Pedalling good healthBirendranagar is all geared up to turn into a cycling city by 2025—and that's good news.
As Kathmandu is hell-bent on cutting down trees to make roads wider for motor vehicles, the capital of Karnali province, Birendranagar is all geared up to turn into a cycling city by 2025. In a welcome move, Birendranagar, has already started working on the Detailed Project Report to construct bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly roads in the city. Our narrative of progress and change is heavily dominated by infrastructural development paid limited attention to pedestrians. Given that, it is refreshing to see the authorities and residents of Birendranagar change its focus pursue and the idea of development that will allow people, and not vehicles, to reclaim the urban environment.
According to a report published in this paper, in the current fiscal year, the Ministry of Physical Development has allocated Rs20 million to prepare the Detailed Project Report and construct a cycle track from Subba Kuna to Bange Simal. In the first phase, 250 places will be identified to construct cycle stands. The idea took seed after a report prepared by the Karnali Riders Club—a group of campaigners—in Surkhet concluded that 1910 kilolitres of petroleum products were used in the fiscal year 2017-18. The study further found out that if locals opted for bicycles as a mode of transport, fuel expenses would decrease by Rs500,000 per day.
Almost in many parts of the country cyclists are under severe threat of being expelled from cities by the growing number of cars. And the growing traffic is already taking its toll—be it in the sheer number of road accidents per year, or in terms of making our cities more and more unliveable. In fact, Nepal’s terrain is ideal for cycling, but policies and plans actively discourage bicycles at a time when cities around the world are returning to this mode of transport. There is a ministry dedicated to urban planning but seldom does it take its responsibilities seriously. Haphazard urban sprawl has, in essence, done more harm than good.
The Karnali Riders Club seem to be resourceful and resolute, but there also needs to be other forces helping to create fertile soil for their ideas. The government at the centre, provincial and local levels must support this decision and must do the needful to bring this plan to fruition. What’s more, the plan needs to be supplemented with an elaborate network of cycle-paths and lanes, so safe and comfortable that even toddlers and older people can use bikes as the easiest mode of transport.
It's about time we revisit our idea of development and subscribe to a vision that is more encompassing and not fixated on widening roads to accommodate more motors. The onus, therefore, squarely lies on the government, both local and federal, to make our streets safer and cities more liveable. Birendranagar’s vision of turning into a city by 2025 is laudable. It should sustain this drive and other cities in the country must follow suit.
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