According to a World Bank report, the average traffic speed in Dhaka has dropped from 21kmph to 7kmph, slightly above the average walking speed, in the last 10 years. This is a huge burden for the economy.
More obviously, it has also made an immense negative impact on our environment and day-to-day lives. Time has come to seek alternatives which would provide a faster commuting speed and reduce the horrendous traffic congestion in Dhaka.
In trying to explore solutions to these problems, the electronic and print media often publish reports on flying cars, elevated buses, etc.
The effort that the media is putting in exploring solutions to traffic congestion is admirable, but the issue is that the things that they talk about are not only unrealistic -- because most of these solutions are still far from reality -- considering the socio-economic situation of the majority of the people in Dhaka, they are simply not feasible for a city like Dhaka.
Now, are there really no other realistic solutions that would improve the traffic congestion and commuting speed in Dhaka? Yes, there is: Cycling.
Like people in many other cities around the world, in the past few years, many people from all walks of life in Dhaka have been commuting by cycling. In the process they are saving time and money and getting the opportunity to stay fit.
Although more and more people in Dhaka are considering commuting by cycles as a better alternative to avoid the traffic congestion, there are many people who believe that cycling is a slow mode of transport and cannot be considered as an alternative to reduce traffic congestion.
But considering the current average traffic speed in Dhaka, the question is: Is cycling really a slow transport?
In a poll recently conducted among commuter cyclists in BDCyclists, one of the leading cycling organisations in Bangladesh, it was found that the commuting speed for most bicycle commuters in Dhaka is around 12kmph, which is almost double the current traffic speed in Dhaka.
Studies conducted in many cities around the world have shown that traffic congestion and air pollution in a city can be reduced if people commute by cycling instead of commuting via motorised vehicles. As an added bonus, the city may also be able to have healthier and happier residents.
Around the world
Given the enormous benefits that a city and its residents can enjoy if people commute by cycling, many cities around the world are now developing and creating cycle-friendly infrastructure, facilities, and environment.
To promote cycling, many cities are providing bicycle lanes and shaded bicycle paths, safe bicycle parking areas, and bicycle renting facilities. Even a “car crazy” city such as Bangkok is now redoing many of its roads to provide bicycle lanes.
To promote cycling and enhance the safety of cyclists, cyclists are now considered “road users” in Australia and the road design and traffic management manual explicitly states the types of facilities which are needed for the safe and smooth travel of cyclists.
The manual also discusses the importance of combining bicycle travel with public transport.
Many states in Australia have made it a law for drivers to leave a certain amount of space when passing a cyclist, otherwise drivers have to bear a fine.
Corporations, organisations, and educational institutions have joined hands with city authorities and governments in many cities to promote cycling by providing safe bicycle parking areas for bicycle commuters
Corporations, organisations, and educational institutions have joined hands with city authorities and governments in many cities to promote cycling by providing safe bicycle parking areas for bicycle commuters.
Many companies are also providing incentives for commuting by cycling.
Therefore, instead of focusing on solutions which have yet to see the light of day, time has come to seriously consider commuting by cycling as a realistic and feasible option to reduce traffic congestion and improve the traffic speed in Dhaka.
Promote a healthy Dhaka city
To promote cycling, the media can consider reporting on the several benefits of commuting by cycling. Some of the steps city authorities should consider include providing safe bicycle parking area in major locations of the city, as a lack of safe bicycle parking area is one of the major constraints to cycles in Dhaka.
To enhance the safety of cyclists, bicycle lanes may be provided on the high-speed roads in Dhaka such as on Airport Road.
Most importantly, laws should be developed and implemented that would enhance the safety of cyclists such as fining drivers for passing cyclists too closely or expressing aggressive behaviour towards cyclists, which is another major constraint to commuting by cycling in Dhaka.
To promote cycling, office buildings, shopping malls, and educational institutions may consider providing safe bicycle parking areas within their premises. The bicycle parking area in North South University campus and Banglalink offices are great examples to that end.
One has to remember that at least eight bicycles can be parked in a space that can hold only one car.
It is understandable that due to physical constraints and the long commuting distance, it may not be possible for many people to commute by cycling. However, the traffic scenario may change significantly if people who are able to ride a bicycle, commute by cycling instead of taking a rickshaw or a personal vehicle for their short trips.
Ridwan Quaium is a transport engineer working in Thailand.