I had an unbelievable experience today. You see, there is this exercise I had been involved in with some freiends of mine (where we used this Groupspace called Roads4All to send one another emails) with the avowed common desire/goal of rescuing our public spaces from the tyranny of the automobile and returning it to the people by creating wider and barrier-free pavements which would be accessible even to people with disabilities. I had had three or four earlier experiences of attempting such `access audits' for a few of of the 300 roads that the Chennai Corporation has promised to render so accessible. Some of those experiences (more than 3 months ago) - with such roads as Conran Smith Road, the roads on which SIET and Loyola Colleges are located, as also a triangle in Egmore involving the Police Commissioner's Office Road, Pantheon Road and another road whose name eludes my sieve-like memory - were thoroughly forgettable and disappointing experiences.
In the last three months, many of us were busy with trying to ensure that a certain fractious Bill on the `Rights of PWD' was not tabled and passed in unseemly haste in the dying moments of the reign of the current ruling party of the Central Govt. of India. Recently, I learnt a horribly ironic fact: a wonderful, vivacious young woman called Kadambari, who worked with Transparent Chennai, one of the organisations which roped our group (called DRA) into the Roads4All exercise, had lost her life a few weeks ago in an automobile accident in Bangalore!
Other organisations involved in this exercise are the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and Chennai City Connect Foundaion (CCCF). Not long after I heard the horrific news about Kadambari, we received an email from one of our ITDP friends to ask if we would be willing to assist in an audit of the busy and up-market 2nd Main Road in Besant Nagar. As it was the least that one could do for the fragrant memory that was Kadambari, four of us (3 from DRA and 1 from ITDP), met at more or less the southern end of 2nd Main Road (near the Spencer's there). And we began our leisurely stroll down the eastern side of the road - even ITDP could not talk the residents/commercial establishments into letting them perform the sidewalk-widening experiment on the western side of the road - pausing every few feet to point out possible improvements or potential hazards, and, of course, clicking away with our iPads and mobile phones to document various points. The point of this story is that the following unbelievable thing happened: I managed to travel a distance of close to a kilometre on my wheelchair; just conceive the existence of such a stretch of pavement in India!
Amba put her iPad to good use and emailed me the following link within an hour of returning home from our evening walk: http://sfy.co/tQtf
ITDP, CCCF, Transparent Chennai - and Chennai Corporation - have done an awesome job, at least of this stretch. Of course, there is still some room for improvement, but even this is tremendously creditable. You don't know how buoyed I have been feeling ever since our evening `walk' yesterday. Can you imagine me going out and buying a bunch of luscious greens from a vendor on our city streets? Thanks, Kadambari for your parting gift; and may this experience extend to many more places and make a reality of the concept of making our public spaces our's!.