The mazar & BRT

IN 1994 Karachi citizens of all walks of life got together to create the Citizens’ Forum on Mass Transit. Through this organisation they opposed the construction of an elevated light rail through the whole length of M.A. Jinnah Road.

Their objection was that the elevated light rail and its stations, which would cover the entire width of M.A. Jinnah Road, would make the bulk of Karachi’s built-heritage invisible, apart from causing major environmental degradation to where Karachi began as a city. They also argued that, as a result of the elevated light rail and its stations, the rehabilitation of Karachi’s historic district would not be possible.

The elevated transit-way reappeared, either as a bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail, in every subsequent mass transit proposal for the city and was opposed each time through contacts with officials in Karachi and Islamabad, newspaper articles and public forums. The debate ended when it was decided by the executives, consultants and the board of the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company (in charge of designing and overseeing the implementation of the now under-construction Green Line BRT project) that the Green Line would be at-grade or underground throughout the length of M.A. Jinnah Road from Guru Mandir to Merewether Tower. This was a welcome decision.

The view of the Quaid’s mausoleum must not be obstructed.

However, due to technical design issues it now appears that the BRT might have to be elevated from Seventh Day Adventist Hospital to the Municipal Park on M.A. Jinnah Road. This will obstruct the view to about 50 listed heritage buildings and also obstruct the view of the Quaid’s mazar from M.A. Jinnah Road. Here it is worthwhile recalling why the mazar is located where it is and the importance of that location.

On the night of Sept 11, 1948, the Quaid died and the Karachi administration, with the approval of the founding fathers of Pakistan, chose the location for the Quaid’s mazar. Hashim Raza, the then commissioner of Karachi, describes in his book how they searched all night for an appropriate location and that the site of the mazar was finally chosen for its height (visibility), accessibility, and because it was in the heart of Karachi.

The choice was made after considering many alternatives including that of graveyards on the northern banks of the Lyari. The grave was located so that it lay on the axis of what was then Bunder Road, Karachi’s main thoroughfare and historically its most important road. It also lies on the axis of the Bunder Road extension. As a result, the mazar is visible from the whole length of the two roads when pollution does not obscure it.

Meanwhile both these roads now carry the name of the Quaid and the decision to rename them M.A. Jinnah Road and New M.A. Jinnah Road was consciously taken and has a close link with the mazar that lies on their axis.

When Yahya Merchant designed the mausoleum in 1960, he enhanced the height of the podium by 11 feet to make the mazar more visible and in his design he respected the decisions that were taken regarding making the mazar a landmark monument visible from all the roads surrounding it.

If we go ahead with building the proposed elevated section of the BRT and stations that cover the entire width of M.A. Jinnah Road, then the mazar will not be visible from the Seventh Day Hospital to the Municipal Park on Bunder Road and well beyond. The vision of the founding fathers and that of the architect will be compromised and it will be a loss to Karachi and to its present and future citizens.

In addition, conditions below the proposed elevated BRT and its stations on M.A. Jinnah Road will be devoid of sunlight and environmentally as degraded as under the various existing flyovers and expressways in the city.

Infrastructure is important but its design must not only respect history, identity, national monuments and urban planning axioms. It must also enhance their importance. If we do not follow this principle we will lose whatever little history is left of this abused and unfortunate city. It is not only the job of Karachi’s citizens to ensure this but more so of the Sindh Culture Department and, in the case of the mazar, of the Quaid-i-Azam Mazar Management Board.

A firm decision must be taken that no elevated structure is built on M.A. Jinnah Road so that the sanctity of the mazar is preserved and that an alternative solution to the elevation is found. Planners feel that with some compromises, re-routing traffic in Saddar with the help of a few traffic-related engineering projects and better traffic management, this is possible.

Hopefully, one day when Karachi is pollution free and wider parts of M.A. Jinnah road are lined with trees as they once were, the Quaid’s mazar will be visible from Merewether Tower.

One Comment

  1. Muhammad Toheed

    Last year i study the whole CBD area with respect to installation of BRT at M.A.Jinnah Road, with many technical aspect one Question is came out, i am glad to share it with all of you.

    Is Green Line BRT Possible at M.A. Jinnah Road (Central Business District Area)? with its maximum capacity/ scale…

    The Green Bus rapid transit line from Surjani town to Mazae-e-Quiad is under construction. The Green line is one of the lines that JAICA proposed for the Karachi as transport solution. The route from Surjani Town to Mazar-e-Quaid was in proposal but afterward it decided to extended the route of Green line BRT to Merewether Tower.

    Public transport network suggested that mass transit system should be introduce between tower and Guru Mandir along MA Jinnah road , however the width of the road is not sufficient for BRT system, because the section is too narrow especially between the Cloth Market and Tower. Hence the accommodation of BRT system seems quite impossible. Other than that the fringe parking and encroachment must to be removed that look difficult due to high commercial activity in that area or the next issue is to provide alternate parking lots that should be safe and economic for the visitors.

    If there was a park and ride element to the design around the bus station so people could leave their motorcycles and use the BRTs. The question is that, what alternatives for the people who want to come from beyond the 500 meter catchment area?

    The demand is very high but the introduction of BRT system would lead to serious difficulty for existing traffic flow. The necessary required capacity of BRT for M.A. Jinnah road is 10,000 passengers per hour per direction as suggested by Karachi transport improvement project.

    Suggestion of one way corridor is also quite difficult for BRT system. As the required width for one way corridor is 20.5 m, (4m for BRT Station, 3 m for stopping bay, 3.5m for passing lane, and 9.5 m for mixed traffic carriageway)

    However there are still two bottlenecks along the corridor which can create problems.

    “JICA study shows that the road width from Municipal Park to Merewether Tower is mostly less than 23-meter and somewhere is 20-meter or less than 20-meter

    Now we conclude the discussion with three possibilities on M.A.Jinnah Road:


    So the following are main implementation issue of BRT system on MA Jinnah Road:

    1. In case of BRT with mixed traffic, Road width is not as per requirement. Road width issues specially with station as well as access ramp of pedestrian bridge.

    2. In case of BRT Parking issues, the removal of fringe parking is difficult due to high commercial activity although provision of economic parking facility within 5 minute walk (.25miles) 400m approx is also a complicated task.

    3. In case of BRT with mixed traffic there will be no fringe parking & encroachment. The commuter utilizes the road only for go through or park their vehicle at parking lots, place for parking lots already proposed.

    4. In case of BRT with mixed traffic, No possible road widening solution due to heritage buildings

    5. In case of BRT with Pedestrianization the core issue is to manage Crossing traffic, the only solution, Under passes need to be build that require extra finance and construction work is not feasible due to heritage buildings.

    6. In case of BRT with Pedestrianization, No one best alternative route could be proposed for the commuters who directed to Merewether Tower through M.A.Jinnah Road

    The best solution that suggested by Dr Noman Ahmed, Dean Faculty of Architecture & Management Sciences, NED University,
    “From Tibbet Center to Merewether Tower BRT should serve as shuttle bus without barrier and mixing with normal mode of transport.”

    In this case the adjustment requirements will be less. The other cases looks not feasible due to less road width, parking lots issues, encroachment, high pedestrian activity, wholesale/ retail off loading, heritage building issue, crossing junction traffic issues etc.

    By: Muhammad Toheed, Urban Planner.

    Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:59 pm | PermalinkReply

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