Thursday June 13, 2024

Repeatedly touted as a boon, are flyovers the bane of Karachiites?

By Bilal Ahmed
February 22, 2024

Since the authorities are not accustomed to hard thinking, they often go for the solution of constructing a flyover to solve traffic congestion in any area, which often does not solve the problem, and is also the costliest option in comparison to the alternative solutions that could have been thought of.

People stand under the Flyover in Karachi on August 8, 2023. — Facebook/Karachi Metropolitan Corporation- بلدیہ عظمیٰ کراچی
People stand under the Flyover in Karachi on August 8, 2023. — Facebook/Karachi Metropolitan Corporation- بلدیہ عظمیٰ کراچی

Urban planner and transport projects consultant Ashar Lodi made this remark while speaking at a documentary screening session organised by Urban Nerves at the Institute of Business Administration on Wednesday. The event was moderated by Urban Nerves Founder Bilal Khalid.

The documentary titled ‘Flyovers: Flying over the Poor!’ explored how some flyovers, such as the Gizri flyover, and the Naya Nazimabad flyover that is being constructed, were badly planned and had more disadvantages than benefits.

Lodi said that the corrupt system also favours the construction of flyovers because it requires a lot of funds. “The more I spend the more I get,” he said as he described the philosophy of the corrupt government machinery.

The speaker was of the view that flyovers often do not solve the problem of traffic congestion on roads. Elucidating his point, he gave the example of the recently-constructed Gulistan-e-Jauhar flyover.

He said the flyover had eased the traffic flow at Jauhar Chowrangi but shifted the traffic congestion to the following intersection, due to which the time one took from going to Jauhar Morr from Kamran Chowrangi was effectively the same.

Lodi termed the traffic issue a multi-dimensionalproblem. He called the traffic police one of the stakeholders, and said that traffic cops do not want improvement in the traffic signal system because they facilitate beggary at traffic signals and collect money from beggars in return.

He maintained that one traffic signal on an average generates around Rs100,000 daily. When the traffic signals of the entire city are accounted for, he remarked, “It is an undocumented economy of billions.”

Veteran architect and urban planner Arif Hasan said he is not in favour of building flyovers inside the city. Regarding the Naya Nazimabad flyover, he said that it reflects the anti-poor bias of the authorities because the flyover is not needed there.

It is just being constructed to allow the people travelling to and from the newly developed residential area to pass over the underprivileged Nusrat Bhutto Colony, he added. He called for employing traffic management, traffic engineering and spatial reorganisation of the city to solve the traffic problems.

Dr Noman Ahmed of the NED University talked about the influence of real estate players on development schemes. Contrasting the Naya Nazimabad flyover with the Korangi Causeway, he said that while the former is being built only to serve a small segment, the latter was constructed by industrialists to benefit all the commuters going to Korangi.

Environmental expert Shahid Lutfi lamented that environmental assessment of infrastructure projects has become an eyewash. He said that public hearings for the environmental assessment of projects is done when the planning stage is already over and a lot of money has been spent.

Due to this, he added, the public hearings never result in any change in the project. He suggested that public hearings be held at the planning stage, so the concerns of the stakeholders can be incorporated in the plan.

On the role of the media in highlighting the environmental issues of infrastructure project, journalist Oonib Azam made a frank remark that many journalists do not have the capacity to understand and report on the environmental aspects of such projects.

He also remarked that very few journalists can be seen attending public hearings for the environmental assessment of development projects. He said that political parties have started to depict underpasses and flyovers as a symbol of their performance, and the mainstream media does not discuss the environmental aspects of the underpasses.

Dr Zainab Samad of the Aga Khan University and Soha Macktoom of the Karachi Urban Lab pointed out that flyovers near residential and commercial areas create health issues because they block wind and sunlight, and also stop the diffusion of pollutants emitted by vehicles plying under them.