Hassan Ali, 36, lives along Ferozepur Road and has to cross it a couple of times during the day to reach his workplace. He has been doing this for many years now but recently this somewhat simple exercise has become increasingly difficult and risky.
Many times, he had a narrow escape and could have been easily run over by the speedy vehicles on the road. He was once hit by a pickup and fractured his rib.
On any normal day, Ali has to wait for long before he can cross over to the other side of the road. The drivers of the approaching vehicles seem to accelerate the speed as just as they spot a pedestrian; that’s the standard practice. It’s as if they have vowed not to let anybody come in their way.
There is an overhead bridge as well but to get to it Ali has to walk a good kilometre and inhale huge volumes of dust and smoke on the way.
Overhead bridges aren’t always a good option, especially when one is moving with one’s family. The footpaths have been eaten up by the roads widened to accommodate the fast moving vehicles. The pedestrians can be seen foot it, trying to weave their way through the mess and avoiding any collisions.
The situation is the same in different parts of the city and the vulnerability of the pedestrians to accidents is increasing by the day. Even where they are safe, the inconvenience they face while walking up to a point deters them from doing so again.
Muhammad Shoaib, Urban Planning Specialist at The Urban Unit, a public sector company of the Punjab government, is of the view that the very concept of urbanisation was meant to facilitate motorisation when it began in the US.
“The grid iron model of designing city was meant to facilitate vehicular traffic,” he says. “One can say that the pedestrians have always been at risk. But the West is now shifting to the safety and spaces for pedestrians.”
Shoaib says that in Europe there are streets and roads specially designed to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians and the least space is for motorised vehicles. The entry of vehicles in city centres and pedestrian-intensive areas is restricted by imposing high entry and parking fees. “Here, the use of motorised vehicles has increased exponentially and the people want to even shop while sitting in the cars. They do not like to get off [their vehicles], and would rather buy grocery and fruits from vendors and sales persons on the road.”
According to him, it is not only the lack of footpaths or crossings that creates problems for the pedestrians. “In fact, even where there are footpaths these are not ‘walkable,’ because of different kinds of damages, open manholes, electricity poles, encroachments, sewerage water over-flowing from gutters and their less-than-desired width.
“The situation is even more difficult for women, children, elders and people with special needs.”
Against this backdrop, the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), seems highly relevant. The report states that Pakistan is not launching any road safety policies to promote walking or cycling and the estimated fatality rate is 14.2 per 100,000 people.
The report further states that low- and middle-income countries like Pakistan are the hardest hit, with double the fatality rates of high-income countries and 90 percent of global road traffic deaths. The most vulnerable road users are the pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who make up half of these fatalities.
Another report, based on the analysis of a total of 2,090 autopsies at three mortuaries in Karachi, points out the risks faced by pedestrians. It states that the manner of death was accidental in 822 cases. Of these, 581 autopsy cases were due to Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs). The majority of the victims on whom autopsy was performed were pedestrians (389 or 67 percent) followed by motorcyclists (122 or 21 percent).
Tayyab Hafeez Cheema, Chief Traffic Officer (CTO), Lahore confirms that the pedestrians are highly susceptible to accidents, “The education team of traffic police regularly educates people on road safety. They engage with commuters and pedestrians at busy roads and tech them on how to watch out of each other.”
He says the commuters are asked to drive carefully and slow down where they expect people to try to cross over. Similarly, he says, the pedestrians are asked not to indulge in jaywalking and cross the road at the zebra crossings.
Cheema also says the commuters are asked not to cross the zebra mark and give a chance to pedestrians to walk over to the other side safely.
Rizwan-ur-Rehman, Urban Planning Specialist and Project Manager, The Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Program (PICIIP), says that currently there are no laws meant to facilitate the pedestrians and the planners do not feel compelled to include them in their policies.
Similarly, he says, the problem also lies with the people who do not have the civic sense; they do not have the patience to give space to each other. “In developed countries, if a person on the roadside is trying to cross over to the other side, the approaching vehicles would come to a halt and not move until he reaches the other side. This would be the case whether the signal is red or green. But in Lahore, the commuters would keep on honking and puzzling the pedestrians by speeding up their vehicles.
A Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) official tells TNS the department is responsible for planning the design of city roads and other infrastructure but “sometimes we do not have the option to differ with the political elite on the issue. For instance, the footpaths on the roads that have been widened were included in the roads as acquiring privately-owned properties on the roadside would have cost a fortune to the government.
“It was for this very reason that the footpaths and the greenbelts in the centre and on the roadsides were removed.”