Pakistan, like most developing countries, has been a hostage to the automobile industry to the neglect of mass transit, focusing on motorways and flyovers. It inherited a fairly good railway system from the British, which has been allowed to fall into disrepair and go bankrupt, at a time when the world is moving towards increasing the reach and speed of the railways, as it is an environmentally friendly transport.
Bicycles, the traditional mode of transportation in developing countries, are fast becoming extinct. To some extent this was a natural process because of the increasing distances and the fast pace of modern life, but the government policies in Pakistan and other developing countries, have not promoted bicycle culture. This is in sharp contrast to efforts being made to provide easily accessible bikes in public places by city councils in such mega polis as New York, London and Paris, amongst others.
Critical Mass, which made its advent in Islamabad in 2009, has the potential to be a rallying ground for those concerned at the degradation of this beautiful city’s environment. Their mega event on the 29th of April drew people from all ages, had a good gender balance and a small sprinkling of foreigners, unfazed by any terrorist threat. At a time that the state institutions are collapsing under the corrosive influence of corruption and nepotism, Critical Mass could become an important pressure group to keep the city clean and green.
Closing some of the city streets on Sundays to all traffic except bikes, would promote cycling as a sport. As yet a sport of the elite, it has a natural populist appeal because most families possess at least one bike. Various health organizations, like the Heart Association of Pakistan, could link up with CMI to promote cycling. CMI is a great initiative by a dedicated band of young people, but in order to play a transformative role, it needs to broaden its appeal to wider sections of the society.
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