Help, I am a pedestrian!

Published: February 26, 2014

As I walked on, I came across an open, slightly over flowing drain and I had to hop across it to save myself from the foul-smelling water. PHOTO: IJAZ MAHMOOD/EXPRESS

As I walked on, I came across an open, slightly over flowing drain and I had to hop across it to save myself from the foul-smelling water. PHOTO: IJAZ MAHMOOD/EXPRESS It is simply terrifying to walk on a road in our country nowadays. I have seen people use inappropriate language and honk impatiently at pedestrians trying to cross the road.

While walking in Lahore, I stepped onto the footpath like any other pedestrian. I had only walked for five minutes when I realised that being a pedestrian in Pakistan is the saddest thing that can happen to a person. Apart from the government, that waves away the concerns of pedestrians quite often, car owners also make sure that things are not easy for those walking on the road.

This wasn’t the first time I had walked down the street. In fact, I have been a pedestrian for eight years now. I have always been an outdoor person and hence, I enjoy walking and absorbing every little detail of my surroundings.

I am not going to argue over the importance of automobiles but I have always loathed the idea of cars and enclosed rickshaws that cut a person off from their surroundings. I have walked, travelled by bus and taken rickshaws for quite a while now but in this particular walk, I had the time to reflect upon my journey.

As soon as I started walking on the three feet wide footpath, I came across a car parked in my way. Naturally, I stepped down and began to walk on the road, with heavy traffic coming towards me. A motorcyclist stopped to let me by but as expected, a car behind the motorcyclist started honking and a trail of traffic began to accumulatemaking it embarrassing for me since I was the reason the traffic had lost its momentum.

I apologised and stepped back onto the footpath. I had only walked a few more steps when I came across an open, slightly over flowing drain and I had to hop across it to save myself from the foul-smelling water.

Another 20 feet later, I saw that the entire footpath had been taken over by illegal encroachments of a nearby store, followed by a whole line of parked rickshaws. So, I walked on the road for the next 30 metres while a motorcyclist bumped into me and car drivers glared at me as I tried to make my way to the edge of the road and onto the zebra crossing.

Standing at the crossing, I looked left and right. However, I could not look to the right since my vision was blocked by a five feet wide concrete pillar. I somehow managed to cross the road, and as I did, I had to jump onto a one and half feet high pavement. At that moment, I asked myself,

“What will I do after a decade when I am old and unable to go through so much physical and mental torture?”

It is simply terrifying to walk on a road in our country nowadays. I have seen women and children risk their lives every day just to cross a street. I, myself, was hit by a donkey cart once which was coming towards me from the wrong direction. I have seen people use inappropriate language and honk impatiently at pedestrians trying to cross the road.

Sitting in the safety of their cars, these people don’t realise that there is no alternative way of crossing the road for us pedestrians. Don’t they wonder what compelled us to cross the road in such a risky way?

Apart from being honked at while crossing the road, I have even been called names while walking on one of the most posh and pseudo elite roads in the city – MM Alam Road. I try to ignore these concerns by mentally labelling them as small, insignificant issues in order to preserve my sanity.

And eventually, I have come to accept that whatever happens to me on the roads of my country will be a punishment for not owning a car.

Unfortunately, there is a great misconception in the minds of our car owners. They consider people travelling on foot to be scum, the lowest of the low and deserving of any and all insults thrown their way. Similarly, if a woman is walking alone on the road, it is assumed that she is a sex-worker.

Such gross assumptions truly astound me.

What difference does it make which class of society I belong to or whether I am a student, worker or woman?

Are pedestrians not humans?

Do we not have the right to enjoy the city like everyone else?

I am aware of the fact that only the government can bring about changes like creating accessible walkways, implementing by-laws, encroachment laws and so forth. According to the Federal Excise and Taxation office, 45,000 new vehicles are registered each year; 50 to 70 motorbikes, 90 to 100 private cars, four to five commercial vehicles and 10 to 15 government vehicles are added to the city’s traffic each day. But there are issues that only people behind the wheels can address.

If pedestrians are shown a little respect by people in cars, there is a possibility that they will be able to cope with the other tangible and intangible issues facing pedestrians in Pakistan.

