Posts Tagged ‘public transport’

Why Kalma Chowk Underpass is a bad idea…

Traffic is becoming a major issue for dwellers of this city of 10 million, especially for the vast majority of population that cannot afford to drive Corollas or fancy Range Rovers. The current Punjab Government has been epic in initiating unplanned, unreasonable and unjustified projects just for the sake of gaining mass publicity and a possible nod from the Western governments and donor agencies. Transparency and good governance are two important issues in which the Punjab government, according to some observers, was apparently faring better as compared to the center and other provinces. Any sane person from the general population, however, will highly disagree with this false notion when he still has to enjoy the effects of these supposedly successful initiatives. Urban planning is one important issue where each of our governments handsomely fails. The long-awaited Lahore Rapid Mass Transit system has almost been laid to rest while highly questionable strategy of road widening and tree cutting continues. Meaningless small stunts like construction of the Park n Ride plaza on Liberty Roundabout hardly have done anything to resolve the planning crisis and make our city more livable. The ugly structure, by the way, is hardly used by anyone and emits more carbon thanks to its free shuttle service to Liberty Market (located just a few hundred meters away) using diesel coaster buses.

Ahmed Rafay Alam, in his recent article published in the The Tribune, pretty much summarizes the flaws of recently inaugurated Kalma Chowk underpass project. He writes,

“Investment in public transport (and removal of private automobiles from roads) is the only long-term solution. Three years ago, the Punjab government launched the Lahore Transport Company with the promise to import some 1,300 buses into the city within three years. Well, it’s been three years and no such buses have been imported. Meanwhile, the Lahore Transport Company continues to pay salaries to its many officers and employees. The construction of the Kalma Chowk overpass excuses the failure by the Punjab government to adopt any long-term public transport alternatives. This should not be so and taxpayers should be informed of the reasons why no public transport is being provided, as promised.”

Displaced Priorities

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?

Say a little prayer for Lahore

Canal IIThe only thing as incredulous as the recent announcement by the Government of Punjab — it intention to construct a highway through the heart of Lahore — was the recent statement of the CEO of Fashion Pakistan Week that their glorified display of clothes was a “gesture of defiance towards the Taliban.”

Our fashion industry is as much of an industry as the Holy Roman empire was holy, Roman or an empire. Our designers are talented without doubt; but to suggest that parading scantily clad men and women down a runway behind the bunkers and barricades of a five-star hotel in Karachi is an act of defiance is, well, really stretching the limits to which the “security situation” can make a fool out of us. The foreign media took to the sound bite like a starving man to a steak and now, once again, Pakistan is portrayed as two-dimensional: a country teeming with brave designers, fighting Islamic militancy. My friend and critic Faiza S. Khan said it perfectly in her column at

“One designer lamentably laid claim to being ‘a very brave woman’ for displaying her clothes on a catwalk at a five-star hotel in a country where women have been known to be murdered, maimed, mutilated and on occasion buried alive, where girls’ schools are routinely attacked and where, even at the best of times, women’s rights, outside of a tiny income bracket, are limited at best. Another designer called it an act of defiance in the face of the Taliban, glossing over the fact that fashion shows do, in fact, take place with some regularity in Pakistan, and if one must intellectualise this, then it could more honestly be described as a display of affluence in the face of a nation torn apart by the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Why the foreign media can’t ask Pakistani designers questions about their work and why they, in turn, yield to the temptation, like Miss Universe, of providing a sound bite on world peace is beyond me.”

Over the weekend, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that he was allocating Rs3.15 billion for a project to widen Lahore’s Canal Road. The decision can only be described, at best, as a reckless adventure and, at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2006, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) of Lahore Development Agency (LDA) proposed to widen the Canal Bank Road, purportedly to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Because the project was over Rs50 million, the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,

1997 kicked in and TEPA was constrained to engage the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. This was done and the EIA was presented to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab, in a public hearing where hundreds of Lahoris gathered to protest against the decision to deprive the city of one of its last surviving environmental heritages: the 14 kilometres of green belt that line the canal and make the street one of the most unique avenues in the world.

The EPA, Punjab approved the EIA but before the project could go any further, the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of dozens of grass-root NGOs as well as WWF-Pakistan) challenged the veracity of the EIA as well as the approval granted to it by the EPA, Punjab. The case remains pending before the Lahore High Court.

