THE steps that the authorities have taken to fight traffic congestion and prevent road accidents in the capital appear to be piecemeal efforts rather than a sustainable solution. After the death of a university student in March, when students took to streets demanding road safety, the city police began to confiscate unauthorised vehicles for 10 to 20 days. As the police do not have any dump for confiscated vehicles, they began to leave them on busy roads. A large number of buses and cars have so far been left dumped on service lane along busy road stretches from the Biman Bangladesh office to Dhaka airport, causing traffic congestion. Similarly, other crowded areas such as Shahbagh and Agargaon are used to keep impounded vehicles. The traffic authorities say that their earlier action of filing cases or realising fines proved ineffective in keeping unfit vehicles off the roads; they have, therefore, taken this punitive measure. The apparently well intentioned act is, however, creating more traffic congestion and does not promise long-term traffic safety as vehicles are impounded for a short period.
In 2017, a World Bank report said that people lose 3.2 million productive hours a day in Dhaka because of congestion on the road. The report also said that the average traffic speed declined from 21km to 7km an hour, only slightly above the average walking speed, in 10 years. No systematic and coordinated steps have, meanwhile, been taken to improve the situation. Plans for construction of fly-overs, foot bridges and road maintenance works continue without considering their possible impact on traffic. The routine maintenance of the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority is often blamed for traffic congestion. Development works, particularly road and highways construction and expansion projects, although undertaken to improve quality of life, often become the reason for traffic congestion and public sufferings. During the construction period of the Mayor Hanif Flyover, people living in the area and near by suffered heavily because of congestion and water stagnation. The Dhaka-Chattogram Highway expansion project in recent times has slowed down traffic on the route. The situation indicates a lack of coordination between different government offices and sheer weaknesses in planning process the impact of which are not thoroughly reviewed.
Road safety and traffic congestion need to be addressed simultaneously. Steps to tackle one aspect should not aggravate the other. The decision to temporarily impound unfit vehicles may have prevented them from immediately returning on roads, but dumping impounded vehicles along the roads contributed to an already crippling traffic condition. City authorities must, therefore, immediately sit with all concerned to allocate suitable dump for impounded vehicles. More importantly, the government must address its weaknesses in planning process and ensure that no development works are undertaken without assessing their impact on the life of citizens.
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