OPINION-The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Footpath Development in Bhutanโ€™s Urban and Suburban Areas

โ€ฆ๐‘ญ๐’๐’๐’•๐’‘๐’‚๐’•๐’‰๐’” ๐’‚๐’” ๐’‚ ๐’—๐’Š๐’•๐’‚๐’ ๐’„๐’๐’Ž๐’‘๐’๐’๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐’“๐’๐’‚๐’… ๐’Š๐’๐’‡๐’“๐’‚๐’”๐’•๐’“๐’–๐’„๐’•๐’–๐’“๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’”๐’‚๐’‡๐’†๐’“ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’Ž๐’๐’“๐’† ๐’‚๐’„๐’„๐’†๐’”๐’”๐’Š๐’ƒ๐’๐’† ๐’„๐’๐’Ž๐’Ž๐’–๐’๐’Š๐’•๐’Š๐’†๐’”

In Bhutan, the absence of footpaths in suburban and urban areas has emerged as a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. The prevailing situation, where footpaths are predominantly confined to urban locales, leaves a significant gap in the countryโ€™s infrastructure. Footpaths are an integral part of road networks, not just for urban centers but for all areas where clusters of people live along the roads. This absence of footpaths not only affects safety but also impedes the ease of mobility for pedestrians.

The importance of footpaths in enhancing road safety cannot be overstated. In Bhutan, their absence has become a glaring issue, leading to a high risk of road accidents and hampering the accessibility and convenience of pedestrians. The Department of Roads (DOR), as the custodian of Bhutanโ€™s road network, needs to address this pressing concern promptly and comprehensively.

One of the primary reasons for the necessity of footpaths is their role in reducing the risk of road accidents. Separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic is a fundamental safety measure that can significantly mitigate the incidence of accidents. The absence of well-constructed footpaths in Bhutan, especially in areas like Hongtsho, Kabesa, Bjemina, Kasadrapchu, and Yousipang, is a matter of great concern. In these localities, the lack of proper footpaths places pedestrians at considerable risk when navigating roads. It is imperative that footpaths be constructed in these areas as a vital safety measure.

Footpaths are not only crucial for urban centers but also along highways and in regions with significant human activity, such as around schools, hospitals, and for various business purposes. The Department of Roads needs to focus on the development of footpaths in these areas, acknowledging the potential hazards that arise from their absence.

In addition to road safety, footpaths offer a range of other benefits, including promoting walking as an alternative mode of transportation. Bhutan, a country deeply committed to Gross National Happiness, should consider this aspect in its urban planning. Encouraging walking not only reduces the environmental impact of motorized transport but also contributes to healthier communities. Moreover, well-designed footpaths can make a significant difference in the quality of life for citizens.

To achieve these goals, the construction of footpaths must adhere to specific design features, ensuring the highest level of safety and accessibility for all individuals. Some key considerations include:

  • Longitudinal Gradient: Footpaths should be constructed with a gentle slope, ensuring ease of use for all pedestrians, including those with mobility challenges.
  • Cross Fall: Proper cross falls must be incorporated to ensure efficient drainage and prevent water accumulation, especially during Bhutanโ€™s monsoon season.
  • Material: The choice of material for footpaths is critical, as it should provide a smooth, non-slip surface. The durability of the material is equally important, given Bhutanโ€™s challenging weather conditions.
  • Accessibility: Footpaths must be designed to accommodate the needs of visually impaired individuals, partially sighted users, and wheelchair users. This includes the incorporation of tactile paving and other accessibility features.
  • Obstruction-Free: Footpaths should be free from obstructions, ensuring a clear and safe path for pedestrians.
  • Crossing Facilities: Properly marked and equipped pedestrian crossings are vital for the safe movement of people across roads.
  • Shade and Street Furniture: The inclusion of amenities such as benches and shade trees enhances the comfort and usability of footpaths.
    Bhutanโ€™s goal of Gross National Happiness encompasses not only spiritual and emotional well-being but also the physical well-being of its citizens. To this end, ensuring the availability of safe, accessible, and well-designed footpaths is essential. It is not merely a matter of convenience; it is a matter of safety and quality of life.
    The recent transformation of the Simtokha bridge area stands as an example of what can be achieved with proper infrastructure development. Credit goes to M/s Rigsar Construction Company for their commendable work in revitalizing the area. The once-pitiable condition riddled with potholes has now given way to a vastly improved and attractive locality
    However, it is essential to acknowledge that progress in one area should inspire a broader approach to infrastructure development across the country. Bhutan deserves comprehensive and thoughtful planning and execution to ensure the safety, convenience, and well-being of its citizens in all regions.
    We urge the relevant authorities, whether it be the Department of Roads (DOR), Dzongkhags, City Corporations, or Dungkhags, to prioritize the inclusion of footpaths along roads and highways. It is a collective responsibility to create an environment where citizens can move about safely and comfortably. Footpaths are an essential component of this vision for Bhutanโ€™s future, and their construction should not be delayed.Footpaths in urban and suburban areas should not be a luxury but a basic necessity. Their absence not only endangers lives but also impedes the development of healthier, happier, and more accessible communities. It is time to address this issue comprehensively and proactively, ensuring that Bhutanโ€™s road infrastructure is not just well-maintained but also aligned with the principles of Gross National Happiness.

Tshering, Thimphu

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