Farmgate now Dhaka's new hub of traffic congestion

After the opening of the elevated expressway, the pressure of traffic has mounted on Farmgate in the capital. Two pillars of the metro rail and the elevated expressway have been placed in the centre of the road there. Farmgate at 5:30 PM Sunday afternoon
Sazid Hossain

Around 4:00 PM on Thursday, bus driver Md Ashik was stuck in a traffic jam at a point in Farmgate of the capital where a loop of the elevated expressway joins the road below. He drives a Tanzil Paribahan bus.

Ashik told Prothom Alo that he has been driving buses in Dhaka for the past six or seven years. But never has he seen such traffic jams as now in Farmgate, Khamarbari intersection, Karwan Bazar, Bangla Motor and Shahbagh.

Senior officials of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP)'s traffic department say that the Dhaka expressway is responsible for these newly emerging traffic jams. The expressway was opened from Kawla to Tejgaon on 3 September. Since then, around 5000 vehicles travel rapidly from the north of the capital to Farmgate every day along the expressway. A large number of these vehicles turn at the Khamarbari intersection and move via Farmgate along Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue to Karwan Bazar, Shahbagh and other areas.

The vehicles headed northwards go up to the expressway from Bijoy Sarani and Tejgaon. As a result, traffic has increased at Bijoy Sarani, Tejgaon, Shat Rasta and adjacent areas. According to the traffic police, already 15 points in Dhaka were identified as traffic jam hubs. The traffic congestion is increasing in those areas too.

Overall, the speed of vehicles is retarding in Dhaka city. Based on a study of the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research, a report of the weekly magazine Time said that Dhaka now tops the list of the world's slowest moving cities.

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There has been no dearth in expenditure to lessen the traffic congestion in Dhaka. Over the past two decades, 9 flyovers and similar structures have been constructed in the capital. Construction of another one (Dhaka expressway) is underway. Expenditure on these projects totals Tk 193.73 billion (Tk 19,373 crore). Some of the flyovers have yielded good results. But in most cases, people get stuck in traffic at the exit and entry points of these flyovers. Questions have arisen regarding the benefits of such massive expenditure.

Additional Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP)'s traffic division, Md Munibur Rahman, told Prothom Alo that the pressure of traffic has increased and Farmgate and Tejgaon after the opening of the Dhaka elevated expressway. The movement of excessive traffic has slowed down movement. This is affecting the adjacent areas too. He said, efforts are being made to resolve the situation. There are certain engineering issues too and are concerned persons are being consulted in this regard.

'Five hours stuck on the road'

The area under Dhaka Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakya (RAJUK) totals 1500 sq km. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)'s latest population census (2022), around 10.3 million (1 crore 3 lakh) people live in the two city corporation areas of Dhaka. And according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), there are round 2,052,000 registered vehicles in Dhaka city.

Experts feel that the burgeoning population, the high number of private cars in proportion to the roads, and lackings in planning and management, had transformed Dhaka into a city of traffic jams. It is possible to travel to distant districts in the same time that it takes to travel from one point in Dhaka city to another. For instance, Ishtiaque Ahmed who words in a private bank, travels by bus every day from Pallabi in Mirpur to his workplace in Motijheel. He told Prothom Alo that it takes him around two to two and a half hours to go from Mirpur to Motijheel every day and the same time to return. He says, I am stuck on the road for five hours every day. Yet this distance is around 14km only.

Traffic police officials say that it is not only the Dhaka elevated expressway that is responsible for the increased traffic congestion at Farmgate. This traffic movement has slowed also because the roads have been narrowed in certain places. Two pillars of the metro rail and the elevated expressway have been set on the main road at Farmgate. There is not a very wide gap between the two pillars either.

There are three reasons why the pressure of traffic at Farmgate, Bijoy Sarani and Tejgaon is not likely to lessen any time soon.

Firstly, the Dhaka elevated expressway is to open from Tejgaon to Kutubkhani in June next year. The work has not progressed much. As a result, the vehicles coming from the northern parts of Dhaka will have to come down at Farmgate for quite some more time. Secondly, the metro rail station at Farmgate is to be opened on 4 November. That means the pressure of people at Farmgate will increase. Thirdly, there is no way that the two pillars of metro rail and the elevated expressway can be removed from the road at Farmgate. The road will remain narrow there.

