Weekly Musings Better Road And Civic Sense
Last year, some areas of Thamel were declared vehicle free area, leading to ease of the people despite some opposition from vested interests and also from those who felt inconvenienced by the new measure. Decisions such as “no vehicle” rule cannot please all the people all the time but such steps are necessary to keep the roads safe and to ensure that the people can walk without fear of being run over or knocked down by vehicles. The Thamel traffic restrictions followed that of Basantapur area which had come into effect some years ago. Thankfully, better sense seemed to have prevailed among some of our responsible authorities as such restrictions have now also been imposed in the Asan area. This has been long overdue and was even more important than the restrictions in Thamel.
The Asan area is one of the busiest areas of the capital and thousands of people walk there every day and yet it is appalling to see vehicles plying on these narrow roads with the effect that the people have to jostle against each other in order to make way for the vehicles plying there. The roads from Asan leading to Indra Chowk, Bangemuda, Thamel, Kamalachhi and Bhotahiti are narrow and were never meant to accommodate heavy motorised vehicles as happened in recent years. The area is full of old houses which are bound to be affected in the long run in negative manner by vibrations that vehicles unknowingly create.
The restriction in Thamel area could have been undertaken to make things easier for foreign tourists who seem to be drawn there for whatever reason. But the priority of any government or local authorities should always be the people of the country. Which is why, I feel, Asan and other such areas in the city should have been declared vehicle free area long ago.
But Basantapur Durbar area, Thamel and Asan are but a faction of the areas in the capital that have long been enduring the burden of traffic problems. The authorities, if they have in earnest decided to take positive actions, would do well to consider and decide on further measures to enable a better traffic management in the capital. There are areas that need to immediately made vehicle free. For instance, the Kathmandu Ganesh (Ashoka Binayak) temple is always crowded with devotees and yet as they go around the small temple, there are motorbikes that rush through the crowd on the very narrow north-south part of the path that goes around the temple. Is such a situation digestible to the traffic authorities or to any authorities worth the name? Another intolerably visible congested area where vehicles and human beings have to jostle with each other is the small path lead from Asan to Mahaboudh and on to New Road Gate. Considering the large number of such areas in the capital, it is no doubt a challenge to the authorities but unpleasant decisions have to be taken for the larger interest of the people.
The authorities, whether they be the local government (municipality) or traffic police, have to properly evaluate the areas where there should be no motorised traffic and areas and roads where there can be a one-way or two-way traffic. Many vehicles enter New Road for no good reason and take a turn around the Juddha Statue and return. Should such kind of behavior be allowed? And there are reckless drivers who deem it an achievement to race their cars or motorbikes merely for showing off. Whether it is the crowded streets in the heart of the capital or a one-way street like the one in Tundikhel, reckless driving needs to be stopped and one way to do this would be to put up speed limit signs in different parts of the city. No speed limit may be a good idea on highways but never so in city roads where every precaution has to be taken for the safety of pedestrians as well as drivers.
Similarly, we in Nepal drive on the left side of the road and enforcement of no-right turn principle when hitting the main road from by-roads and by-lanes would be another safety measure. Another main reason for traffic congestion in the busy areas of the capital is the occupation of roads by shop-keepers and street hawkers. Clearing them and keeping the roads for pedestrians and for vehicular traffic is a must. And such a measure needs to be reinforced by banning delivery vehicles in the busy areas during daytime. Delivery vehicles are known to create traffic problems and inconvenience many people. Delivery vans and vehicles need to allowed during hours that are least congested. Decisions in this respect must be taken without political and vested interest pressure.
However, it is not enough to merely declare some areas as vehicle free or some roads and streets as one-way traffic or banning delivery vans during rush hours. What is even more important is to ensure that these rules are properly followed by drivers as well as by those who enforce traffic rules. There are today some rules that are good on the face of it but because of lack proper follow-up measure, they are virtually non-existent today. For instance, sometime ago, the no-horn rule was introduced.
And so was the rule for pedestrians crossing the road only at designated Zebra-crossings. These were good rules that need to be followed by drivers and pedestrians alike but today these rules are virtually non-existent because they are not properly enforced. But it will be wrong to go on blaming the authorities alone for we, the drivers and pedestrians, are also equally to blame for the simple reason that we have yet to inculcate in us some of the basic civic sense.