Nepali Times
No-go on green


. "There are so many lights, I don't know which ones to look at."
. l "It took me 30 minutes to get from Maiti Ghar to Bhrikuti Mandap on a Saturday afternoon. All because of this stupid traffic light at Padmodaya."
. "We don't need red lights in Patan."

These are actual comments this week from angry drivers in Kathmandu. They are provoked by a grand three-year plan to improve intersections in Kathmandu which, by all accounts, has so far been a disaster.

Even the head of the Rs 640 million, Japanese-aided project admits things have been slow. But he says these are teething problems that will soon be resolved.

"It's a new experience for everyone, for pedestrians, for drivers, and for traffic policemen," Durga Prasad Osti, senior divisional engineer at the Department of Roads told us. "It will take some time for people to get used to the new lights. But if they've worked everywhere else in the world, why shouldn't they work in Nepal?"

Indeed. But what if the traffic lights are not synchronised, stay red for too long for the main throughfare and remain green for a little-used side street? And why doesn't the Department of Roads simulate them on a computer before making Kathmandu commuters guinea pigs?

The Traffic Section says the synchronisation work is going on, but the volume of traffic flow, and the dynamics of intersections need live tests. Ever since the traffic lights went into trial operation, phones at the Department of Roads at Babar Mahal have been ringing off the hook with complaints. Osti has also seen some of the irreverent cartoons in the newspapers, and thinks some of them are quite funny.

The department has launched an aggressive public information campaign with adverts in papers and large billboards, like the gory one with a blood-splattered accident victim with the message: "Rato ma gaye jyan jala, pahelo ma gaye durghatana ma parla".

The project's main aim is to regulate traffic and reduce congestion by revamping 10 important intersections by March 2003. It includes installation of traffic and street lights, pavement work, reconstruction of walkways, drainage, flag posts and handrails and improving traffic signs.

Osti is confident that traffic will be more disciplined and more streamlined, but it means everyone has to follow the rules. By monitoring traffic flow and pedestrians at different times of the day, technicians at the department have now been able to synchronise the lights.

Operated by solar cells during the day, the lights automatically switch to city power by night and on sunless days. In case of power failure, there's a 30 second warning period during which traffic follows set routes.

The current improvement works involve Koteswor, Tinkune, Koteswor Ring Road, Naya Baneshwar, Singha Durbar, Kalanki Chowk, Keshar Mahal and Ram Shah Path-Dilli Bazar. Delays have been caused by property compensation, coordination with other departments to relocate electricity pylons, trolley bus lines and drainage. If all goes well, and more aid is forthcoming, the next intersections to get revamps are: Chabihil, Gaushala, the Maharajgunj Ring Road, and Purano Baneswor.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)