What Kathmandu can learn from AmsterdamFor the city to become a cycle-friendly place, a huge shift in transport policies needs to be put into place.
Every street in Amsterdam is filled with countless cyclists—some are heading to work, some returning home carrying groceries, even pets, in their front baskets. Many people visiting Amsterdam for the first time are shocked to witness the city's cycling culture first hand, which seems to have been built into the Dutch DNA. The globally renowned cycling habit of the Netherlands, however, is an integration of impeccable urban planning, committed investment from the government’s side, and a deep, undeterred will power of its people.
In the Netherlands, bicycling tracks contrast in colour with the motor road. And the bicycle track’s unique orange-brownish shade has become much more than just a track—it has taken on an identity of its own. Back home, as those in authority are now beginning to realise the many advantages of cycling, Lalitpur aims to be the cycling city of Nepal. However, for the city to become a cycle-friendly place, a huge shift in transport policies needs to be put into place.
To make a city cycle friendly, a lot of other issues too need to be addressed. The Dutch-cycling tradition too was not implemented in a day—it was brought in after a lot of fierce activism. Dutch national Marymar Vargas Flores, a 20-year-old girl born to a Portuguese mother and a Costa Rican father, says that she and her friends are thankful for the several decisive events that took place around the 1970s, when a post-war boom in auto reliance led to a high number of deaths for cyclists. Then, bicycle trips had dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent between the 1950s and the 1970s with increasing preference for motor vehicles. The death of more than 400 children in traffic accidents in 1971, the year which reported 3,300 deaths in total, made the Dutch reconsider the way they travelled in their cities.
Protests from several action groups to "put an end to child murder" made a lot of difference to bring the cycling culture into place too. Bicycle demonstrations, occupying accident blackspots, were unique methods to reinstate the cycling habit. But it didn’t end there. Politicians and Dutch authorities were very accessible to the public as well, unlike in Nepal where we largely meet them only during their electoral campaigns with lofty promises, and because of their close coordination changes were able to materialise.
The industrious Dutch have a great fighting spirit and they surely knew how to voice their ideas, a lesson that needs to be learned by the populace of all cities aspiring to save their environment while embracing a cycling culture. This makes more sense in a country like Nepal where there is a growing concern regarding air pollution and its effects on public health.
One of the biggest challenges for Lalitpur—or any other city in Nepal—to institute a cycling culture is to first plan an elaborate cycling track, by first eliminating bottlenecks and avoiding accident prone zones. This could prove to be tough to implement in a city that already has such poor driving discipline.
Because of this dearth of proper road infrastructure, many deaths have also taken place, one of which was the death of cyclist Shyam Sundar Shrestha, who had left for a midnight bicycle ride to Chobhar, a late night activity that he often enjoyed, and fell into an open drain and was killed.
Lalitpur Mayor Chiribabu Maharjan in a recent Post article had shared his commitment to rectify past blunders and revitalise the city by introducing a cycling culture. While the mayor anticipates protests against his ideas in the article, the public must also consider all the pros and cons and which aspect outweighs the other. If we are ever to seriously adopt the cycling culture, obvious spillover effects will include a better environment, cleaner cities and healthier people.
And as cycling is economically sustainable, if practised well, it may turn out to be a boon for the Capital’s locals and the national economy with the reduction in import of fuel for which the nation pays billions each year. According to a report by the Post, 103 billion was spent to import fuel in the first six months of the last fiscal year.
However, in cities like ours, where traffic lights and zebra-crossings are present only for the sake of it, talks of developing cities with cycling networks appear to be a distant dream.
Dahal is a sub-editor at Kantipur Television