Thoughtless acts ruin a noble effort

Hawkers, barriers on footpaths with tactile tiles obstruct the visually impaired
Small concrete pillars set up on a pavement with tactile tiles on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in the capital. The barriers, meant for stopping bikes, create obstacles for pedestrians, especially for the visually impaired. The photo was taken yesterday. Photo: Anisur Rahman

A noble effort to help visually impaired pedestrians in Dhaka city is becoming pointless due to the insensitivity of some hawkers and the authorities concerned.

The two city corporations of Dhaka began installing tactile tiles on footpaths in 2017 to facilitate the movement of the physically challenged, earning them appreciation from different quarters.

The tiles have distinctive surface pattern of truncated domes, cones or bars detectable by long cane or foot, which alert the visually impaired of approaching streets and hazards ahead.

But within a few days of installation, hawkers grabbed the footpaths to such an extent that even able-bodied people would find it difficult to use the pavements.

To make matters worse, Dhaka Metropolitan Police last year installed vertical iron and concrete short poles on several footpaths to prevent illegal parking and motorcyclists from using the footpaths.

“A good initiative has been marred by negligence and a lack of coordination among government organisations,” said Salma Mahbub, general secretary of Bangladesh Society for the Change and Advocacy Nexus (B-SCAN).

Since 2009, B-SCAN has been advocating for roads and footpaths friendly to people with physical disabilities. It also advocates the installation of the tactile tiles.

Mohammad Hasan, who has visual impairment, regularly uses the footpaths on his way to work in Mohammadpur from his Adabar home.

“In November, I hurt my knee after bumping into a pole in the middle of the footpath,” said Hasan. “It is an unexpected obstruction for me.”

Hawkers take up space on the footpaths making it difficult for anyone to walk, he added.

Ahmed Jubayer, a physically challenged student of a private university, was found walking on his crutch on a busy street in Gulistan recently.

These bamboo poles were installed on a footpath on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue to prevent bikers from using the pavement; however, they obstruct pedestrians as well. Photo: Anisur Rahman

When asked why he was risking his life, he said, “Hawkers have blocked the footpaths. So, I have no option but to use the street.”

Experts working with people with disabilities claim that the city corporations did not maintain the proper orientation of the tiles while installing them.

“These tiles do not give any specific direction to the visually impaired people. Moreover, at places, the level of footpaths is raised, creating an obstacle to getting on it with a wheel chair,” said Nazma Ara Begum Popy, general secretary of Visually Impaired People's Society (VIPS).

DNCC Chief Engineer Brig Gen Jubayer Salehin said the police did not consult them before installing the poles on the footpaths.

“Coordinated efforts are needed to create awareness among people to keep footpaths free for pedestrians,” he added.

There are 217km of footpaths in Dhaka South City Corporation and 223.09km in Dhaka North City Corporation.

Of these, the DSCC has so far covered about 31km with tactile tiles and DNCC about 73km. Officials said they would install the tiles on the rest of the footpaths gradually. Officials of the corporation could not say how much it costs them to pave the footpaths.

DSCC's Chief Executive Officer Mostafizur Rahman said they would sit with officials concerned, including of the DMP, to discuss the matter.  

Mir Rezaul Alam, DMP's additional commissioner (traffic), said they began removing the poles from the centre of the footpaths.

“We've given instructions to remove the barriers from the yellow tiles that are installed in the centre of the footpaths. And in future, such barriers will not be installed in the centre,” he added.

Yellow tiles with textured surface right in the centre and blister surface on the edges are to alert blind people about approaching streets.


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