A proposal for improving Dhaka's future transport scenario
Lately Dhaka's transport scenario has been deteriorating visibly under fast growing urbanisation, despite a number of transport projects and infrastructures being implemented since 2009. What has been gained in some areas is being eroded by some other factors. It seems that many sidewalks have become a regular place of business and these are encroaching on to the main road pavement areas; parking vehicles occupy a large part of the roads and buses stop anywhere and everywhere they please, causing even deaths sometimes and traffic chaos. Traffic signals either do not work at many intersections, or are overridden manually by traffic police and very importantly mindset of many pedestrians who cross busy roads anywhere and everywhere despite pleadings from the traffic police to cross at designated places and by using foot over bridges wherever available. It seems that the discipline in traffic and transport management is gradually breaking down. This is not to say that a number of transport infrastructural projects that have been implemented in the last four, five years have not been beneficial. Some of these projects are the Banana Rail Crossing Flyover, Kuril Flyover, Mirpur-Airport Link Road and President Zillur Rahman Flyover, Hatirjheel Multipurpose Project, Mayor Hanif Flyover and a number of link roads. All these projects since 2009 have brought more open recreational spaces (Hatirjheel) and greater mobility to motorised traffic and transport system in Dhaka. More projects are in the works for the future.
Occupied foot paths and roads
For the sake of a better understanding we should go back a few years to the proposal and development of a (long range) Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka from 2004 to 2024. The present government adopted this Plan formally in 2009 and started some of its projects. The above noted projects, with the exception of Mayor Hanif Flyover were a part of the STP document. Presently, Metro line 6, BRT Line 3, and an extension to Gazipur and a number of other transit projects are in the design stages and are due for implementation. Some of these other projects including RAJUK proposed flyover from Dhaka City South to south of River Buriganga and Dhaka Elevated Express Way (DEE) in its current alignment were not a part of the original STP plan. In fact the present DEE alignment has taken over the alignment assigned to the future proposed Metro Line 4. It should be understood that from traffic and transport system development point, an expressway cannot and should not replace a Metro line alignment. A two plus two elevated expressway has a capacity of carrying a maximum of 80,000 motorised vehicles daily. An elevated Metro on the other hand can carry a daily equivalent of 500,000 commuters. The number of daily commuters in the city will increase from 4.5 million in 2004 to over 16 million in 2024. The main aim of future transport system should thus be to increase dramatically the capacity and quality of urban mass transit systems. More Highways and Expressways for cars will not do that.
Proposed STP Dhaka mass transit lines
In the STP documents, a well thought out mass transport plan including three (3) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and three (3) Metro lines (MRT) and a development of 54 arterial roads and improvement of public bus services were proposed as part of overall traffic and transport development for Greater Dhaka Area (GDA) (as defined in STP comprising of DNCC, DSCC and its immediate environs). While lagging in time scale, the STP plan should be still being followed carefully. Any project that is in contradiction or are in conflict with the proposals of STP program should be carefully evaluated or avoided a proper analysis of its benefits and conflicts with established STP sanctioned projects. Mayor Hanif Flyover and DEE in present alignment are contradictions of STP plan document and in conflict with several STP sanctioned projects. As an example, Mayor Hanif Flyover has displaced Metro line 6 from part of the original route from BUET to Saidabad along the Zahir Raihan Sharani and has been realigned from Shahbag to Bangladesh Bank. The upper part of route from Uttara North to Shahbag remained basically unchanged. Likewise the DEE will displace the future Metro line 4 planned from Hajrat Shah Jalal International Airport (HSJIA) along the BR (Bangladesh Railway) alignment. The future of proposed Metro Line 4 on this alignment becomes uncertain. It should be understood that the three Metro Lines jointly forms an integrated mass rapid transport system for Greater Dhaka Area (GDA ) and would combindley carry more than 1.5 million commuters daily. The DEE which will have maximum capacity of 80,000 private vehicles daily can in no way replace Metro line 4, which alone could carry more than 500,000 commuters daily. I will step back a little and present an emerging picture of Dhaka's traffic scenario. Currently, GDA has an estimated population of 15 million, the Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA) comprising of Gazipur, Savar, and Naryanganj. Munishiganj, Manikganj, Narshindi (according to STP document) has an estimated population of 26.35 million in 2014. This population is increasing at an average rate of 3.7 percent per year. Each year GDA is adding in excess of 550,000 persons (including natural birth/death and immigration). By 2024, according to the STP document GDA will have 19.8 million and DMA 35 million people. Commuter traffic likewise continues to increase. By estimates in 2004, the total motorized commuters were in excess of 4.5 million. Bulk (70 percent) of the motorised commuters was carried by fragmented public buses . Private cars carried only eight percent of commuters. Buses occupied less than 30 percent of the road surface. By 2014, the number of Buses have not increased , the private cars have doubled from under 97,000 to a staggering 192,000. More importantly motor cycles now number in excess of 275,000. The fragmented and competitive buses have not increased in numbers nor in quality, and carry almost double the commuters and occupy less road space because of private cars . Buses now occupy no more than 20 percent of road space and private cars in excess of 60 percent. The trend continues with new personal affluence of the upper economic classes. The solution for future Dhaka transport system lies not in building more exclusive expressways but in improving: 1) A pavement recovery & traffic lane streamlining program; 2) Better general and higher capacity public bus system; 3) Implementing the STP's BRT three line program; 4) Implementing the three line Metro line program; and 5) Implementing a major part of the STP Roads program. By 2024, the daily commuters will have increased to over 16 million daily. The public buses, BRTs and Metro's are the only mass transport systems capable of coping with this growth. The expressways will only add to the further congestions with more cars, traffic jams and total breakdown in traffic and transport discipline.
