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Dhaka Tribune

Getting off on the right footpath

Update : 26 Apr 2018, 01:34 AM

The image of an ancient city with a glorious historical and cultural past often gets tattered when Dhaka, the capital of one of the emerging economies of the world, gets ranked as one of the least liveable cities in the world.

Despite all the odds and limitations, Dhaka still dreams to become a more liveable and inclusive city, which will not only propel the wheels of economic growth, but also ensure empowerment of disadvantaged communities. One noteworthy initiative which envisions to achieve such a dream has been the reconstruction of the footpaths with special paving for people with visual impairment and other disabilities.

Being busy with life, you might have missed the refreshing yellow red tilted footpaths without realizing the significance of the reconstruction. These footpaths are designed to facilitate free movement of wheelchair users and visually impaired people, keeping their needs in consideration.

While we are far from what is necessary to make Dhaka more accessible to people with special needs, well-thought-out implementation and proper management of the project should kickstart many more governmental and non-governmental initiatives to make every public and private infrastructure disability-friendly.

Unfortunately, such optimism is overshadowed by looming negativities and self-serving motivations.

These newly-built footpaths have often been misused, particularly during rush hour, by bikers who consider these as a lane for motorbikes.

Typically, the bikers have often taken illegal advantage of the pavements to save a couple of minutes. With the mushrooming of ride-sharing initiatives, the situation is worsening day by day when the passengers do not hesitate to encourage the drivers to take the footpaths.

Assuming the good intention of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), however, a less thought-out intervention was recently made to curb out this nuisance. You might very well notice the small concrete pillars which have been put up at regular intervals to impede and discourage bikers from taking the pavements.

Although this has surely alleviated the problem to some extent, it has defied the core value of the new pavements, creating a new dilemma between inclusion and exclusion.

To exacerbate the situation, the pavements are often too narrow to use because of the foot-over bridges and electric poles, compounded with illegal occupancy by hawkers and others. A recent trend is to occupy these footpaths as parking spaces, and sometimes even big four-wheelers do not hesitate to take them.

It is evident that there are many structural and behavioural hurdles that need to be addressed to make our pavements more accessible to everyone.

Short-sighted and quick fixes might cater to a certain problem but may beget other unforeseen challenges.

As the country envisions to become a developed country with steady socio-economic development, we need to accentuate the importance of inclusionary policy-making and infrastructure development

As Dhaka is undergoing major infrastructural restructuring, it is high time we undertook a comprehensive approach, engaging all major stakeholders in disability-friendly city planning which will be protected by formulating apposite policies and legal frameworks bolstered by support from citizens.

How unfortunate would that be if the self-serving and greedy nature of a few shatters the aspirations of millions? As the country envisions to become a developed country with steady socio-economic development, we need to accentuate the importance of inclusionary policy-making and infrastructure development; not exclusionary.

This mammoth work cannot be done unless you and I step forward and appreciate the good initiatives and start following the laws. We all can take part in making the footpaths of Dhaka city more inclusive by ensuring that we raise our concerns against motor-bike nuisance, requesting our riders to leave the pavements for the pedestrians, and being responsible bikers to champion the broader vision of an inclusive Dhaka.

Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a researcher on socio-economic issues and international affairs. He is the co-founder of Youth Opportunities -- an award winning international organization which ensures equal access to opportunities for all. As a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum (Dhaka Hub), he works to make Dhaka more inclusive for everyone. He can be reached at [email protected].

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