KARACHI: Over the past 40 years, different ruling governments and private companies have constructed more than 100 pedestrian bridges in Karachi to facilitate its citizens. Even though the bridges provided considerable safety to pedestrians, who would otherwise find it very difficult to cross busy roads, only five bridges in total were built to facilitate differently-abled persons.
To make matters worse, out of the five pedestrian bridges where ramps were built to accommodate wheelchairs, only three are left in the entire city, while the remaining two of the five have been demolished.
Reportedly, the ramp which was built for the pedestrian bridge near the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (FUUAST) in Gulshan-e-Iqbal was destroyed by the anti-encroachment cell at the behest of a private builder.
Similarly, amid the construction of a flyover near Crown Plaza at Shahrah-e-Faisal, both the pedestrian bridge and the ramp had to be demolished, never to be constructed again.
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According to a survey conducted by The Express Tribune, even though the ramps built for the remaining three bridges still exist, none of them are of any use to differently-abled people anymore because barriers have been installed around them to stop wheelchair-bound people from accessing the bridges, all of which are situated at Shahrah-e-Faisal. It has been learned that barriers were installed around the ramps of two bridges by the city government as people would misuse the facility and take their motorbikes atop the bridge to take shortcuts, harass women and loot people. Meanwhile, the third bridge has been completely closed off.
The city government has installed iron barriers at the pedestrian bridges near Lal Kothi and Awami Markaz bus stops. As a result, wheelchair-bound individuals cannot access the bridges without the support of others. However, senior citizens and women are still able to cross the bridge by bypassing the ramps.
The bridge at Natha Khan Bus Stop, on the other hand, has been made completely inaccessible for the public and a three-foot concrete barrier has been constructed on the bridge to stop people from accessing it.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, many people lamented that instead of closing the bridge or installing barriers for motorcycles, the city government should have tightened security measures by installing CCTV cameras or deploying traffic wardens near the bridges to control criminal incidents.
At present, there are almost 112 pedestrian bridges in the city, majority of which are maintained and monitored by the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). Meanwhile, almost eight pedestrian bridges come under the control of the cantonment boards and the National Highway Authority (NHA).
Under an agreement with private companies, the city government constructed 13 pedestrian bridges on Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. And although these bridges are still under the control of private firms, they are under the custody of KMC.
The first BOT pedestrian bridge was constructed in 2005 with the inclusion of a ramp for the differently-abled persons. Ex-nazim Naimatullah Khan inaugurated it and the bridge’s design was later followed by city Nazim Mustafa Kamal.
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During Kamal’s tenure, pedestrian bridges were built with government funds and new bus stops were also constructed. As many as four pedestrian bridges with ramps were built during that time.
In 2010, the Sindh government restored KMC by dissolving the city government and approved the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 under which the control of the bridges was handed over to the KDA. As a result, the maintenance and repair of pedestrian bridges, which was previously carried out under a single operation window, was divided among KMC and KDA.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Armada on Road Advertising, Irfan Hashmi said that his company built three pedestrian bridges on a BOT basis, two of which had ramps.
“While designing our first pedestrian bridge near FUUAST, special consideration was given to women, children, senior citizens and heart patients as well as differently-abled individuals,” he said. “Seeing our inclusive design, ex-Nazim Naimatullah Khan took a personal interest in the project and approved the design.”
He said that after the construction of the bridge, all pedestrian bridges in the city followed the same design with smaller steps and protective railings on the sides. Prior to that, there was no such facility available in the city.
“In 2008, we received complaints that motorcyclists have been using the ramps to take shortcuts which created a lot of trouble for the pedestrians,” Hashmi explained. “The KMC demolished one of the ramps from a bridge at the request of a private builder whose office was near the bridge.”
A ray of hope amid difficulties
Even though there are currently no pedestrian bridges for differently-abled people, the government has planned to construct new ones under the two projects of rapid transit buses. Reportedly, lift and escalators are being installed at all 25 bus stations. Once these projects will become functional, differently-abled people will be able to avail the facilities without any problems.
KDA Traffic Engineering Bureau Executive Engineer Raza Husain said that KDA will construct 16 new bridges in Karachi, for which PC-1 has already been sent to the Sindh government for approval. The new bridges, however, will not have ramps for differently-abled individuals.
Shedding light on the matter, Senior Director Traffic Engineering Bureau Naveed Izhar said that they installed ramps per public complaints but it was not possible to stop the entry of motorcyclists.
“It was the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies to stop the violation of traffic laws and other criminal activities taking place at the bridges,” he said. “In the new design for the pedestrian bridges, ramps are not included for the differently-abled persons but soon as the Sindh government approves the PC-I, construction work will commence.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2019.
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