Slowest city Dhaka: What is the benefit of mega projects?

Prothom Alo illustration

The National Bureau of Economic Research of the US in a study termed capital Dhaka as the slowest city in the world. This information was confirmed analysing the speed of vehicles in more than 1,200 cities in some 152 countries.  According to research, some 19 of the top 20 fastest cities in the world are located in the US. The only city out of the USA in the list of top 20 fastest cities in the world is the city of Windsor in the Ontario state of Canada. 

Dhaka is followed by two cities of Nigeria – Lagos and Ikorodu – respectively in the list of top 20 countries with the slowest traffic speed. Apart from Dhaka, Mymensingh and Chattogram are in the 9th and 12th place of the list with slowest traffic speed. There are eight Indian cities in this list, including Kolkata and Mumbai. 

The first metro rail project is ongoing at a cost of Tk 330 billion in Dhaka city to ease traffic congestion. Two more metro rail projects are being undertaken at a cost of Tk 940 billion. An expressway is being constructed at Tk 90 billion. The first metro rail and expressway have partly been inaugurated. Earlier 8 flyovers were constructed at a cost of billions. Flyovers and expressways have also been constructed in Chattogram too. But none of these initiatives could make the two cities any faster.

The government claims that the communication system in Dhaka and elsewhere has seen tremendous development. But it’s a matter to ponder what prices the country had to pay for this development and how much benefit the people got. The pace of Dhaka city is important since the government considers it the center of everything. A study by CPD revealed that the dwellers of Dhaka have to spend 46 minutes in traffic jams every 2 hours. The cumulative loss of working hours of every person is 126 hours.

Only a fraction of the millions of people who travel daily in Dhaka, a city of 15 million people, will benefit from metro rail or elevated expressway. What are the thoughts of the policymakers to ensure the smooth movement of the rest of the population which is a majority? The shoddy state of roads at entry points of the capital further slowed down the traffic movement here. Only construction of mega projects in a city would not solve all problems, the connecting roads also have to be smooth.

Communication experts and city planners laid emphasis on decentralisation and planned unrbanisation of Dhaka to make life in the city faster. But the government policymakers do not seem to have taken these suggestions seriously. They did not think about metro rail while constructing the flyover. And they forgot about the expressway during construction of metro rail. They don’t seem to care about controlling the number and types of vehicles. Meanwhile, traffic management is in an extremely chaotic state. But traffic management seems to be overlooked here and building some infrastructure is considered a panacea. The population of Dhaka city is ever increasing and the city doesn’t have the capacity to sustain the pressure. In such a reality, how beneficial will the flyovers and metro rail be?

The speed in the roads is closely intertwined with development. Why was billions spent if the speed in the movement does not increase by the government’s development-plan?

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Techonology’s professor Hadiuzzaman told a newspaper that the city is becoming slow as the projects in the communication sector are being taken up without scientific research. Communication expert Shamsul Haque blamed private or small vehicles for slow movement in the city. The use of private vehicles might decrease a bit if the public transport system is made smooth and affordable. But in the end the government has to understand that Dhaka city cannot be made faster without decentralisation.