It is not unusual when one has to make a minimum of one round around the Norzin Lam to park a car. With insufficient car parking spaces and the narrow lane, driving around Norzin Lam is a pain. Norzin Lam is one street that every driver wants to avoid. Applying breaks, pressing the clutch and accelerator time and again. Those who drive, have you ever counted how many times you do this to allow the pedestrians to cross the numerous zebra crossings, to allow vehicles to move out of a parking space, to stop for parking fee collectors, to wait for the traffic police to signal from the traffic roundabout. This driving nightmare will only grow along the Norzin Lam.
It is a sigh of relief to know that Thimphu Thromde is closing the Norzin Lam for vehicular movement for good. However, someone’s comfort is always another’s discomfort. The business community along the Norzin Lam is already panicking, as they fear losing customers. The property owners along this part of the city are already hinting that they may go bankrupt, as they may not be able to command higher rents to make equated monthly installments from their properties.
I have a very positive view on the closure of the Norzin Lam to vehicles. This move will certainly minimise congestion along Norzin Lam, which is an eyesore besides providing bad experiences to both the drivers and the pedestrians. I can already imagine a wide pedestrian street where public can enjoy the feel of Thimphu throbbing in a leisurely manner.
Cities closing the street for vehicles is not unusual around the world. Many cities have closed streets to vehicles and have yielded positive results. After the closure of Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen to vehicles in 2008, Nørrebrogade had a 20 percent increase in cyclists, decrease of 45 percent in accidents and 60 percent increase in pedestrians. In San Francisco, even employment along the closed street increased! There are many other statistically proven positive effects that have resulted from closing the streets to vehicles.
I can only see many benefits to the business community along the Norzin Lam from the closure of the street to vehicular movement. If this street is not closed, the only ultimate solution is to widen or add an additional lane along the Norzin Lam to accommodate the rising number of vehicles. Adding more roads and widening the existing roads do not mean that the business units will have more customers. This will only bring more vehicles to the streets causing more congestion and chaos. Congestion is what many of us want to avoid. It is important to realize that vehicles do not necessarily bring customers to the businesses. To me, it makes a sense to consider pedestrians as prospective customers than those moving in a car trying to cross a street unless someone has a business to clean the windshield when a vehicle stops for a while.
Many would have already been struck by many questions. How would I carry a sack of rice to the parking space located near the BOD? How will I shop around by walking? Will my hardware outlet have enough customers? Should I shift my store? And many more questions follow. Such questions arise simply because we think without the thought that Norzin Lam is a place where we buy products ranging from doma to socks. We are not prepared to think about the alternatives. This obsession with Norzin Lam has made our lives difficult. Many have to travel from Begana and Ngabiphu to Norzin Lam to shop. The cost of travelling and parking fees are higher than what they actually spend on buying, sometimes. On the other hand, for business startups, many ideas are limited to the spaces of Norzin Lam. When many cannot afford the rent or do not get the space along Norzin Lam, it is when their business ideas are nipped in the bud. We are so obsessed with Norzin Lam.
For Thimphu to have an efficient and thriving city centre along Norzin Lam, there needs to be a great amount of planning in heads and papers before implementation. Otherwise, the result of the hasty planning by closing the street to vehicles will only impact everyone on a daily basis. I have been to cities where only vehicles that are meant for public transport and utility purposes are allowed to move in the street. These cities are efficient and allow more moving spaces for the pedestrians and the cyclists. They have more spaces for open-air events and relaxation, which draws more people to the street. What would one need more than a cleaner and wider walking space, clean water tap provision, well-maintained drainage system, public toilets and shops around? Wouldn’t shopping experiences be relaxing rather than tiring this way? This ultimately will benefit the business communities, the property owners and the general public. I understand this as a simple concept of sustainable city that promotes Gross National Happiness (GNH).
My ultimate dream is to see Thimphu sustain in a manner that promotes GNH. So do you!
Gopal S Mongar,
Resident of Thimphu