The KMTP and its Impact on the Urban Landscape of Karachi

The Karachi Mass Transit Project (KMTP) has been planned by the Karachi Mass Transit Cell (KMTC) of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) and World Bank consultants. It is to be built on a Build Operate and Transport (BOT) basis through an international tender.  The Project has identified six major existing corridors of movement in the city.  It plans to construct transit-ways on these corridors for mass transit vehicles, giving them exclusive right of way.  Where road widths permit, these transit-ways are at grade. However, in the city centre, where the roads are narrow, these transit-ways are elevated.  Buses are to ply on these elevated transit-ways and when the city can afford it, they will be converted to a light rail system.

The total length of the transit-ways for the six corridors will be 87.4 km.  38.3 km of these will be at ground level; 19.3 km will be in transitional ramps; and 29.8 km, most of them in the congested city centre, will be elevated. There will be 68 stations on the transit-ways, of which 50 will be elevated.  The total cost of the Project at 1994 prices is estimated at Rs 24 billion.  This does not include the cost of rehabilitation and/or resettlement of commercial and residential units affected by the construction of the transit-ways.  The transit-ways will be 8.69 metres wide and at every kilometre of their length there is a station which covers an area of approximately 21.11 metres in width and 100 metres in length.  Thus, where the roads are narrow the station will cover their entire width.

The Priority One Corridor, for which tenders have already been floated, is from Sohrab Goth to Merewether Tower.  It passes through Shahrah‑i‑Pakistan, Tin Hatti, Guru Mander, the full length of M.A. Jinnah Road to Merewether Tower and the Railway Yard.  From Tin Hatti to the Railway Yard the transit-way is elevated.  The Priority Two Corridor is from Orangi through Manghopir Road, Garden Road and Daudpotta Road to the Cantonment Station.  As such both the corridors pass through the congested and narrow roads of the historic districts of Karachi.

Impact of the KMTP

The KMTP will have a major impact on the urban landscape of Karachi.  This impact will be visual and environmental on the corridors themselves, and will result in major landuse changes not only on the corridors, but also in large areas adjacent to them.

The building of the elevated transit-ways through the centre where the medians are narrow will be a visual impact itself.  It will be like constructing a 3 storey building along the centre of the road.  Where the medians are wider and the transit-way can be accommodated at grade, the visual impact will be determined by the elevated stations and elevated access-ways to and from them.  In both cases it will mean the loss of urban space and a decrease in the effective width of the roads.  These concrete structures are ugly in themselves and after a period of time they will become defaced by the fumes and pollution of vehicles and traffic below them and of the buses on them.  Buses will be seen plying on them at a level of 7.62 metres above the existing roads.

In environmental terms the impact of the transit-ways will also be negative. In theory the transit-ways will relieve pressure on the roads below them and reduce the volume of traffic.  However, contrary to planning theory, experience tells us that this will not be so and that the transit-ways will cause further congestion on already congested corridors.  This is because the whole world will gravitate to them as in the absence of other alternatives, they will be attractive for commuters. The elevated stations that will cover the entire road width at every kilometre will be crowded with taxis and mini‑buses to carry people to their destinations. Many of the roads, especially in the city centre, do not have the capacity to act as bus and taxi stands or as interchange nodes, and as a result the current Empress Market scene will be repeated at every station.  There will also be literally thousands of hawkers and vendors that will occupy road space. In addition, the columns of the elevated transit-ways will considerably reduce the capacity of the roads and a hawkers market will develop on the roads between these columns.  Traffic will simply not move. The conditions described above can be experienced in Manila where similar elevated transit-ways have been constructed for one corridor.

This further congestion on the corridors will increase air and noise pollution. This will be a major disaster especially for the city centre where pollution levels are well above the recommended WHO standards. This is borne out by studies carried out by the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) and by a research at the Aga Khan University. According to the studies, the prevailing lead levels in blood for traffic policemen working in downtown Karachi range between 0.35 to 0.67 mg/l.  Those for school children in Saddar are 0.38 mg/l.  The allowable safe limit according to WHO standards is 0.20 mg/l. Similarly, traffic noise levels along the elevated part of Priority Corridor One, at peak hours, average 95 decibels. WHO recommends a maximum of 75 decibels. Noise and air pollution is a very serious issue and the persistence of this pollution can lead to serious diseases including impairment of learning and intelligence in school children, brain damage, cardiovascular diseases, malignant masothelioma and contribution to cancer.

The adverse environmental impact of the transit-ways will result in land-use changes along the corridors.  Increase in air and noise pollution, congestion and the absence of light and air at the stations, will force the more sophisticated establishments, or those catering to the more affluent classes, to move away from the corridors. Land values will fall and the corridor will be degraded not only in environmental, but also in social and economic terms.

Intensity of the Impact

The intensity of the impact described above will vary according to the area the transit-way passes through.  Broadly speaking the areas the transit-ways will pass through can be divided into three.  One, peri‑urban areas where the median is wide, such as from Sohrab Goth to Liaquatabad along Corridor One; two, areas where the median  is comparatively narrow and passes through low rise residential areas, such as from Tin Hatti to Guru Mander along Corridor One; and three, the congested city centre where the median is narrow, such as the stretch from Garden Road to the Railway Yard on M.A. Jinnah Road along Corridor One and from Gandhi Garden to Sarwer Shaheed Road, through Garden Road and Daudpotta Road, along Corridor Two.

In the peri‑urban areas the impact will be minimum in visual and environmental terms. The transit-ways are for the most part at grade and the road widths can easily absorb the visual changes that will occur. However, at the roundabouts, such as the Karimabad and Liaquatabad No. 10 roundabouts, elevated stations have been planned. Through transitional ramps the transit-way reaches the station. Elevated walkways from the station to the four corners of the roundabout have been provided. In addition to the overhead transit-way at the roundabouts, KMC flyovers are also to be constructed parallel to the transit-ways. With the building of these structures the feeling of openness and space that exists today at these roundabouts will be replaced with a feeling of cluttering and congestion.  The four corners of the roundabouts, which will be the exit and entrance points to the stations, will be clogged with taxis, mini‑buses and hawkers, making movement on the service roads difficult. Major road intersections are never suitable for elevated stations.

In the peri‑urban areas no major land-use changes will occur along the corridor as a result of the KMTP. Only the areas at and near the stations will experience the development of retail activities catering to transit passengers and the other transport modes that will serve them. Since the transit-ways will at grade and the road widths are considerable, the privacy of the businesses and residential units will not be violated either. However, land and property prices in areas easily accessible to the corridor will increase as better transport facilities will be available. This will bring about upmarket changes in land-use patterns.

In the residential areas where road widths are comparatively narrow and the transit-way is elevated, the increase in air and noise pollution will be accompanied by a violation of the privacy of these units.  This will be further aggravated at the stations. As a result, land-use changes will occur.  The more affluent residents will move out of the corridor, lower income groups will move in, or the area will be converted for warehousing, wholesaling or semi‑industrial activities.  This in turn will congest the road below. However, again land and property values 100 to 150 meters beyond the transit-way will increase due to the availability of a better transport facility.

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