Pedestrians are the pulse of a city. And also, Earth’s beating heart.

nov walkingThis time, let’s begin with a small exercise. First, think of some of the biggest cities in the world. Now, consider the first image that comes to mind.

New York City

Image: Pedestrians walking to work, holding a Starbucks coffee in their hands.

 Tokyo

Image: Thousands of Japanese men and women crossing the overwhelming Shibuya intersection.

Mumbai

Image: Hoards of Mumbaikars taking to the footpath, marching towards the local trains.

Proof that pedestrians are the heart and soul of every big city in the world.

Daily walkers represent numerous things about a city – the energy, the ethos, and most of all, the spirit. What’s terribly sad then, is that they are often the lowest in consideration while vehicular traffic receives priority in our country. The shoddy state of the roads and sidewalks tell long tales of their misery. In fact, foot-travelers also hugely contribute to the environment on a daily basis  – simply by not adding to the already existing levels of pollution.

As a minuscule attempt at kick-starting the pedestrian narrative and bringing attention towards the brigade that is saving the earth one step at a time – here’s shedding some light on projects, measures and laws with regards to pedestrians in India.

 Special Projects for Pedestrians | The Walking Project

The Walking Project, initiated by a bunch of Mumbaikars, was launched in 2012 with great gusto. The idea was to focus on the average pedestrian and make the process of walking not just convenient but even joyful for them. The torchbearers of this project aimed at fixing poorly lit footpaths, aligning paver blocks, ensuring correct parking and eliminating encroachments. They also worked towards creating a community of citizens who would contribute their efforts towards a pedestrian friendly environment. In addition to that, there was an attempt to create awareness about the impact of walking on public health and climate change. Founded by Mumbai based activist Rishi Aggarwal, The Walking Project lost momentum within a year of talking off and was revived in 2016.

Unique Measures for Pedestrians |

In our country, pedestrians are the most vulnerable lot and often, the most ignored lot as well. The exceptions to this rule, however, are cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad. By adopting measures to ease the life of the everyday walker, some of these cities are setting great examples.

  1. Bengaluru’s Tendersure Scheme has facilitated the redesigning of 7kms of roads and made them pedestrian friendly. Wider streets that include trees enhance the current walking experience; while future plans include 35 e-toilets, water ATMs, 420 smart dustbins with sensors.
  2. Chennai has stolen the show by prioritising pedestrians over vehicles. The percentages are testimony to this statement. Recently, 60 % of the city’s transport budget was dedicated to non-motorised transport. 80% of its roads will be soon accompanied by footpaths to encourage travelling on foot.
  3. Hyderabad was always known for its biryani but with the concept of ‘Refugee Islands’, it is now also known for its thoughtfulness. These little islands are slight elevations in the middle of streets, which allow people to take mini-breaks while crossing busy roads.

Important Laws for Pedestrians |

India is a gorgeous mess. Here, much of the education related to the day-to-day life of a citizen is taken for granted. For example, not everyone who takes to the road every single day is aware of the laws of the road. Pedestrians rely on observation and conversation, which often leads to incomplete knowledge.  While there is a lot of publicity and marketing about the laws and rules for vehicle drivers, pedestrians suffer from ignorance which, in this case, if far from blissful or safe.  In light of this situation, here are the rules pertaining to pedestrians, as devised by the Indian law.

  • It is the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing.
  • No driver can park a motor vehicle near a traffic light or on a pedestrian crossing or a footpath.
  • Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive on the footpaths or cycle lane except with permission from the police officer on duty.

With things gradually turning in the favour of walkers, maybe vehicalists should consider giving their cars a skip once in a while too.

How about today?

Taking the bus might look bad on your Instagram story. But it definitely makes the Earth look very good.

dec social anxittyIndians are a dichotomous lot. On one hand – warm, hospitable and sociable. And on the other hand, hugely classist and racist.  And that’s not all; we are also equally vocal about both aspects of our personality. Land up at a party in New Delhi or a Mall in Chandigarh and it’s not unusual to overhear a conversation of the following nature:

Lady 1:‘I saw your daughter at the bus stop yesterday…she was waiting for a bus. Is everything okay Reena? Why is she not going to office in her car? Any money problems?’

