Central Thimpu becomes pedestrian zone on World Environment Day
In a move that received a mixed response, Bhutan’s government passed an order declaring all Tuesdays as pedestrian day throughout the country, starting June 5—the World Environment Day.
Central Thimphu was transformed into a pedestrian zone from 8 am to 6 pm. Only emergency and service vehicles, such as ambulances, fire tenders, military vehicles, buses and bicycles were allowed on the city’s main roads. Exceptions were also made for electric and hybrid vehicles and for taxis, with the rider that only those with number plates ending in odd numbers would be allowed to ply the city’s inner roads on June 5; those ending in even numbers will be allowed next Tuesday.
As the Cabinet note sent to news media explained, the pedestrian day was “prompted by the need to promote health, community interaction and vitality”. Parking, congestion, and poor air quality in the Thimphu valley were the more immediate reasons for this government order. As of December 2011, the country’s vehicle fleet grew to 62,700. Close to half of these vehicles ply in the Thimphu valley alone. Cheap import duties means the country imports close to 800 vehicles each month.
The move was pushed by five agencies—the National Environment Commission Secretariat, Thimphu City Corporation, Road Safety and Transport Authority, Thimphu Traffic Division and Bhutan Post, which operates a fleet of 19 buses.
The event made headlines in the Bhutanese media. Dozens of person-on-the-street interviews carried in newspapers show the move was welcomed by many. The fitness aficionado king used the occasion to ride his bicycle along the Norzin Lam, Thimphu’s main street. News reports said the move was less successful in Phuntsholing, a large trading town close to the Indian border.
No one went gaga over HEHE
Four years ago, the country had initiated a similar measure—Helping our environment, health and economy—with the intriguing acronym HEHE, to be implemented in Sarpang. The move failed to sustain, and died after a few months.
Some, however, did not find pedestrians day amusing, particularly parents of school-going children and tourists who were blindsided and inconvenienced by the decision. A common refrain reported in the press was that the government should have solicited the public’s consent before implementing this policy.
Incidentally, the World Environment Day was also Help-Shoe Bhutan Day; door-to-door collection yielded over 3,000 pairs of shoes to be distributed to the poor in the country’s eastern region. In the same spirit, Bhutan Telecom’s day-long Go Green Campaign saw people line up in the city to hand in their used Bhutan-Mobile vouchers in exchange for a new Kuenphen voucher—the word means ‘giving to others’ worth Nu. 25.
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