Deputy commissioner (DC) of DMP traffic department's Tejgaon division Mushtaq Ahmed told Prothom Alo. after the opening of the Dhaka elevated expressway, excessive traffic pressure has fallen upon Farmgate and adjacent areas. Engineering flaws and lack of coordination in the development projects has increased the traffic congestion in this area.

The traffic congestion has increased people's sufferings and has also cut into the earnings of the bus workers. The bus drivers say that even two months ago they could make four round trips a day from Mirpur-1 to Sadarghat. Now they can't make more than three. This has decreased their income.

Bus driver Ashik of Tanzil Paribahan says, "We have to pay the owner a deposit of Tk 2,500 no matter what. It is out income that has been curtailed."

Traffic uncontrolled in 15 areas of Dhaka

Field level officials of DMP's traffic department have identified 15 areas, outside of Farmgate and Bijoy Sarani, as traffic hotspots of the city. These hotspots include Kuril Biswa Road, Badda, Rampura, Mohakhali bus terminal area, Paltan, Gulistan, Sadarghat, Shahbagh, Bangla Motor, Malibagh, Jatrabari, Saidabad, New Market, Science Lab and Mirpur-10 roundabout.

The traffic congestion has worsened further at some points in these areas. After the opening of Padma Bridge in June 2020, the traffic congestion has worsened in Jatrabari and Saidabad and also around the Mayor Hanif flyover. The traffic police says there has been a huge surge in traffic after the Dhaka-Bhanga expressway. The vehicles on that route now rapidly enter Dhaka and then increase the traffic jams.

The traffic jam is worse where the cars come down from Jatrabari and Saidabad by the Mayor Hanif flyover. The ramp coming down at Chankharpool is narrow. There is a crossing there too. So it takes a lot of time coming down there.

Sadiqur Rahman, a motorbike ride-sharing passenger, was stuck at the Chankharpool intersection on Sunday afternoon. He told Prothom Alo that just 300 metres after getting down from the flyover, there are two crossings and this creates a constant traffic jam there.

In 1997-98 the average speed of vehicles on Dhaka's streets was 25km/h. That is now 6.7 km/h. Flyovers are being constructed one after the other and the traffic jams below are now being taken up above
Shamsul Hoque, professor of civil engineering, BUET

Experts say that the vehicles along do not create traffic jams, but mismanagement too. The mismanagement was evident at Mirpur Section 10 roundabout. Five types of mismanagement were noted, standing there on Sunday morning -- 1. The footpath was almost entirely occupied by hawkers and so the pedestrians had to walk on the road. 2. After passing through the traffic signals, the buses stop on the other side to pick up passengers. As a result, the vehicles behind the buses cannot proceed forward. 3. Rickshaws had been banned at the roundabout area, but they have been given permission to move there again. The rickshaws crowd the street corners, waiting for passengers. This constricts the road. 4. Even though there are pedestrian over-bridges, most people simply cross the road, signalling with their hands for the cars to stop. 5. Rickshaw-pullers, motorbike riders and drivers of cars and buses violate the traffic signals at any chance they get. All this contributes to the traffic congestion.

Assistant commissioner of DNP traffic departments Mirpur division, Halimul Harun, told Prothom Alo that efforts are being made to free the roundabout area of rickshaws. Freeing the footpath of occupiers is not in the jurisdiction of the traffic police.

This correspondent visited various intersections of the capital city over the past one week to look into the reasons of the increase in traffic jams. The mismanagement at Mirpur Section 10 roundabout was evident all over the city. The traffic police are more active in the morning and afternoons when people are coming and going from office. They are laxer at other times.

More interest in expenditure than management

Experts over the past three decades have been making recommendations to improve Dhaka's traffic management by controlling non-motorised vehicles, removing old vehicles with no fitness from the streets, increasing the number of buses and not allowing the number of private cars to increase, and introducing an integrated traffic system. But instead the government has been more active in constructing flyovers.

Professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Shamsul Hoque, speaking to Prothom Alo, said there is need for sweeping reforms to bring the traffic situation under control. These reforms do not require development projects or big investment. This requires control of the transport system.

Shamsul Hoque said that in 1997-98 the average speed of vehicles on Dhaka's streets was 25km/h. That is now 6.7 km/h. Flyovers are being constructed one after the other and the traffic jams below are now being taken up above. This will not provide any sustainable solution.

The general people are having to pay the price for the traffic jams. A survey conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in September stated that the residents of Dhaka spend 46 minutes in traffic jams per every two hours.

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