Archive for July, 2010

Development in Karachi? Not really

July 4, 2010

From completing work on Signal Free Corridor 1, inaugurating the third corridor on August 14 to the current work on corridor 4, the City District Government of Karachi has built over a dozen flyovers and underpasses to revamp the city – something it takes much pride in. While former nazim Mustafa Kamal and his team at the CDGK have worked full speed ahead to develop Karachi during his tenure, I have resevations about the impact it will have.

All I see is a very short term solution to an ever worsening problem. Billions are being dished out to facilitate an absolute waste of hard-earned tax payer money.

“It is very clear today that solving traffic problems by building more and bigger roads is like trying to put out a fire by gasoline”

Enrique Penalosa, (the mayor who solved Bogota’s traffic problems)

We have seen television broadcasts of ex-city Nazim talking about how the travel time by car from point A to point B has been reduced to 20 minutes (or xyz minutes) in his various inauguration speeches, what I wished he would have said is that the CDGK has decided to invest an adequate amount in the –much ignored- public transport system of Karachi.

In fact Karachi has the potential for developing one of the best bus rapid transit systems in the world. If such a project is initiated, it would materialize immediately and with meager investment – opposed to the large sums spent on these corridors.

It’s a globally accepted phenomenon that a city needs to be car-free and not signal-free. Cities like Dubai and New Delhi have realized that building flyovers and underpasses or expanding roads is not the solution to traffic  congestion and have reverted to establishing new or refurbishing old  public transport systems.

But here, in Karachi we take pride in building corridors one after another which cater onlyto car owners or the elite. What about the rest of us? The bulk of this city, the masses, the awam, people who travel on footpaths and on top of buses.

By investing more in these corridor projects the CDGK is sending a venomous message. Stick to cars, and buy more cars because the CDGK is not interested in investing in the public transport sector. These short-term sighs of relief in traffic congestion send all the wrong signals.

Even the ex-city Nazim has said these roads will be choked with traffic eventually meaning signals will have to be installed – the roads were a waste of billions in the first place and now we have come back to square one.

Further more such development is  increasing the divide between the rich and the poor. If you don’t own a car then you can’t travel from one place to another safely because you will be traveling on the roof of a public buse – and they are becoming increasingly sparse. This disparity and feeling that Karachi-ites of a lower income group do not have the right to exist is reinforced with every footpath that is encroached, bulldozed for road expansion or used as make-shift parking spot.

As we sit in our cars and mock people jumping through traffic, risking their lives to cross the road what we don’t cosider is “What other option do they have?” Lack of pedestrian bridges at regular intervals is the city’s specialty. In fact try typing “Karachi” in the address bar in www.walkscore.com, a website on ‘walkability’ of a city; the result you will get is “Karachi, a car-dependent city.” Karachi has a ‘worst’ walk score on a scale of best to worst.

But having said, that I would still like to acknowledge CDGK’s latest effort to repair and restart the CNG bus service and get the Karachi Circular Railway project approved by the federal government. Though these are just drops in the ocean but they still deserve apprecition and are a step in the right direction. As they say, better late than never.

First posted @ blogs.tribune.com.pk

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