Why did the Sri Lankan cross the road? This flippant line actually has a serious intention. The growing number of pedestrian casualties are exacerbated both by lack of awareness and inconsiderate infrastructure policies that cost lives.
For years the Sri Lankan Government has been laying out asphalt as if their lives depended on it and perhaps they are right for infrastructure development is one of the plus points for the establishment to win elections. However, during that same time a disturbing trend has emerged where pavements, crossing lines, overhead walkways and other pedestrian safety features have vanished from the roadsides.
Newly-laid or repaired roads are done without due consideration to pedestrian needs. Pavements, perhaps because they are costly to build, have been done away with almost completely, with new roads only having flimsy white lines to demarcate pedestrian areas. These can be and are freely encroached on by vehicles that bully their way past hapless people, sometimes knocking them down. Ironically, paved pathways for people to exercise on are popping up generously, while pavements die a policy-dictated death.
Even the few existing kilometres of pavement transform into stunt sites for motorcyclists and daredevil three-wheelers during rush hour, or any hour it seems. Police book vehicles parked on fancy pavements on Colombo’s main roads, but do little to stop these offenders who often shamelessly put the lives of pedestrians at risk.
Recently Police carried out a massive campaign cautioning drivers that highlighted an average of seven people die or are seriously injured in road accidents on a daily basis in Sri Lanka. Despite this message being hammered in, the Police paid inadequate attention to the plight of pedestrians and how they are the largest casualty in accidents.
Why is it that Sri Lanka’s road policies are geared towards vehicle owners but not pedestrians? A recent Nielsen study showed that 50% of Sri Lankan households own some form of vehicle. But this still leaves more than half of the population dependent on public transport. If the Government is so keen to promote a healthy population, they should encourage people to walk on their errands and protect the vast number of public transport users. Needless to say this would also be great for the environment.
The European Charter of Pedestrians’ Rights, which was adopted in 1988 by The European Parliament gives excellent ideas for Sri Lanka. It is peppered with points like “the adoption of specific measures to ensure that vehicular and pedestrian traffic has ease of access to, and freedom of movement and the possibility of stopping on, roads and pavements respectively (for example: anti-slip pavement surfaces, ramps at kerbs to compensate for the difference in the levels of pavement and roadway, roads made wide enough for the traffic they have to carry, special arrangements while building work is in progress, adaptation of the urban street infrastructure to protect motor car traffic, provision of parking and rest areas and subways and footbridges.”
The list includes special provisions for children, elderly and differently-abled that will enable them movement in safety and independence. Such measures have also been adopted by developing countries around the world that believe in responsible and equitable development.