Understanding Karachi’s Traffic Problems

The main markets in this huge area are the Dhan Mandi, the Metal Market, the Chemical Market and the garbage recycling industry which has developed along the Lyari Corridor, and for want of space in the River bed as well. The Dhan Mandi is by far the largest market and its operators have constantly expressed their desire to move to an area which is easily accessible for heavy cargo vehicles. The Chemical Market should not be in the inner city. Due to unsafe storage of chemicals products, the incidence of disease is high in the inner city and a number of children have died as a result of leakages. Studies of the environmental, social and economic issues of the inner city have been carried out by the Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University and also by the Urban Resource Centre with the involvement of the various interest groups of the inner city. Similarly, negotiations with the garbage recycling industry were held by the Governor’s Task Force for the Improvement of Municipal Services and as a result a solid waste management proposal involving the recycling industry, was prepared by the consultants to the Task Force and a presentation of it was made to the Karachi District Nazim. The recyclers and the middlemen and scavengers who serve the industry were interested in relocating to garbage landfill sites provided they were given land, electricity, access roads and water. They were willing to pay for these services. Meanwhile, the residents of the inner city, especially Lyari, have constantly been asking for the removal of warehousing, godowns, manufacturing units and transport and cargo terminals from their localities. However, this is only possible if the markets are shifted. Once they are shifted, the areas they vacate can be turned into amenities and this will completely change the environmental conditions of the inner city, remove congestion and make the rehabilitation of the inner city possible. This is all the more important since a major part of Karachi’s built heritage lies between the lower reaches of the Lyari River and M.A. Jinnah Road. A detailed study of this heritage, along with the outline for a scientific conservation plan was developed under the supervision of Professor Yasmin Cheema, by the Heritage Cell at the Department of Architecture and Planning at the Dawood College. This study was prepared over a period of three years and a presentation of it was made to the Advisory Committee for Sindh Cultural Heritage of the Government of Sindh.

It is important to note that the process that has degraded the inner city is also taking place in Saddar and its adjacent areas. Manufacturing and storage has crept in due to which heavy vehicles in fairly large numbers come into the area. In the absence of a proper plan to accommodate hawkers and effectively segregate through and local traffic, and vehicular and pedestrian traffic, there is complete anarchy and almost all public space has been encroached upon. The solution does not lye in removing the hawkers (and adding to the already high figures of unemployment) but in a rehabilitation plan. Such a plan has been prepared by the Urban Resource Centre and hopefully will be presented to the city authorities for consideration. In addition to rehabilitating Saddar, the plan, if implemented, will also generate considerable revenue for the city and can be self-financing.

Though the above recommendations will help, the needs of Karachi commuters and transporters have to be met. It has to be understood that the development of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) and its extensions into the suburbs is environmentally, economically and socially a far better solution than the building of the elevated transit-ways on the main corridors of the city. A KCR master plan has already been prepared by a Karachi consulting engineering firm. Government city planners have certain valid objections to the plan but they can be easily addressed if there is a willingness to take an informed decision and arrive at a consensus. However, the rail mass transit proposal has to be linked to inter city and intra-city bus terminals, and depots and workshops for transport vehicles have to be provided. The Traffic Engineering Bureau many years ago had identified 36 plots for this purpose. One wonders why most of them have not yet been made operational.

There have been a number of news items suggesting that mini-buses should be phased out. It is unrealistic to think that this can be done in less than ten to fifteen years. However, converting mini-buses to CNG will improve environmental conditions and hence positive changes in land-use will take place. Simply by this action a process of rehabilitation of run down city areas will commence. A feasibility study proposal to convert Karachi transport to CNG, along with its socio-economic implications, is currently being carried out by a Karachi based NGO.

The recommendations indicated above cannot be carried out without sound political decisions. Such decisions can only be taken if the political leadership establishes a process of continuous consultation with interest groups, academic institutions, NGOs and professionals who are involved in research work and programmes related to physical and socio-economic aspects of urban development. These decisions cannot be turned into effective plans without a competent, independent, and free-from-constant-interference-planning agency. And these plans cannot be implemented without the setting up of interest group steering committees for different components that guarantee transparency and accountability. Funds for development are available and can be generated through innovative means. A process of guarantying their proper utilization remains the major problem and this cannot be overcome except through the creation of effective institutions.

If we are to solve Karachi’s traffic and transport problems, we have to move away from crisis management, ad-hoc-half-thought-through projects (often imposed from Islamabad), and from denying reality in favour of “politically attractive” grandiose mega projects, the likes of which have failed miserably in other Asian cities. We have to realize that without competent and effective institutions urban planning and management is impossible and that you cannot have effective institution without initiating and institutionalizing a genuine consultative process with the major actors in the urban development drama.

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