Blog post by Naeem Sadiq, published in The News on 16th January 2010
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, environmental scientist and author, founder of the Sustainability Institute (1941-2001)
Amsterdam, the bike capital of the world, has 40 per cent of all traffic movement 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 for cyclists and building a 10,000-bike parking garage.
Copenhagen plans to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years. Thirty-two per cent of its workforce bicycles to work. The city’s bicycle paths are extensive, often separated from the main traffic lanes and sometimes having their own signal systems. The city provides public bicycles which can be found throughout the downtown area and used with a small returnable deposit.
Paris, which has a total ban on cars along stretches of the Seine River on Sundays and holidays, has created a three-phase programme to make much of the central city traffic-free in the next few years, except for cyclists. In July 2007, in a span of 36 hours, Paris 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 programme aims to help reduce pollution and keep the people of Paris physically fit. The British government has allocated an unprecedented £140 million to “Cycling England” over the next three years. This funding is intended to increase the cycling levels by creating a “Cycling Demonstration Towns Programme.” The new investment means that selected “Cycling Cities” will now have a cycling budget of around £16 per citizen per year.
The town of Davis in California, 17 per cent of whose residents commute to work on bicycles, is about to build a $1.7 million bikes-only tunnel under a major road. Boulder, Colorado, spends 15 per cent of its transportation budget on building and maintaining bicycle traffic. As well as London itself, New York, Stockholm, Vienna, Prague and Rome are among scores of other cities that are increasingly switching over to the concept of car-free zones. City planners the world over are beginning to rethink the role of the car in urban transport systems. Humans were not designed around cities, after all. It is cities that need to be designed around humans.
In Karachi, on the other hand, there is not a single bicycle path. Nor is there a plan to make one. The 2020 Karachi Strategic Development Plan has billions earmarked for roads, flyovers and underpasses, but not a penny for the construction of bicycle paths. It seems the city is stuck on the “signal-free corridor” concept of development aimed at serving a small minority, those who drive gas-guzzling vehicles, with no consideration for ordinary citizens.
There are many ways to restructure the transportation system of Karachi so that it satisfies the needs of all its people, not just the affluent. What can Karachi do to become a clean, peaceful and noise- and pollution-free city, one which is friendly to cyclists and pedestrians? 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 comfortably and safely. The city centres should be declared no-vehicle zones.
If Karachi were to stop being so impressed by the façade of Dubai, it could learn that Dubai is already correcting its mistakes and is now planning to build 900 kilometres of bicycle and pedestrian tracks all around the city. In China, meanwhile, a group of eminent scientists has challenged Beijing’s decision to promote an automobile-centred transport system. Cycling and public transport should form the core of Karachi’s transportation system. A network of safe bicycle paths needs to be developed, coupled with an efficient public transport system, so as to encourage and enable everyone to travel as equal citizens, helping to reduce the noise and the carbon footprint of the much polluted city.
A cycling group called “Critical Mass” (firstname.lastname@example.org) gathers to cycle every other Sunday in Karachi, to bring back the old cycling tradition and to raise awareness of the need for a cycle-friendly city. In Lahore, “Critical Mass” takes place on the last Sunday of the month, with enthusiasts cycling in a group on the remaining Sundays. The mayor would do well to revisit the Karachi 2020 Strategic Development Plan, knock out a couple of flyovers and underpasses and ask for bicycle and pedestrian paths to be made along all roads, where the car-less ordinary citizens could safely walk or ride a bicycle, without the fear of being knocked down by a weapon-brandishing Prado.