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Over or under?

A recent survey of Delhi government’s Planning Department concluded that pedestrians prefer subways over foot over-bridges. However, Patriot finds that the real picture is different

Forty stairs, 19,120 users and “too many beggars and junkies.” These are the vital statistics for a foot over-bridge (FOB) adjacent to ISBT Kashmere Gate in a Planning Department survey.

The survey was commissioned after some reports surfaced that the FOBs and subways in the capital are underutilised. It found that: “Subways appear to be better option from the utilisation point view. They attract relatively more users than FOBs. Therefore, it is recommended to build more subways for crossing roads.”

As per the survey, Delhi has 74 FOBs and 37 subways. The number of users of FOBs average is 6,231; for subways the average is 4,908.

However, when Patriot visited the FOBs and subways, it found out that many people do not have a preferred choice, and take any of the options available.

On the bustling road near ISBT Kashmere Gate is the second most used FOB as per the survey.

It is used by 1,471 people on an hourly basis.

Manohar Lal Singh, 61, and his wife were walking on the FOB and about to take the bus to Karnal from the bus stop situated under the FOB. While the FOB has escalators on both the sides, both of these escalators go in one direction only: Up. This Singh found “problematic.”

“I have two suitcases. Climbing up the FOB was easy, but now I will have to take the stairs to get down. My wife is pretty old, and she cannot lift any of the bags,” says Singh.

Generally, FOBs in the capital are dirty, with tobacco spit almost making a graffiti, and beggars and drunkards making them home.

However, the ISBT Kashmere Gate FOB is relatively litter free. Umpteen people use the escalator. Another person who was going to take the bus for Mcleodganj said, “I see that they’re going to connect this bridge with the new one,” pointing at the new bridge. “This will ease up the pain of getting into the terminus, right?”

Dr Sewa Ram, Professor of Transport Planning, School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) doesn’t quite agree with the survey of the Planning Department. He thinks their structure is problematic.

“Some subways are longer and narrow; people prefer not to use them because of safety concerns. If the presence of other pedestrians can be felt, then they will be used,” says Prof Ram.

“Subways are becoming shelters for bad elements. They’re not lively places.” He gives an example of an old subway on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg where coffee shops used to give it a feeling of being occupied. Now it is deserted.

Ideally, he says, a subway should be at road level for pedestrians and the road lifted above them.  “If that’s not possible to implement, the engineers can take the ‘semi’ route. Which is to take the subway a little below the road level, and take the FOB slightly up, thus reducing the energy consumption,” he adds.

On the FOBs in the capital, Prof Ram goes on to say that if the passage is narrow, then “nobody wants to go up and down. But if the road is wide like a highway, then people are bound to use it.”

The survey also calls the subway at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi the busiest. With 1,587 hourly users, the subway is majorly used as a plethora of people come to one of the biggest hospitals in the capital.

While the general rule for Delhi’s subways is that they are unclean, dark and shady, the one at Safdarjung Hospital is being maintained properly. In the corner one could see buckets and mops, while countless number of people enter and exit the premises.

“I think it’s a pretty well-maintained subway. I have used other subways too in Delhi, but this one is surprisingly clean. Maybe it’s because of the hospital and so many people going there,” says a women passerby.

When asked what she prefers, FOB or subway, she was  practical. “I take whatever comes my way. Who has the time to think when one is in a hurry and has to reach somewhere?”

The report also quoted the ratio of users to non-users within the FOB and subways surveyed and found out that subways are a preferred choice. “The difference in this ratio is important due to several reasons. For example, less effort is required in negotiating the total distance covered by Subways as compared to FOBs, both in terms of height and distance. There is psychological advantage with subways as people have to go down first and then go up. The number of steps in stairs are also much less in subways as compared to FOBs.”

The general notion when it comes to subways is that they are inadequate in quality. This is the general case in Delhi-NCR.

The subway under Badarpur Metro station on Mathura Road is in a shabby state, with more than half of the walls covered with huge patches of tobacco stains. Shankar, the guard at the subway, says, “People don’t stop spitting on the walls. I keep on telling whoever does it. But they just don’t stop.”

This subway is also very poorly lit, and looks forbidding even during the daytime. Nonetheless, two girls who were sitting nonchalantly on of the exits of the subway (3 exits in total) often use the subway to pass the time during their lunch breaks.

“We think it’s safe. Since nothing happened to us ever, we haven’t given much thought to the safety of the subway,” says one of the girls who wished not to be named.

Pranjal Khatri (name changed), 22, a resident of Mayur Vihar, says, “If I have to choose between FOB and subway. I’d choose FOB because when I have used subways I have found them quite unclean and shady. You see so many drunkards and kids taking drugs.”

She also says that when there’s a situation of either taking a subway or crossing the road, she’d prefer the latter. “Because you don’t have to put the effort of going all the way to the FOB and then coming down.”

Sarika Panda Bhatt, head, Integrated Transport and Road Safety with think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) India is more censorious.  “Subways are very, very unsafe. They’re not properly lit, isolated and there’s no human intervention.”

“We have spoken to police and engineering departments and they also feel subways are unsafe and a lot of crimes start happening. On the other hand, FOBs without escalators are useless because people will continue to jump the railings of the road,” says Bhatt.

She concludes, “Even for a four-lane road you provide FOBs without escalator. That’s not the right way to treat pedestrians.”

FACT CHECK

Footover bridges 74
Subways 37
Average FOB
users per day 6,231
Average subway
users per day 4,908
Busiest subway Safdarjung
Hospital
subway
Busiest FOB ISBT
Anand Vihar