Simple solutions for a complex problem
THE traffic problem in Dhaka is a veritable absurdity, a nuisance of ignoble proportion that the hordes of ministers, MPs, mayors, engineers and bureaucrats allowed to grow over the last fifteen years or so. They sat and talked and watched as the problem turned into a vicious monster and began to slowly eat up the capital to satiate its voracious hunger. They didn't have time to read the research reports that said that city roads were not long or wide enough to accommodate so many private cars, auto-rickshaws, trucks, covered vans and cycle-rickshaws.
They didn't care to read the recommendations given in seminars and workshops that the number of minibuses is too many, and instead of twenty minibuses you should have one bigger bus to carry the same number of passengers. Even a ten-year old child can guess that twenty minibuses take up that much more space than one bigger bus. And the child also knows that the city has space constraints. The suggestions by experts to make the city roads wider by breaking down structures on two sides of the roads and at the roundabouts fell flat on their ears since the houses on two sides are owned by their in-laws.
The people in power in the last fifteen plus years failed to control the endless import of second-hand vehicles, as the business is owned by their brothers-in-law. The simple reason is: you cannot make brothers-in-law unhappy and expect happiness at the home front, can you? Cars started to flood city roads along with rainwater, and the powerful watched from a distance how the roads remained clogged throughout the day.
Now comes the issue of the historic signalling system in the capital city. It's a mind-boggling circus that goes on and on to confuse the motorists. It's also possibly unique in the world. Red we go? Green we stop? No, no, no…we go in yellow…green we stop and go at the same time….but why is the traffic policeman holding up his hand when the green light is on? There he is, gesturing wildly at us…what is he trying to say? Should we go or should we stop again? We start to go but then why is the sergeant blowing his whistle looking at us? By Jove! What confusion all around!
Want to park your car in a decent, quiet and safe place on any given road in the city? Well, no matter what time you are there, you will find the spaces already taken! So, you go up and down and finding no such place, you park it somewhere so that the sergeant won't see. But coming back you will find a goon standing near the car with the look of a conqueror. Twenty taka, he demands. For what, you ask. Parking charge, he says. By whose order, you ask. DCC, he says. You shut up and pay.
While sitting inside your car on Panthopath, you watch vehicles streaming by on the Farmgate-Shahbag road. VIP road, they say. But the non-VIPs on Panthopath are also busy people having to attend important meetings or go to hospitals for treatment. After half an hour and after three attempts, you get the opportunity to cross over. Strangely enough, when you are on the Farmgate-Shahbagh road yourself you find that you are waiting for half an hour, as vehicles on Pathopath road are allowed to cross over. No system, brother. No system.
Now let us talk about solutions of the complex traffic problem of the city. Please stop talking about flyovers, elevated expressway, sky-rail, underground train service etc., whenever the subject is being discussed. That is futuristic talk, only promises and a ploy to avoid the burning issue of the day. Talk about what you can do today. Can you breakdown houses and shops on two sides to widen the roads? If you can, then do it. Can you stop import of vehicles for the next five years? Do it. Can you take old and dilapidated trucks, buses and cars to the demolition yards? Then take them.
Can you "force" all commercial building owners in Motijheel, Dilkusha, Karwan Bazaar, Banani and Gulshan to vacate the ground-floors of their buildings to turn them into parking lots? That would be a worthwhile step towards taking plenty of cars off the roads. Owners can charge tenants for using the parking space.
What about turning some roads one-way from six am till twelve at night? Surely it is not an absurd idea? So, if other modern cities can have one-ways to take care of traffic congestion, why can't we do so? Some "smart" officials of the department concerned will have to go physically and take a look at the roads and then decide which roads could be turned one-way. Before doing so, extensive publicity through print and electronic media would make the drivers/ people aware of how to use the one-way road.
The government will have to construct some side-ways immediately to divert vehicles. A good example is the new road to Mirpur via prime minister's office, that was built so efficiently by the army during the caretaker government. The eastbound road from Bijoy Shoroni will help ease traffic in that area. We hope the Hatirjheel road will also do so once commissioned.
All said and done, all we need is someone who can get down to business instead of talking about high-sounding projects.