The former cabinet in one of its last meetings took a decision to not allow the Pedestrianization of Norzin Lam.
However, despite this cabinet order, Thimphu Thromde is determined to implement at least one aspect of pedestrianization which is the removal of traffic slots of around 250 cars along Norzin Lam by December 2018, allowing them to only temporarily park for 15 minutes or so with their indicators on.
The cabinet order said, “The Royal Government is of the view that the pedestrianization of Norzin Lam was conceptualized 14 years ago in the Thimphu structural plan. Though the idea of pedestrianization is desirable, the plan is dated and not implementable today. This would therefore require a thorough study, completing the process of consultation with buildings owners, business persons and other stakeholders.”
It goes on to say, “Survey plans, drawings and illustrations are required in detail to understand the ground reality for determining the proposal. The government has accordingly decided to not pedestrianize Norzin Lam unless infrastructure has been constructed to decongest the traffic flow and pedestrian friendly amenities are provided in consultation with the business community and other stakeholders.
The Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee is of the view that the Thromde’s removal of parking space and 15-minute parking rule will not violate the cabinet order as long as Norzin Lam is left open to vehicular movement.
However, while the Thromde may not be violating the letter of the cabinet order, the question is if it is violating the spirit of the order.
A cabinet member, in an earlier interview, while explaining the order said that it even applies to curtailing the 15-minute rule as it will eventually lead to pedestrianization.
Also, the pedestrianization plan consisted of two important steps in first removing the parking spaces and then stopping traffic.
While the Thromde may not be stopping traffic it will be removing the parking spaces and in doing so implementing a part of the Pedestrianization plan.
A senior government official, on the condition of anonymity, said that as far as the Constitution and the laws are concerned the Thromde is a part of the executive and so it has to follow the orders from the highest executive body, which is the cabinet.
The official said that the government or the interim government has not received any official communication from Thromde or indication of any action, but once either of this happens then the interim government would have to make an interpretation of what is happening.
The senior official said that once Thromde initiates something officially then a set of reactions would be triggered.
The official said that the legal advice on matter from government lawyers showed that the cabinet is in the right.
In mid-2016 the cabinet had temporarily put the Thromde’s pedestrianization plans on hold after shops and businesses along the road put up a petition to the cabinet.
The cabinet had said that it would look at the Thimphu Structure plan and see if it is feasible to pedestrianize Norzin Lam since the last cabinet approval was given in 2003 when conditions were quite different.
The Thromde in February 2018 announced that while it would not stop vehicular traffic it would remove all parking spaces and allow vehicles to stop only for 15 minutes by the end of 2018. This was seen as a backdoor entry to get around the cabinet’s halt orders.
The Bhutanese in an article in July 2018 had pointed out the fact that while the Thromde’s two Multi level Car Parking (MLCP) projects provide additional parking for 550 cars, it does not make sense to remove around 230 car parking spaces along Norzin Lam.
This is when 1,200 new vehicles enter the city’s traffic systems every year.
Some shopkeepers say that the Thromde’s plan for Norzin Lam seems more about the commercial viability of the two MLCPs than actually creating additional parking space.
The MLCPs have 20 percent commercial space to build shops.
Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said, “Pedestrianization is complete closure of Norzin Lam and we are not closing Norzin lam but removing the parking along Norzin lam because the parking is creating congestion. We have consulted the public and we are going by public meeting and public consensus.”
He said, “Thromde is not pedestrianizing Norzin lam but only removing 250 slots of parking space from Norzin lam gate till Chubachu roundabout. Pedestrianizing doesn’t mean complete closure of Norzin lam and that no car will enter Norzin lam. Cars are still allowed to ply on Norzin lam but cars can park for only 15-20 minutes and there will be no permanent parking of cars for 12 to 13 hours like now.”
The Thrompon said, “We are not pedestrianizing Norzin lam because people especially shopkeepers along Norzin lam are worried that if there is no movement of cars, their business will be affected. He said that according to Thimphu structure Plan 2002-2027, it is for complete closure but realizing people’s concerns and worries, the thromde decided that it will not close the Norzin lam but will go with phased development by removing the parking space.