Lady 2:‘No no Simmi… I don’t know what’s wrong with her these days… she is into this stupid global warming shorming thing na…she was saying it helps nature or something like that.’

Lady 1:‘You must talk to her about it haan – it doesn’t look good, what will people say?’

What will people say?

 This often-used sentence in our country is undoubtedly the root of all social anxiety. If we literally look at the definition of social anxiety, it is explained as – a disorder, also called social phobia, intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.

What will people say penetrates into almost all aspects of our lives. From the clothes we wear, to our relationship status, to the choice of work, and the colour of our skin. While a lot of this has a bearing on ‘only’ our personal life, the need to look socially acceptable somewhere also impacts the planet we live in. Making a choice to drive your four-wheeler as opposed to walking or taking a bus to a party also means that you are allowing our social anxiety to add to the level of pollution on the planet.

Didn’t think on those terms before –did you?

Now that we have found a lateral connection between your social anxiety and the effect it has on the environment, here are ‘7 POWERFUL COMMANDMENTS’ to ease the former and positively impact the latter. Feel free to stick these up on your soft-board or share them on your social media. No books have been referred to while creating these commandments.

I. Thou shall remember that the planet is more important than a peer’s comments.

II. Thou shall post pictures while travelling in buses and trains also, not just in fancy four-wheelers. By doing so, thou shall normalise the use of public transport.

III. Thou shall hop into a bus with a bunch of friends while going to a party and set an example for others.

IV. Thou shall shame those back who shame thou for using of public transport, telling them that violating the earth is not classy.

V. Thou shall post statistics that prove how use of public transport is better for the health of the earth. And tags all my friends and friends of friends.

VI. Thou shall mark no-car days in the calendar for the next one-year.

VII. Thou shall be the change.

With the commandments in place, you are now equipped to fight the unhealthy social pressure. And fight for what really matters – a healthier planet!

Want a better future for the planet? Modify your present travelling choices.

nov electric mibiltyPicture this. It’s 2035; you have just made it to Mars after a long journey. You’re visiting your scientist friend who shifted to the red planet in 2030 when the first spacecraft left from Earth. Frozen water available under the surface of Mars has been transformed into regular refrigerated water by now and is being served to you in an oddly shaped glass (come on, it’s Mars, things must look more techie than Earth). Your friend also greets you with potato fritters, or potato mash if you please. Both of you take a walk, there are no vehicles yet and instead of encountering the famed Mars dust storms, you enjoy the warm breeze of another planet.

Now, open your eyes. Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s actually 2018 and you are not going anywhere yet!

With inter-planetary futuristic travel being taken away from you within a second, or rather, within a paragraph – let us compensate by providing you with another option, one that could make you feel like you are in the future even in 2018 – well, the option of electric public mobility.

 A possibility that not just addresses climate change issues but is also a breakthrough in transportation technology. Let’s dive right in!

But first, what is electric mobility?

Electric mobilityincludes all street vehicles that are powered by an electric motor and mainly get their energy from the power grid – preferably renewable energy. Simply put, these electric buses or electric scooters can be recharged externally, pretty much like your phones or a child’s battery operated toy. With these floating around, there may be soon a possibility of a conversation such as this: ‘I have battery in my phone but I need to charge my two-wheeler – is there a booth close-by?’ Anyway.

 Why exactly do we need this electric mobility thing?

On a larger level, we simply need it to ‘save the planet.’ But if that sounds too much of an advertising slogan to you and leaves you curious for more, then here are some of the logical reasons why electric mobility is the need of the hour.

(a)  The challenges beyond CNG:Even 100% penetration of clean fuel CNG does not ensure a safe and healthy environment. Pricing of petroleum products, tail-pipe emissions and unburnt carbon act as big hurdles and are hazardous to the atmosphere. Health impact of the tall pipe emissions are well documented and chest medicine fraternity swears by the ill-effects of the fumes floating around in the streets – more commonly known as PM 2.5 emissions.

