One fine breezy evening in Pune, on my way back from work, I reached Sambhaji Park bus stop on JM road to catch my bus home. My bus was due 10 minutes later, but I didn’t mind waiting. The view from my seat on the wide footpath was vibrant, with people, including women, children, and the elderly, all comfortably lingering and enjoying the greenery of the street space. Soon it was time to go home, but I carried this happy sight. Places like JM Road and moments like this remind me of the impact even small achievements in improving mobility in a city can have on the well-being of its people.
And Pune’s achievements aren’t very small.
Pune, India, received the Sustainable Transport Award in 2020 for its remarkable efforts in promoting sustainable mobility. The city aimed to achieve over 90% of non-motorized and public transport trips by 2031, setting an example for other cities. Pune adopted Urban Street Design Guidelines and a Walk-Smart policy, created a Bicycle Plan, and initiated an ambitious Pune Streets Programme transforming 45 km of streets and improving over 500 km with improved footpaths. Impressive investments back these initiatives, with almost 50% of the transport budget allocated to sustainable transport since 2016. Pune also made history in 2021 by celebrating Pedestrians’ Day, fully pedestrianizing a 500m stretch on Laxmi road for a day.
Over the years, Pune has been proactive in creating initiatives and infrastructure for better streets, but how impactful have they been in improving the well-being of citizens? What has worked? And what more needs to be done?
These questions led the city and its leaders to take up the Walk and Cycle Analysis—an assessment of the city’s streets—conducted by ITDP India with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The report was launched during the city’s second Pedestrians’ Day celebrations in December 2022.
Here are some insights—challenges, lessons, and opportunities—from the process of conducting the analysis.
Why do we need a Streets Assessment?
Despite Pune’s efforts to improve safety and comfort for pedestrians and cyclists, it was not an uncommon sight to see them still using the carriageway and not the footpaths or the cycle tracks. Despite spaces being allocated for parking, vehicles still haphazardly encroached on road space. People also had trouble accessing the city’s public transport infrastructure.
In August 2022, as preparations began for the city’s second Pedestrians’ Day celebrations, officials at PMC organised a meeting focused on identifying areas that needed improvement to ensure the availability of the required investment. ITDP India highlighted the importance of conducting an assessment of Pune’s streets to identify and address issues.
A street assessment would
- help identify any gaps in execution that may be barriers to the infrastructure being used as planned
- provide a comparative analysis of the conditions and impact of street design works across the city
- help identify the right interventions needed to improve the streets to adapt to the needs of their users,
- inform the budgets prepared for street projects
- create a data-based mapping for streets
- be an effective communication tool to showcase the impact of street projects taken up
Reframing the study: From an Impact Assessment to a Situation Analysis
The study was initially conceived of as an impact assessment—which typically considers data from both before and after an intervention to understand the advantages and disadvantages comprehensively. But since pre-execution data was unavailable for most street projects, the study primarily focused on identifying gaps in the current situation of walking and cycling infrastructure and providing recommendations.
The study assessed streets on four fundamental principles to effectively communicate with both city officials and citizens:
- Ease of movement – how comfortable are the streets to walk and cycle on.
- Safety – how safe are they for pedestrians and cyclists.
- Universal accessibility – how accessible are they to different user groups, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.
- Liveability – how comfortable are the streets for all user groups (including children, elderly, and persons with disabilities) to spend time.
To gather data for these three principles, three types of surveys were conducted, each providing valuable insights into the street’s condition:
- Design surveys: to evaluate how well the street adhered to established guidelines in terms of its design.
- Observation surveys: to provide insights into the street usage patterns by observing how pedestrians and cyclists used the street.
- Perception surveys: to understand subjective opinions and feelings about the street.
The cumulative data gathered from these surveys were analysed and scores were assigned to assess how well the streets address the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.
Preparing the Assessment Action Plan with the Pune Municipal Corporation
From the start of the project, PMC was invested in the research, and the city’s involvement and ownership of the study was critical to ensure that it would be impactful in informing decisions about future street projects. With the methodology in place, the ITDP India team worked with officers and engineers from PMC to mobilise resources, select the streets to be assessed, and schedule the surveys. City engineers also assigned trainees to support with the surveys of the streets from their respective zones. The city also decided to launch the report during a big event on the second Pune Pedestrians’ Day celebration, showing their ownership of the project.