Ailya Khan

Ailya Khan

Currently living in Lahore, she is studying at the National college of Arts and aspires to become an urban planner. Belonging to a small village near Mardan, she has lived while travelling. Getting exposed to a variety of urban-scapes though out her life has influenced her a lot.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nobody

    I’ve been to Pakistan several times in my life and have always taken notice of the lack of walking-friendly areas. Sidewalks are in bad shape if they exist at all and crossing the street feels like a potential suicide mission.
    Having lived in London for a brief while, I love being able to walk anywhere and everywhere at any time so I can understand your woes. Unfortunately, given the amount of problems within Pakistan currently, I don’t anticipate any action taken to improve sidewalks and such.
    Best of luck in your future walking endeavors.Recommend

  • Saud Naeem

    well this is true. no doubt about thatRecommend

  • Arsalan

    Footpaths are important but most of the pedestrians also violate rules and are reason for a good number of road accidents. The pedestrians should know that there is something called “Zebra crossing” as well as “pedestrian bridges”. Just note the two images attached to this article. In the main picture, there are two pedestrian bridges but no one is using them instead crossing the road in a dangerous way. Similarly, most of the pedestrians in Pakistan don’t use zebra crossings and love crossing road anywhere they like. It’s natural for any car driver to get annoyed if he/she is faced by a random pedestrian crossing a road at a random place.Recommend

  • effi

    Pakistan is paradise if you compare it with KSA, no respect to pedestrian. Traffic normally flows at 90/100 km/h in metropolitan and there are very less pedestrian crossover bridges. A 7/8km road in Jeddah connecting airport to the city center has markets on both sides, doesn’t have pedestrian bridges. I heard two or three deaths of pedestrian due to collision with car. Pedestrian endanger their lives always while crossing. And you barely find side walk but in posh areas.Recommend

  • Ailya khan

    I believe zebra crossings and pedestrian bridges should be well placed too. Pakistan lacks laws of placements. there are no zebra crossings every 50 meters. I believe if you give the pedestrian their place first, then if they do not use them should be made answerable. Road/ traffic education will not make a difference within a day. It has to start somewhere.Recommend

  • Usman Khan

    Exactly what has been on my mind for a long time, finally someone decided to voice my concerns. I myself am such an individual who prefers the bicycle over a car but our streets are just not meant for cyclists and pedestrians. A couple of days back I had a head on collision with a motorbike while I was on the cycle. He was going the wrong way on an empty street and still ended up hitting me head on. To add insult to injury, he started pretending he couldn’t breath (I didn’t realize this gimmick at the time) and everyone had their sympathies for him, even mine as I tried to limp about and tell people to give him room to breath. I hate these inconsiderate mongrels for what they do and how zebra crossings are not given any importance whatsoever by the mad car drivers.Recommend

  • m2k

    I am sure your generation of urban planners will plan for the less for the less fortunate too.Recommend

  • Kamran Khan

    I lived for 8 long years in Lahore, and in Islamabad since the last 2 years. I have seen people crossing roads unannounced , It annoys me alot when I am driving a car, but when I myself walk on the street or on the road, I think i take the upmost precaution whenever i cross the road. But its not just about me and you, its about the whole Pakistan where most of the people are uneducated. You cant expect them to know all by themselves about the importance of Zebra Crossing and things like that. Its just that we are always in such a hurry that we curse everyone who tries to block our speedy vehicle. Living in one of the oldest and congested area of Lahore I have mastered the art of crossing the 4 Sanda Road. Aliya would agree to that. Aint I? :) Nice article by the way. I hope it effects the dead souls of people like us.Recommend

  • Aamna RahIm

    How convenient to be so judgmental in a blink of an eye. Sorry if i sound rude but you need to realize that we don’t have the right zebra crossings in this country. Not all roads have it, and even the places that do have zebra crossings, the car owners don’t exactly respect them and slow down. Car owners would still honk away even if they saw some one crossing on the zebra crossing. This has happened with me several times. The fault lies in the government and only the right penalties for breaking the laws (both, for pedestrians as well as car owners) is the only way to solve this.Recommend

  • Ahmad Khan

    Aliya, you’ve highlighted a very basic, yet worrisome concern, which upon reflection can lead us to deduce it’s connection with another very prominent social ill in our country, that of respecting the rights of all our fellow citizens.

