|Volume 6 | Issue 07 | July 2012 ||
Sorting out Dhaka's Traffic Gridlock
MD SHAMSUL AREFIN suggests ways to tackle Dhaka's mounting traffic problems.
Bangladesh is experiencing one of the highest population densities in the world. Therefore, under the prevailing road traffic environment, strategy towards solving traffic congestion and reducing accidents should be focused on minimised vehicular traffic movement with higher traffic load capacity, particularly in urban areas. I am discussing sustainable and affordable solutions considering the context of Dhaka and other big cities as well; and I am confining myself to road transport only. In so doing, I not only envisage the introduction of mass transit system but also sketch out the relevant infrastructural issues to support mass transit system more efficiently and effectively.
The crux of Dhaka's traffic problem stems from two major reasons. One is mismatching of 'design traffic'. In fact, Dhaka was basically designed for 'cycle rickshaw' (not only Dhaka, probably almost all of the urban areas in the country). The other is 'Capacity Failure' of the road network. Therefore, we have to address the issues properly to come up with viable solutions to solve Dhaka's traffic problem, based on the design traffic.
Since there are flaws in the design of basic vehicle modes, encouragement of motorised traffic even to a limited scale would require constructing some new road infrastructures, some new rules and regulations, because it is not easy to rectify when the basic mistake is one of the major underlying causes of the current problem. Against this backdrop, the situation has become so complex that an undisputed solution is probably not possible. Nevertheless, some recommendations are proposed below, which need to be addressed as soon as possible if we really care about the solution of the current impasse in terms of road traffic environment.
Road, vehicle and human issues, and aspects of elevated expressway
1) Increasing the capacity of mass transport by double-decker modes of different classes: As it is very difficult and expensive to have lateral expansion of the existing roads, introduction of double-decker buses as public mode of transport would nearly double the passenger carrying capacity. It does not necessarily mean only double-decker buses but also other forms of double-decker transports (e.g. double-decker minibuses/or even other suitable double-deckers, if possible) while the frequencies of the trips should essentially depend upon passenger loads varying with time. In addition to that, mass transport of different facilities to cater for the need of different income groups of people should be introduced. Moreover, the concept of White Bus and Blue Bus and so on, may be adopted to minimise stop delay time suffered by passengers. Moreover, the following issues need to be emphasised for betterment of mass transport system environment:
Safety and comfort of bus passengers:
Improvement of driving skill and physical fitness of all bus drivers.
4) Locality based mass transport and driving license may preferably be introduced: In addition to the current practice of route based mass transport, some localities need mass transport mode for their own areas. As some localities have been designed for vehicular traffic within their own suburbs, these usually being the posh areas; residents have personal vehicles that only contribute to traffic jams in the Arterial Road systems. But for performing daily chores dependency on cars seems to be essential for them. As such, locality based licenses might be introduced for residences having cars, while some form of restriction may be imposed on them to travel to other places for better and efficient management of the Arterial Roads systems.
5) Construction of multi/ single level elevated expressway and mass transport system with underground terminal facilities at strategic locations: Due to dearth of available land, an approach towards a policy of vertical expansions of the roads is essential; therefore, construction of multilevel elevated road is necessary to segregate different modes of transport. The first level of multilevel elevated road would be exclusively for mass transport modes only. However, where multilevel expressway is not warranted due to fewer cars but existing deficient road infrastructure hinders mobility; in those areas single level elevated expressway needs to be provided only for mass transport purposes. Moreover, the elevated expressway that carries mass transport should need to run in such alignment that all major localities of Dhaka should be within one kilometer vicinity of the routes. So, there are roughly two types: one for people from all walks of life with exclusive right-of-ways for mass transport system while the other for mixed modes. The alignment for the proposed exclusive right-of-ways for mass transport system may differ from the current or future alignment consideration. Therefore, this alignment issue has become a very crucial factor if exclusive right-of-way for elevated mass transport system is considered. To facilitate this new proposal, some major terminal points like Farmgate, Gulisthan, etc. should have underground terminal facilities including fuelling station, mechanical workshop, parking facilities, control stations, route changing facilities etc.
6) Encouragement of small sized vehicles (particularly cars): Japanese and Western cars are mainly designed to run on the roads where design vehicles are cars, primarily in the city areas. Therefore, small sized (e.g. TATA Nano) cars should be highly encouraged as this will help accommodate more cars within a smaller area.
7) Determination of sustainable highest population density: For effective mass transit system in all big cities especially for Dhaka, determination of sustainable maximum working and dwelling population density is necessary for all residential, commercial, industrial areas. Otherwise, all utility and access facilities are bound to be unsuccessful. This initiative would help to calculate, among others, the ultimate space necessary for required road infrastructure development considering all traffics and freights running at design speed with maximum load capacity.
