If you ever have had the guts to plan a trip to Switzerland, you will find on many websites that they actually recommend (‘they’ being your average traveler to the place, and not the officials) that you do not rent any vehicle to get around the country. Instead they point to the latest time table of the country’s public transport. I wish such a thing for Lahore. No, not a time table for public transport, but public transport itself.
I have never traveled on a bus, although I did traverse the Mall road for almost a year on the suicidal vans while doing my time at Government College. The vans were knocked up, were filled up till someone fell out through the windows and every once in while you’d get a seat next to a confused pedophile. But one thing good about those vans were that they were on a route that happened to be mine as well. Then I got upgraded to a motorbike and have not used public transport since. Not even a taxi. But there has been a desire to do so, a desire tainted with economic motivations. The desire hit me first when I started making money (while at University) and calculated the total cost of ownership of my then vehicle (a CNG-kitted Suzuki Swift – not a Khyber, a Swift!). I wished for another go at riding the public transport monster but that is when luck ran out; there was no convenient way of getting from my university to my home, other than hop twice between buses and then walk a total of a bit-more-than-one kilometer(s). So I stuck with my car. Besides, possessing a vehicle that can fit more than two individuals during college days was as cool as Fonzie.
But now I keep reading about how bad it is for the environment that the Punjab government is cutting down an estimated 1500 trees (somewhat-official figure), some hundred years old, to widen the 14 kilometer stretch of the Canal road. Environment? What? We have an environment, and no one told me about it?
But folks, seriously. Apologies to all environmentalists and ‘tree huggers’ in here and out there, but the idea of widening the Lahore Canal Road is not a bad one because we will be losing around 6,000 trees (WWF figure). Chopping trees ‘heartlessly’ can be a good thing if it is done for a good cause. But widening the canal road is not exactly a good cause.
“But look at the Lahore Canal,” you say, “the underpasses have really solved the traffic problem!” Are you on crack? Have you ever been on the Canal at rush hour? This underpass is on the left, that one is on the right and cars are all over the place. The Canal road is being widened BECAUSE there is a traffic problem that is only fuelled by the ill-planned underpasses. “But there are too many cars on the road because of them banks,” you say. Right, and there are still more cars out there, and widening the road will not leave ‘room’ for the ones already there, it will invite in more cars to fill in the space. I am sure there is some principle as solid as Archimedes’ to prove this point here. (get it? Solid principle, Archimedes? No? Never mind.)
My problem is this: you are planning to spend a tad more than 3 Billion rupees, and you have two options. Behind door number one is that you spend it on widening the Canal road (forget about the tree chopping for a moment here). You will solve nothing. Interesting.
Behind door number two is the real reason road-widening is not a good idea: public transport. Giving the city of Lahore, that keeps growing in size by the millisecond, some semblance of a public transport system in the form of buses and trains sounds like a brilliant idea, ESPECIALLY when you compare it to the dead-end canal-widening idea.
If you think, or doubt, that widening the canal road will be a good thing to solve the traffic problem, I think one of our very own Metbloggers, Mr. Rafay Alam will be in a much, much better position to answer that. The problem that I see, which is much bigger than environment and planning, is that of displaced priorities. Our job as citizens is to remind our government to do there’s.
So, there you are, 3 billion in hand. One solution is to burn it, and the other is to invest it back. A very tricky answer to this one, I assure you, right?