In this article I propose several suggestions as possible remedies for Dhaka's future traffic and transport system. I propose five broad programs. First two are short term and immediate suggestions. Third is an intermediate and interim step and last two are long-term systems, starting now.
1. Pavement recovery and traffic lanes streamlining:
The first step is to free the pavement from unauthorised vendors from occupying footpaths and road pavements. This will provide for better pedestrian movement and add as much as 35 percent additional space to existing roads surface. Discipline must be brought in to Dhaka traffic and transport system. Illegal parking on road side has to be strictly regulated with parking meters and heavy fines and license suspensions.
On top of that, typical three lane major arterial roads have to be streamlined with overhead and on surface signages. Right most lanes are to be prohibited for buses and trucks and all slow moving vehicles. Central lane can be used for mixed motorised traffic and left lane stream lined for buses only except for left turning by cars.
2. Public buses:
In the short term the present fragmented public bus system and the bus routes should be streamlined gradually. All designated major bus routes must be rationalised, i.e. each and every bus route to be allocated to a specific and
exclusive bus co-operative or company. No other public buses should ply on that route to avoid intra bus company competition (which is a major cause of road jams and accidents). These buses should be colour-coded. Bus stops should be designated as green stops. Before and after bus stops shall be a specified length of red zone which will carry mandatory heavy fines for stopping. Bus lanes near bus stops are to be streamlined and other types of vehicles not allowed to enter it. Likewise, buses must not travel on the right most lanes. Bus fares and fleet improvement plans should be implemented. Proposals for points 1 and 2 need further elaboration, which I hope to present in a future presentation.
3. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT's):
Three BRT Lines proposed in the STP document should be implemented as soon as possible, as each of these potentially can carry more than 350,000 commuters daily and can be implemented in less than two years from start to finish and each can cost much less than a Metro system. As an interim mass transit carrier BRT system has gained much acceptance in many major urban centers worldwide including, Curitiba, Jakarta, New Delhi, and Ahmadabad, India, in the last two decades. The program continues to flourish in major urban centers as a suitable mean for mass urban transportation. Implementation time is also reasonable.
BRT line 2 as shown in an STP document displayed a BRT line from Gabtali to Saidabad via Azimpur. However, since the construction of Mayor Hanif Flyover, this route became partly unavailable. In 2012 a private initiative proposed to design the BRT route from Gabtali to Azimpur in combination with an elevated expressway that linked up with Mayor Hanif Flyover. This proposal was presented as a Public Private partnership (PPP) project to the Hon. Prime minister in 2014, who gave an in principle consent to proceed with the process. This was thus a positive step to link up the motorized traffic from Mayor Hanif Flyover for a through access to both end at Gabtali and Saidabad. The proposed project also provided a BRT commuter travel opportunity for about 500,000 passengers daily and an opportunity to link up with Metro 6 line at Farm Gate in future.
The three line Metro system proposed in the STP as an integrated mass transit system must be protected from corruption and conflicts, because it can carry in excess of 1.5 million commuters daily. Metro line 6 is in the works presently, but will remain incomplete without the implementation of Metro Lines 4 and 5 as an integrated system. Metro line 4 must be reviewed and given a viable alignment and work on it's planning and design must start without further delay. Likewise, to connect between Metro line 4 and 6, metro line alignment 5 must be protected and not usurped by any other projects. Planning on Metro line 4 and 5 must start without delay.
5. Roads program
Adopted STP document 2 (b) program proposed a development of 54 new arterial and connector roads and three expressways in Dhaka City. Of these, 12 major arterial program lies on the eastern part of Dhaka.
The eastern fringes of Dhaka from Tongi to Saidabad is an unplanned growing area with little access. Further, the area is prone to flooding and flood water stagnation. If left to itself the area could become an area of extreme urban disaster. This paper does not have space for a full discussion on it. It should suffice to say that the area has a potential for 5 to 10 million inhabitants in future. For that the Right of way (ROW) for all these roads should be secured as soon as possible and the embankment road along the Balu River built without delay.
I want to add a further point here before concluding. The present STP document is currently being reviewed and upgraded by an outside consultant for future long term transport planning in Dhaka. However, there is no outside and independent oversight to this process as was done in the original STP process. To be accepted as a viable long term strategic transport plan document, this process and not the final document must be over sighted , monitored and advised by a competent committee of independent experts. Otherwise this plan could be very controversial and might not be acceptable.
The writer is a John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund Scholar (1968-1969), Convener of DMDP (1995-2015) review, and a Member of STP Advisory Committee and Senior Transport Consultant to DTCB (2010-2011).