(b) The challenges arising from climate change:Global warming and the rapidly changing state of the overall climate are a constant threat as well. These have made humankind more vulnerable than ever. Instances of flooding, recurrence of other natural calamities and health epidemics are on an incline and a solution is being eagerly awaited.

(c)  The challenges of excessive energy consumption: Human ambition is soaring higher than ever and while that may be a good thing for the economy, it might not be the same for the environment.  Point being, India is buying more passenger vehicles than ever and contributing to the already existing dangerous environmental condition. In fact, the transport sector consumes almost 40% energy in India. If that’s not a staggering number, what is?

 How can things change?

Evolution is the only answer. Just the way diesel had to make way for CNG, it’s now CNG’s turn to move away and let the road belong to Electric vehicles. Not just public, but electrifying private transportation is the way forward. One of course needs to place more emphasis on electrifying public transportation – that way you reduce the emissions as well as reduce the congestion on the streets. Doing so will address all aspects of air pollution, be it ambient or curbside – be it in larger metros or up and coming smaller towns.

Having said that, while electric buses are already available in cities like Mumbai, there’s a long way to go when it comes to the rest of the country. The process includes the understanding of technology, leapfrogging, costs and so forth. Not just that, there’s also the additional leg of charging infrastructure which comes with matters like planning and citing. In addition to the evolution of the mode of transportation, there will also be a strong need for the commuters to embrace this change. To ditch their comfort zones and their engrained everyday habits. The population of every city will need to see merit in the idea and not just make an individual choice but raise awareness about the option as well.

In the end, it will all boil down to a citizen’s sense of social responsibility and environmental consciousness. If the average person leaving home every single day can include these two factors before hopping on to a vehicle – then earth would slowly not be a planet you’d want to escape from.

Food for thought?

To walkway or not to walkway?

walkway‘I’m on a highway to hell.

I’m on a highway to hell.’

 Australian rock band ACDC’s lyrics truly represent an average Mumbaikar’s state of mind when heading towards the business district of Lower Parel, every morning. Once a hub of cloth and wheat mills, this area is now a living testimony to the traumatic state of affairs. The slow placed metro construction eats into more than half of the roads, the mushrooming of commercial complexes adds to the congestion, and the crumbling flyovers are a perfect example of the ephemeral nature of life. This and so much more turn the commute to Lower Parel, one of the most economically important districts of Mumbai, into a highway to hell. 

Let’s understand that Lower Parel is being used as a mere example. There is a large number of areas across the country that mirror a similar situation. In fact, this mindless excess of concrete and construction is not just a threat to the environment but also to the economy. Research proves that top corporate managers are making crucial career choices and skipping important career opportunities in light of this travelling inconvenience.

Moving forward to potential solution, removal of cars is the first-cut idea that comes to mind. Be it Mumbai, Pune, Delhi or Bangalore – many successful or unsuccessful steps have been taken, each revolving around minimizing cars or vehicles. From the odd-even attempt in Delhi to the up and coming car-pooling culture in other cities – nothing has solved the problem. Perhaps it’s time for some kind of disruptive thinking.

Rather than removal of cars, how about addition of something? Maybe all we need is a little help from above. Walkways, to be precise. At least in the central business district of Lower Parel.

Having walkways in congested districts could lead to a bunch of changes:

  1. Those living at shorter distances from their work places can walk to the destination. Rather than 45 minutes in the car, they could make it in 20 minutes on foot.
  2. This will lead to reduction of traffic and hence shorter travel time for those who come from further distances.
  3. Both scenarios would lead to reduction of pollution and a painless daily commute.

While in a utopian scenario, the building of walkways to solve this issue would sound like quite a plan, but not when you are dealing with a complex animal like India. Here are a few cultural, social and logistical issues plaguing the concept of walkways in our country. Perhaps knowing and identifying the problems is the first and the foremost step towards finding a solution.

