Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Saving Kabul's Pedestrians

The first in a series of foot-bridges is intended to save Kabulis’ nerves – and lives.
By Mohammad Jawad
Draped in a burqa and toting a blue shoulder bag, Khori Gul murmurs a prayer of thanks before she starts across the new pedestrian bridge in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul.

“God bless him who made this bridge, and give him paradise,” she said.

In Kabul’s chaotic traffic, crossing the road can be a life-threatening exercise. Taxis and minivans race at breakneck speed along the thoroughfares, jockeying for position at roundabouts with trucks, buses, donkey carts and cyclists.

Pedestrians don’t stand a chance in the melee, and often pay a high price for a badly-timed move. According to General Abdul Shakoor Khair Khwa, head of the national traffic police, there are close to 500 accidents a year involving pedestrians, of which one-third involve fatalities.

The new pedestrian walkway spans Deh Afghanan, a major artery in one of the most congested areas of this overcrowded city.

“I was always afraid of crossing the road,” said Khori Gul, 40. “Sometimes I used to have to wait half an hour, and I almost got hit many times, but now I am calm.”

The bridge, standing about six metres high and 25 metres long, opened at the end of January and has already made life easier for the city’s traffic police.

“Since the day the bridge opened, we’ve had fewer problems with traffic,” said one officer who did not want to give his name. “Before this, there were a lot of accidents here.”

The pedestrian overpass was financed by Sherkat-e-Cheshm-e-Sheshai, an Iranian firm that put up the 50,000 US dollars needed for the construction work. In exchange, it has the right to rent out advertising space on the bridge for the next five years, according to city officials.

“We will eventually have six bridges altogether under our contract with the Iranian company,” said Mohammad Asef Akbari, head of Kabul’s information and culture department. “They are very important for preventing traffic accidents.”

Even though the walkway offers safe passage to the other side of the street, the traffic police estimate that only about 50 per cent of pedestrians are using it.

Some are in too much of a hurry to climb the stairs up the bridge; others say they don’t have confidence in the structure.

“I did use the bridge once, but it shook as I was crossing it. It will collapse one day. I’m not going to use it again,” said Abdul Saleh, 56.

Company officials insist the structure is sound. “These bridges are made by professional Iranian engineers, who have build more than 50 similar bridges in various parts of Iran,” said Sayed Ali Islami, an official at the firm.

Drivers say they are happy with the new bridge, too.

Nadir Shah, 43, who like many here drives a Toyota Corolla, praised the city authorities for putting the bridge up. “I was always anxious when I came to [this part of town],” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of accidents here. But now I feel much calmer. There are far fewer people on the road crossing to the other side.”

Abdul Hadi, 35, in a grey minivan, was just as pleased, saying, “Most people don’t pay enough attention when they’re crossing the road. Bridges like this are very good for drivers.”

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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