KARACHI: Most new overhead pedestrian bridges being built in the city are at places from where people usually don’t want to cross the road.
An estimated Rs260 million have been spent on constructing 16 footbridges that are most likely to go to waste, officials associated with the project told The Express Tribune. For the current fiscal year, another 30 pedestrian bridges have been planned in the city.
In its drive to make the city’s roads safer for pedestrians, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) is constructing a number of footbridges – at times even spending up to Rs20 million on a single steel structure.
But interviews with officials involved in road safety management suggest that the authorities have not bothered to carry out any survey of the roads or the points where the bridges have been proposed.
Cities around the world carry out comprehensive surveys before spending money on infrastructure. And there is a growing realisation that cities have to be pedestrian friendly. In fact there is a general move in developed countries to provide pedestrians safer spaces to walk. In Karachi, however, several governments have maintained the policy of just laying more asphalt to build a city that only caters to car drivers. As a result plenty of preference is given to roads which vehicles use at high speeds and not enough consideration is given to those who walk.
KMC’s transport and communications department does not even have the figures of how many pedestrians use a particular road in a day, officials say.
“We do need pedestrian bridges because many people get killed while crossing roads,” said Ameer Hussain, the programme manager of Road Traffic Injury Research and Prevention Centre, which gathers data on traffic accidents. “But at least we should know where to build them.”
In 2011, more than 400 pedestrians were killed in Karachi alone – most of them on the National Highway, Sharae Faisal and the Korangi Industrial Area Road.
“There are some technical glitches [with the way some pedestrian bridges have been planned],” conceded Ameer Hussain, referring to the newly built structure near the Millennium Mall on Rashid Minhas Road as an example.
“People cross the road from the Johar Morr intersection, which is half a kilometre away and serves as a bus stop as well,” added the official, who claimed he had advised the authorities against the bridge.
Apart from the new footbridges, similar scenes can be witnessed at the pedestrian bridges built ages ago at Liaquatabad No. 10 or the one near Tibet Centre on MA Jinnah Road.
Ameer Hussain has some other “more useful” solutions.
“Build underpasses for the pedestrians,” he suggested. “It is not an expensive proposition now as any contractor would do that for free if he is allowed to use some space commercially.”
Three such underpasses already exist; one each in Saddar, Liaquatabad and Golimar. “This is especially needed near Tipu Sultan Flyover on Sharae Faisal as traffic speed can’t be slowed down there, neither a pedestrian bridge can be built,” he suggested.
“Speed calming measures can be used instead of spending millions on a bridge,” Hussain said. “Small speed breakers can give what we call breathing space to the roads, thus allowing just enough time to people to walk to the other side.”
The business aspect of building bridges is often ignored too. Across the city, billboards have sprung up on the bridges and industry officials say KMC makes up for the expenditure by the rental income within a matter of years.
More than a problem
Most road casualties, however, suggest that pedestrian bridges or not, the people won’t use them. A random survey on the roads in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Korangi and DHA shows that people prefer to cross the road even if they have to jump over the grilles at the median.
The KMC says there is little that can be done to encourage people to use footbridges. “We have given [them] the facility but what more can be done to motivate them,” asked Muhammad Taha, a senior engineer in the corporation.
CEO of traffic solutions firm Pak-German Engineers Zafar Naveed believes people avoid pedestrian bridges because of untidiness and mugging threats. “If you have beggars sitting and naked mad men sleeping [at the bridges], I don’t think anyone will use them.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2012.