From the Daily Star:
$5.52b STP aims to ease traffic congestion, attach top priority to pedestrians’ movement
The government yesterday launched a long-term mega project to establish an integrated environment-friendly traffic management system in greater Dhaka to relieve people of the nagging traffic congestion.
The 20-year Strategic Transport Plan (STP) includes 17,400 square km of water and surface ways in Dhaka and neighbouring Narayanganj, Narsingdi, Munshiganj, Gazipur and Manikganj districts.
Metro train services, elevated motorways, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), construction of roads connecting the east of the capital to the west, flyovers, footbridges and new roads, and repair of damaged thoroughfares are the main features of the plan. It is aimed at a safe, reliable and affordable transport system in the city with pedestrians getting the highest priority.
Currently traffic in Dhaka is a nightmare. You can easily sit for over an hour on a two- or three-mile trip. It seems the most immediate cause is actually school drop-off, which causes major back-ups at fairly predictable locations (schools) and times (8:00) every day. We’re talking blocks and blocks of cars waiting to drop off kids, which spills over onto major roads, which ties the city into knots.
In the bigger sense, I’ve observed two main problems here – too many cars, and too few rules. Someone told me that there are 20,000 “new” cars a day on the road in Dhaka. As in, additional used cars fighting for space in the already overcrowded city, as more and more people move to Dhaka or become able to buy a car. This is already a crowded city, with small roads. There’s only so much space. In that sense, the STP could mean real progress, especially by improving public transit, pedestrian access, and through ways.
The second problem can’t be fixed with construction. Traffic in Dhaka is totally lawless, a freestyle and fairly aggressive fight to get through. There are some traffic lights, but common practice is for 10 or 20 cars to sail through after the light turns red. (It’s actually hard to tell if the color of the light has much bearing on whose turn it is.) There are traffic cops, but they are pretty nonchalant when it comes to “rules”. People turn out of the wrong lane, crossing 4 or 5 lanes of traffic to get across the road. Cars drive the wrong way up divided highways. Every possibly kind of vehicle shares the road, all traveling at different speeds. There are no sidewalks, so unlucky pedestrians are forced into the mix. Basically, there is chaos.
We noticed a while back that a nearby traffic circle is actually quite well designed. It’s the meeting point of two large divided roads, with a stoplight, but is also has a circular road around the intersection so that people turning left (the shorter turn here, as we drive on the left) don’t have to pass through the main intersection. The design is brilliant – cars should be able to use the back “circle” road to avoid the intersection if they’re making an immediate left turn, cutting back dramatically on traffic going through the light. Reality? The “circle” road is totally blocked by parked buses, vegetable stands, and rickshaws, and is virtually impassable to cars. Everyone has to pass through the main intersection, and the traffic on either side backs up for blocks. We’ve waited for that one light for probably 15 or 20 minutes. Our conclusion? Even when the design is good, the chaos is such that in practice, it doesn’t work.
That’s my concern about the Strategic Transport Plan. Build all the roads you want, but until people start to follow something resembling a traffic code, things just won’t move.