LAHORE – Let alone encroached footpaths, walkways along many important City roads have been lost to fronts of plazas, wedding and banquet halls, and showrooms being used as parking lots to cater to the business interests of their owners, shows a survey conducted by TheNation.
An all-too-obvious example of the infringement on the rights of pedestrians is manifest at Queen’s Road, particularly from its portion extending from Abid Market to Government Jinnah Degree College, where many a footpath have been ‘become one’ with building entrances.
A plaza on the road even has a basement and a steep slope, including the sideway, on the front side. Moreover, fronts of many banquet halls and car showrooms have ‘taken in’ the footpath, thereby leaving no space for pedestrians to walk through and thus forcing them to risk walking on often busy roads.
When questioned by this scribe, Maj (r) Najamul Hassan, administration manager of one such showroom, admitted that any construction on footpath was a clear infringement on the rights of pedestrians.
Another problem is that almost one traffic lane and footpaths along the sides of Queen’s Road are being used exclusively for the parking of small trucks and pickups. Abid Market traders patronise the owners of these vehicles since they hire them on rent for transporting home appliances such as refrigerators, air-conditioners, television sets, CD players, washing machines, dryers, etc.
Nevertheless, the law requires that, to accommodate pedestrians and people with disabilities, sidewalks or footpaths of five feet or greater width with separation from roadways be provided on the sides of all urban area roadways; and these walkways be well-lighted for night-time activity, furnished at a relatively higher level with amenities such as benches and trash receptacles, and cleared of obstacles. Such laws do not seem to exist in major cities of Pakistan, especially in the Punjab capital, where there is hardly any or little respect for the rights of pedestrians.
Lahore has walkways spanning several kilometres but, because of encroachments, most of these have become out-of-bound for the pedestrians.
The areas of Hall Road, Shah Alam Road, McLeod Road, Circular Road, Chauburji, Bahawalpur Road and Mozang Chungi are especially notorious in this context.
In particular, walking across Bahawalpur Road is risky for the pedestrians because of the absence of a proper walkway or footpath on its sides. Whatever little footpath is available, it has been occupied by permanent or temporary shops and parked vehicles. Also, the vehicles parked on footpaths often result in traffic jams, especially during school hours. This scenario calls for urgently changing the situation.
Local residents, on the other hand, asserted that the footpaths near their localities had always been encroached on and were never really used by the pedestrians. One can spot at least two vehicles resting on Bahawalpur Road’s footpath at any hour of the day.
The footpaths on the sides of Mayo Hospital Road are now hardly visible because they have been encroached on by the vendors of used items such as curtains, undergarments, shoes, toys and clothes. These encroachments cause a serious inconvenience to the commuters who prefer not to take this route to avoid delays.
In Lakshmi Chowk and other busy areas, owners of food points, restaurants, and barbecue and fast-food joints have literally usurped portions of footpaths as an extension of their business place to accommodate the customers. They have taken over not only footpaths of major thoroughfares, but also the space separating the main road from the service road.
Other major areas and roads suffering from the problem of encroachment include: Circular Road, Data Darbar Road, Landa Bazaar, Taxali Road, Rang Mehal, Railway Station, Mochi Gate, Anarkali Bazaar, Brandrath Road and Gawalmandi.
The people interviewed for this survey generally believed that the officials concerned encouraged owners of various businesses to ‘use’ the footpaths. Anyhow, the ultimate sufferers are pedestrians who are deprived of their right to freely walk.
A visit to Hall Road shows that not only footpaths but also roads have been encroached on by the shopkeepers and vendors selling electronics items and foodstuff.
The footpaths of McLeod Road and Abbot Road, particularly the section extending from Lakshmi Chowk to Pakistan Television Station building, have been fully ‘annexed’ by vendors, shopkeepers and owners of eating houses.
The miseries of pedestrians caused by the vehicles parked on footpaths and roadsides apparently do not bother the authorities concerned. An effort has never been made to build proper footpaths wherever required, forcing pedestrians to walk on roads and thus putting their lives in grave risk.
Like civilised societies, steps should be taken to ensure protection of the rights of pedestrians. For this purpose, only removal of encroachments is not enough and enforcement officials should also keep a close eye on other problems of the pedestrians.