Lahore’s weather is in a phase of transition. Winter seems to be metamorphosising into a rainy, muddy weather. Till few days back, most mornings were greeted by heavy fog blanketing the entire cityscape. After three days’ shower the weather is no more unusually cold and the thinly veiled mornings are certainly exciting.
The weather may be changing but one thing remains constant all year round — Lahore’s traffic. Well, it shows no sign of slowing down except in case of a jam. The sheer number of cars, bikes and all other sorts of vehicles crowd the bustling city lanes.
In the interior city where encroachments and street vendors are a permanent feature, heavy traffic compounds the problem and this too is a constant. The mismanagement of space causes chaos where rickshaws and animal-pulled carts only add to the problem.
Sarah Mushir Naqvi, an architect, urbanist and city planner, has mentioned in her paper on Transport Planning in Lahore, “Motorisation needs regulation in order to lessen traffic jams.”
According to her, excessive motorisation is an important issue. To label one thing as a ‘problem’ would be unjust since there are several vehicles other than motors that impede movement.
One major hazard is presented by animal push-carts. Donkey carts running amidst the motor vehicles is a common sight, especially in the interior city. Whether it is Mall Road, Mozang or Ferozepur Road, the carts are found everywhere. They are a sustainable source of income for labourers who use them as carriers. In Bashir’s words, a donkey cart owner, “It is laborious to handle an animal but it has its benefits.” He further says, “Feeding a donkey is much easier than the motor vehicles which use up petrol at a phenomenal rate.”
The problem does not arise from the presence of such carts as long as they move along one side of the road. Instead, they are mostly cruising through the speedy lanes and thus block passages or create general disruption. For someone who is not familiar with Montgomery Road and innumerable mechanics there willing to wonderfully transform every dent and scratch on your car and fix loosely hanging side view mirrors.
Little did I know that I would get to know so much about car repair. A donkey cart owner who recently broke the side view mirror of my car while trying to push through the static traffic at a signal graciously informed me of the whereabouts of the ‘best’ mechanics in the city.
Luckily, the mirror was not entirely broken and the car slightly scratched. I noticed that the cart was overloaded with wooden frames and therefore, the animal was unable to maintain a steady footing. It was not the animal but the frames which collided with the car as the rider tried to cut across traffic.
According to Chief Traffic Officer Lahore Ahmed Mubin Zaidi, “During winter traffic becomes hazardous generally due to fog and rain that makes roads slippery. However, the cure lies in caution. The increasing fog density creates many challenges for the city’s traffic.” He says, “Interior city is where the animal pull carts are a major cause of accidents in such condition as they have no indicators to show their presence, neither are animals always controllable.”
He reveals that two separate NGOs would be working with the department in order to create awareness for the cart owners. “It will be mandatory for them to use blinkers and florescent stickers to make their presence visible.”
On the diversions due to work on Orange Train, he said, “Now the public is used to them and as soon as the project completes traffic management would become a lot smoother.”
Lahore’s traffic has certainly come under control to some extent due to the presence of traffic wardens and working traffic signals. However, more congested areas like Garhi Shahu, Saddar and several other still face exhausting traffic levels every day. Adding to the pressure are the animal carts whose riders often forget to move on the extreme left lane. They block a major chunk of traffic in the inner city. Which makes me wonder if Lahore would have to make do with its existing routine?