1.Walkways are hardly secure:Most people are scared of taking the walkway. Period. Unlike local trains where security officers accompany the passengers offering a feeling of a safety, walkways come with no such advantage. No police officers, no gatekeepers, no watchmen, and no security. Most of the Indian walkways are either not well-lit or there is often damage of public property light tube lights. Also, since walkways are free for all, these areas are also home to encroachers, drug addicts and other anti-social elements. The absence of such provisions added to the escalating crime rate in the country, the question is – who would want to walk down this isle of danger?

2. Walkways are aesthetically deprived:India may be home to hundreds of art forms, from Madhubani of Bihar to Village art of Maharashtra – but when it comes to our walkways, there is no sign of India’s artistic heritage. The advantages of art in walkways are numerous – from employment to artisans to public pride – but no one seemed to have thought of utilizing the walkways for this purpose. Benches at regular intervals displaying art from across the country would be such a good marriage of comfort and craft, but the walkways so far remain ignored on this front.

3.Walkways are a breeding ground for filth: Who wants to start or end their day with filth, stench and the threat of bacteria and viruses. The grim fact being that most walkways are filthy and almost appear to be like an assault to the senses.  A large percentage of them don’t bother with a trashcan, and even if there are dustbins, most of them are overflowing and unclean, attracting flies and disease. It’s not really a great option to cover your nose, mouth and eyes – all of them at the same time – and hence avoiding a walkway and using a vehicle becomes the only option in most of the cases.

Having put a certain structure to the problem plaguing walkways, we’d like to also bring your attention to the solutions hiding within those problems. The only thing that will bridge, oh we mean, walkway the gap between the problem and the solution is –

Quick action!

Are you willing to walk a little bit, so that the earth can walk a long way?

dec 1There is a charming little cantonment town in Uttarakhand called Landour. For those interested in delicious anecdotes and sublime writing would also know that its home to author Ruskin bond. Besides being picturesque and literary in its own way, Landour is also a place where people experience walking not just a ‘daily mundane act’ but as a ‘act of pleasure’. Majestic deodars behind metal railings on spotless Landour streets stand out for something very unique – they carry quotations on topic ranging from walking to contemplation, from self-reflection to human-connection. It’s a little bit like being in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden world. When walking from Char Dukan on a long stretch of road, one can’t help but catch a few breaths and savour the words of Tolkien, Keats, Frost. The everyday task of strolling literally feels like an artistic vocation in Landour.

But the reality of walking in a big city is quite the opposite. There are factors that surface as hurdles and curtail any desire whatsoever to walk, short distances or not. Let’s have a cursory look.

The Drudgery of Traffic:You make a reservation at a wonderful new Spanish restaurant, one that is twenty minutes away from your home. You yoga, you shower and you dress up for the evening. And then you decide to walk all the way to your Paella. Very New York City. But hey! It’s Friday night and there is a Kumbh Mela of cars on the road, zipping past, taking U-turns, blocking the road, and overtaking zebra crossings. What happens next? Well your twenty minutes walk turns into forty as you manoeuvre the traffic and by the time your reach the restaurant, you actually lose the table you had reserved.

The Safety Concern: Your grandparents are visiting from a small town. They’re not exactly into couch warming over Netflix so you decide to send them for walk to the park. But guess what? You choose a pretty park that is located at the end of a very crowed market. The oldies leave happily but come back looking devastated. Potential scenarios: their pocket got picked, the aggressive crowd pushed them around, the road divider was overflowing with people, and the pavement chipped when they tried that option. They made it to the park on foot but swore never to go again.

The Pollution & Garbage Epidemic: You walk for five days at a row, through a busy market and high traffic area and for the next twenty-five days – you end up coughing and developing breathing issues. You begin to use an inhaler although asthma was never an illness on your health-form. In the city, the price for walking is equivalent to the doctor’s fee. The absence of trees and plants and the presence of pollution and viruses on the road is reason enough for you to not take a hike.

