Friday, 8 March 2013

Abject Surrender to the gas guzzler

A few weeks back, I wrote about my wisdom in committing long ago to write something only once in two weeks, in anticipation of feeling periodically like the Beatles song which goes 

I've got nothing to say, but it's okay; good morning, good morning.

But then I thought I should not make a habit of giving this excuse, so here goes, for whatver it is worth:

One of the earliest pieces I wrote concerned what is called OMR or Rajiv Gandhi Salai or the IT corridor of Chennai. I grumbled then about how it was essentially impossible for a wheel-chair -bound person to cross this road with at least 3 kms between pedestrian crossings. (And you must be very daring or stupid or both to attempt crossing even those in view of the manner in which buses and SUVs go speeding across the zebra crossings even when they have a red light.)

Earlier there were two options for the able-bodied: (i) you could cross the road by using one of the three pedestrian over-bridges located at intervals of a kilometre – in which case you would have to climb up some thirty-odd steps and then back down the same number after crossing the road on the over-bridge – or (ii) dash across the road when there was a lull in the traffic. If you were rash enough to take the second option, you always ran the risk of getting knocked down, maybe even killed, by one of the many speeding vehicles.
You obviously can't have that in a `civilised' major city.

So what solution does our brilliant traffic department come up with. Remove the earlier mentioned second option by having no breaks in the middle of this road (OMR) for a stretch of 17 kms. Or at least this is what one newspaper announced a few days ago. Our town planners obviously don't give a damn about an elderly man with 70-year old knees which protest noticeably whenever steps need to be ascended or descended and who is not rich enough to own a car or a two-wheeler. The city is clearly built only for the complement of such people. The writing on the wall is clear: you may live here only if you are equipped with a vehicle that can take you whizzing along for miles and miles; there is certainly no room for pedestrians.

You'd imagine we are a uniformly very wealthy nation of twenty year-olds. If you had any sort of mobility problems, get ready to live all day every day within the four walls of your house. So here is a new answer to the old chestnut about why the chicken crossed trhe road: to celebrate the fact that she did not live in India!

This cry of desperation is an open call to our chief minister who (i) is apparently the only person capable of doing anything drastic in Chennai, and (ii) is adulatingly called `Amma; or mother by all the cadre of her political party. Oh Amma, I want you to know that my own Amma would have kicked the bucket before crossing OMR on foot, while I myself will be unable even get started crossing the road (because I haven't solved the problem of how my wheelchair would get off the pavement and on to the treacherous zebra crossing). 


  1. Dear Professor, Not trying to plug in my writing but would be grateful for your views. Trying in a small way to create awareness. Best regards, Shefali

  2. Dear Shefali,

    Please send me email to so we can talk `in private'. ou shouldn't apologise for `plugging in your own writing' when you write so well and powerully.

    Your comments have made my day.
    With warm regards,

  3. The other day the Chennai traffic police posted this on facebook:

    "A letter has been addressed to the TNRDC, Perungudi with a request to close the center median gaps and also increase the center median level from SRP Tools to Karapakkam to prevent the accidents. Further, pamphlets have been distributed to the public to make use of the foot over bridges effectively.

    I made my opinion of this idiocy known in the comments, but the majority of the comments are solidly on their side :( And, indeed, they have already closed a couple of "gaps" in the median level. Soon pedestrians, let alone wheelchair users, will be banned from this city and only motorised vehicles will be permitted on the roads.

    1. I want to understand this, Rahul Siddharthan. What is the alternative? I mean the random 'gaps' that people 'create' in the medians for their own convenience are a threat to motorists and pedestrians alike. What is the solution? In Bangalore, we have completely done away with pavements. There is absolutely no way anyone can walk on a road. So while we decry the increase in vehicular traffic and jams, one cannot dare to walk on roads. it is not just people with disabilities but everyone that is not sitting in a car to get anywhere. best regards, Shefali

    2. Shefali - these aren't random gaps. (Nice article btw.) These are gaps left by design to let people cross at places where there is no overbridge. And they are not even surface level (so, as Sunder says, a wheelchair user can't use them); what happens is that the median is mostly a high (maybe 2 foot) divider with mud in the middle where they've planted decorative plants, but here and there it's a shorter (less than 1 foot) platform where people can stand while waiting to cross the road. It is those that they are now closing. And, as a result, instead of standing on a short median, people climb over the larger structure and wait on the road itself (in the fast inner lane) to cross.

      The real point being that OMR was conceived as a highway on the outside of Chennai. But it is not on the outside -- the 14 km stretch up until Sholiganallur is now officially under Chennai corporation limits (and maybe beyond too?) and is now mostly residential. And yet about half of this stretch is a toll road and all of it is treated as an expressway where pedestrians are a nuisance, not legitimate users of the space.

      If you think Bangalore has done away with pavements, you should visit Chennai sometime! I always envy Bangaloreans for the broad pavements they have to walk on. Admittedly the traffic gridlock is worse in Bangalore and the traffic police are relatively unfriendly (I have no complaints about the police in Chennai, in terms of their day-to-day work, but there is no vision of how a city should be).

    3. Thank you! so it does come down to unplanned, uncontrolled expansion of our cities and apathetic administrators, police, uncaring citizens...the usual.

      accessibility then is not just a problem for people with disabilities. we're all in it together - how inclusive is that! :)