The Lalitpur Metropolitan City was all over social media last month, this time for its positive contribution to urban management. As photos of the new cycle lanes it had put in place surfaced on social media platforms around the third week of October, the metropolitan’s initiative to build a cycle-friendly city and its contribution to sustainable urban mobility was praised by bicycle enthusiasts and common folks alike.
The clearly marked green path for cyclists in the Jawlakhel-Kupondole stretch looked welcoming in photos and the promise of a separate cycle lane gave a sense of relief to daily cycle commuters who had otherwise been braving heavy traffic of motored vehicles that had little regard for the pedaled two-wheelers.
But within a week, pictures of the same cycling lanes started surfacing again. This time, for a wrong reason. People posted photos and videos of taxies and private vehicles parked on cycling lanes, and they criticized motorists as well as authorities for failing to ensure the cyclists’ exclusive access of the lane.
For Samir Shrestha, a social activist who uses his bicycle as the main mode of transport in the city, the cycle lanes are a great initiative but as things are, also impractical. “I have already complained to traffic police multiple times. There’s always some vehicle parked in the lane, or I see someone overtaking from there,” he says.
Shrestha, who rides from Kumaripati to Kupondole and back six days a week, feels the traffic police should be more involved in maintaining lane discipline and ensuring safety for riders in bicycle lanes. Also, he adds, the municipal police personnel who have recently been patrolling on bicycles could do more to maintain lane discipline.
Shrestha emphasizes the need to educated people on road etiquette. “We need traffic rules for cyclists as well, and every cyclist riding on the street needs to have undergone some kind of training. Plus, safety measures like helmets, reflectors and lights should be mandatory,” Shrestha says. “I hear some organizations are working with the government on this. Hope relevant laws come soon.”
Singer and mediaperson Samriddhi Rai, who is also a Lalitpurian, is more sanguine. As a cyclist, Rai feels safer on freshly painted cycling lanes even though motorists largely ignore them. “I am proud to be riding atop our green-painted bicycle lane and always try to stick to it,” she says. Rai, however, mostly cycles in early mornings when there’s less traffic so her experience perhaps cannot be generalized.
Shail Shrestha, co-founder and former president of Cycle City Network Nepal, says the new demarcations are just experimental. They are shared cycle lanes and not dedicated ones, a big difference. In shared cycle lanes, it is only natural for other motorists to drive over them—and stop momentarily—if they do not see cyclists nearby.
Also the program director of Digo Bikash Institute, a research and advocacy organization promoting ecological sustainability and social equity, Shrestha says the new cycle lanes help mitigate conflict between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. “They are not as safe as dedicated cycling lanes would be, but they do give a sense of law and order to the chaotic traffic situation and makes people more aware,” Shrestha says.
According to him, the Lalitpur metropolitan did try to have dedicated cycle lanes but the department of road would not allow that citing congestion on the roads that were built for motorists. Having ridden around Lalitpur area extensively, Shrestha says he has had a better experience, adding that demarcations have given lanes more visibility and he hopes the behavior of traffic will also change in due course.
Closely working with the Lalitpur metropolitan city is the Nepal Cycle Society, which is also providing technical support in demarcating cycle lanes. The metropolitan has in fact signed an agreement with the society to make the city bicycle-friendly, informs the society’s vice president, Som Raj Rana.
An architect and urban designer, Rana leads the technical team behind the cycle lanes in Lalitpur. In the proposed 65-km cycle lane in Lalitpur, the five-km Jawlakhel-Kupondole stretch is only a pilot project, Rana informs. He says the next phase will cover 22 km of inner city roads.
Attracting new riders
Rana says the effect of the cycle lanes on public is still under study but the overall response is already positive. “We have data that show around 10-20 percent annual increase in the number of cyclists on the Kupondole-Jawlakhel road. With cycle lanes, the numbers are sure to further increase,” Rana says. Lane designs have been scientifically drawn. The goal is to ensure cyclists enjoy the same rights as others in traffic and to make cycle lanes attractive for users.
“Just having cycling lanes will not turn us into Copenhagen or Amsterdam overnight,” Rana says. “Our vision of a cycle city will not be met unless common folks don’t ditch their motor-addition and instead use bicycles to commute.” The roads built in Nepal’s major cities so far have only focused on creating spaces for motored vehicles. The new cycle lanes are only the beginning and until many more people start using them on a regular basis, further infrastructure development could be difficult.
But will there be cycle lanes in the stretch of ring road within Lalitpur? Rana informs it is out of the jurisdiction of Lalitpur metropolitan and rather falls under the road department. The initial design of the expanded ring road from Kalanki to Koteshwor did have bicycle lanes, but by the time construction was completed, there was no sign of them. Rana believes that it is still possible for the NCS to build dedicated cycle lanes on the ring road, the department of road permitting.
While Lalitpur has already started developing cycle lanes, the Kathmandu metropolitan has refused to join the network intended to connect all three cities in the valley. “Despite the many possibilities in Kathmandu, which already has roads big enough for dedicated lanes, the local authorities there have not responded to us positively,” Rana says. “Even in Lalitpur, it wouldn’t have been possible without extensive support of mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan.”