Do we really need the proposed Pedestrian subway at Spine road in Pune?

A tender was issued by the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) on 14th December, 2017 for constructing a subway at the cost of about Rs. 6 crore at Sector 4, Krishnanagar near Spine Road.

Known for its wide roads and connectivity with National Highways, it is common to find huge flyovers and umpteen grade separators dotting the roadscape of the twin city of Pimpri Chinchwad. With an uncompromising emphasis on speed and unflinching recognition of development, the city boasts of the State’s first two-tiered flyover, built using JnNURM funds. The city has also worked towards ensuring good public transportation and boasts of the costliest BRTS corridor that runs from Sangvi to Kiwale in addition to another corridor which is from Nashik Phata to Wakad.

 

With so many engineering marvels in its kitty, it comes as a surprise that PCMC is yet to engineer its way around solving the issues of pedestrians. The most fundamental practice of walking, and pedestrians as the most common road users seem to have been reduced to a postscript in the story of PCMC’s transportation system. The Comprehensive Mobility Plan of Pimpri Chinchwad explicitly maintains that road network improvement can only be done through measures like "widening of roads, construction of flyovers and bridges". A study by IIT Bombay showed that there was no space for pedestrians in the BRTS corridors of Pimpri-Chinchwad. The same Municipal Corporation which bagged the prize for urban cleanliness (which includes civic amenities and road development) in the year 2012 is now plagued with dirtyunderutilized and unusable subways and underpasses.

Adopting ad hoc measures like construction of subways and foot overbridges instead of comprehensively understanding the needs and safety of pedestrians, goes against PCMC’s commitment to equitable allocation of road space. As an authority devoted to “achieving paradigm shift in urban transport systems, in favour of sustainable development”, it needs to bring social, political, cultural and behavioural emphasis back on the pedestrians.


Spine Road

 

CONTEXT

The 14 km Spine Road is an important link road from the Mumbai-Pune highway to the Pune-Nashik highway. Developed by Pimpri-Chinchwad New Township Development Authority (PCNTDA) at a cost of over 70 crores, it is a six-lane road with service roads and parking facilities. Divided into 4 sections, the stretch where new subway is recommended falls within the section from Nigdi to Krishnanagar.

The site in consideration is Sector 4, Krishnanagar near Shivaji Park that connects to Spine Road. A neighbourhood road of Krishnanagar connects to a stretch of Spine Road which flows from a flyover and merges into the Sane Chowk junction. The subway, if and when it comes, would be around 500 metres prior to a signalled junction. This implies that speed of vehicles would be comparatively slower at the site where subway is recommended, in comparison to the rest of the stretch of Spine Road.

 

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Main carriageway of the Spine Road

 

There is sparse mixed-use development on either sides of the Spine Road. The Krishnanagar neighbourhood has a school too because of which few school buses populate the vicinity. The main carriageway on both sides of Spine Road is separated by a huge buffer zone in the middle. This zone is used for multiple purposes, from parking to recreational activities to animal grazing. A slew of trees are planted on the edges of the buffer zone.

 

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Sane Chowk- The junction that Spine Road leads to 

Currently, people on foot and cycle are crossing the Spine Road at grade. Portions of crash barriers (aluminium planks) which separate service lane from the main carriageway are removed to access the other side of the Spine Road. This mode of negotiating with vehicle-centric infrastructure allows pedestrians and cyclists a much shorter route but a rather risky one in the absence of zebra crossing and speed calming measures.

ISSUES

There is no clear delineation of the factors considered before proposing a subway at Krishnanagar, Spine Road by the PCMC. A tender was issued but it remains ambiguous whether the requisite site study, pedestrian count, data collection and primary research preceded the tendering process or not.

Additionally, the information regarding viability of other alternatives like at grade or surface crossings is absent. In the wake of existing underpasses and foot overbridges succumbing to dysfunctionality and inaccessibility, it becomes imperative to conduct assessment and usability study, before recommending similar structures.

If the subway comes into place, will the prevalent governance and maintenance structure continue wherein private firms are supposed to maintain cleanliness and provide security in lieu of getting permission to display advertisements free of cost? Such an arrangement provides enough leeway to the private firm, with pedestrians bearing the brunt of the neglect.

PEDESTRIAN SUBWAYS IN POLICIES AND GUIDELINES

1. The Indian Road Congress’ Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities (2012) underlines different pedestrian crossing facilities with specifications and capacity considerations. Grade-separated pedestrian crossings are to be built only after the local conditions meet certain warrants specified in the IRC: 103-2012.

