Saturday, November 5, 2011

Will F1 put the Pedestrian on the Death track?

V. Sumantran. writes:

Will F1 put economy on fast track?

The article justifies the F1 in India if it were to:

1. Make the Auto Industry globally competitive while creating more jobs.
2. Give greater exposure to Indian Companies through sponsorships.
3. Increase tourism.

I personally doubt whether the above ends require some of the resources put in by the Governments involved. But be that as it may. My question is whether the F1 is the appropriate means for our country?

I speak as someone who is a Founder Member of the Right to Walk Foundation which is campaigning for better pedestrian infrastructure & the upholding of pedestrian rights for their safety & convenience.

I also speak as a citizen of India where the cities are choked with Automobile traffic with an under-invested public transport. The gridlock, the pollution & the scarce walking spaces add to chronic illnesses such as Asthma & Diabetes.

F1 glamourizes both the car & its speeding.

My first objection is to the glamorizing of speed without a strong culture of Road Safety. Where F1 comes from & where it has reached in other parts of the world, there is a strong attendant culture of Road Safety. India's clulture, its infrastructure, its dense population is nightmare for road users. This is a country with one of the highest rates of traffic mortality in the world. 35% of those dying are pedestrians. There is practically no driver education, pathetic traffic enforcement & terrible traffic engineering. Even before F1, my early morning Jog was terrorized by the F1-like drivers zipping inches past me. Once the bug of speeding catches where do the energized youth go? Witness the tragic case of Mohd. Azharuddin's son & nephew who met their deaths racing their Motorcycles on a public Highway at 250 kmph. No other country would have allowed 18 year old boys to race their vehicles on a public highway. Besides endangering themselves they are putting others at risk. India's Highways now allow vehicles to speed at 200 kmph, but it is also India's road culture which sees trucks & tractors blithely driving in the wrong direction.

My second objection is to glamourizing the Car. India's urban infrastructure is skewed towards the car. Public transport which should be the bedrock of the urban transport system & which serves the poor, the children & senior citizens is neglected. The creaky public transport system is overcrowded & the last mile infrastructure for the pedestrian to reach the public transport is non-existent. Pedestrians have to put themselves at risk to walk to the bus-stop or cross the road from the bus stop. India's aspiring middle class sees the car as the ultimate status symbol & the Municipal Authorities are pandering to this dream while putting the city's under-privileged to a great disadvantage. India's cities are choking.

India does not lack in magnets for tourism. It is what happens to the tourist once in India that is tragic. What is the point of the Charminar, if you cannot approach it without being afraid of being run over? And as to Auto R&D & Global Exposure, surely there are more appropriate means. As analogy, consider India as a Hub for Medical Tourism for Rich Westerners while India has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. It may be profitable but is it appropriate for the Government to put in its resources while the children die unattended?

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