Traffic vows

March 18, 2018

A look at some of the long-term solutions different metropolitan cities of the world have adopted with success

Traffic vows

The Mall has a certain air of prestige about it, what with the many historical buildings that line both sides of the southern part of this very important road in the city. God knows, when it comes to traffic, it is just as bad as any other.

Shahbaz Ahmad, 20, who commutes daily to and from National College of Arts, says: "It’s becoming increasingly hard to reach the campus via The Mall. While the traffic, especially from the Charing Cross up to NCA and even beyond, was already congested, the Orange Line [Metro Train] related construction work has worsened the situation. There’s no proper alternative route plan that we would know of, and it now takes me 30-40 minutes extra, one way, every day."

Over the past few years, Lahore has seen major ‘development’ in terms of the myriad projects of road-widening and signal-free corridors. Also, billions have been spent on public transport (think Metro bus, Speedo bus, and the much-tomtommed Orange Line!). Has it reduced the traffic load on the city roads? Not really. So, why are the policy-makers not thinking beyond this, for a more feasible (financially as well) solution?

Results can be achieved by introducing the concept of ‘road space rationing’ which involves no-drive days, alternate-day travel, and driving restrictions. This strategy pursues the rationing of road capacity.

For youth like Ahmad, the "government isn’t capable enough to understand that it could have waited till the universities close for summer holidays, before starting work [for OLMT] around the GPO Chowk."

Clearly, there is little or no thought gone into the mega road and mass transit projects that have been started simultaneously in different parts of the city. Defence Housing Authority (DHA) is the latest victim of such poor planning. Presently, the Main Boulevard has been dug up at many places, where at least six underpasses and flyovers are to be laid out.

Lahore is the second most populous city of Pakistan -- according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, as of January 2018, the city has an estimated population of 11.13 million. Additionally, it has an estimated 5 million registered vehicles.

Also consider how the bulging amount of vehicles plying on the roads is taking the air pollution levels in the city to alarming heights. A sample of this was witnessed only a few months ago in the form of smog and the consequent health problems. Interestingly, the smog, which had recurred since October 2016, was also attributed to the irrational felling of indigenous trees in order to make way for the said mega projects. At what price? That’s the million-dollar question.

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The widening of roads, construction of new ones, and even the creation of signal-free corridors could at best provide temporary relief. A long-term solution would be to devise an integrated policy that creates a confluence between road infrastructure planning, traffic management, and alternate or public sources of commuting.

The results can be achieved by introducing the concept of ‘road space rationing’ which involves no-drive days, alternate-day travel, and driving restrictions. This strategy pursues the rationing of road capacity.

Road space rationing not only translates into better traffic flow, it also helps to curb the adverse environmental effects that are exacerbated by the harmful gases emitted by vehicles that run on petrol and diesel etc.

Pakistan’s strengthening relations with China should also allow it to resolve the issue more creatively. At least 12 Chinese cities are known to follow the road rationing and vehicle restriction schemes. In January ‘16, New Delhi also experimented with an alternate-day travel scheme. Unfortunately, though, it could not continue with it.

Lahore’s traffic situation has worsened over time, due primarily to a lack of a structured public transport system. The Metro and Speedo buses have been introduced albeit with little success and amidst stories of (alleged) corruption.

Private companies such as Uber and Careem that provide easy taxi and ride-sharing services have eased the pressure on the public transport. But the government could do well with developing a citizen-friendly, part-time, ride-hailing programme which is inclusive of private citizens, their vehicles, and modelled on similar international services. This will bring into its fold not only cars but also rickshaws and motorbikes.

Secondly, it will not only allow the government to tap into another stream of revenue and ensure market competition in the sector, but also bring a halt to the increasing number of cars coming out on roads every day.

Another solution to the problem could be the policy-makers coming up with a road infrastructure plan that also caters to the vehicles’ parking needs and interconnects the roads so that the traffic load may be shared even if several hundred vehicles are headed towards the same destination.

V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) traffic signals are another way to help the congestion. Using this modern technology, the city of Columbus, Ohio limits extended holds at traffic signals and adjusts their intervals according to the flow of traffic at various times of the day.

A mini-highway for freight traffic within the city can enormously ease the vehicular pressure on the roads. In addition, a strict implementation of road-lane ethics must be ensured. The traffic regulators or wardens must be trained as service providers instead of just government enforcers, so that the commuters can learn road-lane ethics and allow the traffic to move rather freely in an ordered manner without regular congestion hotspots. Islamabad provides a good model in this regard.

"The government and the concerned department have failed to educate the people about traffic rules and road ethics. And this, in my opinion, is the major problem," says a warden deputed on The Mall, on condition of anonymity.

While another traffic warden, standing close to the jammed Hussain Chowk feels the real issue is the number of cars on the roads: "The MM Alam corridor is already signal-free and cannot be horizontally extended but the reason it is still choked most of the times is because of the number of private cars plying on it."

The local government of Lahore must be empowered and provided with funds. They hold the local mandate and are more aware of local problems, including issues related to traffic. It is they who have direct contact with the citizens and can better address this problem.

Traffic vows