The road rules - Part 1
In this series of write-ups, I write about the tips and tricks when being on Indian roads. I use Bangalore as reference considering this is where I get constant experience. This one is for and about pedestrians.
God forbid if you need to walk to reach your destination - work, shop or any other. Tread with caution - literally. Indian roads are not designed with pedestrians in mind. Most of the roads - especially where people need to walk (shopping and office areas) do not have footpaths. If they do, they are occupied by vendors, beggars or garbage. Since footpaths are usually concerte slabs covering stormwater drains, I am referring here to those rare areas which are covered. You do get to see occasional stretch of unhabited footpath. I see one when I drive through a road connecting Old Airport Road to Outer Ring Road. Both sides of the road are covered by uninhabited Government property. In other words, the footpath is used by none. Then again, if you happen to be in high traffic area, yield to the overspeeding two wheeler or cycle, who finds traffic flows faster over footpath than road.
Thus you invariably end up walking on the road - the cornermost part of the road. Now check if the road exists - usually the corners get escavated periodically - breaking any working landline wires which pass through the area or water pipes. The latter is not a big threat since there is not much water around to flow.
Often you find a need to cross the road. This is arguably the most adventurous part of any walk. We should consider ourselves fortunate that this is not considered as a dangerous sport or such activity which is typically not covered by insurance.
Crossing a road is no mean task and the degree of difficulty is proporionate to the width of the road.
Roads which have heavy traffic do have traffic signals at junctions - either automated or manual. Observe them to see if they give time for pedestrians to cross. Some do - making some beeping sound to alert the visually challenged. You will encounter two problems though. One, since zebras are not popular in India, zebra crossings are rare as well. Where they exist, you will find vehicles standing over them, waiting for the signal to turn green. Beware of stray drivers sneaking through during this time - especially to make illegal turns. The second would be the time available to cross. The signals are designed to provide good exercise to pedestrians. A quick sprint is the only way to cross the road - it helps to do some preparation upfront in case you are a leisurely stroller.
Another option to cross the road is the elevated pedestrian crossing. This is present in a couple of places (in my route of office). This is good for the able-bodied people who can climb steps. And there are quite a few steps to climb. This is a risk-free proposition and is the safest way to cross the road.
I guess there are pedestrian subways in a few places. The only one I have frequented is the crossing between Majestic Bus Stand and the Railway Staion. This is pretty good too and I would way, should be the only way to cross this road. Of course, there are vendors and there could be occasional drunkards. It may not be well-lit. What is life without a little adventure?
But such mechanisms for crossing are few and far in between. The majority would want to cross the road, whenever wherever they want to. Fancy walking a few metres to the nearest signal or zebra crossing? Who has the time or energy for that? Wikipedia has a page for this - called jaywalking
Most of the big roads do have dividers, but we are united people - nothing can divide us. We can surmount all such dividers. Why? even some two wheelers manage to find gaps in the dividers to make turns. Do understand that the dividers are not devoid of irritants. The popular one these days are posters - of sundry politicians who have done some deed or the other. They are so placed as to ensure you cannot see the oncoming traffic.
If you are lucky, there will be breaks in traffic to allow you to cross the road. But then again, this is, if you are patient. "Patient? Me? Am I in a hospital or what?" We are oblivious to the fact that that is where we will end up otherwise.
So don't wait but try to wade through the traffic. We have great faith and trust in the alertness and braking skills of the drivers on the road. The biggest aid in this endeavor is number. The more the number of people attempting a crossing together, the better the chances of success. So, cross en masse. Look around. Find others who have similar need. Take the trouble to walk a couple of steps to the left or right to join and form a group. Remember, the driver accelerates at empty stretch. Beware of blind corners since you cannot see the traffic coming.
Sometimes the state of the roads come as help to the road-crossers. Potholed roads mean the drivers cannot speed too much. Animals help too - acting as natural road bumps. Sleeping cows are not a rare sight in Bangalore roads.
There is another dimension to the road crossing - the Crossing assistants (a term I coin for want of a better one). I see them in three places on my way to work - Golden Enclave, Diamond District and Embassy Golf Links. They are uniformed staff - one on either side of the road - possibly paid by the buildings in questions to help people cross the road. They have a whistle and a Stop signboard which they desperately blow and wave respectively to bring the speeding traffic to a screeching halt. Many vehicles do not pay heed to them especially since they usually do this standing on the footpath. The silliest thing I have seen is the staff before Embassy Golf Links wear helmets - ostensibly to protect themselves in case of accidents. (Maybe their insurance demands it?) In fact, I would think they should have a few helmets in their hands - for people to wear before they cross.
Did I forget to mention not to talk on the cellphone or listen to music with earphones on while walking on/crossing the road?
Who says Indians are lacking in adventure sports?
Update [30 Nov]: Recently a pedestrian signal (a signal exclusively for pedestrians to cross the road) has come up before Embassy Golf Links. What is ironic but not surprising is that people attempt to cross the road at various places 10-15 metres on either side of the signal. And then the impatient ones who try to cross even when it is Red for pedestrians. I can only wonder why they are in such a tearing hurry to meet their Maker.