Kathmandu Valley claims to have one of the highest mortality from pedestrian accidents in South Asia. There is no single day that passes without the news of road accidents claiming lives of the people. The recent Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) statistics suggest that road accidents in Kathmandu Valley for the fiscal year 2008/2009 witnessed a record-high in the last 17 years, reaching 137 deaths followed by 127 in the year 2004/2005. Based from MTPD’s data, a total of 1,594 deaths are recorded in their statistics since they started their database system in 1993, and this are the only legitimate numbers that are recorded.
The lack of traffic lights on the roads has been identified as a major cause of road accidents in Kathmandu Valley. Traffic police recorded 372 road accidents in the month of April 2010. The traffic light system was introduced in 1995 to minimize road accidents. However, the lights installed at 10 major intersections in Kathmandu are not fully operational due to excessive load-shedding.
Another source of lives claimed on roads is the wrong dividers. A traffic policeman said youngsters were the major violators of traffic rules. The road dividers used retro-reflective safety device, cat‟s eye, then plastic cones, but still the traffic violators did not care. They ignore road dividers to the extent that nowadays they have started jumping over dividers to cross the road.
Walkability – the ignored component of Urban Transportation System
Walkability is the overall support for the pedestrian environment. This has grown increasingly important as the world urbanizes and motorized modes of transport restrain travel on foot. There are many aspects in the pedestrian environment that contribute to the overall concept of a walkable community. This concern encompasses virtually every aspect of the pedestrian experience. In Kathmandu, walkability is a largely unmeasured and grossly underappreciated component of the urban transportation system.
In the recent study conducted by Clean Air Initiatives for Asian Cities and Clean Energy Nepal, it was found out that in Bhaktapur City, pedestrian obstructions mostly come from furniture that is deposited by furniture shop owners at the side of the road. Roads are paved but the pathways remain congested and in poor conditions. Free crossing is possible in most part of the surveyed road stretches but parking of vehicles on pathways still obstruct majority of the pedestrians.
The road stretch from Dudhpati area (Siddha Pokhari) up to Byasi has no proper parking spaces allotted for vehicles and footpaths are lacking. Vehicles are also using the footpaths as parking grounds in Changi Narayan Bus Park and Nagarkot Bus Park.
The road stretch from Kamalvinayak to Jagati is under construction and creating re-suspended dust.
In daily trips made by pedestrians, 57.4% of the respondents said that walking is perceived to have the highest exposure to air pollution, affecting health and visibility. According to Clean Aair Network Nepal study in 2008, the ambient concentration of Particulate Matter (10 ug/m3) in Kathmandu city is 120 ug/m3, five times higher than the World Health Organization standards. Except for 2006, PM10 levels are generally higher than the national standard (120μg/m3), and consistently exceed WHO guidelines (20μg/m3).
The main source of PM10 in the ambient air of Kathmandu Valley is smoke from vehicles, dusty and unpaved roads and burning of tires during bandhs. This particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets, small enough to get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems.
When respondents were asked about their top five priorities in improvement of pedestrian facilities in Bhaktapur, it revealed that wider streets received the utmost priority, with removed obstacles coming in as second, followed by easy access to other transit transfers.
What the Government is saying?
The Planning Committee in Bhaktapur mentioned that there is no yearly budget allocation system for pedestrian infrastructure or sidewalk development until this date. Budget is granted as per needed condition. There is inadequate pedestrian facilities-related design or guidelines that could have supported the budget release for pedestrian improvements.
Currently, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square is declared as World Heritage Site and a vehicle free zone for more than 20 years. The Municipality is planning to extend the same initiative to make the whole core area of Bhaktapur as vehicle free zone.
Walkability: A Governance Challenge
Increasing number of vehicles
The number of cars in Kathmandu Valley has increased tenfold over the last 15 years, largely because banks have had few other viable investment opportunities amid deteriorating security conditions. To make matters worse, only 126km of new roads have been constructed. According to the Department of Transport Management, there are 444,700 registered vehicles in Bagmati zone, most in the Kathmandu Valley.
Managing the footpath and evicting street vendors in Kathmandu has always been a tough job for the municipal police. In 2006, a full report on how to manage sidewalk vendors was submitted to the government.
Due to government transitions, the initiative to manage vendor encroachment remains delayed and the situation is getting worse by the day.
Roads in Kathmandu Valley are indeed in a sorry state. Most of the roads are ridged and drivers are at risk. Driving on these roads makes drivers apprehensive that they might hit people or damage their engine. Consequently, their vehicle consumes more fuel and takes more time to reach their destination. Due to machinery problems and the heavy pressure of vehicles during the day, the Road Department’s manpower has to work at night, and this has caused road deformities. Due to the low quality of road repairs, at least one-fourth of all roads deteriorate every year due to the lack of maintenance.
Traffic enforcement measures must be duly matched by town and country planning and traffic engineering measures to ensure a smooth and orderly movement on the roads. The current system of traffic enforcement is manual, and offences are written down on preprinted forms. The violators are punished randomly. In the absence of any central database, tracking habitual offenders becomes extremely difficult, resulting in poor deterrence.
Nepal needs to come up with an integrated framework on pedestrian road safety, urban planning and transport infrastructures that will promote sustainable urban modes of transport in the country. This integrated framework must coordinate all actions of government ministries and departments working on road safety, infrastructures and traffic issues.
- Dedicated and properly designed paths for pedestrians and cycle users are included in the construction of newly built roads.
- Formulation and implementation of mix modes of transport, including exclusive zones for non – motorized transit on specific areas within congested urban zones.
- Showcasing pilot projects from sample cities to demonstrate the improvements that are possible through improved usage of pedestrian facilities for other cities to replicate.
- Nepal needs to promote electric based transport system to cut dependency on imported fossil fuels, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and local air pollutants.
- Provision of pedestrian amenities such as greenery, waiting sheds, crossing points, ramps for differently-able persons and street lights must be placed in strategic locations to meet the intended objectives of protecting pedestrians, walking space and promote pedestrianisation in the city.
- Activities on footpaths such as street vendors must be properly controlled to secure pedestrian safety.
- Strict enforcement of measures against unsafe traffic behaviors must be implemented.
- Public awareness campaigns must be employed to strengthen motorist and pedestrian behaviors and promote pedestrian safety on the road.
- Current allocations for road safety, infrastructures and public awareness campaigns should be adequate to implement an effective integrated policy on sustainable urban transport in the country.