The Rs4.5 billion Azadi Chowk remodelling project is not fully serving its purpose
The elevated Azadi Chowk flyover and signal-free junction have been completed in record 165 days and are being touted as the latest achievement by Punjab Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Work on the project was initiated by the Traffic Engineering and Transportation Planning Agency (TEPA) on January 15 and it cost the government Rs4.5 billion to complete it by June 29.
The declared aims and objectives of the project were "to reduce the traffic congestion at junctions, to provide uninterrupted flow for Metro Bus by removing signals, to reduce the accidents/conflicts due to the traffic congestion at signals and provide safer passage, to avoid delays due to signals and saving travelling time and to reduce noise and air pollution resulting from traffic jams."
However, the commuters who regularly drive along this corridor believe that instead of reducing traffic congestion the construction has increased it. The difference is that they cross Azadi Chowk but get stuck in even bigger traffic jams as they reach Batti Chowk. This is the spot where the traffic coming from Ring Road meets that coming from Azadi Chowk. It forms a bottleneck at point from where it has to enter the narrow Ravi bridge.
Saeed Iqbal, a resident of Kamoke, has to travel twice a day on this route. He complains that sometimes it takes him an hour or more to cross the bridge which is not able to take the increased load of traffic. Earlier, limited traffic would reach the spot due to control at traffic signals. But now, with the signal gone, the speedy traffic instantly reaches here and chokes the traffic, he adds.
He says some additional space is also occupied by Metro buses as they use the same bridge. The government, he says, had planned to construct a dedicated lane for Metro Bus but it did not go ahead with it, making life tough for the commuters.
The LDA, Lahore city’s traffic police and other concerned departments are aware of this problem but are helpless to maintain a smooth flow of traffic. They hesitate to comment on the situation at the pretext that the CM is too sensitive about the subject and they cannot risk their job by daring to comment on it.
However, an LDA official tells TNS, on conditions of anonymity, that there were plans to construct a separate corridor for metro bus and an elevated 12-km expressway from Niazi Chowk near Ravi bridge to Kala Shah Kaku. Ideally, these should have been constructed before initiating the Azadi Chowk project but this could not be done due to some technical reasons, he adds.
The government, he says, also wants to start work on a 10-km elevated road from Gulberg to Babu Sabu Interchange which will further reduce the load of traffic on old exit points. But till this happens, the problem will persist.
He says traffic control is a big challenge in the city as some 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles add to Lahore’s traffic annually.
The project aimed at decreasing the load of traffic and giving the metro bus an obstacle-free ride has also put the residents of the surrounding areas in trouble. Tariq Iqbal, secretary general of Al Safeer Foundation, a welfare organisation and resident of neighbouring Karim Park, tells TNS that they cannot go to the other side of the road on foot as the metro bus fence has blocked this path.
Earlier, they could walk to Azadi Chowk and cross over from there to reach the Lady Willingdon Hospital or to go to the Walled City for businesses or jobs.
He says the government could have constructed an underpass for the metro bus and left the place open for pedestrians as it would have cost much less. Even now the ordeal of locals can be reduced by constructing underground tunnels for pedestrians but those in power seem least concerned.
"It’s a pity that hundreds of poor people who go to Lady Willingdon Hospital from this area to get free treatment have to spend Rs 200 to Rs 300 on travel made by rickshaws etc," he adds
The LDA official rejects the allegation that the Azadi Chowk flyover has done more harm and less good for citizens. He says people are coming from all over the country to see this project which has ensured smooth flow of traffic and added immense beauty to the city landscape. Besides, he says, it has provided a long-awaited diversion to the traffic leading to Circular Road from Data Darbar, Shahdara and Timber Market and vice versa.
He agrees that sometimes there is clogging on the flyover as well but attributes it to curious commuters who park their vehicles on its sides to view the city from a height. The traffic police, he says, is showing leniency at the moment but parking vehicles on the flyover will be declared a serious traffic violation soon.
Waqar A Mian, President, Badami Bagh Auto Market, says that his own shop was demolished during the construction but he is satisfied that the Azadi Chowk has been cleared of congestion.
The ultimate beneficiaries, he says, are the commuters who had to cross Azadi Chowk to other parts of the city. However, he says, pedestrians are suffering too much and should be given the facility of underground pedestrian underpasses to remain connected with surrounding localities.
Waqar, who is also the president of Lady Willingdon Patients’ Welfare Society says he has appealed to the government to provide this facility to people who intend to visit the hospital but cannot due to the metro bus fence dividing the area into two parts.