9) Public mass transport and allocation of dedicated road segment at intersections: Public mass transport should get priority in all intersections. Therefore, new rules and regulations need to be formulated so that in all city roads, a suitable lane is allocated at intersections for public mass transport and they should get priority over other modes (except emergency vehicles). For example, left lanes may be allocated for a length of 50m for instance with duly signing and marking at the intersections where only mass transport mode would be allowed to queue up for the stipulated length and all other vehicles would move to other lanes leaving vacant the allocated length until it is filled up with mass transport modes. Provision for dedicated bus lane is not possible for the inadequacy of road space. Therefore, this approach can serve as an alternative to dedicated bus lanes. This arrangement would block left turning movement of other vehicles where dedicated left turn lane is not already incorporated with proper design considerations (Taper Flares and queue length); therefore it is a critical issue. A separate traffic signal phase arrangement needs to be installed for mass transport modes at these intersections.
10) Construction of multi-storied filling stations and introduction of locality based multistoried parking facilities: For minimising accidents the private modes at-grade should be allowed to travel in a minimum distance before entering into or leaving from elevated expressway. Controlling private modes from travelling across locality is necessary for safe and efficient road traffic system, particularly in the areas where street space is inadequate. This measure is also important to regulate and control private modes as they appear from innumerous alleys all on a sudden, posing safety problem. Hence, the construction of multistoried parking facilities to accommodate private vehicles of a locality is indispensable. These locations need to be strategic ones to offer minimum travel path from on-ramp/off-ramp of the elevated expressways. In addition, service facilities, (gas station, petrol pumps) that generate vehicular traffic should need to have multi-storied parking facilities to avoid existing road pavement from being encroached by parked vehicles. These multi-storied filling stations would serve dual purposes -- as a fuelling station and as a private parking area. Thus current parking practices (basement parking/surface parking lots) need to be discouraged as far as possible for the safety of pedestrians and for providing efficient road traffic system.
11) Relocation of shopping malls/institutions on major intersection or on major roads: Traffic generating centres like shopping malls and institutions (e.g. universities) on major intersections or on major roads might need to be relocated. In this connection relocation of Bashundhara Shopping Mall and converting it into a different purpose that would generate minimum traffic is recommended. It has been observed that when the centre remains closed traffic congestion eases tangibly at this area, which accentuates clearly how poor the site selection is!
12) Re-alignment of corridors and intersections with regular geometric shape: Re-alignment of some important Arterials Roads, especially the corridor segment (which makes the road turn at 900 or close to that for a small distance) of the road is necessary with direct alignment as far as possible. Moreover, for efficient traffic movement intersection of regular geometric shape is highly desirable.
Pedestrian traffic and successful public transport system
For successful mass transit system, an effective pedestrian facility is a pre-requisite; but in fact, it is not possible to build required pedestrian infrastructures within a short time considering the current condition of road infrastructure. Therefore, to improve pedestrian safety under the prevailing road traffic environment, less innocuous mode of traffic needs to be encouraged to run as para-transit modes, such as those having comparatively lower speed and lighter weight which inflict lesser degree of injuries during accidents.
As rickshaws with higher capacity are much harmless modes, therefore, it should be encouraged as a para-transit mode which covers greater parts of the cities due to design considerations. Nonetheless, in places where cars seem to be suitable as a para-transit mode due to design considerations; in those areas car may be permitted, provided that these vehicular traffics need to be light and small sized, running at relatively low speed for pedestrians' safety reasons.
The pedestrians may be classified into different groups: (1) children (school going children are of more concern) (2) elderly people and (3) disabled people. Therefore, due considerations or arrangements need to be incorporated in the designing of pedestrian facilities to suit these different classes.
1) Improvement of pedestrians' accessibility to successful public transport system: Introduction of mass transport system would not function effectively without well-designed walkways and road crossing facilities because commuters will depend on access trip to mass transport or return trip mainly by walking. Accordingly, provision for efficient pedestrian movement is an integral part of the city's successful transport system. Therefore to encourage mass public transport, properly and adequately improved and environment friendly pedestrian walkways and crossing facilities are essential with standard lighting facilities. Because, if walking facilities are not conducive and safe enough, it will be difficult to reduce car population as an occupant of a car is more secure than a pedestrian.
2) Greenery and aesthetic versus safety and the plight of pedestrians: It has been observed that Median Barriers have been constructed by Median Island system in most of the cases. And for aesthetics and greenery purposes, trees have been thickly planted in the Median Island system and on sidewalks in some cases, obscuring traffic from both the sides. In addition to that, in some locations placard or advertisement boards have been placed in Median Island or Pedestrian Refuge Areas resulting in obscuring visibility of traffics in the other directions.
Median Barriers constructed by island system should be replaced by New Jersey Barrier system. It is a very crucial issue for attenuating severity of accidents -- therefore, it has been strongly recommended that New Jersey Barrier system should be installed in place of existing Median Island system.
5) Pedestrian road crossing facilities: Pre-cast underpass fitted with mechanical device to ease climbing-up movements, the details of the device which have been discussed earlier, should be installed at strategic places. If these arrangements are found to be successful, then it may be installed on a larger scale.
6) Parents' concern and repetition of trips to private coaching centres: Children are seen attending private coaching centres several times a day. Such movements generate several trip repetitions and loss of working hours of the parents as well. Such trip repetitions also contribute to traffic jam to some extent.
Md Shamsul Arefin has done his Master's in Transportation Engineering from Auckland University, New Zealand. His area of expertise is Traffic cum Road Safety Engineering.
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