Traffic jams persist in Dhaka despite 'special' measures

During the month of Ramadan, traffic pressure mounts on Dhaka streets from the afternoon. People leaving their working places remain stuck in traffic for an inordinately long time. Mouchak-Moghbazar flyover at 5:00 pm 21 March, 2024Suvra Kanti Das

Every year during the holy month of Ramadan, the police's traffic department announces 'special' measures to control the traffic congestion in the capital. This time was no exception. But reality is different. From almost the very outset of Ramadan, most of the roads in the capital face extreme traffic jams. In the three hours before iftar, the roads in many areas come to a standstill.

With no automated traffic signal system in place, the traffic police are in a fluster trying to control movement of vehicles signalling with their hands. And yet around Tk 1.9 billion (Tk 190 crore) has been spend over the past two decades on four projects to modernise the capital's traffic system.

Speaking to the media on 11 March, the day before Ramadan, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner Habibur Rahman said, "The police's criminal departments will work alongside the traffic police during Ramadan to ensure that people can return home in time to have iftar with their families. We will have special arrangements in place from 3:00pm till 7:00pm in the evening. Additional number of police will be deployed on the streets so that people can go home in time for iftar." He had also said that controlling traffic is the biggest challenge during Ramadan.

Dhaka is known as the capital city with the slowest traffic movement in the world and this has become even slower during the month of Ramadan

In reality, however, the traffic jams grow more and more acute on the various streets of the capital from the afternoon. In the later afternoon, particular after office is over, the traffic congestion reaches an intolerable level. Cars remain stuck for inordinate periods of time on the various streets. In many case the traffic police too has nothing to do.

There is a Facebook group, Traffic Alert, that provides all sorts of information regarding the state of traffic jams in the city. From the start of Ramadan, many have been informing this group about their suffering and anger.

At around 12:00 in the afternoon yesterday, Thursday, a certain Md Sujan wrote that it took him 45 minutes to reach College Gate from Dhanmondi Road 32 by bus. This distance is less than three kilometres. Another person, Samayra Swarna wrote that yesterday afternoon she had been stick at the Bijoy Sarani signal for around 40 minutes.

Yesterday, Thursday, the elevated expressway's ramp near FDC was opened up, after which the traffic jams at Karwan Bazar, Tejgaon, Maghbazar and surrounding areas took on acute proportions. From the exit point of the ramp, the traffic jam spread for around two kilometres around. It took inordinate amount of time to exit by the ramp too.

The driver of a private care, Md Babul, took just 15 minutes by the elevated expressway from Uttara to the FDC ramp, and then got stuck in the traffic. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that it took him around 50 minutes just to turn from the ramp exit around the Sonargaon crossing and reach the Karwan Bazar market.

Also Read

Dhaka is known as the capital city with the slowest traffic movement in the world and this has become even slower during the month of Ramadan. According to the latest report of the US National Bureau of Economic Research (published in September), of the over 1,200 cities in 152 countries of the world, Dhaka is the slowest city.

The World Bank and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET)'s Accident Research Institute also published a report in April 2022 about the state of traffic jams in the capital. According to the report, the average speed of vehicles on the capital's roads in 2007 had been 21kmh. In 2022 that went down to 4.8kmh. That means, in a decade and a half, the speed the vehicular movement in the capital fell by around 16kmh.

Acute traffic jams before iftar

The police had spoken about special measures to control the traffic in the time before iftar. Alongside the traffic police, members of the police's crime department are also assisting in controlling the traffic. But it is in the three hours before iftar that the traffic becomes acute in the capital. The shopping centres will grow more and more crowded before Eid. So the traffic jam situation is likely to worsen over the next few days.

Every year the state of traffic deteriorates during Ramadan. That is because the traffic department traffic jam control management is weak  
Professor Md Hadiuzzaman, former director of BUET's Accident Research Institute

On Thursday at the DMP media centre, the traffic department presented their observations on the traffic jam situation of the past 10 days.

DMP's additional police commissioner (traffic) Md Munibur Rahman said that office timings change during Ramadan.

He further said everyone wants to return home by 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm. As a result, traffic jams mount in that time. Also, the haphazard parking of buses at the various bus terminals make matters worse. Pedestrians cross the streets without bothering about the traffic signals, slowing down vehicular movement.

Attention is being paid to the bus stands where the buses are parked haphazardly to pick up passengers, Munibur Rahman added.

The additional police commissioner said that 18 agencies are involved with Dhaka's traffic management, adding that DMP's traffic department is just one of these. There is need for coordination among the remaining 17. There are repairs and maintenance being carried out on various streets. The traffic police has written to the various concerned agencies to temporarily render these roads usable in consideration of public suffering.

Hand signalling

It has not been possible till now to start any automated traffic signal system in the capital. The traffic in the entire city is being controlled by the hand signalling of the police. Around Tk 1.9 billion (Tk 190 crore) has been spend over the past two decades on four projects to modernise the capital's traffic system. But due to lack of maintenance and use, most of the traffic lights are out of order.

The last initiative has been in the 2010-11 financial year when, with World Bank funding, solar panels, timer countdowns, controllers and cables had been installed in 92 intersections of Dhaka City Corporation. This automated signal system is now out of order.

A trip around Dhaka city saw none of the traffic lights functioning. In same places the traffic lights hung out of order. Neither the traffic police for the drivers bother to look at these lights. The traffic moves and stops at the signal of the hand.

After the massive movement launched by students in August 2018 for safe roads, the Prime Minister's Office formed a committee aimed at improving the traffic system and restoring order in the streets in Dhaka.

The committee held several meetings and came up with several directives. This included having a modern traffic signal system in place. However, over the five year this has not been implemented. On 23 February this year, speaking at a press briefing in Ganabhaban, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued directives for an automated traffic signal system to be started up in the capital.

When asked what action had been taken after the prime minister's directives, DMPs' additional commissioner (traffic) Md Munibur Rahman said among the 110 traffic signals around the capital, from mid-2023 traffic management in Gulshan-2 is being operated by means of AI (artificial intelligence). Under supervision of the home ministry, several meetings regarding the modernisation of the traffic system have been held with four agencies -- DMP, BRTA, and Dhaka North and South city corporations. Within a short period of time, the automated signal system will be started on an experimental basis.      

Also Read

With no modern signal system in place, pedestrians have to cross the roads with risk at every intersection. Experts dealing with road safety say that pedestrians slip through the gaps in the traffic. If a modern pedestrian-friendly crossing system was in place, people would cross the roads safely on their own accord.

Professor Md Hadiuzzaman, former director of BUET's Accident Research Institute, said that automated signal system not being in effect is just an instance of the lack of coordination among the government agencies.

He told Prothom Alo that every year the state of traffic deteriorates during Ramadan. That is because the traffic department traffic jam control management is weak. The pressure vehicles increases on the streets during Ramadan. The footpaths are more encroached upon. There are questions as to how far these matters are taken into consideration in traffic control management.