THE government’s not living up to its repeated pledges to make city roads friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists is worrying. About 60 government agencies and non-governmental organisations observed World Car Free Day on Tuesday, with the theme of ‘Back to walking and cycling for liveable cities’, when they emphasised the need for roads friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. Fewer cars on city roads could help to reduce traffic congestion while roads friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists could help to improve the environment and help people to remain healthy. Moreover, a few hundred pedestrians are estimated to be killed in road accidents as roads in most cities are not pedestrian-friendly. What is worrying is that while the government acknowledges the benefits of fewer vehicles on roads and of environmentally-friendly transports on public health and the environment, it has never taken initiatives in this direction. As roads in all major cities are increasingly becoming congested, people willing to walk or cycle to work find it difficult to do so because of little road space allocated for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority says that the debilitating level of traffic congestion in Dhaka is largely caused by an excessive number of cars, which cover less than 10 per cent of the trips but use more road space than other modes of transport. A World Bank study, published in 2014, shows only 5 per cent of trips that take place in Dhaka were made by privately owned cars, which used roughly 80 per cent of the road space. The most telling point that the study made was that about 58 per cent of the total trips were made by walking, bicycling, or rickshaw ride, but these modes of transport barely get allocation of road space. Road space is believed to be more dominated by cars now, resulting in the reduction in traffic speed, as a 2017 World Bank study shows, in Dhaka to seven kilometres an hour. About 80 per cent of the daily trips in Dhaka now occur within five kilometres and more than 40 per cent trips occur within two kilometres, which are suitable distances for bicycling and walking.
An improvement in Dhaka’s air during the general holiday amply proves the impact of fewer vehicles on roads. The government and its agencies concerned must, therefore, consider the health and environmental benefits of fewer cars on roads and take effective initiatives to make city roads friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. The government must also work on improving the public transport system so that people do not need to use cars for short trips.
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