City gridlocks persist despite promises 

Experts blame lack of proper measures

Shahin Akhter | Published: 00:03, Feb 04,2020


Both the city corporations of Dhaka have failed to ease traffic congestions and bring back order on the roads in the capital after getting these responsibilities years ago.

The promise of easing traffic congestions in the capital was prioritised by all mayors in the past.

In recent years the mayors were given responsibilities to free Dhaka from congestions and make it a passenger-pedestrian-friendly city by brining all buses under some companies and freeing roads and footpaths from mindless competition and occupation.

But these steps have remained unimplemented.

The government even backtracked on the full enforcement of the much-discussed Road Transport Act 2018 in the face of protests from the transport owners and workers.

According to the survey-based World Traffic Index-2020, implemented and published in January by a research organisation called NUMBEO, Dhaka has ranked 10th in terms of worst traffic among the world’s 228 cities studied.

A World Bank analysis published in July 2017 revealed that the average traffic speed in the capital, over the past 10 years, dropped from 21 kilometres per hour to just seven kilometres, slightly above the average walking speed.

According to a study of Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, currently the average traffic speed in Dhaka is five to six kilometres per hour.

During the campaigns for the February 1 elections to the cities, the mayoral candidates made a plethora of promises to turn the capital into an ideal place to live by freeing it from traffic congestions.

Road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader on June 19, 2019 had formed a committee with the immediate past Dhaka South City mayor, Sayeed Khokon, as its head to ease the capital’s traffic congestions, stop the movement of all illegal vehicles and illegal parking and recover its footpaths within the next two months.

But, in reality, passengers still have to stay stuck in prolonged and nagging vehicle gridlocks throughout the  capital while citizens also suffer due to acute shortage of public transports.

Reckless bus and minibus drivers regularly park their vehicles in the middle of the roads adding to the congestions.

Illegal parking and inactive traffic signals are also major reasons for traffic gridlocks on the city roads, said experts.

Sidewalks in the capital have long been either occupied or damaged, except in few areas, becoming a nightmare for the pedestrians, especially the females, the elderly and the people with disabilities.

Lack of empowered and efficient leadership, coordination with other government agencies and proper planning were responsible for the failures, observed rights activists, urban planners and experts.

Md Shamsul Hoque, a Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology civil engineering professor and the university’s Accident Research Institute former director, emphasised an extensive administrative reform for empowering the mayors to fulfil transport-sector decisions and promises.

‘During their campaigns the mayoral candidates consistently dished out nice commitments,’ he said, adding that people expected that the mayors would solve these problems like in other countries.

‘In the Dhaka cities, after the mayors free footpaths they are occupied again the next day due to police indifference,’ he said, adding, ‘The mayors cannot make the police accountable as they have no power over them.’

He commented that the city corporations should be empowered with the authorities of planning, operation, development, maintenance and enforcement through administrative reforms and should be equipped with the requisite technical manpower.

Accident Research Institute assistant professor Kazi Md Shifun Newaz said that the movement of both slow- and fast-moving vehicles on the same roads, illegal parking, defiance of bus stoppages and lack of enforcement of laws were major reasons behind congestion on roads.

The presence of a huge number of small cars and lack of public transports also created chaos on the roads, he added.

According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, around 41 cars and around eight buses were registered each day in 2019 in Dhaka.

Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan joint secretary and urban planner Iqbal Habib said that the solution to traffic congestions was a co-ordinated job for different government agencies.

‘But this job should be led by a person who has direct connection with the city dwellers and who is accountable to them,’ Iqbal said, adding, ‘The mayor is the perfect leader for this work.’

Late Dhaka North mayor Annisul Huq personally took an initiative for a reform of the city bus service, including the rationalisation of the routes, with the approval from prime minister Sheikh Hasina and proved that his initiative was right, Iqbal said.

Other decisions allowing the mayor to ease traffic congestions could not be implemented due to incompetent leadership, he observed.

BUET urban and regional planning department head Professor Mohammad Shakil Akhter said that agencies like the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority had a responsibility to support city corporations in implementing these decisions.

Appointment of appropriate technical experts in transport-related organisations was also a must to identify and address the causes of the chaos on the roads, he added.

Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary general Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury said that the mayors could not implement the decisions on traffic congestions as there was no city government system introduced to the capital.

Poor leadership can also be responsible for failure in implementing the processes of freeing Dhaka from traffic congestions, he added. 

The committee, formed on June 19, 2019 by Obaidul Quader to ease city traffic congestions, had then Dhaka North City mayor Atiqul Islam as member.

Awami League mayoral candidate for the north city Atiqul Islam, who won the election for the second consecutive period, in his latest his election manifesto promised to implement integrated plans to ease traffic congestions, ensure public transports for all, arrange parking facilities and complete the unfinished work of late north city mayor Annisul Huq’s Dhaka bus route rationalisation project at the earliest.

Annisul Huq had started to lead an initiative to rationalise the bus routes and to bring all public buses and minibuses under some companies as per a directive from the prime minister in 2015.

After Annisul’s death in 2017 the responsibility was transferred to the then south city mayor, Sayeed Khokon.

Sayeed Khokon, after attending the first meeting of the committee for the rationalisation of bus routes on September 27, 2018, had said that he would make roads safe and free from congestion and air pollution in two years.

He failed to obtain mayoral nomination from his Awami League party for the 2020 mayoral election.

AL’s south city mayor candidate Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, who won the election, promised to establish separate streets for fast-moving and slow-moving vehicles and pavements for passers-by to reduce traffic mishaps and to increase mobility.

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