In search of an answer to nightmarish Dhaka traffic


Traffic congestion of Dhaka city currently eats up 3.2 million working hours each day. World Bank experts find it as one of the major challenges toward further urban growth of the city.

In a recently published report titled “Toward Great Dhaka: A New Urban Development Paradigm Eastward”, World Bank said, to a large extent, the road network of the Dhaka city was developed in a disorganized manner, with construction driven by urgent considerations and opportunism rather than by clear thinking on connectivity.

No continuous main road runs in the east-west direction. Most traffic flows in the north-south direction, creating a major problem for the entire network, claimed the study report.

There is no ring road around Dhaka either, leading to hours of delays when entering or exiting the city. Under these circumstances, effective traffic management measures such as one-way operation, tidal flow operation and signal synchronization are difficult to implement, the study suggested referring to WB’s previous report of 2017.

The report said, in Dhaka, the average driving speed has declined from 21 kilometers per hour 10 years ago to 7 kilometers per hour today. Commuters in Dhaka spend an average of 2.4 hours a day in traffic, of which 1.3 hours is in traffic jams.

Continuing current trends would result in further slowdown of driving speed to 4 kilometers per hour or slower than the average walking speed, it claimed adding that although road length and road density are better in Dhaka than in the rest of Bangladesh, they are not on par with international standards for large cities.

While comparing road density between Dhaka and Delhi, World Bank report said, Greater Dhaka and the Delhi Union Territory each occupy about 1,500 square kilometers of land.

According to OpenStreetMap, total road length is only about 3,600 kilometers in Greater Dhaka, whereas it is 7,900 kilometers in Delhi.

In practice, this gap translates into a much smaller area with high road density in Dhaka than in Delhi.

The gap is equally wide in per capita terms, particularly in the urban cores- there are about 270 kilometers of roads per million people in the Dhaka City Corporation while on the other hand, there are about 440 kilometers per million people in the Delhi municipal corporation.

The gap is even wider for roads of secondary or higher standards- about 49 kilometers per million people in the Dhaka city versus 99 kilometers per million people in the Delhi municipal corporations.

Referring its previous reports, World Bank said, between 1995 and 2005, the road surface of the Dhaka increased by a mere 5 percent, while its population grew by 50 percent and total traffic more than doubled.

The World Bank report suggested that management of traffic congestion requires both hard infrastructure and soft interventions.

It said, as all transportation modes, including buses, cars and rickshaws, uses the full width of a road to circulate, stop and park, Dhaka is notorious for its mixed traffic lane operation.

Driving in Dhaka qualifies as a contact sport because vehicles often push each other to get through, leaving their bodies colorfully scarred, said the report.

The report also assessed that almost all ongoing road projects (about 90 kilometers) and about two-thirds of the proposed road upgrading (about 340 kilometers) were completed.

Among the proposed new roads (about 780 kilometers), close to 40 percent was constructed. But no progress was made on the three Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines, the three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes and the expressways envisioned by the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) adopted in 2005.

The lack of progress on MRT and BRT infrastructure is of particular concern, claimed WB report adding that more than roads, public rapid transport is essential to address congestion and provide connectivity and mobility to the poor.

Full BRTs are estimated to move15,000 people per hour, and double-lane optimized BRTs such as the Transmilenio Bogota up to 40,000 people per hour, while Rail-based MRT can help mobilize even larger numbers, in the range of 40,000–80,000 people per hour, said the report referring to its previous study of 2017, claiming that in the absence of this kind of transport infrastructure, addressing Dhaka’s congestion challenge will be difficult.

The report also identified flooding and messiness as two other salient challenges for the city’s further urban growth.

According to the report, being surrounded by rivers on three sides, Dhaka is prone to water-related hazards, including both river flooding and waterlogging.

“The western part of the Dhaka city is largely shielded from river flooding because a flood barrier- the western embankment- was built in response to the massive 1988 floods. But the eastern part of the city core remains vulnerable to rising water levels in the surrounding rivers because no similar infrastructure has been developed in that direction”, said the report.

The report suggested that the aging infrastructure of Dhaka’s drainage system is inadequate to cope with the rapid densification within its reach and its limited spatial coverage cannot handle the expansion of the city.

According to the report, only 25 of the city’s 43 canals are functional at present which severely reduces the water conveyance capacity.

On the other hand, as a consequence of Dhaka’s messiness, air, soil and water pollution reached dangerous levels, while many residents, including the 3.5 million living in slums, often lack access to basic services, infrastructure and amenities.

Dhaka ranks second from the bottom on air quality while fine particulate matter pollution is nine times higher than the safe limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, said the report.

The study by the World Bank, with the participation of the University of Oxford and Bangladeshi experts, sought to analyze how the opportunity of East Dhaka could be realized.

It suggested a strategic approach to the development of East Dhaka including three critically important interventions- building the eastern embankment along the Balu river, developing critically important transport infrastructure in this new area and reducing the cost of doing business in the new area.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • Issue 1

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