Motorcycle cityOver a million motorcycles can be found on the congested roads of the Kathmandu Valley.
According to the last updated data by the Department of Transport Management, out of a total of 3.22 million vehicles registered in Nepal, about 78 percent, or 2.53 million, are motorcycles. Nearly forty percent of all these motorcycles ply on roads in and around Kathmandu Valley; making it effectively a motorcycle metropolitan.
Lately, with the popularity of online passenger hauling services like Tootle and Pathao, the mobility of two-wheelers for direct commercial purposes has also substantially increased. For all these reasons, the motorcycle menace on the road is increasingly becoming the formidable traffic management challenge in the valley. Motorcyclists are at the forefront of breaking the traffic rules including violating lane discipline, overtaking from the wrong side, speeding and rage driving. Several studies have indicated that motorcycles are involved in more than 50 percent of road accidents in the Valley. The Valley in turn contributes to over 50 percent of total road accidents in the country.
In the last fiscal year, 2,600 road accident deaths were officially reported in the whole country. But for the same year, World Health Organisation data suggested that the fatality rate was nearly double the official estimate. A World Bank study estimated that vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists) accounted for around 72 percent of all road fatality victims, with motorcyclists accounting for half of these. The motorcycle accidents mostly involved the young, working-age population. About 40 percent of people killed in Nepal’s road accidents are less than 26 years old, said the same study.
The evidence suggests that traffic management policies and strategies need to focus on the peculiar 'motorcycle city' character of the Valley. This is needed to not only reduce accidents but also to alleviate the already congested roads of the national capital. Apparently, the road infrastructure in the Kathmandu Valley is undersupplied compared to the rate of increment of the vehicles rolling on the road. Still, there is room for improving the flow of vehicular movement by better traffic management and safety initiatives. Such initiatives must include a dedicated strategy to manage the challenge added by the motorcycles in particular.
Singling out the motorcycles alone might appear like a 'class' bias. But to repeat, just because of the sheer numbers and general driving trends resulting in a higher number of accidents among this group, a segregated as well as dedicated approach is inevitable, sooner rather than later. The problems are pretty organically evolved and multifaceted. First, tests to award the driving licenses particularly to teenager adolescents is too lenient as it is; and on top of that, rampant irregularities and corruption compromise the process of only selecting drivers qualified to drive on the road. There can be stringent and properly followed-up probation period for the apprentices.
Obviously, the state cannot stop the riders from coming to the road at their will, but, at the same time, it cannot also shy away from its key responsibility as the regulator. Installation of about a dozen road cameras to capture the violation of basic traffic rules and penalising, at least symbolically, would certainly improve the situation. In the absence of such a system, non-adherence to the existing traffic rules is causing mayhem. The sense of impunity among motorcycle riders is so pervasive, they don't even have the slightest of hesitation to violate all traffic rules.
Lack of infrastructure
The overall transport infrastructure development in Nepal has historically remained suboptimal; the Kathmandu Valley is not an exception. But the Valley undoubtedly fares better than the rest of the country. Nevertheless, even available roads have not been utilised to their full potential. The possibility of assigning separate stretches of the roads to two-wheelers, particularly newly built but underutilised river corridors along Bagmati, Bishnumati, Manahara, Dhobikhola and Tukucha among others, has never been explored.
Also, the scope of dedicating one-way lanes to motorcycles along the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur road is an unexplored option, whereas its service lanes on either side of the road have virtually been converted to storage sites for construction materials or heavy vehicle parking sites. If a different route for the motorcycles could be allocated in at least a few dozen heavily jammed stretches of the roads in the Valley, both congestion and accidents could be significantly reduced.
Given the fact that most of the roads are narrow and overcrowded, the allocation of separate lanes for motorcycles (also ideally for bicycles and pedestrians) is a herculean task. This is linked to a greater issue of systematic urban planning in which Nepal has already miserably failed. Some clumsy popular imitations of allocating separate lanes, without actually creating more space to adjust such lanes, has created more nuisance.
For instance, Lalitpur Metropolitan city claimed to have created separate bicycle lanes which in fact was only an illusion. It put some marks on the existing road for the cyclists to use but practically further narrowed the plying space for regular vehicles. Surprisingly, such a naive move received positive response from the media. The global experience shows that such cycle lanes are usable by the public only if they are constructed outside of the main vehicular road. As a contrast, the city of Lucknow constructed a 207-km long cycle track between the vehicular and pedestrian lanes demarcated by iron-pipe dividers. There are other examples from the cities like Helsinki and Copenhagen.
If we were to allocate separate lanes for motorcycles, which is becoming more needed every passing day, the policy-makers must refrain from the kind of populism of Lalitpur and look for the physical expansion or management of the road space itself before allocating lanes. Apart from that, rules on speeding, pillion ride, helmet use and lane disciplines must duly be administered to the riders. It is equally important to ensure that two wheels are not goods carriers. They are often seen transporting large milk cans, heavy sacks and grocery boxes—and even live poultry hanging upside down. These two-wheelers are no doubt helping grease the economy. But, for lack of even minimum regulation, are causing traffic havoc in every sense of the term which must not be overlooked to save lives and the life of the city.