Has the urban planning authority scored a dud with the numerous skywalks dotting the cityscape? A report by a private organisation indicates so — most are under-utilised and many pedestrians continue to use the roads beneath them.
The problem, to be fair, has more to do with commuter apathy than the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority’s (MMRDA) intent, which has built them at a tremendous cost. Most skywalks are situated near stations on the suburban rail network to decongest the roads around them, which are always chock-a-block with traffic. Consumers have to fight their way out of the stations, and the hoard of hawkers lining the access roads only adds to the ordeal. A separate path out thus should have come as a godsend to the commuters.
Notwithstanding the opposition from some citizens’ groups who have termed the skywalks monstrous and hideous, the concept that vehicles and humans be kept apart to improve the flow of traffic and pedestrians, and most importantly, to ensure the safety of the latter, is universally accepted.
History, however, paints a bleak picture for overhead bridges. When an over-bridge was built at Churchgate a few decades ago, it fell into disuse after some time as passengers continued to risk life and limb darting across the street, than use the safer alternative. The same holds good for people crossing railway tracks.
On the other hand, the underpasses at Churchgate and CST are well-patronised and have been widely accepted as good role models. The problem, it seems, is that the thought of ‘climbing up’ appears to be a daunting task, whereas going down is simpler and acceptable. What is conveniently forgotten is that after going down, one has to climb up again, and quite often, the number of steps to traverse through a bridge or underpass may be the same.
The MMRDA will now have to think out of the box to make commuting on bridges an acceptable experience. Decking the skywalks with pictures on the sides, enclosing them to prevent them from looking gaunt, or even a simple method like providing escalators at both ends of the skywalks may be some of the measures. In the meantime, NGOs will have to snap out of their slumber and goad citizens to use the skywalks for their own health and safety.