It is a triumphant week indeed, for an excellent reason. A group of lawyers in Lahore have joined forces to stop the underpass project that had just begun its destruction down Main Boulevard. It’s official name is the signal-free expressway, with two underpasses, seven U-turns and only two overhead pedestrian crossing points on a road that is already wide enough and has a streamlined flow of traffic. Where would one find space on Main Boulevard to make two underpasses, one wonders? Why, by chopping down the trees on the green belt and making it there! It’s just a waste of space for there to be a corridor of trees flanking one of the busiest roads in the city, because who cares about cyclists and motorcyclists who are able to travel in the shade? Anyone who has ever cycled on a real road will know that a road with trees is always drastically cooler than one without, but it is unlikely that anyone who decides to decimate the foliage on a main road will ever have cycled anywhere, let alone walked, in Lahore. What is particularly pleasing about the stay on this expressway is a parallel stay on the elevated expressway, a bit of construction that planned to make the trip to the motorway shorter by about seven to ten minutes and would cost us only 27 billion rupees. Twenty. Seven. Billion. For a road that would make one’s trip to the first toll plaza shorter by ten minutes, maximum.

Do you know what can be had for twenty seven billion rupees? A report by DFID (the UK government’s Department for International Development) written a few years ago estimated an average secondary school fee costing between three hundred to two thousand rupees. Let’s say we choose the most expensive school fees. Multiply two thousand by twelve, schooling for a year, and divide 27 billion by that. It comes to 1,125,000. That is over a million children who can be sent to a pretty decent school for an entire year. Imagine how many hospitals could be re-equipped with up-to-date machinery and medicine. How many free dispensaries could be set up, how much security provided to the brave polio teams that are working around the clock, at the risk of their lives, to keep our children and old people safe from a deadly disease. 27 billion rupees, sanctioned for a project nobody asked us if we wanted. Whether it makes enough of a difference in our lives that we must absolutely have a road that cuts our drive out of Lahore short by seven minutes. Strangely enough, both of these roadworks haven’t been accounted for in the 2014-2015 budget either, so where is the money coming from, and where is it going?

The second, larger and much more serious project is this signal-free corridor one. Imagine Main Boulevard right now: shopping malls and Main Market and a few old houses, the broad, well-paved road and the green belt separating them. The trees, the shade, the grass. The flowers the PHA plants with regularity, the bright yellow marigolds and big bowls of striped petunias. Now imagine all of that gone, replaced with concrete corridors with bathroom tiles stuck inside and given some miserable tribute to a literary or political man (because no woman ever makes the cut except the two Mohtarmas, Fatima and Benazir). The Punjab government seems to be populated with halfwits who obviously have no idea about environmental degradation, pollution levels of the air or even basic aesthetics. What is the point of having environment protection laws, a regulatory body and even a Green Bench if they are never consulted before taking such drastic steps to irrevocably alter the fabric of this city? Where are the public meetings, the meetings with concerned citizens, with architects and environmental scientists, with conservationists? Is this the power of our vote, so that we are ignored and some government favourites can get their kickbacks while we swelter miserably on, without even the respite of a tree to give us pleasure?

There is a similar proposal for Mall Road… as if the Metro Bus and its disgusting ravages on the area haven’t already been enough. If it hadn’t been for some intelligent and active Ravians, this government would have happily turned the front lawn of one of the most beautiful and respected institutions in the country into a bus stop. The thing is, building more underpasses doesn’t solve the problem of traffic management, better traffic solutions do. Better buses do, putting in an underground metro network does, and making a city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly does. Curtailing loans on motor vehicles and making bicycle lanes helps. Wider sidewalks and properly managed zebra crossings help. In every place where the Sharifs have made their signal-free corridors and high-speed expressways, accidents involving pedestrians—particularly school children who walk to school and back—have increased.

The good news is that the elevated expressway project has been permanently stopped as courts found there was no need for it. The other part of the good news is that the signal-free expressway (in itself an outdated and pretty foolish planning idea) has been temporarily halted because of the issue with the trees. Reportedly the Environmental Protection Agency had no idea about this project, which means they weren’t consulted, which is also why there is no Environmental Assessment Report for this project either. Both are vital for responsible development of cities, and both have been sidetracked in the most blatant way possible. To add insult to injury, one of the lawyers who drafted the original stay notice went to check on the trees (yes, there are still people who do things like that), only to see a team busily chopping them down. They know about the stay, but have been instructed to carry on. The earliest any court can force them to stop is this week. It gives me the chills to think about how little the government that is in charge of my city cares for the writ of the law. They have been told by the court to stop, and instead of behaving in a civilized way and desisting, they have doubled their efforts to deface this city. No wonder this country is going down the tubes—it isn’t our fault, it’s the fault of the few people who have power and will do anything to get what they want while us, the majority, keeps pushing back to stop them from turning our beautiful city into another concrete wasteland. It’s hard to imagine the Sharifs being people who grew up in Lahore—it seems like the deserts of Saudi Arabia have permanently imprinted themselves on their brains. Luckily for Lahore, it still has people who love it enough to fight to save it. Here’s to the power of the people, long may it prosper.