With 60 percent zebra crossings faded, pedestrians at risk of being run over

- Anup Ojha, Kathmandu

Jan 20, 2019-

Kathmandu has become a precarious place for pedestrians, and crossing the road is one of the major problems.

With 60 percent of the zebra crossings in Kathmandu Valley lying discoloured for years, for pedestrians getting across the road is but a dangerous game.

The Department of Roads, the government body responsible for smooth management of transport in the country including with well-maintained zebra crossings, has failed to repaint the road crossings due to what officials say a lack of funds.

“We need at least Rs80 million to repaint all zebra crossings,” said Rabindra Nath Shrestha, director general at the department. “We don’t have the required budget to carry out the project.”

Shrestha said the department is currently lobbying with the Ministry of Finance for the required budget. “Once we get the budget, we will add thermoplastic paint on the zebra crossings,” Shrestha gave a typical bureaucratic response.

Such lackadaisical approach to pedestrian safety concern shows government agencies are still too slow to recognise it as an important issue.

According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, there are 107 zebra crossings in the Capital. A Kathmandu Walkability Study-2018, conducted in 35 different sections of the metropolis last year, shows that 60 percent of the zebra crossings in the Capital have already faded away, and 80 percent of the roads do not even have zebra crossings.

Shrestha of the road department, however, said his office “has no such records”.

“We have sent our officials to collect data, and very soon we will repaint and add zebra crossings in the required places,” he said.

Town planners, pedestrians and cycle activists have long been complaining about the lack of zebra crossings on the roads of Kathmandu.

The fading zebra crossings are a major public concern, as they play a huge role in road safety, especially for pedestrians. According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, 40 percent of the road accidents that occur in the Capital are fatal for pedestrians. In June and July last year, the Post reported two deaths (of Rabindra Chaudhari, of Dhapasi, and Pashupati Thapa of Gaushala). Both of them were killed while using a zebra crossing.

Traffic police data are even more frightening. In the last five years, traffic police recorded 27,150 accidents that killed 624 people and seriously injured 1,157 people. Of the deceased, 296 were pedestrians. In some of the road crashes—vehicles hitting pedestrians—pedestrians are non-fatally injured with some of them left with permanent disabilities.

Kathmandu residents say one of their biggest pet peeves is that the government leaves no stone unturned to make the Valley roads spick and span, with even putting fresh coats on zebra crossings, during VVIP visits, but simply forgets pedestrian safety afterwards.

Radika Dhakal, a resident of Thapathali, said the government’s actions reflect how apathetic it is towards pedestrians. The condition (and also lack) of zebra crossings has not only caused inconvenience to the public, but has also become a hassle for traffic police. 

SSP Basanta Kumar Panta, chief of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, said his office has been requesting the department to repaint the zebra crossings and repair the traffic lights.

“People think that the task of repainting zebra crossings falls under our jurisdiction. But we are not the authorised agency to repaint zebra crossings. Yes, our personnel’s duty is to make sure vehicles slow down and stop to let pedestrians use zebra crossings,” said Panta.

Since most of the zebra crossings are almost invisible, traffic problems in the city have increased, resulting in more accidents.

“With the unavailability of zebra crossings, people tend to cross roads from undesignated areas, which can easily lead to accidents,” said Panta.

Kishore Thapa, an urban planner and former government secretary, says the condition of road safety in the country is shameful. “Our traffic system is not pedestrian friendly. It only gives priority to vehicles. If the government were more concerned about pedestrians, we would not have to see these faded zebra crossings in our Capital,” said Thapa.

Zebra crossings should not just be repainted, but should also be managed systematically. This will encourage people to use the footpath more, Thapa opines. “Apart from that, zebra crossings are more convenient to use than overhead bridges, especially for elderly people, pregnant women, and disabled people.”

The division conducted a drive in May 2017 to book jaywalkers and fine them Rs200 in the Valley. But the drive did not last for long, as it faced severe criticism. Then home minister Janardan Sharma had directed the division to withdraw the provision.

Amid this, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City jumped into the scene and announced in mid-December that it would install “smart zebra crossings” in 100 places around the Valley. It even allocated Rs13 billion for the purpose. This has drawn criticism from town planners who have looked askance at the move.

“It is crucial that zebra crossings are repainted immediately. That is more important than KMC’s smart zebra crossings,” adds Thapa.

The KMC, which has failed on many fronts when it comes to addressing the problems faced by the metropolis, should rather, say town planners, work in coordination with other agencies, including the road department to ensure pedestrian safety.

Published: 20-01-2019 07:25

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