Subsequently, we prepared an action plan to seamlessly implement the survey. Each survey was carefully mapped out—specifying the time required, resources allocated, and the location. The surveyors were provided with a comprehensive half-day training to ensure their understanding of the plan. It was also important for the plan to be adaptable to changes on-ground during the surveys.
Here’s what we learnt from conducting the surveys on the ground.
Lessons from conducting the study on ground
1 | It is important to test the survey on ground before rolling out across all identified streets.
We initiated a pilot study of the survey on one street, to test the process to ensure things go smoothly when we rolled out the surveys for all the streets. The pilot gave us useful insights.
For example, we needed more surveyors on the ground. Considering the varying character of the street, we divided the street into 500-meter segments and assigned three surveyors to conduct the design, observation, and perception surveys. The design and observation surveys could be efficiently managed by one person each, but the perception surveys required significantly more time to complete. This situation led us to make a decision: either we had to increase the number of personnel dedicated to the perception survey, or we had to extend the timeline for completing the survey. Due to the limited availability of personnel, we opted to allocate extra time to ensure the successful completion of the survey.
2 | The timing and location of surveys is important to get context-specific insights.
Capturing the situation during various times (school hours, peak hours in morning and evening, weekends and weekdays)and various locations (such as high footfall areas, different building uses—residential, commercial etc.— and near bus stops) can provide context-specific insights into street use. For example, surveys near bus stops can help capture the number of public transport users dependent on non-motorised transport.
3 | Training of surveyors is crucial.
The surveyors need proper training on street design fundamentals before conducting fieldwork. Throughout the study, we developed a matrix that outlined the surveyors and the time required to complete surveys for every kilometer of a street. The matrix was as follows:
|Design surveys||1 surveyor per street|
Time required: 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes per survey
|Observation surveys||1 surveyor per street|
Time required: 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes per survey
|Perception surveys||4 surveyors per street|
Time required: 1 hour for 50 surveys
The presence of a supervisor and/or a survey coordinator was necessary to ensure the authenticity of the collected data and provide guidance to the surveyors. Additionally, a technical person had the responsibility of monitoring data quality and ensuring a balanced representation in terms of gender and age demographics.
Insights from the surveys
The study yielded significant insights into the street design process, with the top three insights being:
- Streets designed according to the Pune Urban Street Design Guidelines (USDG) performed better in all three surveys. This highlights the importance of adopting and adhering to design standards and guidelines in creating user-friendly streets. The streets that followed Pune USDG had better walking and cycling spaces, organised parking, placemaking and appropriate road safety measures.
- Despite 70% of the surveyed streets having footpaths, only 30% of pedestrians actually used them. This indicates that a majority of the footpaths were unusable or face issues that force pedestrians to use the carriageway. There is a clear need to address these shortcomings and improve the functionality of footpaths.
- Enforcement needs improvement. Encroachments of various kinds, such as illegal structures or obstructions, make footpaths and cycle tracks inaccessible. This emphasises the need for better enforcement mechanisms to ensure the proper use and maintenance of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
Check out the full analysis report here.
The report received high praise from the city’s leadership. During its unveiling on Pedestrians’ Day, the Commissioner also emphasised the importance of conducting more studies like this in the future. The officials and engineers embraced the idea of data-driven making, with the collection of information on street usage and people’s perceptions of the streets they had implemented.
The study validated their efforts and motivated them to build on the existing work going forward. They embraced the action points highlighted in the report and have already started working on the ground to make improvements. The officials stressed the significance of conducting such studies periodically to monitor progress and ensure continuous enhancements in street design and infrastructure.
Similar studies, when done right, could be an eye-opener—for city officials as well as citizens. To begin with, cities that have been implementing walking- and cycling-friendly streets for more than five years can benefit from a similar assessment to evaluate the usability of their streets and make necessary improvements. Cities that are embarking on new Healthy Streets programmes should ensure they collect data for the streets before implementing new infrastructure to enable a true impact assessment by comparing with data collected after the transformation. It can also help create a user inventory for each street, and as cities assess more streets, they can create a city-wide database to inform their priorities while making decisions.
Cities keep arguing that streets don’t have enough pedestrians and cyclists to justify allocating space as per regulations—which is usually not the case at all. But pedestrians and cyclists have always been invisible street users, and a holistic street assessment can make them and their needs visible. It can help cities understand the needs of the most vulnerable street users and ensure that our streets and our cities work for everyone, not just for cars.
Written by Siddhartha Godbole
Edited by Varsha Jeyapandi, Keshav Suryanarayanan