Lalitpur needs to live up to its promises on promoting cyclingThe city has promised to change urban mobility for the better, but implementation has been lacking still.
In November 2019, the news that Lalitpur Metropolitan City was investing in cycle lanes and cycle-friendly laws had received great positive coverage. Lalitpur was supposed to set an example for all other cities and budding metropolitan areas around the country on how to curb air pollution and traffic congestion while promoting daily physical activity. But it seems that the commendations came too early. The city’s initial cycle lanes have failed to live up to the hype; and the accompanying cycle laws are a long way from being passed, let alone implemented. However, there is still time to set things right. Lalitpur still has a chance to deliver on its promises on track with the original deadline; Mayor Chiribabu Maharjan and his team must make this a priority.
Air pollution is a major cause of premature death. According to David Boyd, a UN special rapporteur on human rights and environment, the silent killer ‘is responsible for the premature death of 7 million people each year, including 600,000 children’. More suffer a tough existence due to air pollution. In Nepal, a study published in early 2019 confirmed that about 12 percent of the country’s population—aged 20 years and above—has been found to be suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The challenge is especially great in urban centres that have the added issue of vehicular emissions.
But the issue is not confined to the harmful toxins and particulates released due to emissions. Ever since Baburam Bhattarai became prime minister in 2011, Nepal has adopted a flawed outlook on urban development—one particularly focused on road-building and lane expansion. But this never-ending cycle has only increased room for more fossil fuel-powered vehicles to add to the traffic nightmare. Moreover, road developments have added an unhealthy level of suspended particulate matter to the air. A push to promote private electric vehicles on a federal level—with tax breaks and charging infrastructure—might make a dent in the volume of vehicular emissions, but it will not reduce the traffic congestion. Neither will it lessen the effects of an ill-designed policy that focuses on further road expansion.
A comprehensive strategy to promote public transportation, combined with the use of bicycles and pedestrian walks, is the best way forward. And this is exactly what Mayor Maharjan promised: The plan revolved around inverting the mobility pyramid that traditional urban planning models followed. With the metropolitan area in the Valley being concentrated—most people here commute less than 6 kilometres—and with the mayor consulting with urban planners and people-led modern urbanisation groups, the plan seemed destined to be successful, not to mention economically viable.
Yet, over two months since the plan was launched, progress has been extremely disappointing. The cycle lanes turned out to be nothing more than painted lines on the same old roads; cars and buses regularly trample on the area prioritised for bicycles. Most of the lane markings have already started to disappear—only two months in. What’s worse, the laws governing the new mobility model seem to be bogged down in bureaucratic manoeuvrings—no concrete dates have been announced for their endorsement and implementation.
But Maharjan and his government must not let the momentum be wasted. The Lalitpur government made a promise to its people to change urban mobility for the better, it cannot allow the plan to fail now. The municipal assembly must endorse the relevant laws. Moreover, the cycle lane designs must be tweaked to make them actually usable—something lacking currently.
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