Disabled persons, cyclists and environmentalists call for making Ring Road accessible for allThey say the design faults witnessed in the Kalanki-Koteshwar section should be avoided in the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section.
People with disabilities, cyclists and environmentalists have prepared a joint memorandum of demands requesting the government and stakeholders to make the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section of the Ring Road user-friendly for disabled persons, cyclists and pedestrians.
The 8.2km road section is set to be broadened as part of the Ring Road widening project, which will be funded and undertaken by China.
The memorandum was drawn up on Saturday and the team plans to submit it to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport and the Department of Roads. The team also plans to submit a separate memo to the Chinese embassy to draw its attention towards their concerns.
Urban planners, cyclists and commuters have long been saying that the first phase of the Ring Road widening project was carried out without considering the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and disabled persons. The 10.5 km Kalanki-Koteshwar road section started witnessing many road accidents after it was officially handed over to the Department of Roads in 2019, for it lacked various safety and accessibility infrastructure like zebra crossings, traffic lights, cycle lanes and road medians.
Ratna Shrestha, president of Nepal Cycle Society, said they don’t want the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section of the Ring Road to become like the Kalanki-Koteshwar road.
“We want the Ring Road to be pedestrian-, cyclist- and disabled-friendly,” said Shrestha. “The design faults that were in the first phase of the Ring Road widening project should not be repeated.”
After widespread criticism regarding the faulty infrastructure and increasing number of road accidents along the eight-lane Kalanki-Koteshwar section, the Department of Roads had launched a ‘Road Safety Audit.’
The audit team was led by traffic expert Dr Padma Bahadur Shahi and included the engineers from the roads department, representatives of Chinese contractor Shanghai Construction Group Co Ltd, road safety experts, traffic engineers, and civil engineers. The team had suggested adding infrastructure such as cycle lanes and space for pedestrians, permanent median, traffic lights, overhead bridges and street lamps.
In the joint memorandum, the signatory parties have mentioned that the second phase of the work should follow the recommendations made by the safety audit team.
Bhoj Raj Shrestha, a wheelchair user and a disability rights activist, said the Ring Road should adopt the universal design.
“The road should be accessible for a wide range of people including the disabled,” he said.
The Chinese government handed over the eight-lane Koteshwar-Kalanki section of the Ring Road to the government in January 2019. The road section was completed in five years at the cost of Rs5.13 million.
To prepare the ground for the second phase of road widening from Kalanki to Maharajgunj, the Kathmandu Ring Road Improvement Project under the Department of Roads, in October, 2019, started felling trees along the roadside.
The plan to chop down over 2,000 trees to widen the road section drew widespread criticism from environmentalists and urban planners. The authorities also faced a pushback from landowners who have refused to sell their properties to make way for the road widening project. The authorities are yet to complete the land acquisition process.
Two weeks ago a Chinese team inspected the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section, but it is still unclear when the work will actually begin.
Earlier this month, Arjun Jung Thapa, director-general of the Department of Roads, had told the Post that the Chinese side was unlikely to resume the road anytime soon due to the threat caused by Omicron, the new coronavirus variant. He had also said the Chinese construction company was yet to submit the Detailed Project Report.
Sushil Adhikari, a visually impaired disability rights activist, said none of the roads in Kathmandu is disabled-friendly and that the Ring Road project should take the initiative.
“The authorities should think about building inclusive road infrastructure for the safety and accessibility of disabled persons, pedestrians and cyclists,” he said.