Lyari Expressway – The Envionmental Cost of the Lyari Expressway

A proposal to build an elevated expressway over the length of the Lyari river from Mauripur Road to Sohrab Goth was promoted in 1990 by a Karachi NGO.

From newspaper reports and seminar presentations one gathers that the CIDA financed Canadian experts, who have prepared the feasibility for the expressway, have found it viable and that the Karachi administration views it favourably. The Expressway will be 17 kilometres long and will be elevated 50 feet above the river bed. As such, it will pass well over the bridges across the Lyari. At certain key intersections it will be linked to the city road network and at every hundred feet “Islamic” arches will hold it up.

The purpose of the Expressway is to provide a rapid road link for freight and related traffic to and from upcountry, from Sohrab Goth to Mauripur Road and from there through the existing network to the port and the wholesale markets in the inner city. At present this traffic uses the existing road network which is heavily congested and connects it even further. It has been argued that the Expressway will improve traffic conditions in the city centre and will provide a much needed East-West link between major North-South arteries.

The Lyari Expressway Project, if implemented, will be yet another major disaster for this unfortunate city. It does not solve the problem it has set out to tackle because it deals only with the symptoms and not the causes of the problem. It does not relate to the growth trends of the city and their future or even present needs and will create immense environmental problems for the city in general and the residents of the Lyari corridor in particular. It will be a physical monstrosity and will deny the people of Karachi the possibility of creating quiet open spaces in the inner city in the future, something the environmentally degraded city desperately requires. The fact that it will be very expensive (Rs 2,500 to 3,500 million) is perhaps the least important of objections.

The major cause of traffic congestion, abnormally high densities and environmental degradation in the inner city is the expansion of storage and warehousing activity related to the port and wholesale markets and to the transport sector that serves them.

In 1948, the Karachi Port handled 2.2 million tons of cargo, for all of which storage facilities were available with the KPT. In addition, over 98 per cent of this cargo was transported to and from upcountry by the railway. Today the port handles over 20 million tons of cargo annually. Formal storage facilities cater to only a fraction of this bulk and about 70 per cent of all port related transportation, to and from upcountry, is handled by road. In addition, since 1962, the volume of trade in the wholesale markets of the inner city has increased by 3000 per cent.

In the absence of any space available for the growth of storage and warehousing, entire residential neighbourhoods in the inner city have been converted into godowns on the ground floor and workers quarters on the floors above. In fact the whole of the extended inner city is one big warehouse. The narrow lanes of these old neighbourhoods are ill-equipped to cater to the requirements of the heavy trucks and large containers, or even to the Suzuki and Toyota pick-ups, that serve the godowns and the extended markets.

The transport sectors’ needs (both for vehicles and their maintenance, and human beings) are met through encroachments on the roads and open spaces. One entire carriageway of the recently constructed Mirza Adam Khan Road along the Lyari, has been taken over by the transporters. In the absence of space for the expansion of the already increased and yet increasing economic activity in the city, it is normal and natural that encroachments, high densities, traffic congestion, building bylaws violations and environmental degradation, should be the result and one can only blame the short-sightedness of the Karachi administration and its planners for it.

The Lyari Expressway Project will not ease this situation in any way and nor does it seek to provide access to another location to where port related and wholesale activity can be expanded or shifted. The result will be that Zero Point at Sohrab Goth, where the Expressway meets the Super Highway, will informally start catering to port related storage facilities and to the needs of the transport sector and become like the inner city itself.

This activity has already begun through encroachments on public land and illegal land use conversions even though the Expressway is not yet there to facilitate it. After the 110,000 plots already developed on either side of the Super Highway are occupied, and the Gulshan-i-Hijrj corridor scheme of the KDA is implemented, the Zero Point, due to these factors and the Expressway traffic, will become a heavily polluted, unmanageable bottleneck. The city administration and concerned citizens’ groups will then start searching for alternatives!

For considerable distances, on both sides of the Lyari River, are large informal settlements; informal industrial units catering to the transport sector, fish industry and to the sorting and recycling of solid waste; and as mentioned earlier, storage and warehousing. Densities are as high as 2000 persons per acre in these areas and studies show that pollution levels are well above bearable limits. Surveys establish that amnesia, vomiting, giddiness, hypertension, eczema, various respiratory diseases, all related to air and noise pollution, are common in the area and their occurrence is increasing. A study by a teacher, now at the Baqai Medical College, establishes the horrific repercussions of pollution on traffic constables working in the inner city. There are no open spaces to relieve this rapidly deteriorating situation.

