Despite traffic police’s assurances, pedestrians are dying on Kathmandu streetsEvery year, the number of pedestrian deaths in road accidents is rising, with over 300 people killed in the past five years.
On November 24, Prabhu Joshi went out for a regular morning walk in his New Baneshwor neighbourhood. For the 74-year-old doctor, who worked at the ICU of the Ishan Children and Women’s Hospital in Basundhara, the walk was a daily routine to clear his head before he started his hectic day. Joshi was crossing the road in front of the Federal Parliament building at 6 am when he was struck by a speeding bus. He died almost immediately, while the bus fled.
What happened to Joshi is not an anomaly. Every year, there are hundreds of cases where pedestrians are struck down by speeding vehicles. In the past five years, 321 people have died in the Valley after being hit. Every year, there are numerous news reports and articles stating how Kathmandu is no city for pedestrians, prompting the traffic police to make assurances of changes. And yet, pedestrians continue to suffer at the hands of motorists, with fatality rates rising steadily over the years.
“The main reasons behind the number of accidents rising are an increase in human and vehicle population, violation of traffic rules, a tendency among youths to drive recklessly and speeding,” said Senior Superintendent Bhim Dhakal, chief of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division.
Of the total 855 deaths on the road in the past five years, 467, or 54.6 percent, involved young people between the ages of 17 and 35, according to traffic police data.
“We are very strict towards those who violate traffic rules,” said Dhakal. “Every day, we book over 2,000 people for violating traffic rules.”
According to Dhakal, it is a willful disregard for traffic rules that is leading to 90 percent of these accidents. While the MaPaSe campaign has managed to reduce drunk driving, many drivers still tend to speed and overtake other vehicles haphazardly. Lane discipline, proper signalling and right of way are foreign concepts to many drivers, according to police.
“That’s why in the past four months alone, we have provided road safety classes to over 30,000 people,” said Dhakal.
But according to traffic engineers, it is not just a lack of etiquette on the roads that is leading to accidents but also a lack of proper road infrastructure. There are not enough pedestrian bridges, zebra crossings and traffic lights, said Ashish Gajurel, a transportation and traffic engineer.
“As a result, valley roads have turned into accident-prone zones for people looking to cross the road,” he said. “Mobilising more traffic police will not decrease the accident rate; road infrastructure needs to be constructed.”
According to police, the accidents are taking place due to a combination of factors. Because infrastructure is few and far between, pedestrians are often forced to cross the road wherever they can. This has been a consistent criticism of the newly expanded sections of the Ring Road. But even where there are zebra crossings, motorists do not respect the rules of the road. On October 10, Krishna Dhungana, a journalist, was struck by a motorcycle while on a zebra crossing at Tripureshwor, sending him into a coma.
“I feel scared every time I have to cross the road as vehicles do not slow down even when we are on a zebra crossing,” said Puja Dangal, a 19-year-old college student. “But there aren’t even enough zebra crossings and neither are there any traffic lights to stop vehicles.”
The traffic police is not solely responsible for road safety, said Dhakal, as other departments like the road department and the department of transport management also need to show concern.
“Construction of pedestrian bridges and zebra crossings is not our work,” said Dhakal. “However, we have been coordinating with the concerned authorities for their construction at select places.”
According to Dhakal, the police has identified 23 black spots where accidents take place most frequently and adopted different measures to minimise accidents, such as placing hoarding boards, constructing speed breakers and increasing traffic checks. Those 23 accident-prone places in the Valley are Kalanki, Babarmahal, Airport, Minbhawan, Maitighar, Gatthaghar, Bhaktapur, Satdobato, Gwarko, Thankot, Sitapaila, Gongabu, Maharajgunj, Sukedhara, Chabahil, Jawalakhel, Bauddha, Kalimati, Singha Durbar, Gaushala, Budhanilkantha, Sanepa, and Sallaghari.