Promoting walking

Walking is the most efficient and environmentally sustainable mode of mobility. Prioritising and promoting walking has now become imperative in cities which have been overwhelmed by cars, buses and motorcycles. Walking – along with cycling – when possible can greatly help in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, thereby bringing immense health benefits.

Large numbers of people in the Kathmandu Valley still walk for their daily mobility. The travel mode share of walking is 40.7 per cent. However, the share of walking has declined by more than 23 per cent in the last two decades. It is due to lack of plans, policies and infrastructure development when it comes to promoting walking and cycling.

Increasing motorisation and vehicle-centric infrastructure have led to increased congestion. This has also led to increased dependency on fossil fuel. As a result, pedestrians are exposed to high level of air pollution as they have to walk along the busy roads. With limited sidewalks and no designated cycle lanes, road fatalities too have increased. According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, pedestrians represent up to 49 per cent of all road fatalities in the Kathmandu Valley. Walkability studies in Asian cities revealed that Kathmandu is one of the least walkable cities in Asia.

Several plans and initiatives, including the first Physical Development Plan for the Valley (1969), have suggested improving the pedestrian infrastructure and pedestrianisation of city core areas. Apart from recommending action plan to restrict vehicle in some prescribed urban core areas, the National Transport Policy (2001-02) does not have any specific policies to promote walking.

For the last few years road-widening drive is being carried out “to reduce traffic congestion”. Some sidewalks have been built. However, many sidewalks have been built without meeting proper standard. At many places roads are being widened at the expense of sidewalks.

Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, once said “a sidewalk is a symbol of equality as constructing a good sidewalk is constructing democracy”.

There is an urgent need to formulate plans and policies to improve walkability in cities of Nepal. It is high time we promoted walking.