Monday, 30th October 2017

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Death jolt to jaywalk city

Jaywalking, often treated as a harmless act of defiance embedded in the Calcutta chromosome, was responsible for more than half the fatalities in road accidents in the city last year.

By Monalisa Chaudhuri
  • Published 13.01.16
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Jaywalking, often treated as a harmless act of defiance embedded in the Calcutta chromosome, was responsible for more than half the fatalities in road accidents in the city last year.

According to police records shared with Metro, people run over while jaywalking through speeding traffic accounted for 232 of the 422 road deaths in 2015, although the number of fatal accidents did decline marginally from 450 the previous year.

In comparison, the number of jaywalking cases recorded by Calcutta police soared from 44,000 to 70,000, reflecting how the anarchy on our roads isn't just about vehicles violating traffic rules.

Jaywalking constitutes a long list of traffic offences by pedestrians. It could be disregarding a traffic signal that has just turned green, jumping over a median divider to take a shortcut, texting or talking on the phone while crossing a road or not using a zebra crossing.

A senior officer in the traffic department said it was as important for a pedestrian to be disciplined as it was for a motorist to follow the traffic rules. Any violation from either side could lead to an accident. "Motorists get training on road hygiene before they get a licence. Unfortunately, there is no such system for pedestrians," said an officer at Lalbazar, the city police headquarters.

While fading zebra crossings, lack of road dividers and faulty signalling are partly responsible for jaywalking, encroached footpaths are the primary reason why pedestrians invade the carriageways.

Hawkers alone aren't to blame for pedestrians losing their footpaths, though. Autorickshaws, garbage vats, CESC panels and even police kiosks have all encroached on Calcutta pavements, forcing pedestrians to walk on roads. This and a tradition of disregarding rules without fear of being penalised by the police make for a jaywalking city where it is okay to stop traffic because you are in a hurry.

Where there are median dividers and pavements separated from roads by high railings, every now and then someone will scale them to cross the road at the risk of being run over. Few pedestrians use the foot overbridges at busy junctions, be it at the Lake Town crossing of VIP Road in the north or the one at Gariahat in the south.

The traffic department has raised the height of the barriers along some median dividers but even this hasn't helped.

"The footpaths in most places have been encroached on, because of which we have become used to walking on the road even where they are free. Walking along the road also makes it easier for you to cross over to the other side when you need to," said Sukanta Dutta, whose office is in Esplanade.

The penalty for jaywalking in Calcutta is between Rs 10 and Rs 50, depending on the gravity of the offence. But senior officers in Lalbazar admit that the fine isn't imposed unless there is a drive. "So many people indulge in jaywalking in this city that it is impossible for us to fine all of them. We do so only when we are asked to," said a traffic sergeant posted in central Calcutta.

In a city where it is difficult to assess who is more indisciplined - the motorist or the pedestrian - accidents occur frequently.

A senior police officer in the traffic department said it was easy to blame the driver for a bus suddenly stopping in the middle of the road to pick up a passenger, although the person boarding it should be equally culpable. Alighting from a moving bus or trying to board one in the middle of the road also amounts to jaywalking, he pointed out.

Additional reporting by Tamaghna Banerjee

Why do you jaywalk? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com