    While Lahore may boast having the smoothest roads in the country, it does so to attract the admiration of the rich and wealthy or upper/middle class who can afford private transportation yet are in the single figure percentage of the entire population.

    In this situation the masses are expected to ‘make do’ with the rest of the space, may it be Gods given earth, or as you have mentioned encroachments and potholes. Where the rights of those who ‘have’ are respected with the roads, those rights of who ‘have-not’ are trampled upon just as one may be while deciding to take the road to walk on instead of the sidewalk to avoid being sucked into the foreboding depths of a manhole.

    As a result we have a society that is forced into claustrophobic depression due to the great inconveniences they have to face on a regular basis in the public realm. The cause ranges from general apathy of those voted in charge to defend those rights of the common citizen till the planners who are willing to overlook such concerns in efforts to either minimize budgets or maximize covered land area.

    The immediate need is to understand that society at large benefits when not only when there is decent circulation area for the pedestrian, bus also reasonable space for interactive sidewalk activity to take place. This not only helps the technicality of maneuverability but also promotes the concepts of a public community, as opposed to dangerous isolation due to consistently being confined in private spaces.

    What is more is that decent pedestrian infrastructure will encourage the wealthy to experience and mingle with the not so wealthy masses and not be considered a separate segment of society, and who knows may even rub off some of that ‘civilized nature’ they find lacking in the poorer majority of our country.

    Where currently development is judged by the width of the road, I dream of seeing a day when it is estimated by the quality of it’s pedestrian walkways.Recommend

  • Aamna RahIm

    Love that someone took the time to write about this! Great job. I hope there are rules to solve this issue soon.Recommend

  • Mjl

    Too true, this is!Recommend

  • Ali Akbar

    i agree to you to some extent but i’ve been a pedestrain since two years in lahore, and have not came across such troubles, but yes if speaking of some particular areas.. yes you right. but speaking as a whole .. your statement is totally varified for im a citizen of hyderabad and this problem is very much underestimated and no doubt a pedestrain is given no importance.Recommend

  • Guest

    Absolutely true! I love long walks and wanna ride a bicycle freely on the road but I cant do any of that due to the facts you have mentioned in your write-up.Cities should be made more ‘walkable’..Drive less walk more!! I just wish things get better real soon here because not everyone wants to leave or give up on Pakistan.Recommend

  • Bazinga

    Dear Aliya,

    I’m at a loss of words. Your treatment is really saddening. I wish other women and men pedestrians were as sensible as you. I’ve been driving for 7 years now, wouldn’t want you to imagine a lady popping out of nowhere on the footpath when the green signal is illuminated and stepping in front of a speeding car, neither would I want you to imagine professional beggars and stubborn morons just crossing the road blindly having the notion that the on goer would eventually avoid hitting him/her. I would certainly not want you to picture a notorious family just standing in the middle if the Road and even bring honked at immensely, not moving a whisker. Insensitivity at its peak I reckon. I also wouldn’t envy you if you saw mothers not holding their children’s hands on the road making them vulnerable to being hit. But what I would do is certainly recommend you to watch your step and just wait for the road to clear and make a run for it, you shouldn’t stroll as if you’re mingling in your garden and picking roses. Please be practical and address the other side of the picture or in other words, know what’s the feeling on the other side of the car’s mirror.

    Bazinga (A Vehicle Driver)Recommend

  • Multani

    There maybe no zebra crossing. At least clearly marked. Or faded.
    No money paint again. And people simply do not follow traffic rules.
    Let alone pedestrian rules.Recommend

  • Chakwalwala

    Excellent article by author. And very very true descriptions of
    the trials and tribulations of walking. And yes some drivers are careless.
    Specially, repeat, specially at night. As a pedestrian, you are very much at riskRecommend

  • Citizen

    Totally agree with you Aliya . Encroachment is so glaring everywhere , but only invisible to the eye of the government . They have a street footpaths dedicated to car showrooms on Khalid bin waleed rd in karachi making it dangerous for pedestrians to use the footpath . On the other hand there is dearth of zebra crossing and where they exist, pedestrians don’t have the sense to use it and drivers don’t stop at them . Recommend

