ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Exclusion of Pedestrians and Cyclists

This is with reference to your editorial entitled “Distress of ‘Automobilisation’” (EPW, 16 January 2010). Cities in my state of Kerala were famous for the many forms of non-motorised transport (NMT) systems, like horse-pulled jadkas in Thiruvananthapuram and cycle rickshaws in Kochi during the 1950s and early 1960s. NMT played an important role in other parts of the country too. For instance, a study by PARISAR, a Pune-based NGO, reports that “Pune was once known as a city of cyclists”. It goes on to tell us that while there has been a declining trend in the use of the cycle, amazingly about 10% of all trips is still done by cycle. Ever since the advent of liberalisation policies, infrastructural facilities in the form of express highways, flyovers, parkways, multi-lane freeways, etc, are on the increase. Vehicular traffic beyond the capacity of city roads has displaced pedestrians, cyclists, cart-pullers, etc, from the city space, and, in turn, threatens the livelihood opportunities and survival networks of the urban poor and the lower middle class.

In a state like Kerala, reeling under the influence of foreign remittances, the “vehicular explosion” has spread to the rural areas too. There is high spending by the rich and the middle classes on the l atest models of motor vehicles backed by what you have rightly described as “symbols of luxury lifestyles” and the “competitive striving for social distinction”, conforming to Veblen’s concepts of conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure and pecuniary emulation. Big and small vehicles overcrowd the narrow city and even rural roads, leading to the exclusion of pedestrians and cyclists from public spaces. This kind of a new exclusion is silently supported by the local governments which take little care to promote cost and energy-saving NMT, at least in city centres, and fail to maintain better amenities like footpaths, subways, cycletracks, etc. In Kerala, there is an expanded demand for bigger motor cars and vans, though they cater, as you have stated, only to the travel requirements of a minority of the city’s residents. Since the public transport system is ill-maintained and ill-kept, there is great inequality in access to road spaces.

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