Cycling – a missing component of Karachi’s development
Bicycle, the most energy-efficient form of transport ever devised. It doesn’t emit pollution, it runs on renewable energy, it makes its user healthier, it’s easy to repair, it requires little in the way of pavement or parking, and 80 percent of the world’s people can afford one.
~ Donella H. Meadows
Amsterdam, also known as the bike capital of the world, has 40% of all traffic movements by bicycle. In the next few years the city will spend 100 million Euros to further improve its cycle network and reduce car use. The promotion of cycling includes a network of safe, fast and comfortable bicycle routes, improving road safety of cyclists and building a 10,000-bike parking garage.
Copenhagen, the city with the sixth-highest quality of life plans to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years. 32 % of its work force bicycles to work because they find it fast and easy. The city’s bicycle paths are extensive, often separated from the main traffic lanes and sometimes have their own signal systems. The city provides public bicycles which can be found throughout the downtown area and used with a returnable deposit of 20 kroner.
The UK Government has allocated an unprecedented £140m to ‘Cycling England’ over the next three years. This funding is intended to increase the cycling levels by creating a ‘Cycling Demonstration Towns Program’ . The new investment means that the selected ‘Cycling Cities’ will now have a cycling budget of around £16 per citizen per year. Davis, California, USA, whose 17% of residents commute to work on bicycles, is about to build a $1.7 million bike-only tunnel under a major road, while Boulder, Colorado spends 15% of its transportation budget on building and maintaining bicycle traffic in the city.
Karachi on the other hand can boast of just the opposite. There is not a single bicycle path in the city, nor is there a plan to make one in the future. The 2020 Karachi Strategic Development Plan has billions earmarked for roads, over-heads and underpasses, but not a single penny for construction of bicycle paths. It seems the city is stuck on the ‘signal free corridor’ concept of development, aimed at serving a small minority of gas-guzzling vehicle owners, with no consideration for its ordinary citizens.
City planners the world over are beginning to rethink the role of the car in urban transport systems. A group of eminent scientists in China has challenged Beijing’s decision to promote an automobile-centered transport system. There are many ways to restructure the transportation system so that it satisfies the needs of all people, not just the affluent. Karachi can learn from scores of other cities that are increasingly switching over to the concept of car-free zones. New York, London, Stockholm, Vienna, Prague, and Rome are some examples of such cities. Paris has a total ban on cars along stretches of the Seine River on Sundays and holidays and has now created a 3 phase programmer to make much of the central city traffic-free (except for cyclists and pedestrians ) in the next few years.
A city is considered people-friendly and people-centric if its largest resources are spent for the benefit of its ordinary citizens and not its elite. What is Karachi doing to become a clean, peaceful, pollution-free, cyclist and pedestrian-friendly city. It could start by providing simple facilities to its citizens. Every road could have walkways for pedestrians (with ramps for wheelchairs) and pathways for cyclists. People should be able to walk or cycle short distances in a comfortable and safe manner. The city centres should be declared no-vehicle zones. Karachi could learn from Paris which in a span of 36 hours in July 2007, placed over 10,000 bicycles on its streets, launching an ambitious bike-sharing system that is meant to lead a revolution in the way Parisians move around in the city. The program aims to help reduce pollution and keep the people of Paris physically fit. If Karachi was to stop getting impressed by the façade of Dubai, it could learn that Dubai is already correcting its mistakes and is now planning to build 900 km of bicycle and pedestrian tracks all around the city.
Cycling and public transport should form the core of Karachi’s transportation system. A network of safe bicycle paths coupled with an efficient public transport system needs to be developed, so as to encourage and enable everyone to travel like equal citizens, helping to reduce the noise and the carbon foot-print of the much polluted city. One knows that humans were not designed around cities. It is the cities that need to be designed around humans. A cyclists group called ‘The Critical Mass’ (firstname.lastname@example.org), gathers to cycle every week in Karachi and Lahore to bring back the old cycling tradition and to raise awareness for a cycle-friendly city. The energetic and committed Mayor of Karachi will do well to revisit the Karachi 2020 Strategic Development Plan, knock out a couple of over-heads and under-passes and ask for bicycle and pedestrian paths to be made along all roads, where the ordinary car-less citizens could safely walk or ride a bicycle, without the fear of being knocked over by a weapon brandishing Prado.
The News Jan 2010