2. Subways and Foot overbridges wherever designed must be fully compliant with the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disability and Elderly Persons, as required by law.

 

The neighbouring city of Pune came up with Urban Street Design Guidelines according to which,

1. FOB or pedestrian subway should be considered only in very exceptional cases as a last option when all attempts to provide safe at grade crossing have failed. Final decision about grade separated crossing shall be based strictly on the findings of necessary scientific surveys and on satisfying stipulated warrants as per applicable codes and standards.

2. Subways and overhead bridges should be accessible for people with disabilities.

In a study done by Parisar, the usability analysis of the Foot overbridges and Foot underbridges in the city of Pune showed that they are often poorly designed and remain underutilised. The study also showed that despite safety issues, people prefer at grade crossings over other alternatives.

By virtue of its design, the subways also go against the principle of “providing consistent, high quality pedestrian infrastructure with equitable allocation of road space” enshrined in the Pedestrian Policy of Pune. According to the Pedestrian Policy, a subway or a grade separator for pedestrians should be the last option under consideration and only if there was heavy traffic at a particular location on the road.

World over, foot overbridges and pedestrian subways are ceasing to be the preferred choice. Studies show that pedestrian underpasses rely more on the engineering design to cope with the estimated volume of pedestrians than on a consideration of the perceptions, attitudes, feelings and behaviour of the potential users. Consequently, many cities of world, like London, Leicester, etc are realizing the inefficacy and inadequacy of subways and replacing them with at-grade crossings.

 

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The site proposed for the subway at Spine Road

 

WHY AT-GRADE

Following are the factors that favour providing an at-grade crossing at Spine Road:

1. A huge buffer zone in the middle of the carriageway- From the safety point of view, a huge buffer zone in the middle of the two carriageway ensures that the potential portion and time where a vehicle might come in conflict with pedestrian is reduced. This buffer zone also acts as a refuge island for the pedestrians. 

 

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Buffer zone in the middle of the carriageway


2. Speed Calming Measures- Since the site where subway is recommended is close to a signalled junction, well implemented speed calming measures can very effectively mitigate conflict points.

Apart from the aforementioned locational factors, there are various other factors that favour at-grade crossing over a subway:

1. At-grade crossings are more accessible than subways. As is seen in the case of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad many subways remain underutilised by pedestrians in general, and elderly, specially-abled and children in particular.

2. Subways lengthen the journey on foot rather than making it convenient. They are, therefore, not intuitive to a pedestrian’s obvious walking route and desire lines.

3. At grade or surface crossing are economical and ensure the visibility of pedestrians too. They are also easier to maintain in comparison to subways. They provide the option of co existence without necessarily erupting conflict which makes it a more progressive and development-oriented alternative than subway.

4. The design of subways removes any natural surveillance which can act as a precursor to problems of safety and convenience.

CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS

In the wake of Pimpri Chinchwad doing so many things in the urban transport sector, with the introduction of flyovers, grade separators, BRTS and much more, it is time that PCMC thinks about progressive pedestrian policies as well. Unlike the neighbouring city of Pune, which has at least begun speaking the sustainable language in its policies and guidelines, there is a considerable lacuna with respect to sustainable modes of transport when it comes to Pimpri-Chinchwad. There is no policy for non-motorized transport in general and pedestrians in particular.

Ensuring at-grade or surface crossings will enable PCMC to work towards its statutory duty as a service provider to make accessibility improvements. The Harmonized Guideline sets a requirement on PCMC to remove obstructions and barriers to disabled people and install and upgrade surface crossings where feasible to do so. This will also go a long way in promoting social inclusion.

A suggested next step for PCMC is (on similar lines as suggested in a letter by Parisar to PCMC, dated January 8th, 2018):

1. Not to construct grade-separated crossing structures (FOBs/Pedestrian subways) unless they are deemed to be unavoidable, only after the option of an at-grade crossing has been considered by appropriate experts and a report to that effect has been submitted.


2. Where such a facility has been determined to be unavoidable, that it should
a. Be constructed in full compliance with the “Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disability and Elderly Persons”, as required by law.
b. Require a mandatory allocation of funds for proper maintenance and operations


3. To make and submit a policy regarding the design, construction, maintenance and periodic audit of such facilities detailing a definitive process that must be followed before recommending and initiating construction. The definitive process can include study of factors like:
a. pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow
b. need of and impact on the target group
c. inclusion of local concern and opinion
d. alternatives considered
e. SWOT analysis
f. location or site study
g. availability of funding