Photo Courtesy: www.ifc.org
Photo Courtesy: www.ifc.org

Highway Zebras or Highway snails ?

High schools and colleges are on breaks and Thimphu is crowded. Given the already high concentration of vehicles in the Thimphu region (53 percent), traffic is slower than ever in the winter months. While not as bad as conditions in regional countries like India, Nepal or Bangladesh, for the average Bhutanese driver used to rolling along nonstop, it is a colossal impediment.
Some of the expletives heard being sent the way of the zebras and the traffic police are beyond reconstruction in this article.
However, these stripes on the roads are not to ensure better traffic flow. Undertaken jointly by the RSTA, Traffic Police and Thimphu Thromde, the primary objective is to ensure safety for pedestrians, Thimpu Thrompoen Dasho Kinley  Dorji told The Bhutanese.
Jigme Namgyel who has to ply through Norzin Lam to get to work has mixed reactions to the zebra initiative. He said, “Some are necessary and well placed but others are rather poorly placed.”
Jigme pointed to the crossing right after the main traffic roundabout and then another on the way up from the roundabout at the end of Norzin Lam. The first cause jams right back to the roundabout impeding other drivers heading down to Chogyel Lam and the latter is right at the turn up from the San Maru restaurant. The side frame of the car blocks the driver’s view to the left and with the crossing so near brakes have to be slammed when pedestrians crossing appear apparently out of nowhere.
Pedestrians, however, say it helps. “Before the zebras it was sort of random. But now it is better and we don’t have to worry about whether the drivers will run us over or stop and let us pass,” Pem Jigme said.
A traffic police on duty at a zebra crossing told The Bhutanese that the crossings did worsen the jams a bit. People do not adhere to his instructions to wait and force their way over further worsening the traffic situation.
In addition it is an extra burden on the Traffic Police’s human resources with police placed at each crossing.
The Thimphu Thrompon said that people need to respect the rules. “It is not right that a long line of cars should be held up every few minutes for just a few people crossing the road and besides it is primarily for the pedestrians’ safety.”
Since the story of the first traffic lights being removed because of public confusion we have come a long way and it wouldn’t be as confusing for drivers today. The on duty traffic police said that the situation could improve if there were traffic signals, making it not only organized but also reducing human resource on a zebra.
Here again, as in many cases, awareness is an issue. People have to have a sense of civic duty instilled in them and the police hope that with proper information and guidance from officers on the ground it could make pedestrians aware of the need to use these crossings.

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