It is generally conceded and agreed upon that roads are meant for wheels. Anything with wheels and an engine is road acceptable and if one’s got legs for it, an engine won’t be necessary; a bicycle would do the trick. As the world of Jetsons is far away, boxes hovering in the air as a means of a commute will have to wait and Kathmandu like the rest of the world will have to be happy with what it has to move people around.
Kathmandu is a dense small city with vehicles galore; and so, to maintain the speed of the wheels many speed-breakers have been put up. As putting them up is a tedious work, deep potholes–often filled with mud–seem to do the trick in other areas. Maintaining the speed of automobiles is paramount to maintaining the city’s safety; considering this the government has been using an additional ingenious method to control speeding vehicles in the valley– pedestrians. Anyone who’s driven or sat in an automobile in Kathmandu knows what I’m talking about.
A simple trick of eliminating the sidewalks was and is being used to get pedestrians to act as automobile speed regulators. This is a simple trick, which turns out to be cost efficient and in many ways practical, especially in non-commercialized areas of the capital. People move around and in the absence of sidewalks, most eventually learn to adapt to walking on the roads. The pedestrians themselves seem to be aware of this string of events and they play out their role rather well; a person walking in the streets does everything in his power to act as an obstacle to a moving vehicle.
Maybe our government resorted to this ingenious method because it wanted to spend taxpayers’ money for better purposes like spending NRs. 12.5 million for international treatment of the great leader KP Oli. Isn’t it more rational anyway to sustain thousands of hard working and efficient bureaucrats through collected taxes than to construct something as useless as a sidewalk?
The unintentional consequence of this process is the production of many able drivers and agile pedestrians. Though the vehicles move slowly, the drivers get a lot of practice on streets filled with obstacles which might make them the best drivers in the whole world. Following the analogy ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’ one might argue that pedestrians get the most out of not having sidewalks; they run, they jump and sometimes even dance playing peekaboo with moving vehicles. And the rush that they get when a vehicle zooms past an inch away from their body is the best feeling ever, one does not need to travel a hundred kilometers, tie a rope on the hip and jump off a bridge, a 10 minute walk on a Kathmandu road will suffice.
In this light, the absence of sidewalks seems to be a win-win situation for everyone. The government, the drivers and especially the pedestrians are better off. Nothing seems out of the ordinary when a pedestrian is hit or a bike loses control and the road is painted red in our safe city because the costs of having sidewalks would be way higher for the .government to afford–afterall, tax money can only be used for a greater public service.
Paras is currently a student of Economics and has been interning with Gari Khana Deu!