Agra roads 'unsafe' for "walking tourists"

Agra, May 20 (IANS) In a memorandum to the Agra Municipal Commissioner, concerned citizens of Agra have appealed to him to initiate appropriate measures to make the Taj city pedestrian friendly.
Agra roads 'unsafe' for "walking tourists"

<br>Most roads in the city do not have pavements, and where pavements are available, the problem of encroachment remains unresolved.

A large number of foreign tourists who are used to walking long distances do not find Agra roads safe for walking.

"Not just rampaging vehicles, but dogs and stray animals are a huge nuisance," said a German tourist.

At least the Yamuna Kinara road along the river can have safe walking spaces from Taj Mahal to Water Works, "so that tourists can see all the grand Mughal monuments while walking in the evening or in the morning."

The pavement is already there, it needs to be cleared of encroachments by transport companies, and repaired at some points, said environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya of the River Connect Campaign.

This long stretch of the river front affords picturesque view of not only the river Yamuna but half a dozen Mughal monuments from the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort to Babar's Ram Bagh.

The controversial Taj Corridor, spread over 20 hectares of the encroached river bed is now a lush green stretch sandwiched between two world heritage monuments, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.

In 2003, the controversy had resulted in the fall of Mayawati government.

In the last two decades, as the population of humans and motor vehicles on the roads has shown an upward trend, life has become insecure and unsafe for the pedestrians and cyclists in Agra.

Pedestrians are victims not only of vehicles but are also almost daily attacked by simians, canines and bovine population.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's dream project, the Rs 140 crore cycle track from Etawah to Agra is in a shambles.

"The city faces an acute problem of parking space, compounded by encroachments of roads and pollution due to heavy emissions," according to senior citizens who keep flooding the social media platforms with complaints. <br>Each year hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists are hit by speeding vehicles.

"Zebra crossings also, one can not cross the road without fear of being hit by a wayward vehicle," says senior citizen Sudhir Gupta, who has stopped going out for his daily walks.

When town planners design roads for vehicles and not human beings and when traffic plans become sacrosanct while mobility plans are thrown to the winds, you can only expect widespread chaos. The city is already in a traffic mess due to construction of the Metro line and repair and maintenance of two major ROBs, while the Sikandra chicken neck on the Delhi national highway, is a permanent bottleneck causing untold inconveniences to travelling public, according to activists flooding local whatsapp groups with complaints.

The grim reality is that city of the Taj Mahal and a dozen other historical monuments, that annually attract millions of visitors, can no longer cope with the exploding human and automobile population, plus of course the marauding monkeys, the stray dogs, and the wayward stray cattle on the roads.

To further compound the problem half a dozen departments, the Taj Trapezium Zone Authority, the Agra Development Authority, the Agra Municipal Corporation, the district board, the local police, and the huge army of bureaucrats, are all at loggerheads, pulling one another in different directions. That is why there is chaos on the roads.

The city does not yet have a comprehensive long-term mobility plan for human beings. Vehicles are registered without verifying whether the owners have garages or not. Little wonder you find vehicles parked all over the city along roads, restricting mobility.

Agra's population has crossed five million. Keeping pace is the phenomenal increase in the number of vehicles on the roads. In addition to more than two million registered vehicles, Agra also sees thousands of vehicles from other states using the two Expressways and several national highways crisscrossing the city.

"After the Yamuna Expressway and the Agra Lucknow Expressway became operational, the pressure on Agra roads has gone up many times. The situation is truly alarming," says Rajiv Gupta, former president of the National Chamber of Industries and Commerce.

To add to the woes of the locals, the exploding simian, bovine, and canine populations are major concern areas that the city planners need to address urgently. The alarming rise in the number of private vehicles has hastened the collapse of the traffic management system if ever there was one. Long traffic jams, angry commuters, increased street fights, and accidents are the daily features of the traffic scenario in the Taj City.

Local citizens' forums and voluntary organisations say that the first major step should be to recognise and respect the rights of pedestrians and humble cyclists who should always get a favoured treatment on the roads. The second is to plan mobility management and not traffic management. Humans have to be the chief focus of urban planning, not vehicles and accommodation, the activists demanded.