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Getting unstuck

  • Published at 05:12 pm August 9th, 2018
WT_Aug 6, 2018_16
A bicycle stand outside of a train station in Fribourg, Switzerland.(Photo: Saqib Sarker)

Things good traffic systems around the world have

Dhaka, a megacity and the capital of Bangladesh, loses a whooping Tk370 billion annually (equal to 11 percent of the national budget) to traffic congestion, according to a recent study conducted by the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The prolonged traffic snarl-ups cause a five million work hour loss to the commuters and exponentially took the average speed of public transports in the city down to 5 kilometres an hour - as low as walking speed. The hourly traffic speed was 21 kilometres even a decade ago.

It’s not only the time that the ever increasing traffic is taking away from the dwellers of the city, the nearly ineffective old-school traffic management system coupled with unskilled drivers, unfit vehicles, narrow roads and the citizen’s reluctance to abide by the traffic laws is also claiming lives of hundreds of people every year.

According to the latest figures released by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the number of registered vehicles in Dhaka is 1,115,654 (It is estimated that another 400,000 unregistered motor vehicles are also operating on the roads of Dhaka), which ply around the city within a scant road network of approximately 3,000 km, comprising of hardly 7 percent of the total built-up area with few alternative connecting roads.

It takes comprehensive measures to build up a traffic management mechanism that is safe and efficient for both motorists, commuters, and pedestrians of a city. While there is no singular model of efficient traffic management system, a set of components can commonly be found in cities known for efficient management mechanisms- the first of which is a centralized traffic control system.

Real time traffic adjustment system

To manage the timing of the traffic lights and to get a smoothly flowing traffic, a synchronized traffic signaling system is a must. India’s Mumbai, a city resembling Dhaka especially in terms of its population and traffic congestion, had a modern traffic management system introduced in 2011. A large screen was set up at the city’s police headquarters that relays live images from traffic junctions, while a geographic information system renders congestion levels onto a map veined with red, amber and green. Traffic policemen sitting at the screen consoles monitor the junctions at a time through the hi-tech remotely operable zoom cameras. The real time adjustment system has evidently reduced the stoppage time and snarl-ups in the city.

The not-so-hi-tech mechanism is also helpful to identify broken down vehicles or potential security risks or accidents and deal with the very quickly through continuous monitoring from the control centre. Minimized number of stops and delays and shorter traffic signal cycles can also improve the traffic flow in a city. 

Bus Rapid Transit

Improved traffic system is just not about building better signals, it’s also about improving the public transportation mechanism. Sophisticated but expensive systems like underground subways are widely deemed effective solution for traffic congestion and commuting as a whole, but it’s economically out-of-reach for a city like Dhaka. However, international partners like World Bank have long been promoting the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) idea, a relatively less costly model that also provides dramatic benefits in terms of urban mobility and air pollution reduction.

BRT is a roadway-based rapid transit system that looks and behaves like a subway, and offers high capacity rapid transit services on dedicated lanes in city streets. Under this model, buses can drive through without any interruption and can even be given priority when passing through intersections. Commuters can catch BRT buses from dedicated stations by paying in advance through smart cards. Constructing a BRT project is evidently cheaper than building new flyovers or highways as it requires limited construction and is usually based on existing routes.

Many major cities in the world have Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems including Delhi, Bangkok, Jakarta and Shanghai. Bangladesh had planned to build three BRT systems around 20 years ago to improve Dhaka's traffic system and reduce emissions, but due to shortage of space on existing roads, the authorities decided to build only two BRT routes, which still hasn’t come to fruition.

Pedestrian footpath and lane separation

While in most countries around the world, roadways are accompanied by wide footpaths and are separated whenever possible, Dhaka has only 400 km of footpaths of which 40 percent are occupied by street vendors, garbage bins, or construction materials at any given time. This in turn results in forcing pedestrians onto the road and ends up increasing the number of road casualties.

Separated lanes for light and heavy vehicles is also a standard practice in the modern world, but to date, there are no exclusive bicycle lanes or pedestrian streets in Dhaka. Bus lanes, pedestrian facilities, and non-motorized transport lanes are properly marked in megacities around the world and even physically separated from facilities for private motorized modes in cases.

Separation not only improves safety for all modes, but also smoothes traffic flow, raises awareness of the rights of different vehicles, and even encourages travellers to switch to public or non-motorized transport modes.

Warning systems for pedestrian crosswalk safety

To ensure the safety of pedestrians crossing roads, cities around the world usually employ 2-Lane school zone crosswalks in residential neighbourhoods; 4-Lane uncontrolled intersections on busy city thoroughfares and selected crowded zones.

Flashing amber lights are installed at both ends of the crosswalk underneath pedestrian signs in strobe-like pattern to catch motorists’ attention and alert them to crosswalk activity. Many cities also employ in-roadway warning lights in speeding zones as the most effective method at alerting the motorist. These lights illuminate the crosswalk lines -- visually reinforcing the crosswalk, and can alert the motorist up to 1,000 feet in advance.

Parking facilities

On-street parking is a pretty common sight in Dhaka. Unrestricted parking occupies road space and causes drivers to obstruct traffic flow while searching for parking. In this circumstance, many cities around the world put a complete on-street parking bans in center cities to improve traffic flow by offering more road space for moving vehicles. Providing metered off-street space for parking is also used an effective method to resolve traffic congestion, while also raising revenue for the city.

Electronic road pricing to control traffic in-flow

Stockholm has an electronic road pricing scheme that charges motorists for entering the central city on weekdays during the peak hours, with exemptions to public buses, taxis and emergency vehicles. The strategy was found to be highly effective as during the first two years, peak-period traffic volumes within the tolling zone fell by 25 percent (removing one million vehicles from the road each day), while collecting a whooping $300,000 in toll revenue that have been used to improve other transport and transit services in the city.

This change in the policy also resulted in reduction of car use and carbon dioxide emissions in the city with accompanying social benefits including an increase in bicycle use. These traffic measures are implemented effectively only when they are combined with the improved training of pedestrians, commuters, drivers and traffic police.