The word is out and it is saying that Lahore has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia. Known for its beautiful gardens, exquisite fountains, delicious cuisines, and rich heritage of architecture, art and music, Lahore is once again reinventing itself. This time it is changing into a crowded habitat. This second largest city of Pakistan and fourteenth largest city in the world has unique driving habits.
Few drivers have this well-known style: they will always drives at a speed less than 40 kilometres per hour along the middle of recently beautified, recently widened Lahore roads, and forget the distinctly marked speed lanes. They drive without looking left or right as if mesmerized by the taillights or what ever is written on the back screens of the vehicles they are following closely. Surely they feel safest but what happens when one drives slowly in fast lane? The fast lanes remain always clogged, and the only way to escape a ‘fast lane blockade’ with confidence is to drive fast in slow lane, which happens to be empty: violating universal traffic rules, negating right of way even to the cyclists and pedestrians and or causing accidents. This is one of the worst driving habits.
It is free-for-all society once we take to the road. Traffic police has placed signs at different roads that read, “Drive beautifully on beautiful roads.” How seriously drivers take such advice can be seen while driving on any city road. Such traditional nuisances as stop signs, Silence zones, traffic lights, Zebra crossing markings, and lane divisions are, for the most part, generally not observed.
Stand at the traffic lights in any square and you can see auto rickshaws and motorcyclists moving in and out of the gaps between parked vehicles like cockroaches. One wonders what is it that keeps the city’s traffic going, which spills all over the road, irrespective of traffic dividers placed near some of the busy squares or uninterested traffic cop standing in some obscure corner of a square waiting for his duty hours to end. Every body stops as near the white line as possible without the due respect for the traffic that is to turn left and as per rules the turning left should always remain open. I have friends who live in Lahore and who refuse to drive here. And many foreigners leave this historic city, shaken and stirred, asking questions mainly about traffic. Because only he can understand the driving habits who has lived in Lahore for enough years.
Why do the drivers step on the brakes when they can see a green light and slows down, turning the entire stream of traffic behind them to a crawl and then suddenly accelerate forward in a sudden ejaculation of speed just as the light turns yellowish-brown? No one knows nor can any one predict before it actually happens. But what happens? Bumpers crash into bumpers, tyres burn as rubber grates on tarmac, a few screeches, and some other motorcyclist suddenly appear and move on making best of the situation. And, all those who cannot move on immediately keep blowing horns and keep pressing accelerators emitting toxic fumes and clouds of soot in the process. Their feet ache in neurotic beat between the clutch and the brake pedals it appears.
Karachi – Peshawar main railway line passes through the centre of the city. Besides goods’ trains 24 passenger trains pass over the main line daily. There are many crossing on the railway line without overhead bridges. Mixed traffic of the city has to stop on either side of the line whenever the crossings are closed to pass the trains. Sometimes the crossings are closed to allow two trains one after the other. Every one always seems in a hurry at these crossings. In the absence of any traffic management on these choke points, traffic remains blocked even after the trains have passed.
Sometimes one feels it more than other times; rush hour in Lahore. Traffic police insist on having roadblocks and lane separators during peak traffic hours in the mornings and afternoon? Not to catch criminals or terrorists of course. It only causes problem for the citizens who happen to be driving on roads.
Lahore has some of the best roads in Pakistani cities. Lahore’s class structure is also reflected in driving scene on roads: big cars, sleek cars, new and old models and Land cruisers to old vintage and coughing smaller cars. But come onto the less privileged roads and the byways. Or come to the roads inside housing colonies. Why does someone have ‘planned and constructed’ speed breakers at unexpected places, without any marking, and surely on public expense? These ‘sleeping policemen’ are hell for the suspension, and high enough to perversely grate the underside of any car. Motorcyclists and cars suddenly appear out of side lanes at breakneck speed, without looking either left or right, and nonchalantly make a wide curve? It is like a real life video game as people come onto the roads.
The traffic management has to be improved not only on the main roads but also in those parts of the city where no VIP passes. Muhammad Munir who loves to drive in the city says, “Driving scene in Lahore will improve if someone can insure that driving licenses are issued only to those who meet the criteria fixed for the purpose.” Ideally the heavy traffic should not enter the city during day. The animal transport should also be segregated and restricted to specific areas if it cannot be banned. Moreover, the auto rickshaws should not be allowed on the main roads. And, there should be more places reserved only for pedestrians. But this management may only be possible when the city is given a good inter city public transport system on all possible routes. Remember the double-deckers that used to ply the roads of Lahore! Introduce and manage the public transport system for people to move about more frequently and commerce will manage the rest.
On the eve of Jashn-e-Baharan 2006, one of the city development agencies arranged training for taxi drivers (and a schedule of fair from Airport and Railway Station was also issued). But what about the driving courtesy and manners? Who can change that!