Kuensel, 30 January 2015

IMG_20150129_164216Pedestrians wait for vehicles to pass before walking over a zebra crossing below the Throwa theatre

The speed bumps/zebra crossings will give way to pedestrian underpasses

Thromde: In a move that may surprise many, Thimphu thromde will reconvert the Babesa road into an expressway, by removing the recently constructed speed bumps, which also served as zebra crossings, and replacing them with pedestrian underpasses.

The thromde plans to initially construct four pedestrian underpasses, costing Nu 10M each, on the Babesa road.  The underpasses are being funded by the Indian government.

They are expected to be completed by next year.

The move comes five months after 11 speed bumps were constructed on the road at a cost of around Nu 2M.  All 11 of these speed bumps will now be removed, but in a phased manner, as the underpasses are constructed.

While the thromde is still studying where these underpasses will be located, the Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the most likely locations might be under the flyover bridge, and in front of the Sharee Square mall, the office of the election commission, and the Tata vehicle showroom.

However, he added that thromde officials are still determining where pedestrian traffic is frequent. The underpasses will be constructed in areas, where more than one hundred pedestrians cross the road an hour.

Thimphu currently has two underpasses, one in front of the swimming pool complex and the other below Changangkha school, which are hardly used by pedestrians.  Despite renovations, pedestrians continue to prefer crossing the road instead of using the underpasses.

Given this experience, the thromde will pursue two measures to encourage pedestrians to use the underpasses on the Babesa expressway.

One will be a higher road divider than the green coloured fence that was removed just prior to the Indian prime minister’s visit to Bhutan in June, last year.  Work on the divider has already begun, as can be observed below the Lungtenzampa bridge.

The divider will also consist of a hedge of different kinds of plant species, and will be the height of an average person. However, thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said it would take a few years for the hedge to develop.

The thrompon also pointed out that a hedge divider would prevent headlights of vehicles from hitting the eyes of drivers coming from the opposite direction.

The second measure would be to make the underpasses more “people friendly”, the thrompon said.

He acknowledged that the two existing underpasses are not up to acceptable standards. “Like dungeons, dark, dirty and low,” he said, referring to the two underpasses.

The thrompon said that the underpasses, being planned for the expressway, would be larger, well-lit, have steps, and even ramps for the physically challenged.

On why overhead pedestrian bridges were not chosen instead, the thrompon attributed significantly higher costs, and technological challenges, given the longer width of the four-lane road.  He also said that overhead bridges would have been as high as five metres, which would have discouraged pedestrians from using them. “So underpasses were a better option,” he said.

With only four underpasses planned in the first phase, and a divider being erected, the question remains whether pedestrians wanting to cross the road in locations away from the underpasses will have to walk to the closest underpass or can still cross the road.

Thrompon Kinlay said that the removal of the speed bumps, also serving as zebra crossings, would be removed in a phased manner, so that pedestrian safety was not compromised.  He also said that that the distance people would have to walk to get to a underpass was being looked into.

He added that more underpasses could be added later, depending on utilisation and budget.

The thrompon also pointed out that, for the next few years, the thromde will be focusing on making Thimphu pedestrian friendly.  He said that the construction of footpaths, and even a few overhead pedestrian bridges, were being planned on a priority basis.

While the speed bumps received mixed reactions from the public, the traffic police recorded a significantly lower number of accidents on the road.

The 6.2km Lungtenzampa to Babesa road, formerly called the expressway, was approved by the council of ministers in 1999.  It was completed only in 2005.

By Gyalsten K. Dorji

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