Dhaka has already been ranked as one of the most unliveable cities in the world and the present state of traffic management in the city indicates why it got such a ranking. Around 5.0 million working hours are being wasted each day due to traffic jams in Dhaka, causing an average financial loss of Taka 370 billion annually. The way things are progressing, the economic losses would continue to rise further and the situation may spiral out of control soon. Similar to the above data, numerous facts and figures on the subject were revealed at a round-table meeting titled 'Traffic Jams in Dhaka Metropolis: Financial and Health Problems' organized by the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of BUET and the Road Safety Foundation in Dhaka recently. The vehicles on the Dhaka roads now have an average speed of only 5.0 kilometres per hour and the traffic jams are causing excessive physical and mental pressures on the passengers as they have to remain stuck inside vehicles for hours together. This in turn is acting as triggers for different diseases and health-related problems. To say the least, the situation is quite alarming, but the authorities have so far failed to demonstrate any real concern or undertake genuinely proactive or innovative initiatives to address the situation on an urgent basis.
According to the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP) of the government framed in 2015, an estimated 36 million trips take place in Dhaka each day. A trip is counted when a person rides a vehicle and reaches a destination. Traffic jams during these trips cause an estimated loss of 5.0 million working hours per day. Previous researches on the subject indicate that between Tk 200 and 550 billion are lost each year as a result, the average of which is Tk 370 billion. But it is possible to save at least 60 per cent or Tk 220 billion of this amount if there is political goodwill, and pragmatic measures are taken for resolving the traffic mess in Dhaka.
The above-mentioned round-table pointed out the adverse health-related impacts of traffic jams on city travellers, including the behavioural ones. Unwarranted mental pressure is created when one is forced to stand or sit still during such jams, and worries, anxieties crop up in the mind. This mental stress gives rise to various diseases; the citizens also lose patience and become frustrated and combative. The negative influences of this mental unrest also sour human relationships in society and family. It also adversely affects work efficiency and enthusiasm. The risks of causing accidents also rise for those drivers who are forced to remain seated before the driving wheels hours after hours. Besides, there are also increased risks of deafness and other maladies due to high levels of sound and air pollution.
At present, the average speed of motor vehicles in Dhaka metropolis is only 5.0 kilometres per hour. If this trend continues, then the walking speed of pedestrians will soon overtake the speed of vehicles. According to a study on the traffic problem in Dhaka released by the BRAC University in 2016, the average speed of vehicles per hour in Dhaka was 21.2 kilometres in 2004. If the number of vehicles on the Dhaka roads continues to increase at the present rate and no initiative is taken to resolve the traffic mess, the average speed of vehicles would be 4.0 kilometres per hour within 2025, which is even less than the walking speed.
The round table identified the following causes for traffic jams in Dhaka: (a) the number of large roads in the city is very few; (b) the traffic crossings are acting like malignant tumours; (c) illegal parking, illegal occupation of footpaths, occupation of roads by floating vendors add to the problem; (d) randomly picking up and dropping passengers at unauthorised spots trigger jams; (e) reduction in the width of roads due to indiscriminate diggings by various agencies pile up the problem; (f) excessive competition for picking up passengers due to the existence of over 200 transport companies in the city makes the situation worse; (g) lack of coordination, accountability and sense of responsibility among the relevant government organisations routinely undermines efforts for resolution of the problem; (h) godfathers and extortionists operating in various transport sub-sectors have also exacerbated the situation.
The recommendations put forward at the round-table for resolving the traffic mess in Dhaka included widening and improving the bus services in the city, enhancing the railway services for city-dwellers, drastically reducing the number of private cars and undertaking administrative decentralisation of Dhaka in order to withstand the population pressure. Other recommendations included the freeing of footpaths from illegal occupation, creation of a separate bus lane and planned measures for improving the management of road crossings. As the problem is a multi-dimensional one, the rapid rise in population needs to be brought under control and more pressure should be exerted on the government by social organisations for taking effective measures to reduce traffic mess before it goes completely out of hand.
Dhaka sits at the centre of Bangladesh. Many developing countries lack such a city. But the authorities here are doing only that much which suits their own priorities. Consequently, what is happening in the name of development is allowing Dhaka come to a standstill. A city has two pulse beats: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In Dhaka, the morning beat never goes down. It remains like that even up to midnight. If its roads are considered, then Dhaka has now become a dead city bereft of rhythms and healthy vibes.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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