Help, I am a pedestrian!
While walking in Lahore, I stepped onto the footpath like any other pedestrian. I had only walked for five minutes when I realised that being a pedestrian in Pakistan is the saddest thing that can happen to a person. Apart from the government, that waves away the concerns of pedestrians quite often, car owners also make sure that things are not easy for those walking on the road.
This wasn’t the first time I had walked down the street. In fact, I have been a pedestrian for eight years now. I have always been an outdoor person and hence, I enjoy walking and absorbing every little detail of my surroundings.
I am not going to argue over the importance of automobiles but I have always loathed the idea of cars and enclosed rickshaws that cut a person off from their surroundings. I have walked, travelled by bus and taken rickshaws for quite a while now but in this particular walk, I had the time to reflect upon my journey.
As soon as I started walking on the three feet wide footpath, I came across a car parked in my way. Naturally, I stepped down and began to walk on the road, with heavy traffic coming towards me. A motorcyclist stopped to let me by but as expected, a car behind the motorcyclist started honking and a trail of traffic began to accumulate, making it embarrassing for me since I was the reason the traffic had lost its momentum.
I apologised and stepped back onto the footpath. I had only walked a few more steps when I came across an open, slightly over flowing drain and I had to hop across it to save myself from the foul-smelling water.
Another 20 feet later, I saw that the entire footpath had been taken over by illegal encroachments of a nearby store, followed by a whole line of parked rickshaws. So, I walked on the road for the next 30 metres while a motorcyclist bumped into me and car drivers glared at me as I tried to make my way to the edge of the road and onto the zebra crossing.
Standing at the crossing, I looked left and right. However, I could not look to the right since my vision was blocked by a five feet wide concrete pillar. I somehow managed to cross the road, and as I did, I had to jump onto a one and half feet high pavement. At that moment, I asked myself,
“What will I do after a decade when I am old and unable to go through so much physical and mental torture?”
It is simply terrifying to walk on a road in our country nowadays. I have seen women and children risk their lives every day just to cross a street. I, myself, was hit by a donkey cart once which was coming towards me from the wrong direction. I have seen people use inappropriate language and honk impatiently at pedestrians trying to cross the road.
Sitting in the safety of their cars, these people don’t realise that there is no alternative way of crossing the road for us pedestrians. Don’t they wonder what compelled us to cross the road in such a risky way?
Apart from being honked at while crossing the road, I have even been called names while walking on one of the most posh and pseudo elite roads in the city – MM Alam Road. I try to ignore these concerns by mentally labelling them as small, insignificant issues in order to preserve my sanity.
And eventually, I have come to accept that whatever happens to me on the roads of my country will be a punishment for not owning a car.
Unfortunately, there is a great misconception in the minds of our car owners. They consider people travelling on foot to be scum, the lowest of the low and deserving of any and all insults thrown their way. Similarly, if a woman is walking alone on the road, it is assumed that she is a sex-worker.
Such gross assumptions truly astound me.
What difference does it make which class of society I belong to or whether I am a student, worker or woman?
Are pedestrians not humans?
Do we not have the right to enjoy the city like everyone else?
I am aware of the fact that only the government can bring about changes like creating accessible walkways, implementing by-laws, encroachment laws and so forth. According to the Federal Excise and Taxation office, 45,000 new vehicles are registered each year; 50 to 70 motorbikes, 90 to 100 private cars, four to five commercial vehicles and 10 to 15 government vehicles are added to the city’s traffic each day. But there are issues that only people behind the wheels can address.
If pedestrians are shown a little respect by people in cars, there is a possibility that they will be able to cope with the other tangible and intangible issues facing pedestrians in Pakistan.