In the end, let’s just admit that it’s a sorry state of affairs. Long distance or short –  active and consistent walking almost seems like a threat to life and hence one has no option but to reach out for the car, and not happily so, contribute to the already existing  environmental issues. But all is not lost if one is willing to make a change and not focus much on the enormity of the change.

Here’s are a few everyday, small changes you can make:

(a) Start small. Walk short distances.  Be reasonable with your choices. Be aware of the shortcomings of your city.

(b) Don’t walk to meetings that start on specific timings. Don’t do a pilgrimage to the new restaurant on a Friday night.

(c) Walk when time is not a constraint. Walk on leisurely days. Walk to the salon, and to the vegetable market, and to the dry-cleaner. Walk to all places in the neighbourhood over the weekend.

(d) Take a 21-day project to make sure you walk to one place, every single day. Let this routine rewire your brain. Let your brain crave the little.

(e) Increase the distance slowly. Start with ten minutes to the shortest distance from home to the bakery, take it slowly to 20 minutes and make it to a friend’s place on foot gradually.

(f) Walk alone for contemplation. Walk with family for connection.

(g) Plant a tree on the sidewalk once a month. Pick the trash once a day.

(h) Be the change you want to see.

Even if you ditch you car for one hour on each Sunday in the entire year, and choose to walk instead – you will end up saving the planet from 52 hours of pollution.

How about hiding the car keys this weekend?

Would you like to share a ride, and in doing so, the burden of the planet?

oct shared mobilty‘I need my space’ is perhaps the newest slogan of urban India. In the past decade or so, the metros have seen an increased growth in nuclear families, the joint family system is a thing of the past, there are fewer meaningful social interactions – many of these changes can be are attributed to the growing need for personal space. Ironically enough, India may be the most depressed country in the world fighting a micro and a macro identity crisis, looking for someone to talk to – yet it is also turning (in urban cities) into a society that is building taller walls than ever.

Let alone share their homes with their families; people do not even want to share a car ride with someone.  So the big question now is – isn’t this deeply personal choice also negatively impacting the larger picture and harming the planet?  

When we asked people why they don’t use the option of car-pooling or car renting, the answers totally added up to the personal space theory.

The top five responses we received were:

“ No way! I don’t know who I will be sharing the cab with?

“How do I know it’s safe?”

“I do my work calls and private calls when I am commuting.”

 “I don’t like waiting for anyone or having anyone wait.”

 “It’s too much effort to make small talk.”

Urban India must understand that a little bit of adjusting by using innovative public transportation solutions and mobility as a service can go a long way. As more and more private cars go off the road and cars and shuttle services take their place – people will also benefit from a better lifestyle.

The interesting part is that most Indians are not even aware of the existing options and the choices that will soon be available. Mobility services, such as car sharing, rentals and carpooling, are showing great promise. One way of reducing this mental block is to list down the options and enlighten the population. Just the way India has opened up to being connected to their family, friends, friends of friends and even strangers via the internet and social media – which in itself is a shared space, and also share a public wi-fi. We hope that soon new India will be open to using vehicles on the road too, as a connected device, turning it into a collaborative trend.

Here are a few ways of using transport judiciously and innovatively and also contributing to the environment:

One way flexible car sharing:You could rent a car of your choice for a specific number of kilometres or a specific period of time? For instance, chores in the market – 2km. Quick blind date – 1 hour.

One way fixed car sharing:You could use the option of renting a car one way whenever you wish, to be dropped off to a specific place. For instance, you could get dropped off to your co-working space, one way, and come back everyday with the colleague who lives in your neighbourhood.

Round trip car sharing: You could exercise the option of renting the car for a round trip. To and from work. Or even, to and fro from a swimming class.

Peer to peer car sharing:You could call up the new neighbour and share the car with them. And also enjoy the benefit of deciding the fee. Sometimes, in cash. And sometimes, as a lovely meal at their home or your house.

Ready to take your pick, already? 

