Kathmandu traffic is the stuff of nightmares. Besides not reaching your destination on time, you are also likely to get into a squabble with someone on the road. There might be a rash motorbike rider who will squeeze through from the wrong side bumping onto your side mirror, or a pedestrian that you luckily miss by an inch when he suddenly jumps on the road from the sidewalk. On good days when none of that happens, there will be a traffic police who is infuriated you didn’t stop when he signaled you to. You will tell him his partner on the traffic island was gesturing wildly for you to speed up but he will either verbally abuse you or write you a ticket. Either way, you suffer.
Kathmandu residents claim commuting here is frustrating, to say the least. It always leaves you in a bad mood, they say. Sometimes you feel walking might be a quicker, a comparatively hassle-free alternative as opposed to taking a bus or a private vehicle. At the most, all you will have to navigate are the potholes and weirdly jutting out bricks and broken pieces of mortar. It’s the lesser of the two evils. But it’s not a feasible solution.
SP Sushil Singh Rathore says the problem of congestion in Kathmandu can’t be attributed to one particular reason. SP Rathore cites people’s unwillingness to follow traffic rules and laws as one of the major causes of chaos on the roads. Apart from that, there are other infrastructural issues that need to be addressed for better vehicular movement and management.
“Many things slow traffic movement. Vehicles stop and park randomly on the roadside, there are street vendors on the footpath that force pedestrians to walk on the road, and there aren’t proper signs and lane dividers—what you call road furniture,” says SP Rathore. Then there are construction materials and garbage piled high here and there on the main roads as well. The public, he adds, is quick to blame the police. But the approximately 5,000 police personnel deployed to manage the valley’s traffic are doing the best they can, he assures. Manually managing traffic isn’t ideal but there’s really no other option at the moment.
Rathore says the city needs more flyovers and subways to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles. He cites the example of the 800-meter underpass in Kalanki between Khasi Bazaar and Bafal Chowk and how that has significantly lessened traffic hassles in the area. Another issue is lack of parking spaces. Road expansion, in many areas, didn’t ease traffic congestion because vehicles are parked on both sides of the now-bigger roads.
This past week, the Bhat-Bhateni Supermarket launched its fully automated vertical parking at its outlet in Tangal, Kathmandu. The first-of-its-kind 11-storey parking system in the country can accommodate 44 four-wheelers. Rathore says Kathmandu city in particular needs more parking lots or smart parking systems that make use of vertical space. Only these kinds of long-term solutions will help better regulate the valley’s traffic.
However, DSP Santosh Rokka, Metropolitan Traffic Police Department, says they are looking into ways in which traffic niggles can be fixed. There are currently 39 traffic lights up and running and there are plans to install 11 more. Rokka believes this will significantly ease road congestion in places where nobody stops for others and vehicles end up colliding or getting stuck at junctions. Then there’s the question of broken traffic lights that haven’t been fixed, like the one at the Kupondole-Thapathali junction that perhaps sees the most traffic after the Koteshwore-Lokanthali stretch, especially during rush hours.
This, Rokka says, is out of their hands because the police haven’t been given the authority to maintain them, and neither does the concerned department look into it. The police, he says, have to make do with whatever is in working order. The problem is that the police shoulder all the responsibility but have zero authority in management and decision-making. Meaning, they get the blame but none of the credit. There are technical glitches all the time and the traffic lights stop working suddenly. To ensure that doesn’t lead to havoc, multiple traffic police personnel have to be stationed at each stop all the time.
The authorities say they are aware that the public has a lot of grievances with the traffic police. That is why, Rokka adds, they take feedback and complaints seriously and, based on them, include discussions on how to improve their handling of traffic during their daily morning briefing. We are committed to doing better, he says.
“But most of our problems stem from people’s recklessness on the road,” says DSP Rokka. He says the department has to station police even in places where the traffic lights are fully functional as people tend to disregard the signs when they don’t see anyone in a blue uniform around. There have been quite a few accidents when drivers haven’t stopped at the red light.
DSP Dhundi Raj Neupane asserts people aren’t disciplined on the road. Sensible drivers are a rare breed, he says. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are all in a little hurry the minute we step outside. We don’t make way for anyone, sometimes not even for ambulances and emergency vehicles. DSP Neupane says we are all guilty of blaming everyone but ourselves. Each one of us, he says, is a part of the problem. The sooner we accept that and look into our own actions, the faster we can solve this steadily worsening traffic condition.
SP Prajwal Maharjan agrees that the biggest challenge is people’s unwillingness to wait and follow the rules. There are over 3,000 daily traffic violations and the majority of these are motorbike riders driving in the wrong lane. We might have infrastructural liabilities but it’s possible to work around those issues. The city, he says, isn’t getting any bigger. We know what we have and so we need to adjust accordingly, while the government comes up with long-term plans and solutions.
“It’s as simple as stopping and letting another vehicle pass to clear the way for you rather than trying to go first and getting stuck,” says SP Maharjan, who also suggests heading out 15 minutes earlier than usual to not be in a rush. That will be a little extra effort on our part but, adds Maharjan, given the limitations, it can make a lot of difference.