Bigger roads not a boon

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Aug 062013

By Prashanta Khanal [Published in The Kathmandu Post]

Trying to solve traffic jams by building bigger roads is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.” This quote from former mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa is worth mentioning at a time road expansion and multi-lane highways are top priority for our government, apparently to solve traffic congestion in the Kathmandu Valley. One of such projects is widening of the Ring Road to eight lanes with Chinese assistance.

Building multilane highways and flyovers is a recipe of disaster. As Penalosa said building bigger roads would further aggravate the problem. It not only attracts more people to use private vehicles for their daily mobility, but also discourage walking, cycling and using public transport. Such projects deteriorate the livability of a city with increasing congestion, pollution and road fatalities. Before building any transport infrastructure, we need to think how we can make efficient use of the existing urban road space, while providing efficient mobility to the people. We need to think whether the infrastructure and services are accessible to everyone, more importantly to the poor, elderly, people with disabilities, pedestrians and cyclists.

However, the roads are being designed and built only for those minorities of the urban population who can afford cars. What about the rights of safer mobility who cannot afford to ride cars? What about walking that has 40 percent of travel mode share? Planners are turning a blind eye to those who walk or cycle. The same road space that has apparently established democracy is itself undemocratically planned and unequally distributed. Urban roads are perfect example of inequality and divided society we live in. Cars are provided with more rights than for the people to walk or cycle.

More needs to be done

Recently Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi came to Nepal and inaugurated the Ring Road expansion project. The existing four-lane Ring Road from Kalanki to Koteshwor is being expanded to eight lanes with Chinese assistance. Moreover, the government is planning to add three improved intersections along the stretch, supposedly to ease the traffic flow. More than 1,600 trees along the 9.5km stretch are being cut down to create space for expansion. Hundreds of concerned citizens from Citizens for Trees and White Butterfly Movement signed a petition calling on the authorities to save trees, redesign the road to six lanes, and rethink the current urban transport policy. Despite this plea, the government and Chinese contractors are likely to go ahead with the planned design.

While motor vehicles are to be provided with an eight-lane road, pedestrians and cyclists are left with only 2.5m of road space. Although Nepal Road Standard clearly says that the sidewalks have to be at least 2.5m wide for urban roads, the government has failed to comply its own standards while designing roads.

There is no clear design on how the intersections and crossings will be provided for pedestrians and cyclists along the expanded stretch. Building a cycle track without safer crossings would put cyclists into more vulnerable position and discourage cycling. Three overhead bridges for pedestrians are said to be provided in 9.5km of the expanded stretch, which means a pedestrian has to walk as long as 3km just to cross a few meters of the road. How would a child and differently-able people be able to cross the street?

We do not need the eight-lane road. The six-lane Ring Road would be more than enough, in which two lanes can be exclusively provided for buses. The cycle track and pedestrian way each should be provided with at least 2.5m of right-of-way and prioritised crossing.

No consultations with local communities were held and no public participation is ensured while designing and planning the project.

In fact, the Nepal government itself has apparently no role in planning and implementing the Ring Road expansion project. It is the reality that how our so-called development partners provide their assistance in Nepal.

The Chinese dream

We are often mesmerised by the double digit economic growth in China, but we better understand that the rapid growth is happening at huge social and environmental cost. A recent study showed that outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, almost equivalent to half of the population of the Kathmandu Valley. As more and more people can afford to buy cars, Chinese cities have seen rapid increase in car ownership resulting in notoriously bad air quality, traffic accidents and congestion.

China has recently pledged to spend $275 billion to curb air pollution in major cities. It has slowly realised the repercussion of car culture, and cities are moving away from making more spaces for cars. Cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Guiyang are already imposing restriction on car ownership and many other cities are planning to adopt a similar policy to curb vehicular emission and congestion in the cities.

China is now aggressively investing in public transport system and building bicycle infrastructures. Its cities are building more lines of metros and providing right-of-way for buses, known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which makes the bus service faster, more efficient and attractive. As of today there are 17 BRT system providing services to millions of passengers each day.

Guangzhou is an exemplary city on urban mobility. It has one of world’s best BRT systems, serving over 850,000 passengers each day, which is higher than most metro and light rail worldwide. Guangzhou BRT reduces CO2 emissions by 86,000 tonnes annually. It has 46km of segregated cycleways and over 5,000 on-street cycle parking facilities. It has built over 1,000km of greenways along the river corridors, which link all the city’s heritage sites and landscapes. If we look at Kathmandu, instead of restoring rivers and building greenways along the river corridors, we are building roads exclusively for motor vehicles.

