Stairway to green Dhaka

Nafiul Alam Shupto | Published: 00:00, Sep 29,2019

Nafiul Alam Shupto, green Dhaka, cycling, Amsterdam, Denmark, Copenhagen, green transport, les-emission, Dhaka, Dhaka transport, Bangladesh transport sector,

A cycle rally in Manik Mia Avenue, Dhaka, June 2, 2018. — Ali Hossain Mintu

Dhaka with a population of over 17 million is an urban space expanding in a lightning speed. Unplanned urbanisation and poor transportation infrastructure is making life in one of the most densely populated cities unbearable. A way of commuting freely and in an environment-friendly transport in Dhaka could be cycling. In order to create a stairway to green Dhaka, bicycle needs to be considered as one of the best alternate mode of transport, writes Nafiul Alam Shupto

DHAKA, the capital city of Bangladesh, is one of the fastest growing megacities in the world with current population of more than 17 million. The rapid urbanisation process, high vehicular population growth and that of the mobility, inadequate transportation facilities and policies, absence of dependable public transport system and inadequate traffic management practices have created a significant worsening of traffic and environmental problems in Dhaka.

This situation has resulted in deterioration in accessibility, level of service, safety, comfort and operational efficiency, causing increased costs, loss of time, air pollution and psychological strain and is posing a serious risk to the economic viability of the city and the sustainability of its environment. Hence sustainable transportation system needs to be introduced and more precisely popularising bicycle among the city dwellers can be a big step towards green Dhaka.

Bangladesh is a fast urbanising country where the urban base has expanded rapidly from 7.6 per cent to nearly 35.86 per cent between 1970 and 2017. Dhaka has witnessed an extraordinary social and economic development since its independence, and the trend is expected to continue. It alone provides 35 per cent to the country's total GDP.

But unplanned urbanisation, especially poor transportation planning and lower land utilisation efficiency has turned the city into a dirty, hazardous and demeaning place for living. Dhaka has already received the dubious distinction of being the second dirtiest city in the world. At the same time, it is consistently ranked as one of the world's least liveable city. Dhaka has ranked the second on a global list of cities with worst air pollution. Dhaka is the 7th most stressed city in the world and the most stressed city in Asia for being densely populated and having the worst traffic congestion.

A study shows that pedestrians make up approximately 72 per cent of road fatalities, 45 per cent of casualties and are involved in about 48 per cent of all reported accidents in Dhaka City. Although Dhaka's area is less than one per cent of the country's total land area, it supports about 10 per cent of the total population and 30 per cent of the total urban population.

There is hardly any other city in Asia that has grown (in terms of population and area) as rapidly and has changed its ‘face’ as dramatically as Dhaka. During the last four decades, Dhaka has recorded a phenomenal growth in terms of population and area. The city is presently one of the 10th largest mega-cities of the world with a population of more than 17 million, having the highest population density and an alarming growth rate.

The rapid rise in population along with increased and versatile urban land use patterns has generated considerable travel demands as well as numerous transport problems in Dhaka, which has resulted in deterioration in accessibility, level of service, safety, comfort, operational efficiency and the urban environment. The additional population and on-going urbanisation trends will add new dimensions to the urban fabric of Dhaka in the coming years.

At the present situation Dhaka needs a sustainable solution and bicycle could be the effective alternate mode of transport like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, China, and Vietnam. World’s top developed countries are very familiar with bicycle trips. In Netherlands almost 30 per cent of their all trips type have made with bicycle with Denmark having almost 20 per cent trips.

City like Copenhagen invested $200 million to add another 136 KM bicycle road network with its existing network. Amsterdam capital of Netherlands has also allocated $160 million to improve their cycling facilities. It indicates bicycle has a great potential to be a sustainable alternate transportation mode and an appropriate solution to the present traffic congestion problem of Dhaka.

Bicycle has many advantages over other modes of transport and also has a proven medical advantage. Cycling burns calories from the body, eliminates the risk of stroke, reduces diabetes, and helps control blood pressure and hypertension in patients. The risk of cardiovascular diseases decreases by more than 50 per cent if one cycles around 35 kilometres per week.

One can go anywhere with a bicycle, within reasonable time. There is no waiting for buses and auto-rickshaws; there is no bargaining over fare. It is also one of the cheapest forms of urban transport — only one quarter the cost of bus travel per passenger/km, and one-tenth the cost of rickshaw travel. Bicycles take very little road space, are pollution free and affordable.

In recent times a number of cyclist groups have emerged all over the country. They keep them updated by forming communities and helping each other to popularise cycling scenario in the country. Organisations like BD Cyclists, Dhaka Cyclists have formed over these years with a view to encourage people to get into cycling.  A study shown that the annual demand of bicycle is increased by 40 per cent which reflects the interest of adopting bicycle as being inexpensive to build, buy, ride and maintain than other privet vehicle.

Having said that, the ratio of using bicycle is still not up to the level that is needed to bring Dhaka into life. Horrendous traffic, poor public transport management and un-walk-able footpaths still cannot convince the city dwellers to get interested into cycling. Unsafe road and the absence of bicycle lane are some main reasons behind the unpopularity of this mode of transportation.

Tendency of buying motorised private vehicles which has also become a portrayal of social status is motivating city commuters to stay back from bicycle. However, riders say that one of the biggest challenges they face when commuting in Dhaka is parking. The city lacks a safe bicycle parking space. Since bicycles are more vulnerable to theft than motorised vehicles, residential, commercial and other types of developments, and transit hubs in the city needs to take necessary steps to ensure its security. Lack of governmental plans regarding green transportation is also keeping cycling far from popularity.

Transportation is one aspect we cannot do without in this day and age. However, the current transportation systems come along with a wide range of problems including global warming, environmental degradation, health implications (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), and emission of greenhouse gases.

Out of the total greenhouse gas emissions, road transport takes up a lion share, 75 per cent to be precise and this trend is projected to increase in the future if it continues unabated. All this puts lot of pressure on the national governments to devise policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as oil demands.

In order to stairway to green Dhaka, bicycle needs to be considered as one of the best alternate mode of transport. As, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) are going to be activated in Dhaka, providing bicycle lane can be very much effective solution as home to station connecting mode to reduce traffic congestion. Therefore the authority needs to think from this perspective which can help us to embrace a more liveable Dhaka than ever. 

Nafiul Alam Shupto is a student of North South University.

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