Gasping for breath under heavy pressure of road traffic, the Bangladesh capital has gone for construction of a number of flyovers. Can the Maghbazar-Mouchak flyover ease city commuters' travail? The answer is more likely to be big 'no'. Uttara or Gulshan seems to be a distant place as it takes a minimum of three to four hours' time to reach there from Motijheel or Gulistan. One can reach New Delhi or Bangkok by air within that time!
The government initiated flyover projects in the capital certainly for easing traffic jams. But could these expensive structures do anything to give relief to the tired travellers? One faces jams on roads after transports get down from flyovers. The Mohakhali flyover regularly witnesses gridlock because the roads at its both ends remain clogged with vehicles. These flyovers only serve as a balm to kill pain temporarily but there is no real move to diagnose causes of the ailment and apply proper drugs for a permanent cure. In fact, with Dhaka's territory remaining fixed and hundreds of thousands of people migrating to the mega city daily in search of fortunes, no traffic wizard can have a magic wand to cure the disease.
Indiscriminate turning of residential areas into commercial centres, arbitrary setting up of educational institutions, garment factories and small and medium industries and plastic factories have only added salt to the grievous injury to livability in the capital. And then daily more than 100 new vehicles hit the same roads. And now just calculate the number of motorised vehicles being added to the bulging traffic which Dhaka can't simply bear.
The present traffic congestion can be attributed to lack of planning and preparation over previous decades and an over-reliance on cars due to a deficient public bus system. Even though there are 33 times more cars than buses in the city, cars account for just 13 per cent of passenger transport, while buses are responsible for 49 per cent. Today, the average traffic speed in Dhaka is 6.4 kph. But if vehicle growth continues at its current pace without substantial public transport investment, the average speed may fall to 4.7 kph by 2035-about as slow as walking.
According to official statistics, Dhaka's traffic jams eat up 3.2 million working hours each day and drain billions of dollars from the city's economy annually. Traffic takes another kind of toll on lives and minds of Dhakaites. "The city is atomised," says Sarwar Jahan, a professor of urban and regional planning at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. "People cannot socialise because of the traffic problems. You can only occasionally go to a friend's house or relatives. It simply takes too long."
It is now time for the government to consider the option of railway seriously as it could keep the level of traffic jam at a lower scale than what it would have been otherwise. For obvious reasons, the existing local train services between Narayanganj-Dhaka and Dhaka-Joydevpur have become very popular for low fare and punctual running. Commuters living in Uttara have started using trains to come to main Dhaka city by landing at Kamalapur. Public demand is growing for introduction of more local trains between Narayanganj-Dhaka-Joydevpur. In fact, the railway should immediately come forward with suburban train service to rescue Dhaka city from the whirlpool of traffic jam.
As a senior expert said, there is no reason why the least costly train service for traveling from Narayanganj to Dhaka or from Dhaka to Joydevpur should not get priority and patronage of the government. Many high-tech, high-cost projects for building flyovers, elevated expressways etc. are being considered ignoring the potential of railway. For reducing traffic jam in the city, suburban rail service between Joydevpur-Dhaka-Narayanganj with frequency of trains at every half an hour should be introduced as early as possible.
The bitter experience of past few years leads us to believe that there is no cheap, instant turn-key solution to get rid of the traffic jam problem. Investment in railway infrastructure will bring better results than high cost flyovers and expressways. If rail infrastructure is developed, it will be substantial and sustainable development for the country as a whole. Suburban, commuter or metro rail service play vital role in the mega-cities worldwide, including our neighbouring country, India, said an expert. Millions living outside the capital of West Bengal travel by trains, time-schedules of which are fixed as per needs of officer-goers in Kolkata. And after office hours, they again undertake railway travel to go home to live with their near and dear ones.
Adnan Morshed, an associate professor of architecture and planning at the Catholic University of America, has called Dhaka's congestion 'a vast urban pathology' that 'continues to kill.' Bangladesh's thriving garment industry has given the nation's economy a jolt, but analysts warn that if the capital cannot solve its traffic and infrastructure problem, such progress itself may grind to a halt. Roads clogged with vehicles are the indelible image of Dhaka's agony.