Once dominated by bicycles, Chinese cities are now realising the importance of bicycle and are proactively promoting cycling. There are currently 39 public bike sharing scheme in China. Guangzhou launched a bike sharing system in 2010 with 5,000 bikes and 113 stations, primarily along the BRT corridor, which is used by around 20,000 people every day. Hangzhou, a city in southern China, has the largest bike sharing system in the world with over 65,000 bikes and 2,700 bike-share stations. The programme, which has around 325,000 daily system trips, was funded by the city government and has aimed to expand to 175,000 bikes by 2020.

We can learn much more from the Chinese cities, avoid the same mistakes they did and move towards more balanced and sustained development . It is not too late to redesign the Ring Road and make it more accessible, efficient and people friendly.

Cycle city

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Jan 182013

If Kathmandu is pedestrian and cycle-friendly, there’s no need to invest massive resources on roads and mass transit
This article by Prashanta Khanal was published on The Kathmandu Post on JAN 18 2013

Around 30 percent of urban households own bicycles whereas less than 28 percent own private vehicles. In fact, a mere four percent own cars, according to the 2011 National Census Report. However, the planners have overlooked this fact and failed to recognise cycling as an integral part of urban transport planning. The roads are often built only for motor vehicles. With bigger roads and increasing motorisation, the roads have become unsafe for cyclists. A study even shows that the travel mode share of cycles in Kathmandu Valley has dropped from 6.6 percent in 1991 to 1.5 percent in 2011. Continue reading »

Cities for people

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Oct 192012

Highways and elevated expressways are not the right solution to meet the increasing mobility demands of a growing urban population

This article by Prashanta Khanal was published on The Kathmandu post on 19 October, 2012

We live in a city that respects those who ride in cars but not those who walk or cycle. We have been building more space for cars and motorbikes than for people to live in. Streets are often designed and built in a way that ensures the swift movement of vehicles, not people. Already-scarce urban spaces have been turned into parking lots and wider roads for private vehicles, while there is a lack of space for our children to even play and walk around.
No wonder—the way we are building our city is fundamentally flawed. Unless we shift the paradigm of urban development and redesign the city by putting people and sustainability at the centre of development, the urban problems are not going to go anywhere. Continue reading »

Make city air breathable

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Sep 112012

This article was published on The Kathmandu Post on 11 Sept, 2012

In Kathmandu Valley, one of the world’s most polluted cities, every breath is slowly killing you. Over 1,900 people die every year in the Valley due to air pollution, coming down to five premature deaths each day, according to a 2006 study by the Nepal Health Research Council and the World Health Organization. The number is likely to risen even higher in recent years as the Capital’s air quality has only continued to deteriorate.

Noxious vehicular smoke is largely to blame for the poor air quality of the city. Transport alone contributes to over 60 percent of particulate matter Continue reading »

A cleaner, greener Nepal

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Jul 312012

Electric vehicles play a vital role in boosting the national economy by using locally produced hydropower and minimizing air pollution as well as mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

This article by Manjeet Dhakal was published on MYREPUBLICA on 31 July, 2012

In a bid to promote clean technology in the country, Nepal has more than 700 electric vehicles (Safa tempos) running in the valley—a commendable effort to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. Safa tempos are best driven for short distances and at relatively slow speeds, all of which suits the natural topography of Kathmandu valley. These green machines, which are mostly operated by women drivers, hold a lot of potential for the country’s economy and can tap Nepal’s massive hydropower potential to create a regional energy grid that contributes Continue reading »

Expensive dreams

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Jul 292012

This article by Prashanta Khanal was published on The Kathmandu Post on July 29, 2012

Recently, a Korean company was selected to carry out a feasibility study of the much-hyped metro train project in Kathmandu Valley. Around Rs. 70 million is being spent to carry out a study of 75 km of underground and elevated track.
Metro trains are popular options and carry a large volume of passengers at a time, but they are expensive to build and operate. This is why cities in developing countries are unable or reluctant to invest in a metro system.
Most of the metro systems around the world are highly subsidised by the government. If the operational costs weren’t subsidised, a majority of Continue reading »

Waiting to exhale

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Jul 012012

The Vehicle Emission Testing programme needs to be overhauled to tackle air pollution

This article by Krity Shrestha was published on The Kathmandu Post on 1 July 2012

JUN 30 – Nepal has been considered the “world’s worst performing country in terms of air quality” in the recent Environmental Performance Index. With the bowl-shaped topography of Kathmandu Valley and the impounding effects of bad air quality on our health and economy, it is time that we seriously contemplate and take some steps to control our air pollution. Motor vehicle emissions are one of the major sources of air pollution in Kathmandu Valley. With more vehicles on the roads than ever before, modal shift from public vehicles to private vehicles and poor maintenance of in-use vehicles, vehicle emissions are on the rise. Continue reading »