The Siddiq Trade Center underpass is at best a temporary solution to the eternal traffic problems in the city
It seems the government has a readymade formula to counter traffic jams on a road: build an underpass or a flyover. The strategy works for a short term and soon traffic problems reemerge and actually worsen before you know it.
The latest underpass being built in the city is the one around Siddiq Trade Center. And, again, it seems to be a temporary solution. It is not likely to help in the long run in easing the traffic flow or minimising travel times and fuel consumption.
Over the last 10 years, more than 20 underpasses and flyovers have sprouted on different busy roads of the city. Funnily, traffic gridlocks remain to this day.
At best, such time-buying road infrastructure development projects resolve traffic jams at only one critical point without understanding that it transfers the mess to the next point -- usually a roundabout or an intersection.
Work on the Siddiq Trade Center underpass was supposed to commence March 1 but was halted after the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued a stay order on grounds of opposition against the proposed tree-cutting along the said road from Qurtaba Chowk to Liberty Chowk.
The next date of hearing is March 6 whereupon the fate of the project shall be decided. Allegedly, the concerned government authority has not obtained a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Environment Protection Department (EPD) yet.
Despite the legal hitch, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) are eager to construct the underpass near Siddiq Trade Center which shall give some relief to the traffic coming from Jail Rd towards the Gulberg Main Boulevard.
Jail Rd has emerged as the road most taken. Its daily vehicular traffic is said to be 0.2 million. It is lined with some of the most important buildings in the city such as the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), Kinnaird College (KC), APWA College, Services Hospital, Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), private hospitals, corporate institutions and plazas. During peak hours, the traffic on the road is snarled up for hours. Once the traffic gets out of control, all link roads are also overburdened.
As per reports, the Siddiq Trade Center underpass is part of a gigantic government project that aims to provide a 7-kilometre long signal free corridor from Qurtaba Chowk, Jail Rd, to Liberty Roundabout. Its estimated cost is Rs1.5 billion.
TEPA officer Khalid Alvi says signal free corridors will save time and provide a trouble-free access to patients and ambulances going to the PIC or Services. Students as well as general public will also receive the dividends once the project is completed.
The signal-free corridor will begin at Qurtaba Chowk and culminate at Liberty roundabout. It will accommodate two underpasses and seven signal-free U-turns. The first of these underpasses shall be constructed near Siddiq Trade Center, Sherpao Bridge; the second at Shadman Chowk.
The proposed U-turns are to be constructed at Eden Centre Chowk, Shadman Chowk, PIC Chowk, Canal Road, Zafar Ali Road, Fawara Chowk, Main Market Chowk and Zahoor Elahi Chowk.
Besides, four pedestrian bridges shall also be built along the route.
Traffic department expert Aleem Faizan is of the opinion that the flow of traffic cannot be improved by merely constructing underpasses or flyovers. The situation demands a long-term policy covering all aspects of the issue.
Aside from developing the common public’s sense of traffic, there are multiple management-level issues that beget chaos on the roads. For instance, the failure of the public transport system. People have no option left but to ply their vehicles on the busy city roads, as government transport is insufficient and unfriendly.
Consequently, car ownership rate is 15.5 percent annually. Even if we have 100 underpasses, the rate at which the frequency of vehicles is growing, the traffic problems are not going to go away, says Faizan.
The encroachment mafia has further shrunk the size of a lot of important roads of the city. The traffic flow is constantly disrupted and leads to gridlocks as almost all roads are illegally occupied. The government tried to enforce its writ but the anti-encroachment drive died out soon.
Lastly, one important factor that may relieve us of traffic congestion, says traffic expert Faizan, is "better road management through ramp metering.
"Everywhere in the world, the main roads have ramp meters with a signal controller that regulates the flow of traffic entering the main arteries of the city as per the current traffic conditions. This controls access to a congested road by allowing in one vehicle at a time.
Another scientific tactic is traffic signal coordination. It means controlling the traffic signals as per the situation on the road. The government had once planned to install CCTV cameras on all roads so that the traffic officials sitting in the control room could manage the traffic. However, it never materialised.
On the other hand, Chief Traffic Officer (CTO) Tayyab Hafeez Cheema says that a complete ban has been imposed on car parking on Jail Road, Gulberg Main Boulevard and the Mall Rd.
He also says that all SPs have been instructed to rid the city roads of all encroachments.
A senior official in LDA tells TNS, on condition of anonymity, that the Siddiq Trade Center underpass will "not make a difference. We need a complete traffic management system if we mean to get sustainable results."