Pedestrians and their rights are not talked about or taken into consideration in this country. In most urban environments, the pavement and pedestrian area looks neglected and not properly maintained. In these areas, there are lamp posts, billboards and other installations which disturb and distract pedestrians. In an attempt to identify the present situation and rights of pedestrians in Sri Lanka, the Daily Mirror approached experts in relevant fields. We asked the question, to whom does the road belong to; pedestrians or motorists and they commented as following.
“Humans are like frightened animals squeezed between vehicles in a vehicle-dominated city,” he commented. “Pedestrian must be sheltered properly, especially in a tropical country, and there must be a proper landscape. The pedestrian area is not a respected zone here. Even bus shelters are badly designed and not properly located. Pedestrian movement and vehicular movement must be safely separated by vegetation, or a line of trees. The front of the bus shelter should be covered, not the back, so that people can’t jump into vehicles. Now it is totally open from the roadside and blocked from the back, and that is wrong.”
Commenting on the mistakes in city planning and design he said; “These are not designs, they’re just haphazard placements done by someone who doesn’t know anything about people and simple human behaviour. When people are not respected, they vandalize the city. They kick and break everything around them. They should be respected and integrated into society more than vehicles. Vehicles are respected more than people. This is not a humane city, is an animalistic city.”
He then pointed out examples of poor placement and planning in cities: “People are stuck in traffic between Fort railway station and the Pettah bus stand on both sides, because people carry heavy luggage from the station to the bus stand. The vehicle system and pedestrian system should be integrated together, in a meaningful way. If these two busy areas were properly placed, this unwanted traffic won’t be created.”
He said there are pedestrian streets (pedestrian malls) in some countries that had no vehicles, allowing people to move freely. “Internal shopping areas are totally independent. Vehicles should be taken out and hidden, as soon as they exit the road. Even though vehicles move in a linear way, people cannot walk like that, because their biological movement is very rhythmic, kind of a zig-zag pattern.” He emphasized on the importance of not having buildings in every corner of the city and the existence of windows in the cityscape. “The government should have a vision of creating a people-friendly city; but in the name of development, they are wasting a large sum of money redoing pavements and other patchworks,” he pointed out.
“At the same time, the short shrub-like bougainvillea are planted near roads and they absorb the poisonous gas emanating from internal combustion engines. These vehicles should not be allowed to be driven all over the city.”
Commenting on what is practical, he commented that such a vision was definitely practical even in Colombo city.
“If they allow me to plan the city, I will show them how well it can be done. All third-world countries are giving priority to vehicles, while western countries are opting for green and organic concepts. In Germany, they are trying to create a cycling-only city,” he added.
“What we have today is a deformed and ugly city, because the structure is wrong. Everything is interconnected and when something is wrong, everything else is also wrong. Therefore, this whole system should be changed.”
“In the last 8 years, we have made and improved many foot walks/pavements in the city. Nearly 50km of foot walks have been improved with paving. We have also managed to remove most houses that were along foot walks. In my opinion, foot walks are now in good condition,” said Jayantha Guruge, Former Director of Engineering Works, retired from the CMC.
Mr. Guruge further explained why many byroads did not have foot walks “You cannot place foot walks everywhere. Some roads are not wide enough. Because we have to take two traffic lanes into consideration, the road needs to be at least 7.5 metres. To accommodate a foot walk, we should have at least a 1.5m space. Most roads are not sufficiently wide to have one because of two lanes of traffic. This is the reason why most byroads do not have foot walks. If you are going to acquire land and construct a foot walk, it is a very costly affair.”
"There is also a large number of accidents, particularly involving pedestrians and cyclists. This is the price we are paying for poor quality design"
“You have to accommodate many things on a foot walk, such as lampposts and road signs. Sometimes lampposts and road signs may be placed in the middle of the foot walk. If it is 1.5m, we cannot place the lamppost at the edge of the pavement. We have to keep it at least 1 1/2ft away from the edge of the pavement. In a 1.5m foot walk if you leave about 450 mm for the lamppost, it ends up right in the middle. If you build the lamppost at the edge of the foot walk, the lamppost will damage vehicles. If the design is standard, we cannot accommodate everything on the foot walk. We have to accommodate lampposts and traffic signs on the footwalk. This is all for the safety of the pedestrian,” he said.
Speaking of the distance between crossings and the bus halt, Mr. Guruge said, “For zebra crossings, there is a standard design, as we generally put about 450m or 500m between the crossings. Otherwise, we have to consider the need for pedestrian crossings. If there is a demand for this, you can have pedestrian crossings anywhere, otherwise we have them at a 450m distance.”
“Bus halts also have a standard design- they are usually at a 500m distance from each other. Bus halts too are put up due to the demand, otherwise we have a standard distance between them. First we plan according to the standard, then through the demand. If there is a demand, we construct the bus halts where they are needed. At the main interception or junction, there has to be a bus halt. Otherwise we go by the standard. Demand is seen in areas that have a market or a railway station, schools, universities, hospitals and supermarkets.”
According to Prof. Amal Kumarage, Senior Professor at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa: “The bottom line is that all advanced cities have facilities for pedestrians, while poorly planned cities deny them rights. I think the term ‘pavement’ is a very poor definition of the facilities that have been given to pedestrians. Pedestrians must have walkways, not an edge of the road. Now walking is considered a wholesome activity which is good for your health and essential for social interactions.
Many cities provide walking facilities before providing anything else in other forms of mobility. In terms of developed countries and those which have a high quality of life, you will find pedestrian pathways, walkways, bicycle ways, bus ways and zones that are highly accessible to people. Vehicles will be at the lowest end of the priorities. So, Sri Lanka is still moving in the opposite direction, where we think private vehicles are the most important. Thus, we keep lining roads and acquiring facilities from what is available to pedestrians, buses and cyclists. We don’t provide adequate space or facilities for them and I think we are now reaping the consequences of this by way of an enormous amount of congestion, which is costing the economy billions in repairing roads and pavements.
"You cannot place foot walks everywhere. Some roads are not wide enough. Because we have to take two traffic lanes into consideration, the road needs to be at least 7.5 metres"
There is also a large number of accidents, particularly involving pedestrians and cyclists. This is the price we are paying for poor quality design. As long as we continue this, we will not be able to rise above the present situation. I still haven’t seen a reversal of this and I think this is where we are now.”
Speaking of pedestrian discipline, Prof. Kumarage said: “There are two sides to the coin. If you don’t provide facilities for pedestrians, they will walk wherever they can. Just like motorists will drive all over the place without sticking to a lane, pedestrians don’t stick to the correct side of the road. So, I don’t think this is the fault of pedestrians alone. It is typical of Sri Lankans. We don’t adhere to rules, signs or markings on a road whether we are pedestrians, motorists or bus drivers. Many people will blame bus drivers, three wheeler drivers or pedestrians; but motorists don’t observe rules either. They drive on different lanes and don’t stop at pedestrian crossings or honour traffic signals. This is because we pay very little consideration to road rules and such.”
Pics by Waruna Wanniarachchi