The authorities have been widening roads to solve the traffic jam, but, this is not the solution. Instead we should be planning for a sustainable transport system by analysing the needs of the people. Most people in Kathmandu travel an average of less than five kilometers a day. What should be the ideal infrastructure for this?
Traffic jams have become a headache for everyone from New Road in Nepal to New York in the United States. Failure to reach the destination on time is the main problem caused by traffic jams. Due to the traffic jam, passengers are also suffering from great mental stress. The problem is there, but there are solutions to it.
Why is the traffic jam in Kathmandu notorious? The number of vehicles plying on the roads of the Kathmandu Valley is continuously increasing while the length of the roads has remained the same. According to a report of the Metropolitan Traffic Police, the total length of the roads is 4.5 million feet while a single queue of all the vehicles in the Kathmandu Valley would reach 7.2 million feet. It is clear that public and private vehicles are plying on the roads beyond their carrying capacity.
There are 921,917 registered motorcycles in Bagmati zone, 12,616 buses, 1,343 microbuses, 22,322 trucks and tippers, 10,654 cranes and excavators, 154,443 cars and jeeps, and 2,525 tempos.
Middle and upper middle class people prefer to drive their own vehicles for lack of public confidence in public transport, erratic behaviour of the drivers, overcrowding and long stops at various places. Also public transport is crowded and suffocating. According to the report of the traffic police, only 6 per cent of the big and convenient public buses operate in the Kathmandu Valley.
Many sections of the valley have no pedestrian walkways. When there are no sidewalks, people are forced to walk on the roads risking their lives. And where available, sidewalks at major places in the valley are occupied by street vendors during office hours. If all the traffic lights in the valley were to work, the traffic jam would reduce by more than 40 per cent.
Although the government is making every effort to prevent long traffic jams by widening the roads, this has not made much of a dent. Everybody has noticed that the roads are getting narrower with the addition of new vehicles every year. The 800-meter-long underpass constructed at Kalanki with Chinese assistance has become a tiebreaker in removing long traffic jams at the main entry point of the Valley.
Apart from traffic jams, another concern of many Kathmanduites is increasing pollution. The number of electric vehicles is slowly increasing, but it will take a long time before they become the mode of transport here.
The answer to Kathmandu's traffic jams is definitely improved public transport and the use of high means of transportation. For example, providing microbuses or other similar vehicles at fixed points and routes as office transport for employees and doling out fewer cars to higher authorities are required. This will take a large number of vehicles off the road.
The authorities have been widening roads to solve the traffic jam, but, this is not the solution. This is flawed thinking. Instead we should be planning for a sustainable transport system by analysing the needs of the people. Most people in Kathmandu travel an average of less than five kilometers a day. What should, therefore, be the ideal infrastructure for this? The development of a nation is measured by the development of roads and transportation. Transport promotes social and national and international trade. Transport has a huge impact on the economy.
There are lessons to be learned from many countries and cities that are going through a similar situation. Many European countries have faced similar problems before us. But effective policies and their implementation have largely eliminated the problem of traffic jams in those countries. Today, development of a better public transport system and increasing its capacity are ways to manage the traffic.
Small measures could go a long way in reducing the traffic jams in the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere.
Reducing the number of private vehicles, especially motorcycles and scooters, will help control traffic jams. Unorganised parking on the side of the road will make available more space for vehicles to drive through.
Old vehicles are increasing not only traffic jams but also pollution. Recently, micro, tempo, small buses and small vehicles with low passenger capacity have increased in Nepal.
It has become necessary to run buses carrying a large number of passengers instead of public transport carrying only a few passengers.
School buses could be managed by regulating them. Admitting students to nearby schools would not require the use of transportation at all. This would also bring equality in education with the locals paying special attention to the quality of the schools run around them. At present, 3,000 schools are in operation in the Kathmandu Valley, and about 800,000 students are studying in them.
Of these, 200,000 students use the school bus. A total of 6,000 buses make 2-6 trips a day or around 30,000 trips, forcing the students to spend about two hours every day on the bus alone, apart from at least six hours in school.
Given the amount of time lost every day while getting stuck in traffic jams, it has become necessary to introduce expressways in the capital. But is this feasible? Do we have the capacity to spend a lot of money on it? Also is it possible to expect lane discipline in Nepal as in Europe and America? Well, nothing is possible without spending some money, but there are plenty of options that can be solved with a small investment.
When you reach your destination faster by using the public transport, the pressure on personal transportation will automatically decrease. This will not require people to buy a car for going from one place to another.
The government has been talking for a long time about constructing an underpass at New Baneshwor and a flyover on the Maitighar-Thapathali section, but they have not been realised. The traffic police claim that the traffic jam at Kalanki has been reduced by 80 percent after the opening of the country's first 800-meter underpass there.
A version of this article appears in the print on January 6, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.