LAHORE - The government has spent billions of rupees to develop road infrastructure especially signal-free corridors and overhead bridges in the metropolis in recent years yet many people put their lives at risk by defying traffic laws.

Traffic officers say they believe carefree driving was the major reason behind many fatal accidents reported on signal-free corridors during the last year. The city traffic police department is struggling hard to stop violations of road safety laws by launching awareness campaigns and penalizing the violators.

The Jail Road signal-free corridor (from Qartaba Chowk to Liberty Chowk Main Boulevard Gulberg), was inaugurated in Lahore in February last year with an estimated cost of Rs2.395 billion. This corridor project is 7.5km long with at least 12 U-turns.

Auto-drivers say that there are limited U-Turns on the signal free corridors built along the Jail Road and Canal Road. “There are only a few cuts for left and right turns. We have to travel more that a kilometer to take U-turn or right turn,” said Muhammad Aslam, who rides three-wheeler on city roads to earn living for his nine family members. However, he accepted that many drivers defy traffic rules while driving on signal free roads.

He also complained that the traffic wardens heavily impose fine on the poor auto-riders without any reason or violation of traffic laws. “(The) Wardens issue tickets only to rickshaw drivers and motorcyclists only. They don’t stop car riders despite violation of the laws,” he argued.

A car-rider Hassan said that the traffic congestion is still a serious problem on one side of the Jail Road starting from Liberty Chowk to Qartaba Chowk. “Before this corridor, it took us 25 to 30 minutes to reach Qartaba Chowk from Liberty Chowk. This time was reduced to 10 to 15 minutes soon after the corridor was inaugurated. But again, the motorists are facing the same problem because of a bottle neck starting from Canal Road to Punjab Institute of Cardiology due to wrong parking,” he said.

Several commercial buildings including hospitals, a media house, a police station, and food outlets are located on this portion of the Jail Road. The problem exists despite the presence of traffic wardens and lift operators to remove encroachments.

Lahore’s chief traffic officer Rai Ejaz Ahmed says the signal-free corridors helped police improve the flow of traffic on the otherwise busiest arteries in town. “Before (construction of the signal-free corridor), we had to face one or the other problem on the Jail road, all the time,” he said.

Rai Ejaz said that wrong parking and other encroachments are still an issue. “This initiative helped us get rid of traffic congestion on the Jail Road. It also benefits road users by saving time and fuel,” the officer said. “But wrong parking particularly during the peak hours results in slow moving traffic in front of educational institutions.”

The Supreme Court, in 2015, has allowed the completion of the Jail Road signal-free corridor but put a condition that the project should provide additional facilities for pedestrians, including road crossing and passes at intervals of one kilometer or less along the project road distance.

Earlier, the petitioners who challenged the corridor project had argued before the Lahore High Court that it was illegal because it was being carried out without any change in the master plan and was simply part of an unplanned and undemocratic policy of urban planning that focuses on the development of Lahore at the cost of other areas of Punjab.

On the other hand, the chief traffic officer also suggested that there should be signal-free corridors on the Circular Road, Main Boulevard Iqbal Town, and Bund Road to overcome traffic problems. He said that many people put their lives at risk by crossing iron fences on the main roads instead of using the bridges built for pedestrians.  “We have noted in our observation that the violation of one-way traffic and wrong turns alongside the signal free corridors caused most of the fatal accidents in city in recent years. We are struggling to educate pedestrians and motorists with the help of awareness campaigns in this regard,” the CTO said.