EDITORIAL: Bicycle dream

People know very well that the bicycle is environment-friendly and that cycling is good for one’s health, but that alone will not help promote it 

Given the short distances between two destinations in Kathmandu, cycling should have been the best means for getting around. Unfortunately, the bicycles that once plied the streets of the capital in large numbers have been replaced by an ever-growing number of motorcycles…and cars, jamming the streets day in day out, to the utter chagrin of its inhabitants. Today in this city swamped by vehicles that run on fossil fuels, big and small, the bicycle has become a pariah. But Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and Lalitpur Metropolitan City (LMC) now seem resolute to dedicate cycle lanes along certain road stretches for a start so that the city can become more cycle-friendly with the passage of time. The KMC’s bike lane stretches from the Maitighar Mandala till Tinkune, while the LMC cycle lane starts at Kupondole and ends at Mangal Bazaar. The plans, however, are not new – they were taken up years ago. But like most plans and projects in Nepal, the two schemes lost steam mid-way, and both the authorities and the cyclists are unsure if the lanes even exist.

There are many reasons why cycling has lost favour among the inhabitants in the Kathmandu Valley. People know very well that the bicycle is environment-friendly and that cycling is good for one’s health, but it is unlikely that they will take to cycling unless the municipalities can take measures to make the cities cycle-friendly. Kathmandu may not be a very big city, but it is not flat land like the Tarai plains. The roads of the capital have too many steep climbs at regular intervals that could easily tire a cyclist. That would not have been so bad if only the roads were in shape. Most roads are faulty in design and shoddy in construction with potholes everywhere, requiring the cyclist to dodge them every now and then. And, of course, the traffic congestion, dust and pollution everywhere do not make cycling a very pleasant experience.

Despite the odds, can the cycle still be promoted in the capital? If the past is any guide, the Indian blockade in 1988, which lasted until the ushering in of multi-party democracy in 1990, literally put everyone on a bicycle. With an acute shortage of petrol and diesel in the market, sales of bicycles grew by leaps and bounds. But with the end of the blockade, people forgot just handy a bicycle really is. But if the municipalities are really serious about promoting cycling and will not yield to half-hearted measures as in the past, there is still hope that the bicycle can bounce back and be a sustainable form of mobility. To begin with, this will require dedicated cycle lanes that are the prerogative of the cyclists and cyclists alone. The Traffic Police have the onus to see to it that the lanes are not encroached by other forms of vehicles as the safety of the cyclist is of primary concern. This is a real challenge in a city where reckless drivers are not used to following lane discipline. Let us hope the proposed cycle lanes are not meant solely to appease a few cycling enthusiasts. Committed action by the authorities for planned urban space will go a long way in creating a cycle-friendly city.

Charging stations

As the state-owned power utility, Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), is going to have surplus energy in its grid from the end of this fiscal, it has come up with a plan to install charging stations across the country. Initially, the NEA plans to set up 50 charging stations in Kathmandu, Narayangadh, Butwal, Itahari, Biratnagar, Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Dhangadhi and Damak and on other inter-city routes. The main objective of the plan is to increase the use of EVs and reduce the import bill of fossil fuels, for which Nepal spends billions of rupees every year. The money saved thus from the import of fossil fuel can also be used to make more investment in clean energy projects, such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity.

For this, the NEA recently called a global tender for the installation of 50 charging stations as per its plan in September last year. A charging station should be able to charge at least three EVs at a time with ample space. A successful bidder will have to complete the construction works within six months from the date the tender is awarded. Once this plan comes into full operation, it will encourage people to switch to EVs, which will contribute in controling the rising air pollution.