A traffic policeman was busy tying a rope across one side of Dhaka's Panathapath intersection to block traffic on Monday afternoon.
After hoisting the rope at waist length, Gias Uddin, a long-bearded man, stood on one side of the intersection.
Traffic had gotten so bad during Ramadan, he said, that drivers were no longer heeding the raised arms of traffic officials, the only traffic signal that seems to work in Dhaka city.
So Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has been resorting to roping off intersections across the city from the beginning of Ramadan.
“This way the vehicles cannot just drive past,” Gias explained.
Over the last two decades the government has tried out many costly ideas for traffic management in Dhaka, including the introduction of automated signals, countdown timers and giant digital display boards.
In 2005, Dhaka City Corporation installed 70 automated traffic signals at the major intersections at a cost of Tk13cr under the Dhaka Urban Transport Project. But it turned out that most drivers do not want to follow the instructions of an automated unsupervised traffic light.
However, the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) Project authority has been maintaining the signaling system with a cost of Tk12-14lakh per year since they launched in June 2009.
Another project on countdown timers was implemented recently with a cost of Tk96.71 lakh aiming to improve the signaling system. But most of these timer machines are now out of operation.
DMP has also installed 17 giant and 14 small digital display boards at major points of the city to remind drivers about traffic rules.
When a new idea does not work, DMP traffic always reverts to the age-old method that has worked best, blowing whistles, raising their arms and sometimes standing in the middle of the road to block vehicles.
In its latest effort, the government decided to introduce remote controlled traffic signal system on Dhaka's streets.
Under this project, the traffic police will get remotes to control the lights and will be able to decide over when they go green or red.
Transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque said: “The government has already wasted a massive amount of money by introducing automated signal system but that did not work because at different times of the day, the traffic varies. So when one side is completely gridlocked, the other side can have very little traffic. The semi-automated remotes can solve these problems.
“With this system, the traffic personnel will be able to use their judgement to gauge the pressure of traffic and decide which side needs to be open for how long.”
The remote-controlled traffic system project will be implemented by the CASE Project and funded by the World Bank.
CASE Project Director and Dhaka South City Corporation Superintendent Engineer Shihab Ullah told the Dhaka Tribune that the remotes would be procured from India and an Indian technical team will work with CASE to integrate the new system with the existing traffic signaling system. The traffic police will also receive training on operating the remotes, he said.
However, he did not disclose the total project cost saying that it was yet to be fixed.
“A trial will start in the DSCC area within a couple of months,” Shihab Ullah added.
However, DMP claimed that the initiative was approved in 2015 following an inter-ministerial meeting, but the CASE Project authority has been slow in implementation.
“Several meetings were held with the CASE Project and they promise to implement the project soon, but already two years have gone by,” said Mosle Uddin, additional commissioner of DMP Traffic.