Are you willing to alter your commuting habits for a better planet?

oct commuting habitsCharles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’is an eye-opening read. It heightens the awareness about our personal good or bad habits, and also highlights how brands use the power of habit to sell their products and build empires.

However, the fact remains that habits not just influence individuals and organisations, but also impact the society. Take for example, the habit of commuting in a certain way.

After months of research, we identified three types of commuters and their commuting habits. Read closely and you might find yourself in one of the archetypes.

Mr. Mohan Dwivedi | Retired government officer

Dwivedi Sa’ab, as his current neighbours and former colleagues address him, is a retired government officer residing in Dadar. His usual day begins with a morning walk at 5. Dwivedi Sa’ab, in this slow-mophase of his life, has all the time in the world. As a result, despite having a car at home, he likes to walk to the market and to the park and to the dispensary and to the post office. He doesn’t have much of a social life, however, he visits his daughter over weekends and on occasions like Diwali, Holi, Dussera. On those days too, he ditches the car, walks to the bus stop and likes to take a bus. It’s been a habit of many years; in fact he used to go to office in a double-decker bus too. This mode of travelling often delays him and always makes him the butt of jokes and slight irritation. His daughter snaps, “Papa, why wouldn’t you ask me for my driver, he could drive you here. The car is just sitting pretty enjoying floral showers in different seasons. Plus, you are so old, we also worry when you take the public transport.”Dwivedi Sa’ab always has the same refrain. He says, “Beta, it’s too late to change his habit.” Deep down he knows he can’t cope up either – be it commuting apps or the sedentary lifestyle. Sometimes, he also jokes about the buses being empty and that he feels like a king being driven around in a  30 Lacks bus, with only a few passengers for company.

This ‘bus’ habit saves him the trouble of using the apps and also keeps him active. Dwivedi Sa’ab’s personal habit is not just good for his health, but is great for the health of the environment too.

Alisha Deb | Student & Dancer

Alisha is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Business Management, and is a dancer by passion. Her usual week is something like this – five days in college and dance class, thrice a week. A resident of Versova, her college is in Vile Parle and dance class in Khar. Alisha is also a product of a more environmentally aware generation plus too young to have a steady, fat paycheck. Hence, she rides a bicycle from home to college, college to dance class, dance class to home. She began this form of commute right after school. Being part of cyclists’ group in the neighbourhood has exposed her to the joys and benefits of cycling. Now, cycling to nearby places has become a habit.

Alisha also wears a helmet and who knows, she may even cycle to work in a few years. This form of commute keeps two things fit – her pocket and the planet.  The  toxic fumes in the environment sometimes leads Alisha to cough – to combat that, she been planning to buy a pollution mask. Other than that, the eternal optimist has she has no complain being on the road on a cycle – she has, in fact, mastered the art of staying safe in the city’s zig-zag traffic.

Rohan Shastri | Mid-level corporate

Rohan works as an Accounts Management person in an ad-agency. In his mid-thirties, as a middle level manager. He drives to work everyday, he drives to parties every Friday, and he drives to meetings every alternate day. His office is in Goregaon and most of his clients are in Worli. Although, trains are a faster way to get to his destination, but just like the thought of going to the gym never crosses his mind – likewise, the thought of taking the train never occurs to him. Rohan earns enough and can even claim petrol, and so, he doesn’t even think twice before hopping on to his car. His work is so taxing that ceases to push himself even on weekends. Whether it’s to the farmers market or to the salon, Rohan prefers to zoom everywhere in his car.

Rohan has arrived in life and he has made it a habit to arrive everywhere in his car – and by the way, he doesn’t arrive alone. He arrives with pollution, with reduced carbon foot-print, and with blinders.

As you would have guessed by now, it’s pretty clear that economic ladder, convenience, flexibility, peer-pressure define which form of public transportation people use. And the so-called arrived in lifeare the ones who don’t even consider buses, trains and taxis, and as a result, pollute the environment.

As we wind up this piece, the question we leave you with is – does ‘making-it’ in life give anyone a license to ‘break-it’ when it comes to the environment?

Until next time!