  • fd

    Try walking in Karachi and then Lahore pavements will feel like heaven. :)Recommend

  • Saad

    Pedestrians require appropriate infrastructure. Infrastructure requires money. Money requires taxes to be paid. ‘Rights’ are a luxury for Pakistan at this time since even the most basic necessities, such as clean water and shelter, are not met.Recommend

  • Sparli

    To Mr. Arsalan, thank you for mentioning the fact that we have zebra crossing on our road, really we do??….. ok my be you are talking about those strips painted vertically on the road in few intersection… lets assume for a second that they are zebra crossing, but this is fact that how come that on 100 percent of signals car people cross their lines and rest in peace on these strips….. above that i my self surveyed 723 intersections in Lahore. what i find is in 98% of zebra crossing i find a hurdle in form of a beautiful garden type thing which was installed on the Pedestrians refuge islands…. or there was plant ported by a barb wire planted by PHA, and most of them was like a dead end with a signal pole with a telephone, electric and street light pole, so the sense of a path get lost at the first point. and the funny thing was that few of them was ending up in the middle of road, and let me tell you in if an old man follow a zebra crossing, he will be very disappointed at the end because he might find 14″ high step which he wont be able to climb up, and he will be in more difficult situation then before as he will be on the right (fast ) moving lane……
    so i think road is a shared space we should knowledge the ownership of the other person who ever and what ever medium he is travailing on….
    Majority is authority in the rest of world, but i just cant understand that how come our city prefer cars where only 25% of our population have cars and the rest are totally ignored???????Recommend

  • Tanzeel Ahmad

    Lor Lor Aye :PRecommend

  • Ribqa

    Read the article Dear Aliya, firstly I’ll appreciate you for writing on topic/matter like this which to many ppl are worthless and un or less important.
    Well i agree with you on many levels yet I disagree as well. As “Bazinga” mentioned the problems a driver faces on daily basis are completely true, regular and should be paid heed to. I have been driver and a pedestrian, both!
    The fault is both sides.
    Some drivers are reckless, I have survived a very bad accident while crossing the road (mall road, masjid chowk) after waiting for almost 15-20mins and the traffic would just won’t stop. I took help of a local policeman to help me cross the road and yet a biker hit me bad. I ended up in a hospital.
    While driving I have saved so many lives, you can’t even imagine…People pop up from anywhere and everywhere. They just won’t use the over-head bridges, footpaths or wait for the traffic to ease down. Try the main ring road (yateem khana side and on wards)…drive for just 2 to 3 kms and you will get so frustrated by the foolish pedestrians that you would really want to run over somebody at a point. Not to forget this is a highway :)
    Well it’s tough being a pedestrian but equally tough to drive in a city like Lahore.
    The system is flawed. There should be organised footpaths, signals, whatever else is necessary, i’m not an expert on this but I know for a fact it’s extremely important.
    Very happy to read something like this in which an issue has been raised of this concern.
    best wishes!Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    If it’s any consolation of any kind , then the story is the same on both sides of the subcontinent . I can only think of one solution. Ditch the big cities and go to small towns to develop and settle down.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    “According to the Federal Excise and Taxation office….” The excise & taxation department is under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. It collects, motor vehicle tax, property tax, professional tax, etc.Recommend

  • Thought Provoker

    nice blog post.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    Just imagine walking on the footpath, facing all the problems mentioned and, having to keep a watch on the bike riders because you may be robbed anytime. WELCOME TO KARACHIRecommend

  • Abdullah

    I don’t know about other cities but at least in Lahore we have zebra crossings and pedestrian bridges. However, pedestrians lack traffic education. I have personally witnessed many roadside accident dew to impatient pedestrians, endangering their lives, crossing roads rather than using zebra crossings and pedestrian bridges.Recommend

  • yasir

    it is sad that there is no respect for the person who is on foot.Recommend

  • imaan mian

    A true picture of pedestrians, It almost seems as if you are at the mercy of drivers. Just praying that someone stops for you so that you could cross over. Pavements would be a blessing.Recommend

  • taha

    stop writing articles about no pedestrian bridges when there are far worse problems in our countryRecommend

  • bakhtawar

    try saying more on the issue, if you plz know more about. perhaps you would frequent pedistrainer here in karachi… i need to publish.Recommend