a daily wager who stays nearby and crosses the road multiple times a day.
“There is a signal for pedestrians to cross the road but the time is insufficient considering the time taken to cross with heavy traffic on either side of the road and vehicles occupying the faded zebra crossing,” said Seema Pawar, a domestic help residing in the area.
The junction at Vithalwadi near Rajaram Bridge provides access to the Kothrud area and witnesses heavy traffic during peak hours. “The junction is too risky to cross with speeding vehicles. The zebra crossing is extremely faint. I have to cross the road twice a day to take the bus but it is a challenge with vehicles frequently jumping signals and causing obstructions to pedestrians,” said Abhay Joshi, a bank employee who travels daily from Anandnagar to Kothrud.
The junction below the Mumbai-Bangalore bypass is plagued by heavy traffic and each road heads in three directions, with one connecting the highway.
“There is a police chowky beneath the highway but the junction is so wide and big that it cannot be manned properly by one traffic policeman. The time is too less for pedestrians to cross this road,” said Surendra Chavan of Dhayari. “The traffic police do take action on those jumping signals or engaging in rash driving. But the junction with the faded zebra crossing does not provide safe passage for pedestrians crossing the road,” said Sheetal Paigude, a resident of Vadgaon Budruk.
At Vitthalrao Vamanrao Pasalkar Chowk near VIT college on Swami Vivekanand Road off Satara Road, there is a complete lack of system in place in terms of a zebra crossing, traffic signal, or a traffic police official in the chowk. “Commuters with their two-wheelers and four-wheelers use this junction to cross and drive on the wrong side of the traffic flow. If they cross through the chowk and take the wrong side, it saves them time in reaching Lake Town Road,” said a medical store owner near the chowk, requesting anonymity. As a result, pedestrians do not just have to look left and right but also have to watch over their shoulders for vehicles using the intersection to cross to the other side.
At the Wanowrie Traffic Division that regulates the flow of traffic from across areas under Pune Cantonment Board and Pune Municipal Corporation, including Shivarkar Road, Golibar Maidan, Bhairoba Nala and Kalubai Chowk on Pune Solapur Road, efforts have been taken to ensure that pedestrian signals are set for a minimum 15 seconds. But a spot check shows that such is the flow of vehicles – especially at the Fatimanagar and Kalubai (near Krome mall) Chowk junctions along the Pune-Solapur Road – that the ‘right-of-way’ for pedestrians has been flouted.
Take the Kalubai Chowk on Solapur Road, popularly known as Krome Chowk, for instance. “This is a hotspot. By the time it is 9 am, those who are waiting to cross the road from the B T Kawade Road end have to check multiple times to their left and right for vehicles that are coming from Hadapsar side to simply cross the road. It is a problem. How do we cross the road or even cycle across?” asked Dr C Sangvi, a doctor at Fatimanagar.
Then, there are the vehicles driving out of the parking lot of a prominent mall at Kalubai Chowk. Some two-wheelers blatantly flout the ‘Do not cross to the right’ sign to take a shorter route to B T Kawade Road. There is no right turn but vehicles prefer to take the short route instead of turning left and riding to Bhairoba Nala to take a U-turn and return.
There are two traffic police officials posted at the intersection. But at peak hours, the heavy flow of vehicular traffic from both ends – going towards Hadapsar/Saswad and from Hadapsar towards Golibar Maidan – is so high that they admit pedestrians are unable to cross the road. “There is a continuous flow of vehicles. Even if we allow them to wait for five seconds, there is a huge pile-up of vehicles,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
So, even if the pedestrian signal instructs vehicles to stop, many continue to move, denying the pedestrian his/her right of way to cross the road. As for the zebra crossing at Fatimanagar junction, it has faded beyond recognition and no motorist bothers to wait here, says a 70-year-old resident.
‘Congestion cannot be an excuse’
The Pune Municipal Corporation has to ensure visible zebra crossings and working traffic lights “with the pedestrian phase set as per IRC [Indian Roads Congress] guidelines and proper design of the junction which prioritises the safety of pedestrians,” said Ranjit Gadgil, programme director of Parisar and member of the PMC’s non-motorised transport (NMT) committee.
While the traffic police are primarily responsible for ensuring compliance with rules such as stopping at traffic lights, curbing wrong-side driving and excessive speeding, what has become a cause for concern is the heavy traffic congestion that has led to decisions like narrowing or removal of footpaths, making roads dangerous to cross. “Traffic congestion is ultimately due to the vehicle-centric policies of PMC and no amount of jugglery can alleviate this problem,” Gadgil added.
Pranjali Deshpande, transport planner and member of the PMC’s NMT committee, says that the safety of pedestrians can be achieved only if we limit the speed of vehicles. “First of all, the design of these junctions should be compact so that pedestrians will get the shortest path to cross the junction. This will not only help pedestrian safety but also overall improvement in junction efficiency by reducing signal phasing,” said Deshpande. “Then comes painting, signages and enforcement. Without redesign of the junctions for pedestrian safety, if we only do paintings and signages, that may not yield necessary results,” Deshpande added.
Junctions will be redesigned, say PMC officials
PMC Additional Municipal Commissioner Vikas Dhakane says the civic administration has undertaken repair and maintenance of major city roads. “Fifteen main roads are being developed on priority as VIP roads – Sinhagad Road, Solapur Road, Nagar Road and Karve Road. Junctions will be redesigned, pedestrian needs will be met,” he said.
PMC Chief Engineer Srinivas Kandul says the civic body provides infrastructure and maintenance of traffic signals and the time for signals is provided as per demand made by traffic police. “The signal (duration) for pedestrian crossing is uniform across the city – 15 seconds. These are as per traffic police instructions and PMC does not make any change. Jumping signals or encroachment on zebra crossing is part of the enforcement work done by traffic police,” Kandul said.
Coming Soon Part 2: Pune-Ahmednagar Road and Pimpri Chowk