Walk this wayPedestrian cooperation with the law is as important to maintain road safety as is the enforcement of traffic rules. Unfortunately, jaywalking is rampant on the roads of Kathmandu and other urban centres, leading to numerous traffic hazards.
Pedestrian cooperation with the law is as important to maintain road safety as is the enforcement of traffic rules. Unfortunately, jaywalking is rampant on the roads of Kathmandu and other urban centres, leading to numerous traffic hazards.
To combat this problem, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) has imposed a rule on pedestrians. The rule against jaywalking was originally set to be enforced from May 15, but the date had to be postponed to next week because around 900 traffic police personnel were deployed in the three districts of the Valley for the first phase of local elections, and the Department of Roads (DoR) has yet to complete painting zebra crossings and setting up signage at major intersections.
This gives a picture of the problem. There aren’t near enough zebra crossings in the Capital and many of the existing ones have faded to the point of being invisible. The number of overhead bridges (eight) is also far too few for a city of Kathmandu’s size. Many a time, pedestrians have little choice but to cross roads at points where they are not supposed to.
So the new rule is bound to increase the inconvenience of pedestrians who already have to suffer because of the city’s narrow pavements. Although the principle behind the rule—instilling civic discipline and reducing the frequency of accidents—cannot be faulted, it will have the unintended consequence of exacerbating pedestrian woes. Those caught flouting the rule will be fined anywhere from Rs200 to Rs1,000 and those who do not pay the fine on the spot will have to spend a night in custody—a harsh penalty that hardly fits the ‘crime’. Some cynics would even argue that the new rule is meant to augment the ‘income’ of the traffic police and to help the DoR spend its budget as the fiscal year draws to a close.
The MTPD justifies the new rule on the grounds that it will reduce accidents and will complement the ‘No horn’ drive enforced in the Valley last month. According to the division, 40 percent of the accidents are caused due to haphazard road crossings, which also prompt drivers to blow their horns. The MTPD does have a point. But the challenge is to enhance road safety without causing practical inconvenience to pedestrians. Slapping a considerable amount of fine on pedestrians in a pedestrian-unfriendly city is hardly the right approach.
What needs to be done instead is to make the Valley more pedestrian-friendly by widening pavements, maintaining traffic lights and zebra crossings, and constructing overhead bridges at busy thoroughfares. Awareness campaigns for pedestrians and motorists to respect traffic rules are also necessary. There have been such campaigns before, but like many other government initiatives in Nepal, they petered out. Policy continuity is key.