Lahore, the urban jungle

With the ominous blanket of smog that bathes every leaf on every tree with dust and pollution in Lahore, the populace is plagued with an incessant cough borne from this soot. Cars are packed together at every end of the city at all hours of the day. Tempers are flaring and accident statistics are likely to go up. Nobody is seemingly getting anywhere. At this juncture, one cannot help but loathe this perverse sense of urban development. The LDA has proven itself an echelon that harbours a parochial sense of what constitutes as vision. Not only have they wrested the originality of Lahore, the new ‘signal free corridor’ has some serious, if not fatal, shortcomings.

A project that should have been initiated in segments, starting off with perhaps Jail Road, only then to move on to Fawara Chowk and the rest, has been a bombardment on the entire city, bringing it to a complete halt. Cars are clogging roads everywhere from Raiwind to Defence, leaving not a single stress-free route for an already deeply frustrated civil society. Though work seems to be progressing speedily, it isn’t fast enough and is proving a real hazard on the lungs of civilians. Had the work started in components, the unsettled dust looming ceaselessly could have been better controlled; as a result avoiding this environmental injustice - especially on the poorer segments of society.

Ironically enough, the extension to the width of Main Boulevard has been a pointless feat when only two lanes have still been created. For a population that already creates a four lane traffic jam in a one lane zone, one might ask how a small number of lanes are instrumental to Lahori traffic anymore? What then, was the point of decimating the previous system? Sharp U-turns with protruding brick divisions appear out of nowhere on the main road. Conveniently, these bends are few and far between, leaving vehicles to make an extra 100 yard journey for a turn they needed to make far behind. More fuel wasted, and more pollution in the air. At the same time, these narrow U-turns are hardly conducive for a regular car to turn, let alone a jeep, van or bus. Bulging stomachs of an irregular pattern in the green belt creates an even greater sense of concern. It is a waste of space where another lane could potentially have been created without losing too much green. As of now, it makes for an irregular flow to the road which could prove fatal for individuals not paying attention.

For some bizarre reason, the authorities thought that there was a need for both an underpass and a flyover in front of Siddique Centre, where traffic initially flowed seamlessly. This they have created so that cars only get jammed at the checkpoint just off of Jinnah flyover.

The canal has become virtually inaccessible and two lane underpasses on Jail Road continually remain choked. Liberty roundabout and Ferozepur road are a sorry affair to say the least, when no one follows their lanes and the existing lanes are not sufficient. Where two extra lanes could have existed, the Metro bus lane selfishly occupies the space. Yet other segments of Lahore remain largely unacknowledged such as in the Inner city, Township, Faisal Town, Samnabad, Barqi or Bedian.

With red lights not existing nor working in most areas, and not a single traffic warden in sight, people seem to be going anywhere and everywhere. Breaking laws, incessantly switching lanes and wreaking more havoc on an already strained traffic flow. For an otherwise extremely lethargic nation, everyone seems to be in an awful rush to get somewhere. The government could at least have provided the personnel that are already employed for this very purpose, to serve their city and vocation.

These supposed solutions will be very short lived, if successful. For the N-League, of course, the answer to everything is to dig an underpass or to obliterate the skyline with a flyover. One thing they should be commended on however, is the Ring Road. It has created greater access to parts of the city, and has been brilliantly executed. Yet, it is only accessible via Cantt, Defence and Harbanspura, thus seldomly used. The point of a Ring Road is that it circles the entire city, yet this one ends at Bhatta Chowk. It needs to be extended further down for accessibility to Township, Thokar Niaz Baig, Ravi River side and other societies. Traffic could then be diverted onto it; such as those individuals trying to simply get to the airport, won’t have to painstakingly go through the checkposts in Cantt, and access it directly.

This too would successfully secure the Cantonment area with fewer cars to check. The burden on the Canal could also be reduced when people can access the city centre via this Ring Road.

Though the metro bus may have helped, of course, a certain segment of society, it has proven a real obstruction to the rest of the 90 percent population that relies on rickshaws, cars, vans and buses. Its ‘signal free’ route could be opened up to regular traffic, or more lanes added in its stead. Your city does not need a separate lane for one specific bus, it only needs an effective bus system. The Metro should make use of the roads like everyone else, and in fact (should the Ring Road be further developed) make use of that.

Another aspect that needs to seriously be dealt with is the illegal setting up of businesses on roadsides and roadside parking that impinge and encroach on space. Perfect examples are Ferozepur road, Gurumangat road and the inner city. The city centre, of course, is the hub of economic growth. However on normal baselines for development this business expansion goes upwards and not outwards to tax limited space. Levelled car parks are the more obvious solution at this stage and large businesses need to be diverted to the outer rim of the city; such as MCB has done near the airport.

Another more obvious solution to traffic woes is stricter regulation. Wardens need to do their duty, without proving to be a menace. Motorcyclists, the bane of current traffic, need to be pushed to a single lane to the far left side of roads. Dangerous lane switching and speeding by cars needs to be put to a halt. Two lane roads should never be clogged with vehicles that create 4 lanes for themselves. All law-breakers must be severely sanctioned.

The authorities clearly have never driven on Lahori roads (with traffic, at least) to at least exhibit some sort of insight to this development.

The corridor is hardly the solution to our problems; it is very clearly a money-making venture. It poses serious questions for social justice when effective public hospitals need to be built, the poor/slums need to be fed and when rural urban migration needs to be checked so as to create less strain on one city. It says a lot when development is only taking place in elite areas.

The writer holds a Masters' degree in Environmental Conservation from New York University.

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