Bengaluru revs up to take on footpath riders

Worry not, should your Facebook homepage explode into a volley of abuse. It’s only Manju Thomas, doing what every right-thinking Bengalurean should – reclaming the city’s few pavements from errant, undisciplined, often arrogant bikers. Volunteers have taken to piling bricks on footpaths to deter these errant drivers, who can be quite aggressive. With the traffic police tightening the strings to tackle a problem they say is ‘nearly impossible’ and citizens pitching in, self-discipline is the only answer, reports Nikhil Gangadhar

Until recently if you asked anyone who Manju Thomas was , you would probably have drawn a blank look. But since her video standing up to a footpath rider went viral she has become quite a name.

A 27-year-old HR professional, Manju's video has now received a million views on social media and has acted as an eye-opener for pedestrians,  long at the mercy of footpath riders in the city, who have made their lives miserable, claiming right to a section of the road that is out of bounds for motorists and bikers.

It was while she was returning home from work and walking on the footpath on  Mission road that Manju heard a biker honking at her. Wondering why anyone would do that when she was on the pavement, she soon realised a scooterist was right behind her on the footpath, asking her to give way. Instead of obliging, what she did next took both the scooterists and onlookers by surprise. Standing her ground, she asked him instead to get off the pavement. When he refused, she did not  budge either and a verbal spat broke out between them. It was only several passersby came to her support, that the scooterist finally got back on the road. It was a victory for pedestrians!

But for Manju the stand-off on Mission Road was the outcome of a battle she has been waging for some time now to reclaim the footpath for the city’s pedestrians.  It all started when she was studying in a reputed college and was walking back home.  “One day, while I was walking on the footpath I heard a biker honk at me and  gave him way. But my bag got entangled with his bike’s handle, forcing me to let go off it. It fell , scattering all the contents on the footpath. This left me so furious that I decided to do something about it,” she recounts.

Determind to do something about the menace of footpath riding , Manju began to place small bricks on pavements to stop two-wheelers  from riding on them and also began to stand up to those who did whenever she could. And she has  no plans to give up her unique protest. “I will continue this forever,” she says firmly. 

But she doesn't intend to create a forum or an organisation to address the issue. “It's just basic sense that the footpath is meant for pedestrians. The fine for footpath riding is just Rs 100 and will definitely not deter the violators. I would rather have a forum to ensure that the fine is increased to force  people to think twice before riding on  footpaths,” she explains.

The plucky woman finds it difficult to understand why the traffic police, which takes strict action against helmet-less riding and drunk driving, doesn’t care about footpath riding.  “It is strict action combined with heavy fines and constant checking that has led to a fall in other traffic offences, and if the same is done about footpath riding, this will decrease too,” she insists.

“We can preach to children but not adults, who should have the civic sense to know what the footpath is meant for. Pedestrians should also ensure that they don’t give way to vehicles riding on the footpath. If everyone starts to do this,  things will fall into place,” she concludes. 

Too many to tackle, say cops, students join fray
Manju Thomas has clearly set people thinking by her strong stand against footpath riding. Says Ricky Manoj, an entrepreneur residing in Koramangala, “Whenever I am taking a walk, I find several motorists using the footpath. They even have the audacity to honk at the pedestrians and behave inhumanely. The video of her has made me think and from now on I too will act to ensure that people do not ride their bikes on footpaths. The more silent we remain, the more we will get taken for granted.”

A college student, Aarthi Rao, too has decided to tackle the problem, inspired by Manju. “I want to create awareness among students about traffic violations as  footpath riding is common near our college. My friends and I plan to install small obstacles on the footpaths to deter motorists from riding on them and keep them free for  pedestrians. We came up with the idea after seeing Manju Thomas’s video. Small acts can bring about change,” she says.

Manju ThomasManju Thomas

While ordinary people seem to be taking action against the  menace of footpath riding , the city traffic police doesn’t appear to be  acting against it.  Much fewer cases are booked against those involved when compared to other traffic violations. This despite the fact that footpath riding is frequent on major roads in Indiranagar, Cunningham road, Infantry road, Old Madras Road, in Banashan kari, Majestic, Jaya nagar and surrounding areas.

Says a senior traffic police officer , “One of the major reasons why people ride on footpaths is the low penalty of  Rs 100. The Indian Motor Vehicle (IMV) Act should be amended and the fine increased. Once this is done, motorists will gradually stop violating traffic rules.” The officer, however, says the police is considering cancelling  the licence for  first- time footpath riders. Another traffic police officer believes that every footpath should have bollards like the one on 100 feet road in Indiranagar and near the Ulsoor Metro station to prevent people from riding on it. “We also plan to install more CCTV cameras to book bikers taking to footpaths,” he warns.

‘Bollards can curb menace, but what we need is self-discipline’
Prof. M.N. Sreehari,Traffic advisor to the state government
Footpath riding is one of the most common violations that goes unchecked. We cannot blame the traffic police for not keeping a check on this as there are only around 3, 400 of them for over 70 lakh vehicles plying  in the city. It is not possible for them to keep track of every traffic violation taking place in Bengaluru.
We  do not require the traffic police for everything as we too can choose to correct ourselves. Also, advanced technology should be brought in or the simplest would be for people to show more civic responsibility themselves.  The public should take the initiative not to break traffic rules.

In our city, when one motorist rides on the footpath to skip traffic jams,  20 or more follow him , causing great inconvenience to  pedestrians. If that one person is responsible, then everyone else will be too. There should be self- discipline among motorists and bikers to help ease traffic on the roads. If this simple thing is understood,  we could see more traffic discipline. Bollards too could help curb footpath riding, as they act as obstacles. 


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