By 7:30AM on 5 June, hundreds of cycling enthusiasts had gathered at Patan Darbar Square. Pedestrians, activists, politicians, and cyclists were marking World Bicycle Day and call for green, bicycle-friendly infrastructure in Kathmandu.
It was the first rally in more than two years because of the pandemic. The new and re-elected mayors of Lalitpur, Kathmandu, and Kirtipur were all present to show their commitment to supporting dedicated cycling lanes for a more environmentally friendly Kathmandu Valley.
Participants were promoting cycling as a sustainable mode of transportation, an alternative to private vehicles including motorbikes, emissions from which are among the major contributors to Kathmandu’s dangerous levels of air pollution.
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Kathmandu is one of the most polluted cities in the world with PM2.5 concentration over eight times the WHO recommended guidelines. Long-term exposure to these pollutants means that the life expectancy of residents is reduced by nearly four years.
Pushkar Shah, an international cyclist and activist who has pedalled across 150 countries hopes that a cycling culture in Kathmandu can help reduce pollution. “We know Kathmandu is polluted, we are always talking about dust and pollution. But we have to do more, we have to educate ourselves to clean up the city,” he says.
Advocates maintain that promoting cycling and creating dedicated bike lanes could significantly reduce vehicle emissions, especially from the nearly 1.5 million two-wheelers in the streets of Kathmandu. “If we promote a bicycle day just once a week, we can reduce 1.5 million litres of fuel every year,” adds Shah. “We can save money as well as clean up the air.”