He said, “First we will remove the parking space because we need to build the service duct, the drains need to be rebuilt, we need to cover the exposed cables, do proper landscaping of Norzin lam and to do all that we don’t have a space. We have to remove the parking space in Norzin lam.”
The Thrompon also said, “The shopkeepers along Norzin lam asked for removal of parking space because they said that there are gamblers who park their cars in Norzin lam and gamble whole day, and they don’t have a parking space to park their cars. Why should thromde provide parking for gamblers?”
He said, “We are removing the parking space because we are providing alternative to people by constructing two multi level car parking which would accommodate nearly 600 cars and there is no way MLCP would get packed with cars. The parking issue in Norzin lam would be a disaster if we remove the existing parking space without providing any alternative but here we are constructing MLCP which is the best alternative for people.”
“Those people who are not buying anything can park their cars in MLCP but right now they are getting away without paying parking fees and misusing our parking space,” he added.
Thromde’s urban Planner said, “In our findings and studies, pedestrianization has more benefits and all the developed, developing and under developed countries have embraced pedestrianization. All these countries have got some difficulties and challenges in the initial stage of pedestrianization. They had some opposition forces especially from business owners and plot owners but the public accepted it. Similarly, in Bhutan, there is some opposition from shopkeepers but if people understand that pedestrianization has more positive than negative impacts, then it is possible”.
He said, “Thromde in collaboration with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) conducted a study on traffic volume and thromde carried out extensive traffic surveys like traffic volume survey and road capacity survey. We also did survey on pedestrian crossing and also started a project on road networks.”
Shopkeepers not happy
The majority of shopkeepers in Norzin lam are not happy with Thromde’s plan to remove the parking space in Norzin lam as they say this would severely affect their business and sales.
The shopkeepers suggest thromde not to remove parking space as it would create more trouble in the future instead of benefitting them.
Lhamo, a shopkeeper said, “We would like to request thromde not to remove the parking space as it would severely affect our business and if the thromde remove’s the parking, the situation will become worse in Norzin lam.”
She said, “I personally feel that Thromde’s plan to remove the parking will not be possible and is a wrong decision.”
Another shopkeeper, Dorji Gyeltshen whose shop is near the clock tower said, “I don’t understand why thromde is removing parking in Norzin lam. There are so many people and cars concentrated in Norzin lam as it is the main commercial spine of the Thimphu city as all the people come to Norzin lam to shop, dine and hangout among others.”
He said, “The whole concept of pedestrianizing and removing the parking space does not make any sense. We know that there is parking space issue in this area and thromde is removing parking space because they are constructing two MLCPs but the MLCPs is not the solution to parking space. Thromde should keep the parking in Norzin lam and provide additional MLCP as an alternative but providing two multi level car parking on one hand and removing parking pace in Norzin lam is not sensible.”
Lhakpa Tshering who runs a restaurant in Norling building said, “This would affect the hotel’s sustainability. Most people hang out in Norling building as they can get all the things they want like mobile shops, restaurants and coffee shops, small food stalls and pharmacy and if only 15 minutes is allowed, people won’t come to Norling because people come to Norling to shop, dine and relax which cannot be done in 15 minutes.”
Another shopkeeper, Lobzang, who has shop opposite to Druk Punjab Bank said, “Thromde’s plan to remove parking space will not be successful. Thromde say that thromde is removing the parking after consulting the public but we were not even informed about the 15-minutes rule and in fact didn’t even know there was 15-minutes rule like this”.
He said, “Thromde said they are not pedestrianizing to protect our business but by removing parking they are taking away our business. If thromde could give a time of more than one hour to park the cars, it would seem logical. Also the time to unload our good at morning and at night is not logical as goods come at different times.”
A plot owner said, “If they remove parking, not much people would come to Norzin lam for shopping and if they do so, there are chances that shopkeepers might leave and start in other places. In that way we will lose our tenants and it would affect us as it would be difficult to pay our loans and taxes.”