The last four weeks have seen intense criticism related to issues associated with traffic management in urban areas of the country in general and Dhaka in particular.
This has been based on inordinate delays that citizens experience every time they step onto the roads -- either to go to their place of work or to the market or to respective educational institutions or to a health care centre seeking medical assistance. This is one aspect in our lives that is beginning to assume critical dimensions.
The other day, I had to travel to Baridhara from my residence in Dhanmondi -- a distance of about nine miles. It took me one hour and 50 minutes to get there. It took another one hour and 46 minutes to get back.
In terms of travelling distance and time required for this purpose, it has been worse trying to reach the intersection near Sonargaon Hotel via Panthapath. It normally takes about 40 to 50 minutes to traverse a distance of about one and half miles.
Consequently travelling on the streets of Dhaka symbolically fits in with the adage “wastage of time.” Associated with the process of delay for those inside cars is the unfortunate suffering pedestrians have to go through (because of the prevalence of noxious fumes emanating from stranded vehicles) as they walk down to their destinations. This is particularly true of children while they walk down to their educational institutions and back.
This extraordinary delay in traffic movement is largely due to poor traffic management by the responsible authorities. One fails to understand why traffic lights put in place at inter-sections are rarely in functional use.
This assumes a different dimension when people in general raise questions as to why such traffic lights empowered through solar panels are found to be non-functional. Some attribute this to the fact that almost every solar panel is dirty and not in the required fit condition.
This in turn affects efficiency of traffic management. Better monitoring of these panels could definitely assist in improving the functionality of the management equation. This would then ease the situation for all varieties of stake-holders.
One needs to refer here also to the arbitrary methods used by law enforcement personnel while controlling traffic moving towards different directions at cross sections. The persistent delays created at junctions like the Bijoy Sarani, at Farmgate, near Sonargaon Hotel, and PG Hospital deserve special attention.
At these points, the situation is further compounded with pedestrians jaywalking and avoiding the crossing of roads through over-bridges. Yes, there have been some attempts by law personnel to fine those crossing streets in this manner, but these efforts have not been consistent.
After this comes the question of discipline and vehicles moving forward within designated lane sections. This just does not happen. Consequently, one can have a situation where a busy communication link like the Mirpur Road can be a total fiasco.
Regularly, most of the time, both day and night, one has slow-moving vehicles like rickshaws, rickshaw vans, push carts blocking and competing for space with buses, trucks, vans, and cars. To this, one also needs to add auto-rickshaws and motorcycles, crossing lanes with impunity.
One fails to understand why police officials cannot strictly enforce existing regulations and discipline pertaining to movement of slow-moving vehicles at different fixed times of the day, particularly between 9am and 6pm (during office hours) and also in the evening till 8pm. This would greatly reduce the traffic crisis near the New Market and Nilkhet junctions.
We also have another facet that generates unnecessary complexity. A two-way road with three potential lanes on each side quite often ends up as five to six lanes on either side of the road. This paradigm becomes complicated because the additional space that are created arbitrarily are then taken over by vehicles which weave in and out of lanes according to their whim.
To this is added buses stopping suddenly (not in designated bus stops) in the middle of the road for disembarking passengers and to pick up additional passengers in total disregard of flowing traffic. This creates danger of collisions and also of accidents where passengers might be affected. CCTV cameras installed on roads should be used for identifying buses which do not stop at designated points for necessary legal action.
In this context, we have also seen the good work initiated recently by the police force in penalizing vehicles, including some belonging to important government officials, for travelling on the wrong side of the road. Everyone welcomed this measure. It started off and then, unfortunately, stopped.
One can only hope that the introduction of metro rail and better public transport vehicles will facilitate more commuters using these options
Dhaka, in particular, with its more than 17 million inhabitants, has probably become the worst example of traffic management in the whole of South Asia, if not the whole of Asia. This evolving scenario has developed despite the government having taken pro-active steps to improve the situation of traffic flow by constructing many flyovers.
The facilitation process is unfortunately hampered at the exit points when vehicles are held up for up to 20 minutes before they can come down from the flyover and cross the intersection to merge into desired traffic lanes.
In Belgium and some parts of France and Germany, they use an interesting method to solve this situation.
Cars coming down from flyovers and wanting to proceed straight on do so by a passageway built underneath the intersection. Cars come in and re-surface on the other side without having to stop for traffic going straight from either direction -- left or right.
One US-based organization consisting of traffic experts recently carried out a survey about traffic conditions in Dhaka. They found out that apparently only about 6% to 8% of the commuters in this city use private transports (cars and auto-rickshaws) to reach their destination.
They however occupy nearly 65% of the road space. Public transports on the other hand use about 10% of the road space, but carry about 60% of the commuters.
The glut of traffic on our roads assume a complex matrix also because the available road space is occupied more often than not, by cars parking themselves in irregular fashion on sides of roads not meant for parking of vehicles.
Such encroachment narrows the space available for movement of transport. This situation is further exacerbated through the creation of illegal shops on pavements (thereby obstructing pathway of pedestrians) and also on the sides of the road itself. This needs to stop.
One cannot also overlook another important factor that contributes to traffic management problems. It relates to the distressing conditions of some of our city roads -- particularly the drainage system.
It is fortunate that both Dhaka South City Corporation as well as the North City Corporation have been working together to redress the situation. Things are much better now. This is helping transform the traffic management situation.
One can only hope that the introduction of metro rail and better public transport vehicles will facilitate more commuters using these options. It will also reduce the use of private transport and unclog traffic jams. We have to wait a few more years, but it will be worth the wait.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]