What makes a difference between a developed city and a backward city is not the quality of expressways, highways or flyovers but that of pedestrian streets, bicycle tracks, public parks, water fronts and bus ways for mass transit, says Enrique Penalosa, a world renowned urban strategist and former mayor of Bogota, Colombia.
Penalosa said this during his presentation in a seminar on organised “Sustainable Urban Development & Mobility” which was organised by the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) in collaboration with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), a programme of the Clinton Foundation, and SHEHRI-CBE at a local hotel on Tuesday. The objective of this seminar is to provide key stakeholders an opportunity to hear about a different and more socially inclusive and efficient urban vision, which would improve the quality of life and make our cities more competitive.
Penalosa who was the main speaker at the seminar discussed in detail the vision of a developed city and gave several practical examples from the west and parts of Asia on how that vision can be materialised.
Public parks, pedestrian streets, bicycle tracks and water fronts are crucial for a city to be developed, he said. These are the things that please people that make them happier and improve the quality of their lives, he added.
What makes a difference between a developed city and a backward city is not the quality of highways or elevated expressways but the quality of public places, pedestrian streets, and bicycle tracks linked with busways.
“A developed city is one where rich uses public transport. A good city is a city for the poor, elderly and children,” said Penalosa. He adds, “20th century would be remembered as a disaster in urban history since giving the cities to cars is the biggest mistake we ever made.” He further said that the developed cities in Europe realised that building roads for cars was a big mistake. It was not what they wanted therefore, they built pedestrian streets stretching up to hundreds of kilometres.
Giving an example of some developed cities, he said most of the advanced cities have demolished their highways and expressways. In Boston a highway built at a cost of US $24 billion was demolished to construct a waterfront and pedestrian and bicycle tracks at both sides of it. He also gave an example of an expressway in Seoul that was built with a cost of US $7 billion and that too had to be demolished to finally convert into a beautiful waterfront with wide pedestrian tracks on either side. He also mentioned of a 23 km bicycle path in Columbia that is used by thousands of people.
He also proposed for 1000 km pedestrian network in Karachi and said it would improve people’s life and they would be happy. “It would save them some 30 per cent of their income and people would love to use bicycles to get to bus stands, he said. “In fact New York and London too would love to build bicycle tracks but it is too late for them. However, for Karachi it is not very late and they can think about it now,” he added.
He proposed to build side ways for pedestrians as wide as possible especially in the areas near schools. “Cars parked everywhere when there is no space for pedestrians is not what you call development;” he criticised. “This is not a democratic thinking,” he added. There is huge lack of political will and it is telling the poor that the people in cars are more important than those on feet or bicycles,” he commented.
Building pedestrian streets, bicycle tracks and side ways for the citizens coupled with a good public transport system that provide mass transit will discourage the use of cars. “Building high velocity roads and elevated expressways won’t solve the problems of Karachi,” he said. “Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) is the only solution and is perfectly possible in Karachi,” he proposed. Exclusive busways are needed for mass transit, RBT is more flexible than subways and it can be built with low cost, he said.
A good public transport is one with low cost and high frequency, the main problem of public transport in Karachi is ‘the income of bus owners/drivers depend on per passenger. This is why these buses have created all this mess as they run behind each and every single passenger, pick and drop them where they want. Under RBT the owner is paid on the basis of per kilometre therefore the driver doesn’t bother whether the bus operates empty or full and they do not stop everywhere for passengers thus abide by their timing and run at a decent speed. As a result of that the quality of public transport service improves.
Penalosa further said that TransMillenio has earned great success not only in the West but also in Asia. This is the only possibility for Karachi as this system can carry 50,000 passengers per hour per kilometre per direction. “There can be modern stations where people will pay for their tickets at the station so that they can get into and off the bus in seconds and on one ticket they can change two to three buses,” he elaborated. “Similarly there should be feeder buses to carry people to RBT stations,” he continued. He said that in Karachi the government might have to demolish some buildings to construct busways and pedestrians’ sideways but it is worth it.
Replying to a question he said, this was perfectly possible in Karachi and the problem was not of technology or finance. In fact there were managerial problems and lack of political will.
Following the presentation by Penalosa, Oscar Diaz, Sr Director, Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) delivered a talk on “Issues and Challenges of Public Transport and Mobility in Developing Countries”. He also proposed ways to reduce use of cars from the road. “There should be car free days, additional taxes on gasoline and licenced plates for vehicles that will help reduce the number of cars from the roads in peak hours,” he said.
Talking to journalists, Director General Mass Transit Malik Zaheer Ul Islam said that they had already adopted RBT for Karachi and were working on the project on priority basis. The work on first three corridors of RBT is likely to begin this December, however, according to Penalosa a lot of planning and work needs to be done before the launching of RBT or it can meet the same fate as it did in Delhi India and thus result in a failure if launched without proper planning.
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