Skywalks, govt's wilder flights of fancy

Sunday, 16 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

They were meant to decongest areas around suburban stations across the city, bringing about a change in the pedestrian population on the roads. But with couple of years gone by, Mumbai's skywalks remain largely unused.

Under the skywalk project, the government has built 24 overpasses within the BMC limits at a cost of nearly Rs50 crore. The idea was that people getting off at stations would use the bridges to reach a more appropriate destination from where they would get their preferred mode of transport.

However, with only a handful of people using the swanky structures, the project appears nothing but the government's wilder flights fancy – a case of shoddy planning and implementation.

For example, the daily ticket sale at Grant Road station is nearly 1 lakh, while the skywalk footfall is a little over 16,000, according to statistics available for the year 2011, suggesting a clear mismatch.

Dna visited some of the bridges on the central and western suburbs. We found most of them almost empty, with very few users, mostly couples. The so-called transport project has in fact resulted in the traffic police getting burdened with more people, and ever-increasing vehicle population.

Traffic expert Sudhir Badami blames the problem on two main reasons. One, people prefer to shop on their way back home which they cannot do if they use the skywalk. Second, after 40, many develop ankle, knee or heart problems, which make it difficult for them to climb up/down the steep flight of stairs.

Badami said, "At least 80 per cent of the population that uses trains shops from hawkers while returning from work. The hawkers cannot be ignored. Initially, MMRDA had come up with the idea of seven-metre wide skywalks with a three-metre hawking zone, leaving 4 metres for commuters only."

The expert said, "The three-metre hawking zone was meant to include one metre each for hawkers, shoppers and those moving from one vendor to the other. This would have left the remaining four metres for pedestrians. But these expectations were not met and hence the number of people taking the skywalks automatically dropped by 80 per cent."

According to Badami, the authorities should have done a thorough research to find out what people expected and what would make the project a hit. The incoming population of pedestrians is almost negligible as people do not want to climb the stairs which are much steeper and higher than those at railway stations.

However, Badami is confident that the problem can be solved. "It is never too late. Even now, the authorities can provide escalators and elevators and bring in hawkers which will definitely give positive results."

Meanwhile, traffic cops continue to bear the brunt of the solution-turned-problems. Pedestrians prefer jaywalking to taking stairs and nobody can be forced to use the skywalks just because they have been built.

A traffic police officer said, "It has been a couple of years since these skywalks have been in use but the problem still exists. If anything, it has only increased with the structure pillars killing the existing space for vehicles and pedestrians."

With inputs from Mohammed Sohail

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