The idea of elevated pedestrian platforms threading through the city skyline might have been a thrilling proposal for our authorities. However, these structures make for forlorn sights, with pedestrians preferring to brave the traffic below. The BBMP is charging forth with more skywalk proposals, adding to the 30 that currently serve no purpose in the city. More than 152 are in the pipeline, awaiting government approval. Commercial activity thrives and these skywalks are rife with advertisements but ignored by the people, says Abilash Mariswamy.
The name sounds fancy enough , promising pedestrians a "skywalk." But the tall structures running across roads, ostensibly to help walkers get cross them, beating the traffic below, are not proving the draw the BBMP thought they would be as not many people bother to climb up the stairs to reach the elevated walkways to the other side. Consequently, many of the existing skywalks in the city are lying forlorn and deserted while pedestrians continue to brave the traffic below, rushing across the roads in the few gaps provided by either hold-ups or the signals turning red.
But undeterred, the BBMP, which has already built over 30 skywalks, is in the process of building more. In fact, the plan is to build as many as 152 skywalks in the city. Of these 35 have been completed, and 101 are awaiting tender approvals or are in other stages of construction. The BBMP is awaiting government approval for the remaining 16 skywalks.
But the idea has not enthused many, as these large structures, that are somewhat of an eyesore, are not seen as convenient for several reasons.
"Skywalks are not the solution for pedestrians in the city. Nowhere in the world are skywalks built all over the place like here. Senior citizens hardly dare to climb up them," notes Mr Srinivas Alavilli, a member of Citizens for Bengaluru, adding, "Pedestrians are treated like second class citizens. Our campaign, 'Nadeyalu Bidi' (allow us to walk) focuses on the installation of walk signals near the 383 traffic signals in the city instead of the ugly skywalks which are never used."
But ask the BBMP and it defends its decision to build more of them, saying even the existing skywalks that it built along with the Bangalore Development Authority will be upgraded for pedestrian comfort. For instance, it plans to add elevators to 13 skywalks at a cost of Rs 10 crore, its officers reveal. These include the skywalks at Outer Ring Road, Sarvagna Nagara, Indiranagar 100 feet Road, Shanthi Nagar, Manipal Hospital Center, Old Airport Road, C.V Raman Nagar and Basaveswara Circle opposite Sophia School.
"The skywalks that were constructed before 2013 had no elevators, but now they will be fitted with a lift and other infrastructure. We will try to provide elevators within the available space," assures BBMP's chief engineer for road infrastructure, Somashekar.
Currently, with many of the skywalks in disuse, the BBMP is making use of them for advertisements. Traffic expert, Prof. M N Srihari, says while there are no guidelines about whether or not they can be allowed on skywalks, the agency shouldn't ideally use them for displaying them "They are using skywalks for commercial reasons instead of considering pedestrian utility," he regrets.
PPP plan dropped, BBMP to carry out project on its own
After struggling to find contractors ready to build skywalks in the city, the BBMP now plans to construct them on its own and has submitted a proposal to the state government to build 16 skywalks at a cost of Rs. 48 crore.
Says BBMP's executive engineer for road infrastructure, special division, B Prabhakar, “We had planned to construct these skywalks under the PPP model. But now as we have received no bids , the BBMP will build them on its own and has submitted a proposal to this end to the government.”
Interestingly, no private player came forward for building the skywalks although the tender was floated as many as eight to 10 times per structure, reveal BBMP documents.
‘They don’t serve their purpose, dismantle them’
"The Kendriya Vidalaya skywalk near the Sadashivanagar signal doesn't have elevators and so it's very difficult to climb up the stairs to get across it for old people like me. So I walk upto the traffic signal to cross the road. What's the use of this skywalk here?" demands Mr Shiva Murthy, one of the city's many senior citizens, who find its skywalks inconvenient to use.
The lament is that even when the skywalks have lifts, they don't function properly. Of late there have been instances of people being stuck in a skywalk lift for hours. The latest was on February 10, when three men were stranded in a skywalk lift near NR square.
But coming to the BBMP's defence, its chief engineer for road infrastructure, Somashekar says the men were caught in the lift because the power snapped at the time. But argues all would have been well if they had not panicked.
"All elevators constructed by the BBMP have an ARD (Automatic Rescue Device) facility, which makes sure they stops at the nearest floor even in such an eventuality. These men may have panicked a little and pressed a few buttons, which they shouldn't have and so got stuck," he explains. Making a strong case for the skywalks, he says they all have 24 hour security, CCTV cameras and generators that come on within three to four minutes of a power failure.
As for skywalks being used by advertisers, he says there is nothing wrong with using them for generating a bit of revenue. "Some skywalks in the city generate a revenue of over Rs 5 to 6 lakh a year. Some that were built on a PPP model need to be maintained by private companies and this doesn't simply happen. The money from the advertisements pays for it," he adds.
But urban expert, V Ravichandar, argues that pedestrians cannot be tempted to use skywalks through mere installation of lifts and other facilities . "
We need to accept that most of the skywalks are not serving their purpose and are being used only for advertisements," he insists, suggesting the BBMP dismantle the skywalks that are not in use, instead of letting them occupy public space for no good reason.
Guest column: Much has been done for commuter convenience but pedestrians ignored, says Vinay Sreenivasa, Alternative Law Forum (ALF) & Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV)
Everyone is worried about congestion in the city and agrees that if more people walked, cycled or took the bus, then we would all be better off. However, most transport initiatives not only encourage private motor vehicles to come out on the roads but also discourage pedestrians.
Road-widening almost always means footpath narrowing. As for flyovers, they eliminate signals and make crossing difficult, while others make navigating entire stretches and areas impossible. Consider the Hebbal flyover, which has an unmanned railway line and uneven ground on either side that makes walking painful.
To address some of these problems, policymakers have suggested building of skywalks or pedestrian underpasses. And seeing the problem people have walking up and down the steps from skywalks some of them have been fitted with lifts and escalators, which are not always functional. But the question is why is it that pedestrians need to put in so much effort just to make it easier for vehicles to be out on the roads?
The lesser said about the billboard variety skywalk, the better. Although the Jayanagar third block traffic signal was comfortable for pedestrians owing to the wide roads here, an ugly billboard covered skywalk was built at the spot with pillars planted on the pavements just to provide the advertisement mafia more business,.
We must remember that pedestrians are not only those who walk from one place to another, but also every bus user. We know of several people, who do not take a bus simply because they cannot cross the road at the end point! For instance, people who stay off Bellary Road avoid buses as it is a nightmare to cross! Scores of people have died on this road just trying to cross it . The time has come for us to honestly ask whose side the government is on. If it’s on the side of the pedestrians, we need to stop road widening, and building steel and concrete flyovers and skywalks. Instead , we need wider footpaths, more trees and street vendors to keep the streets safe. We also need a mindset that works to encourage walking and bussing -the forms of transport that are city and climate- friendly.