December 18, 2016

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The Vanishing Sidewalks

The sidewalks are pedestrian walkways or foot paths on both sides of the motor roads in the cities and towns. They provide safe passages for those on foot, free from the dangers of car accidents. They are usually built about a foot higher than the motorways they bordered. The curbs, or concrete blocks are placed at the edges of the sidewalks, to reinforce them and to make cars getting onto the sidewalks impossible; in case the cars went out of control. They are painted either plain yellow or checkered white and red or yellow and black or left unpainted to indicate the degree of restrictions for parking at those locations. The motorists are supposed to know what they meant; however, I doubt whether every driver really knew what they meant. Now, they don’t matter anymore, as they are being neglected by both the motorists and the concerned departments.
Most sidewalks in Yangon City had vanished. They were taken over by the cars for parking, and businesses and street vendors expanding their domains onto the sidewalks. These illegal actions forced the pedestrians to take to the motor roads, which made them vulnerable to car accidents. The department responsible for their maintenance had abandoned them in most locations. These problems are most common in the townships outside the downtown areas, for example Tammwe and Kamayut townships, the only two places I had frequently been to, nowadays. As I lives in Tammwe area, I will mention the conditions in my locality, which I am quite familiar.
Along the Banyardala Road, that can be termed the main artery of Tammwe, the sidewalks were no more passable by the pedestrians, throughout its length. If one would care to take a walk, starting from the traffic light intersection near Mingalar Market, heading toward the traffic light junction at the former Tammwe round about, one would agree with my statement. The sidewalks along that route had been taken over, in many places by the local residents, to be utilized as their permanent parking lots. In some places the sidewalks are only about three feet wide, as they had to give space for widening the existing roads.
Early every morning, when I went for my daily walks to Kandawgyi Lake, I had to walk along the concrete dividers that run along the center line of the road to avoid being ran over by the racing, or rather, “fighting” buses. In the early hours, the roads are still not too crowded yet and provided them with perfect “Formula One” race tracks. If you are wondering why I walked over those concrete blocks along the middle of the road instead of taking the sidewalks, which are supposed to be for pedestrians, please recall the above statement and you will realize my actions. Someone passing by on a car might even think I was jaywalking, not paying attention to the rules and regulations regarding road safety. I must insist that the dividers lining the center of road provide the safest place to walk along, these days, as you cannot either keep to the left side or to the right side of the road, because of the parked cars taking up the outermost lanes. As for the sidewalks, don’t even think of them early in the morning, as the cars are still parked on them.
As I have nothing productive to do at my age, I thought of doing a survey/research, on how the motorists were able to get their cars over the high curbs of the sidewalks. To my dismay, the curb blocks in many places were missing and the sidewalk surfaces were sloped toward the road to facilitate easy access for the cars to be parked squarely on the sidewalks, leaving no space for even a slim person to pass. The curbs were either intentionally removed or diminished in height to the point of disappearing under the new layers of asphaltic, repeatedly laid without removing the old ones. Some places are utilized as parking lots only during the nights. However, in some places like the front of the companies, hotels and mobile phone shops, they are staked out, using signs that claimed as parking for their cars only, during the daytimes too.
I won’t be fair, if I don’t mention a number of various types of businesses and some food stalls encroaching the spaces in front of their places to display their commodities, restricting the pedestrian traffics over the sidewalks. Of these, the carpenter shops, hardwares and construction materials stores are the worst offenders. Their goods can inflict injuries to the passers by, as they are recklessly strewn on the sidewalks, Also, the labourers loading or unloading their goods from trucks have no regards for the public; they will never give priority to the pedestrians.
If you want to avoid the cars parked illegally on the sidewalks and the congested spaces due to encroachments by the various businesses, the only place for the pedestrians are the motor roads. Those too are not safe for them, as there are cars double parked in many places, on each side of the six lane road. In actual fact, the Banyardala Road being a six lane road is, or rather was designated as a no parking road around the clock. However, I am doubtful that designation still applies, from the appearance of it. In some spots, there are garbage bins lined on the side of the road taking up some portion of the outermost traffic lane. Inconsiderate motorists, mostly taxi drivers, would park by the side of those bins, keeping a wide space in between because of the stench, making the motorable space narrower. Hence, taking to the road instead of the congested sidewalks, which you are sometimes compelled to do so to get to your destinations, may be more dangerous. Some of you may think I am making a big fuss about nothing. For those who thought so, I would like to invite you to come and see for yourself, because “seeing is believing”.
As for the Kamayut area, the sidewalks close to the flyover bridge at Hledan junction are the worst places. The sidewalks are lower than the standards, if there are any. What I want to point out is that, they are thought to have been purposely made low during recent constructions, to facilitate car parkings on them.
As I was too engrossed in blaming the unscrupulous and irresponsible persons, I almost forgot to mention the conditions of the sidewalk surfaces. There are not a few feet of even surface along the sidewalks, except in those places maintained by the residents, with their own expenses, to be used for parking their cars. Other places are full of potholes, cracked concretes slabs and loose dirts. These are the handy works of the ever present rodents attracted by the garbage bins. They had burrowed beneath the sidewalks, causing them to collapse, making it very difficult to tread on. For that matter the rodents are not the only culprits, but some residents are also responsible. They plant trees that can get very big, to get shade, smack on the sidewalks, causing the damages to the them as they grew. I would like to say that such surfaces pose dangers to the pedestrians, especially the elderly persons. Here, I wanted to use the term “senior citizens”; however, I decided not to, as we are not recognized as such in our country. Whereas, in other countries, people over sixty years of age are recognized as senior citizens, and are given priority everywhere. There are even separate toilets at public places for them, with safety rails fitted for support.
Well, there is a long way ahead of us, and many things to be done, so let us strive together to reach that goal. We should not place all the responsibilities on the government alone, we must observe our civic duties too.
Looking forward to a law abiding and disciplined society.
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