The announcement by the mhief minister, giving the go-ahead for the project “after completion of design”, raises some important points. First, it is clear that the project approved by the CM is not the project that the TEPA had originally proposed in 2006. For one thing, the cost of this new project is nearly five times the cost of the original design. Also, according to news reports, the new project is set to incorporate new features along the Canal Road (like “beautifications” which, I must hastily point out, in the context of roads means nothing).

What this means is that the Government of Punjab cannot use the EIA approval granted to the original TEPA project. According to our laws which, the last time I checked still apply to everyone including the government, road projects in excess of Rs50 million must have an EIA carried out and should be approved by the EPA.

But the observance of legal and procedural formalities is not the primary concern that most Lahoris have about the road widening project. It’s an open secret that the Government of Punjab is operating on overdraft. In such a situation, it would seem bizarre that the provincial government would choose to spend Rs3.15 billion — nearly 10 per cent of the allocations it made last year to the three heads of health, public health and education — on one road in one city of the province.

Less than 20 per cent of Lahoris have access to cars. For the vast majority of the over eight million people who try and live and work in this city, transport and mobility are dependent on motorcycles, cycles and what is euphemistically referred to as “public transport” (there are less than 1,000 buses that ply the city’s streets). Ever since the previous tenure of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the Punjab Road Transport Corporation was shut down, neither this nor the PML-Q government of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi have spent a rupee on public transport, which, by the way, is the only way to reduce traffic congestion in a city. Now we are told that a seriously broke government is about to spend billions of rupees it doesn’t have on a road it doesn’t need for people who don’t want or use it. Remarkable indeed.

In a presentation made by NESPAK on August 31 this year, the various options of widening the Canal Road were presented to the CM. According to NESPAK, all the road widening projects would “fail” by 2020 — meaning thereby that if the government didn’t do something to invest in public transport, and soon, the billion-rupee road widening adventure is, at best, a 10-year frolic. Is the Government of Punjab serious? Does the chief minister not know that, according to the Punjab Economic Survey of 2005 carried out by the Planning and Development Department (P&D), over 50 per cent of Punjabis live in slums? Who is this road being widened for?

All too often our politicians harbor the mistaken belief that infrastructure development is the only thing that will make our cities “modern”; that infrastructure is the only thing that will attract the foreign investment necessary to bring economic prosperity to a developing nation. But where are the examples of the success of this model? Our own urban Guru, Arif Hasan, in his brilliant essay “The world class city concept and its repercussion on urban planning in the Asia-Pacific region” demonstrates that our preoccupation with a modern city is also the root of our urban decay. But who in the government reads? Oh, save a little prayer for Lahore.

From The News, 13 November 2009 (

It’s time for September’s Critical Mass Lahore!!!

Critical Mass -IIFellow Lahoris, Critical Mass Lahore has survived the summer and has been enjoyed through Ramzan. Now, it’s time to rally once more for the cause of public transport, sustainable development, democratic public spaces and, of course, the right to have fun on our own streets!!!

Join Lahore’s 10th Critical Mass Event at 5:00pm this Sunday 27 September 2009 from the Zakir Tikka intersection, Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantonment.

Critical Mass is about having clean cities that provide mobility and accessibility. Critical Mass is about clean transport. Critical Mass is about putting public good over private interest. Critical Mass is about making friends. Critical Mass is about reclaiming public space. Critical Mass is about showing a man or a woman on a cycle is the same as one in a ten lac car. Critical Mass is about democracy.

What do I need to participate in a Critical Mass Event?
All you need is a road-worthy cycle and an sense of fun. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a cycle if you have to, but join the Mass. Come, cycle around Lahore. Reclaim your city, and have more fun than you can imagine!

Where and how else do Critical Mass Events take place?
Critical Mass events are typically held on the last Friday of each month in over 250 cities all over the world. In Lahore, it is held on the last Sunday of every month. For information about Critical Mass Lahore, be at Zakir Tikka at 5:00pm this Sunday 27 September 2009 or visit the Critical Mass Lahore Facebook page ( or the Critical Mass Lahore blog.

Important: Be on time!!!

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