This resident of the city was spotted trying to cross Zafar Ali Road one winter morning.
After a few failed attempts, it continued to linger on the sidewalk, probably asking itself, “Why can’t I cross the road?”
We have all been this chicken at one point or another on the streets of Lahore. Being a pedestrian in the roads of this city is such an unquestioned, unchallenged alienated state of being that it is considered normal for one to think twice before crossing a road; because the road is made for cars, and anyone who walks on it is a hindrance.
I was a student at the National College of Arts, and often I would need to cross the Mall to get to Punjab university, or even worse, to Nasir Bagh. My walk to Punjab university was a sight of entertainment for the pigeons hanging out near Kim’s gun, a girl clutching her laptop in her arms, looking left, then right, then left again, then right again, then running lane by lane to avoid that car, and that car, and that motorcycle, and of course that rickshaw.
I could see them laughing at me, placing bets on my chances to cross back safely. Thankfully, the odds were always in my favour. But the design was not.
The way we have begun to design our roads speaks volumes on how little knowledge the planners and engineers of our city have on the theories and history of urban infrastructure. What we are doing today, is what the U.S did after World War II, and is now desperately trying to recover from.
While we expand our roads, they expand their medians.
While we create more expressways, they convert their freeways to walk-able streets.
They have a long way to go, but we are just getting started, we still have the chance to put a stop to this.
You see, we are not the American people, we do not adore cars the way they do.
40 percent of the people in Lahore commute by foot, and just 8 percent by car, but how can you begin to believe these numbers when you see an Azadi chowk with no sidewalks, a Ferozpur road with no pedestrian crossings, and the ignorant pride we have begun to have in our ‘signal free’ corridors.
We are setting our city up for failure. On one hand we talk about sustainable development, on the other we chop down trees for more concrete. With the way we are building our city, we will soon experience issues far worse than the traffic on Mall road. Car-centrist development leads to more cars on the road, which asks for more investment to maintain the roads they are being driven on, and better roads further encourages sales of more cars, which then ask for expansion of said roads.
It is a cycle that never ends, it is a cycle we simply do not have the stomach for. We will choke on it, on the smog we experience every year, on the urban heat islands we have created in the heart of our city, and on the blatant cruelty we have inflicted on those who simply have no other means of getting around the city other than walking.
Our own governors, and the elite, and travel enthusiasts, love exploring European cities.
They love walking on their streets, sipping coffee in their outdoor cafes, so why is it so difficult to create the same experiences in our own homes, where people are in dire need of this infrastructure.
Very soon, we will need to start asking ourselves what we want our cities to look like, whether we want a future that allows our children to walk safely in their neighborhoods, or one that simply creates more chickens who can’t cross the road.