A good conversation starter

October 25, 2015

Never before has it been so hard to breathe in the city

A good conversation starter

This is not an article.

This is a big, warm hug to all those stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Lahore every day for numerous reasons.

Never before has it been so hard to breathe in Lahore -- and this is a city where I have lived all my life. The blaring car horns, the swarms of motorbike riders and, above all, the forlorn faces of the people waiting at traffic signals, fighting the odds just to get from point A to B are becoming a permanent feature of the city.

Traffic in Lahore moves in unpredictable ways -- there is nothing more frustrating or dangerous than having to play the guessing game whilst driving on the road or crossing it. If you’re going strictly by the book, whether you’re driving your car or crossing on foot, it is going to be a challenge. Trust no one. Watch your back, look ahead and sideways and do so all at once.

Alternatively, stay at home if you’re concerned about your own safety and the safety of aimless wanderers on the roads of Lahore -- some are fighting battles you know nothing about, some are auditioning for the circus and some are simply searching for the meaning of life as they anxiously switch lanes without using indicators.

And, we wonder why we are so tired all the time! We’re exhausted even before we get to work in the morning, or as we take the whirring traffic noises with us to bed every night. Somewhere in all of this, the city is losing its vitality to fatigue. And this chronic fatigue seems to have become a common denominator of sorts among the populace.

At a time when we are struggling to unite on bigger issues, this is one of the few things on which we may be on the same page.

Arguably, such characters are found on roads everywhere in the world but still there is a need to be offended by the sorry state of affairs. Who is to blame?

A certain Supreme Court judge in Karachi holds the opinion that in his city women on billboards are the cause of road accidents. Fair enough; the gender’s tale of misadventures can be traced all the way back to the Original Sin. But, I digress.

Traffic in Lahore moves in unpredictable ways -- there is nothing more frustrating than having to play the guessing game whilst driving on the road or crossing it.

The problem is, perhaps, felt more severely now in Lahore for the simple fact that most of the city is still work in progress -- the road infrastructure is being redesigned in an attempt to make the flow of traffic smoother. While this may cause inconvenience at the moment, it is said that this will help relieve traffic congestion.

Sarah N Ahmad, a development professional with a background in urban design, says: "Within the planning circles, there is a split on the issue. There are those that are in favour of these mega projects, and then there are those that say that only minor design changes like a roundabout or a removal of a roundabout, an addition or subtraction of a traffic signal, in certain areas, would have worked just as well.

Decisions on the plan of the city of Lahore are currently being taken because of ongoing development budgets in place -- without justifying the need for these projects altogether. "Lahore is functioning as five cities because urban sprawl isn’t being managed… Investing in developing feeder cities like Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and Kasur would have helped deal with the problem better."

The fact that the kind of road infrastructure being championed right now is not vernacular, pro-pedestrian or one that will be able to withstand the impact of urbanisation should shake us up. We’re easily offended as a nation -- ready to burn things down to the ground at the slightest hint of provocation, I wonder when we will find the right things to be offended by.

I am sure I’m not the only one who drives through Lahore everyday completely estranged and lost. I know none of the blemishes on the city’s landscape -- these labyrinthine roads, giant concrete structures and underpasses give me the jitters. Kalma Chowk, Kainchi, Ferozpur Road and Jail Road are unrecognisable.

In all of this, the only familiar thing is the city’s outrageous traffic sense. A friend once called Lahore’s traffic scene live theatre adding that it had a wide variety of sights to amuse the onlookers. I doubt if a miscalculation on stage would come at such a huge cost in the art world. For what it’s worth, though; the issue at least serves as a good conversation starter. Tested and proven!

A good conversation starter