No, we are not talking about getting mugged. This blog is about a different kind of violence - the violence of getting sideswiped by a vehicle when walking down your street. So how do you evaluate if your neighbourhood is a safe one in terms of road safety? Research has shown that a simple way to increase safety on the roads is to separate out road users such as pedestrians, non-motorised traffic, and motorised vehicles. In simple terms, ensure there are pavements on all roads and points where pedestrians can safely cross roads. More information on this can be found here.

So do Chennai’s roads have space for pedestrians and cyclists? And are the roads evenly laid and well-marked so that two-wheelers don’t meet any nasty surprises? To find out, CAG conducted a road audit of 100 roads in Chennai. We took 50 roads each in two localities - Perambur and Adyar. Both areas have a mix of residential and commercial activities with a nice mix of large arterial and small roads. We also wanted to see how an area in north Chennai, traditionally treated as the step kid when it comes to infrastructure, fared against an area in more affluent south Chennai.

What did we look at?

The road audit estimated if pedestrians and two-wheelers were provided adequate road space, the quality of that space and if there were any obstacles on the road that would hinder these road users from safely navigating this space.

How did we do the audit?

Using Open Streets, maps of the areas were downloaded, roads were colour coded and numbered. Longer roads (more than 500 m long) such as Madhavaram High Road, Sardar Patel Road, and LB Road, were divided into sections; each section was counted as a road. The divisions were based on easy to identify intersections instead of measuring 500m sections.

Volunteers were familiarised with the free data collection application, Kobo Tool Box on which a pre-loaded questionnaire was made available. Volunteers were required to walk up and down the assigned road, noting specific details in a predetermined order.

The road audit of Perambur was conducted in collaboration with Chevalier T Thomas Elizabeth College (CTTE) for Women in Perambur. Student volunteers from CTTE College were divided into teams of two and assigned one or two roads each.

In Kasturba Nagar (Adyar), the roads were also a mix of commercial and residential with 2 large roads with a high traffic volume included in the audit. In this area the audit was conducted by CAG staff and interns.

And what did we find?

 

Street lights: Perambur had street lights on all the roads but the number of street lights in each road was very few (typically 5 to 10 lights per street) so overall lighting was bad. Kasturba Nagar, on the other hand, had a reasonable number (at least 15 per street) of lights for each road and certainly, the busy main roads were well-lit. Out of the 50 streets audited, Perambur had less than 10 streetlights in 40 streets while in Kasturba Nagar only in 22 streets did the number drop to less than 10.

Pavements: In Perambur only 15 roads had any pavement, while in Kasturba Nagar only 14 roads had no pavement at all. The roads with pavement in both areas did not have pavement space for the entire length of the road. In Perambur, the pavement extended for less than 25% of the length of the 15 roads while in Kasturba Nagar, the extent was little less than 50% of road length.  In both regions, the average width of the pavement was low - they could hardly fit two people standing shoulder to shoulder.

In both areas, all the pavements were encroached upon. The major encroachments were by parked vehicles, garbage (not in Corporation bins), and TNEB junction boxes .

Road condition: Just under half the roads were in good shape in Perambur. In Kasturba Nagar, roads were for the most part in good shape; only 8 roads were rated as bad which is less than 25% of the roads surveyed.

Pedestrian crossing: Of the 9 pedestrian crossings we located in Perambur, only 1 was clearly marked. In  Kasturba Nagar, only 4 pedestrian crossings were found. These were on the main roads. Of these 1 was not clearly marked (paint was faded).

Pedestrian lights:  in Perambur, of the 9 pedestrian lights in the area, only 4 were working. Of these 4, the time given to pedestrians to cross the road was less than 20 seconds in 1 pedestrian light and less than 30 seconds in the remaining 3.

Kasturba Nagar had only 3 pedestrian lights; of which 2 were not working when they were surveyed. The remaining one had a very short crossing time – about 30 seconds for a fairly wide road that sees a considerable volume of traffic.

Potholes: The audit recorded 26 roads with potholes in Perambur while in Kasturba Nagar less than one-third of the roads had potholes.

Manholes: In Perambur, all the roads had manholes in the carriageway except 3 and most the manholes were at the same level as the road while 2 were above the road level and 7 were below the road level thereby becoming hazards for vehicles especially two-wheelers and cyclists. Unsurprisingly, Kasturba Nagar also saw a high number of roads with manholes (80%) but most of the manholes were below the road level (15) or at level (13). A few were above the road level (4).

Speed breakers: Of the 16 speed breakers recorded, in Perambur, only 6 were clearly marked and only 3 had the “speed breaker ahead” cautionary sign in place. Most of them were damaged partially.  Kasturba Nagar had far fewer speed breakers (9) but an equally abysmal record in visibility (only 1 was clearly marked). Here too almost all of them were damaged to some extent but this was marginal. Only 1 had a cautionary signboard before it.

So what does that mean?

Overall the disparity in infrastructure between the two areas was quite clear; Perambur has fewer street lights, the roads are not in good shape, the pavement space is non-existent and the pedestrian lights largely don’t work.

While Kasturba Nagar is slightly better in terms of the extent of pavement, it does as poorly as Perambur when it comes to encroachments on the pavement. In both areas, vehicles parked on what should have been pedestrian space was the major obstacle along with TNEB junction boxes and garbage.

Perambur actually did better in terms of speed breakers with more speed breakers being clearly marked and having cautionary signs before them. It also did better when it came to the level of the manholes with most manholes at road level while in Kasturba Nagar most manholes were below or above road level posing a hazard for two-wheelers.

In conclusion, both areas have several things that be improved for greater road safety however, Kasturba Nagar is perhaps a bit better with pedestrian infrastructure and road infrastructure than Perambur.