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‘We must rethink engineering solutions in order to enhance road safety’

Urban designer Vibhav Kharagpuria, who is working on the road safety of children and the youth, stresses the importance of allocated safe spaces for pedestrians

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Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AIT-SAP) alumnus Vibhav Kharagpuria explored urban design and developed interest during his time in college. After having gained experience on multiple projects including Sabarmati riverfront development and master planning and street design in India and Bhutan, he is now working as a Programme Associate-Transport, Sustainable Cities and Transport at World Resources Institute India. He has also earned his position as a public speaker in the field of architecture. Motivated and passionate about his work, Kharagpuria says he is led by curiosity, creativity, and common sense. In an interview, he talks about his experience at his alma mater, his work around road safety of children and the youth, and more. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about the time you spent at AIT-SAP.

I heard of the word ‘architecture’ when I was in class 12; I was introduced to it by my elder brother. After doing some research on the subject, I found it interesting and decided to apply for it at AIT-SAP. When I entered college, I was overwhelmed by the number of seniors who were willing to interact, which eventually played a role in pushing me towards becoming a public speaker. Over the course of five years, I gained valuable lessons. Around the time of my final examination in the fifth year, I broke my leg in a road crash. The director of the college called me up and assured me of every kind of help that I would need. There were many faculty members who helped me draft my drawings and designs and I will always remain indebted to them. I spent a wonderful time in college and have learned throughout my journey there.

How did the college prepare you for your journey ahead?

When I completed my third year in college, I got an internship opportunity at Aishwarya Tipnis Architects, where I was lucky enough to be able to learn many of the skills related to the field. Once I returned to college, I discussed my experience with Alka Arora Ma’am, and it was she who showed confidence in my ability to become an urban planner.

Vibhav speaking at an event by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs

What is urban design all about? How did you decide to pursue it?

The textbook definition of ‘urban design’ is the design of cities, streets, and spaces. But urban design is not just limited to that; it is about what is known as the public realm—the place where people come together, mix with each other and interact. In my bachelor’s, I was interested in the role of public participation in architecture which, in a way, pushed me towards this field, where I could reach out to people and see how I can improve their quality of life.

Road crash deaths in India are among the highest in the world, according to the World Bank. What are the possible causes?

One of the reasons is inadequate engineering solutions. It is not just about police but also improving the engineering of roads. During the pandemic, there was a 70 per cent increase in the number of people who opted for cycles as their mode of transport. So, the improvements have to be in tandem with such change in behaviour. The government is also launching initiatives to provide safe streets for people. We are hopeful that the situation will improve over time.

You are working on road safety and safer commutes for children and the youth. Tell us more.

We are currently working on a project on safer mobility for youth. We have worked on another project related to safer commutes for school children. We also got an opportunity to work on the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) guidelines for street design. I even push senior government officials to promote capacity building around it and to include all stakeholders. If the streets are made safe for the children, elderly, and differently-abled, in effect, it will be safer for everyone; these are in fact the people who are most vulnerable on the road.

Are officials reaching out to street children and others to spread awareness about road safety and traffic rules?

I have personally interacted with 300-400 kids through workshops and stakeholder-engagement events. They are aware of road safety, but the engineering is not allowing them to follow the rules. Even for the motorcyclists, what lacks is the equity of space. There is only space for cars on the roads. Data shows that 10 per cent of people in the cities use cars while the rest use public transport, two-wheelers or are pedestrians. We need to have an allocated space for the latter to ensure their safety. There is a 3C concept that is crucial when it comes to design—curiosity, creativity, and common sense. If we use this as a creator, it will definitely help shape a better world.

Interaction with multiple stakeholders in Rohtak

What changes do you suggest in the design of roads to ensure better equity and safety?

First, we need to allocate safe spaces, which are footpaths. Second, we need more speed-calming measures. Third, we need to set and live up to specific standards to improve junction areas. Stakeholders need to abide by the guidelines to improve the quality of life in cities.

Your word of advice for the students of AIT-SAP.

One can only be creative when he or she is curious. To the students, I would like to say that we have to be patient enough and observe everything happening around us and use our common sense and creativity to achieve better results.  

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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