By: Wasi Abid
Despite being one of the first planned cities of British India, Faisalabad has always been plagued by overpopulation and traffic jams that leech off the city’s appeal. The Union Jack town center, with eight roads stretching from a historic clock tower at its epicenter, stands as a repelling hub of vehicles. After a recent, and momentous, administrative decision, however, Faisalabad has finally entered the revolution to ban vehicles within the 8 iconic bazaars.
This remarkable decision emerged after suffering years of mass roadblocks in eight bazaars. The massively overcrowded Clock Tower bazaars see hordes of visitors per day, constructing a stifling atmosphere loaded with boisterous rickshaws and relentless bikers. For the first time since their inception, they are set to have a moment of relief as the local administration installs metal jammers across the roads to prevent illegal parking. All of the eight bazaars have been cordoned off permanently, barring vehicles from entering.
This glittering solution, however, brings its own consequences and the major concern remains: Where will the public park their vehicles if they cannot enter the bazaars? The entire region spanning the tower and bazaars suffers a dire lack of parking spots and plazas. All of the surrounding roads of 8 bazars are already full of thousands of illegal encroachments and parking mafias choking the roads, spurring inevitable traffic jams. These major roads include the buildings of District courts, the grain market, and crucial routes to Faisalabad’s largest academic institution: GC University.
The vehicle-free plan, a brainchild of former DCO Noor-Ul-Amin Mengal, originally stipulated the construction of 4 parking plazas to overcome this issue. Surprisingly, the administration abandoned that idea after the untimely expulsion of DCO, and those incomplete parking plazas inversely became another obstacle for the traffic. Although the current DC Muhammad Ali has reinstated this ban with renewed fervor, the issue of parking lingers unaddressed.
While thousands of buyers praise this belated decision, many locals are enraged by such troublesome implications of the vehicle ban. Stakeholders in this plan, including local residents and traders, are furious at being dismissed and ignored by the administration. Their demands for parking spots still roam the ever fruitless galleries of the District council.
Moreover, the vehicle ban would dismount travelers far from their destinations. This poses an even knackering problem: walking through the massive bazaar. According to traders, the 8 bazars are too complex to be accessible for pedestrians without any transportation facility. If a buyer has to park his vehicle almost 3 kilometers away from the clock tower, how could he ever peruse the colossal labyrinth of streets and shops? Not only would this exhaust tourists and locals, but it would also diminish the sales of shops far from the main streets. One such shoemaker from Chiniot Bazar claimed “I am sure I am going to die hungry” when inquired about the vehicle ban, reflecting that people no longer bothered to walk to his distant shop.
The administration needs to introduce an effective and timely solution to overcome these problems. First of all, they should launch a separate, managerial body (a Clock Tower authority) to overlook the construction of parking plazas and management of bazaars. They must complete those 4 parking plazas stuck in the pipelines for many years. Traffic engineers should be hired to assess ideal locations for parking spots and illegal street vendors must be relocated. This would largely eradicate the hindrances to traffic flow and encourage a healthy stream of customers.
Most importantly, the administration needs to erect a public transportation system within the bazaars to provide fluid, safe, and hassle-free movement across the markets. In this regard, we must look to cities like Tokyo and Paris, the world’s most populated yet pedestrian-friendly areas. Such metropolises utilize light-rail networks that would serve the 8 bazaars perfectly. The best way would be for the Faisalabad administration to design a tram service that runs symmetrically with the routes, extending access to all major streets. For example, if Chiniot Bazar is a one-directional bazaar starting from the Main road to the Clock tower then a tram should take pedestrians across that distance at minimum possible charges. Light-railway lines should be installed and maintained regularly. With the absence of vehicles and illegal parkers, the bazaar would yield sufficient space for the tram railway.
Moreover, this transport service must only charge buyers and visitors, not the local traders and residents. All of the local traders should be registered with the clock tower authority, which will provide them ID passes to enter and use services free of cost.
Although such proposals appear enormous, they are crucial to the successful implementation of a vehicle ban. They serve to counter the negative impact of this change, while also renovating the very soul of Faisalabad. The clock tower bazaars, over the years, have been diluted down to a haphazard commercial market with no ties to heritage, but these new regulations could transform them into a remarkable tourist spot akin to the downtowns of New York and London. The vehicle ban was the first step, but if we play our cards right, it shall become the blueprint for a nation-wide renovation of traffic control.
Author: Wasi Abid
The writer is a Social Media Strategist of Private News Agency in Islamabad. He tweets @wasiabid007