Ironically, the sewerage filled Lyari bed and the open space on either side of it up to the flood mark, acts as a lung for the inner city. Once you move from the congested polluted lanes to the bed itself and the open space on either side of it, there is a current of air, the noise recedes and a feeling of relief sets in. That is why people move to its banks in the hot afternoons and prefer to sleep there in the evenings, the sewerage channel, garbage dumps and mosquitoes notwithstanding. The Expressway ignores this potential on the Lyari corridor as a lung for the city and brings noise and carbon pollution to perhaps the only area in the inner city where it is absent.

In addition, the 50 feet high motorway, a ribbon of pollution, dwarfing the settlements on either side, can only be termed as monstrous. To get a feel of what the motorway will do to the whole length of its 17 kilometres, one needs only to go and sit on the banks of the Lyari about 25 metres away from under one of the many bridges that traverse it.

According to the plans being drawn up for the disposal of Karachi sewerage, trunks are to be laid in the Lyari river, after which the bed will become dry, except for the few days in the year when it rains. When that happens, and happen it will one day, the entire 17 kilometre length of the river could be turned into a large tree filled open space for the citizens of the city, a space they and their city both desperately require. The city fathers will have to prevent encroachments on this space and they can do this for we know that no encroachments in Karachi take place without the active involvement of the city administration and or its development and law enforcement agencies. The Expressway Project, if implemented, will deny this space to the people of Karachi for all times to come without benefiting them in any way in return.

The solution to the problems described above is, one: the development of rapid road links from the port and inner city to the National, Super and RCD highways that do not pass through the city centre. These road links can be provided by the southern and northern bypasses proposed by the KDA 1974 Master Plan never constructed. The Southern Bypass will pass from the port through the Defence Housing Society to the Korangi Road; and the Northern Bypass from the port, through the Hub River Road, to beyond New Karachi and Surjani Town should ideally meet the Super Highway near the Mol River. At crucial points along the bypasses, flyovers will be required to segregate local from through traffic so as to prevent congestion and bottlenecks.

Two: satellite townships to the port near the junctions of the bypasses with the highways will have to be developed. These satellite townships will house the warehousing and storage facilities related to the port and the inner city wholesale markets and the services sector to the transport that serves them, and will have plenty of space for expansion. In addition, some wholesale markets can be shifted to these locations as well. Interviews with transporters, warehouse owners and labourers taken during the preparation of the Karachi Urban Land Management Study, and studies carried out later by the Karachi based Urban Resource Centre, showed that they would welcome the creation of warehousing and transport related functions in locations far from the port and inner city, provided these locations are easily accessible (that means not having to pass through the city) through fast moving roads, and that at these new locations essential services (water, electricity, gas, telephone, banking telex facilities) and open space for housing the labour required for their work is provided.

The ideal location for the creation of such a township, that would serve both the northern and southern bypass, is off the newly constructed road link between the National and Super Highways. On the National Highway this link begins after the Steel Mill Township and on the Super Highway at about 40 kilometres from Zero Point, in both cases well beyond the present and foreseeable city limits. The rehabilitation and conservation of the inner city, so dear to the hearts of a section of the elite of the city, then can follow. It must be clearly understood that this conservation cannot take place without relieving the pressures the inner city is currently subjected to. Also, the environmental impact of the proposal being made in this article on potential recreational areas around the city and on the ecology of the Karachi region needs to be looked into.
The Lyari Expressway Project is a typical example of piecemeal planning that has and still is playing havoc with this city. What is surprising is that CIDA, which is known for its commitment to sound environmental planning, should have financed such a study.

More surprising is that a proposal for directing through-traffic through the city centre should be made and accepted for Karachi when in all major cities of the world through-traffic, which is seen as an unnecessary pollutant and cause of traffic jams, is being made to bypass the city, sometimes at great expense to the administration and often at great inconvenience to the residents and the transport sector.

In addition, First world professionals (now even those of South East Asia) and the green movement in these countries, constantly bemoan the ecological cost of having built expressways along river banks and natural drainage channels and many such expressways have now been closed to heavy traffic. There is no reason why solutions that the world has rejected, the planning experience of the last 5 decades has found wanting, and which ignore the larger realities and future environmental needs of our city, should be forced on Karachi.

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