Dhaka hopes to see its first metro rail start operating in 2021. But the BRT or ‘bus only’ lane is very far from becoming a reality, though it was planned in 2005
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte goes to office on his bike whenever he can.
The Netherlands has more bicycles than people, a quarter of all trips are made by bike. The Dutch are famous for their love for cycling.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg created 400 miles of bike lanes in the city and introduced bike ride-sharing. He was the pioneer in dedicating 'Bus Only' lanes, the New York version of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the city. He is acclaimed for improving the city's transport during his three terms in office.
The present mayor of New York has planned to extend Bloomberg's initiative further, creating 30 miles of bike lane a year to make the city roads safer for cyclists.
Columbian capital Bogota is among the worst cities for traffic congestion, but its mayor has been regarded as a visionary man in improving the city's transportation.
Restricting private car use, installing hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, BRT, were among the things mayor Enrique Penalosa had done before Bogota ventured on a $4 billion metro rail project just this month.
He believes people have a right to walk, talk and do business on sidewalks. According to him, a protected bikeway is a symbol of democracy as "a citizen on a $30 bike is as important as a citizen in a $30,000 car."
Dhaka hopes to see its first metro rail start operating in 2021. But the BRT or 'bus only' lane is very far from becoming a reality, though it was planned in 2005.
The city will have its first 9.5km bike lane by next year, and only 285 meters of it have been completed in Agargaon area.
Late mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation Annisul Huq had made it his campaign to encourage bicycle rides. To improve public transport and discipline city roads, he had nearly finalized a plan to bring the city's bus services under a few companies.
But the plan was shelved with the death of the mayor.
British urban specialist Robert Gallagher, who once taught in BUET and worked widely on Dhaka's transportation in association with Brac University, says Dhaka needs to give top priority to public transports, mainly focusing on buses.
Dhaka needs a first-class bus system with separate lanes and priority traffic signals to ensure faster movement of people, he said in a research.
The 2005 Strategic Transport Plan (STP) proposed £5.5bn of public investment over 20 years for three MRT routes, three BRT routes, numerous roads, an elevated expressway, two flyovers and bus sector restructuring.
Works on the MRT is going on and the government's main emphasis has been on building flyovers.
None of the public transport proposals in the STP has yet been implemented. The bus sector has not been restructured, no bus lanes have yet been introduced.
The total space occupied by roads and streets of Dhaka Metropolitan City is only 9% of its total space, although roads in a mega city should cover approximately 25%. Though 9% of road area of the city is available, pavement area is only 6% of the total area.
The city has a road network of 1,286 km.
Private bus service was introduced in Dhaka in 1950 before the East Pakistan Road Transport Corporation was formed in 1961.
The number of buses was 98 in 1965, 141 in 1970, 173 in 1980, 2,488 in 2003, 5,070 in 2006.
Buses already carry about 47% of Dhaka's total passengers.
If tempos, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws are included, then the overall public transport share is about 88% of trips, a level that many other world cities would be delighted to achieve, Robert Gallagher said.
However, the auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws take up a lot of road space, and the bus system is slow, grossly over-crowded, uncomfortable and limited in coverage, he pointed out.
A private company fielded 35 air-conditioned high quality buses with a limited-stop express service in 1997.
"However, the initiative foundered due to disagreements with BRTA over route permits, and by 2005 was closed down. The experience highlights the importance of the government agencies in promoting or hindering the development of public transport in Dhaka," said the British urban planner in his report on 'The Benefits and Costs of Solving Dhaka's Traffic Congestion' prepared for the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
Good footways and safe road crossings can transform a city, encouraging more people to walk and use vehicles less, he points out. Bad policies rather encourage well-off people to buy cars.
Free on-street car parking is one such bad incentive in Bangladesh in contrast to other world cities, the urban planner points out, citing that parking in central London costs at least Tk.1400 per trip, prompting people to leave behind cars and use public transport.
'Transport visionary' Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa says, "The measure of a civilized city is whether it is safe for children to walk."
But Dhaka's pedestrians of all ages are unsafe.
Conditions for pedestrians in Dhaka are extremely poor.
The traffic laws clearly state that vehicles must give way to pedestrians on zebra crossings, but no one obeys the rule.
In Bangladesh, a pedestrian risks his or her life if they expect traffic to stop for them.
Singapore, Tokyo, London and Berlin all have 20-30% of all trips made on foot, while in Dhaka the proportion is 40% or more, meaning that they are exposed to traffic risks.
"Transport Planner" for "Revision and Updating of Previous Study Report on Bus Route Rationalization and Company based Operation of Bus Service in Dhaka", Dhrubo Alam says while modern megacities of the world tend to move towards public transport and walking, steps and decisions in Dhaka are more or less focused on easing travel for the motorized elite. We have to properly plan and restructure Dhaka's bus network. With such a large number of people preferring to walk, we must provide proper facilities and priority to pedestrians," he tells The Business Standard.
About 24% of New York adults, or some 1.6 million people, ride bikes, including about 500,000 on a typical day, a 55% increase from 2012 to 2017. Citi Bike, the city's bike-sharing system, is the largest in the U.S., with an average of more than 70,000 daily uses in good weather.
Cycling is the 'invisible' mode of transport in Dhaka, at least for the policy-makers. There are over 200,000 bicycles in the city and about 2% of all trips are made by bicycle –which is about the same proportion as in London.
Robert Gallagher sees great potential for cycling in Dhaka's transport system. In many other developed cities, cycling accounts for 10-30% of all trips: examples include Berlin (13%); Tokyo (16%); Shanghai (20%); Amsterdam (28%); Beijing (32%).
In Dhaka, cycling could easily account for twice or three times as many trips as at present, which would be the equivalent of building two or three extra BRT lines, he states in the report.
Traffic calming and safer crossings at junctions and right turns can make Dhaka roads safer for cyclists, he listed. About financial incentives, he cites that a single car loan at Tk.40 lakh could support the purchase of over 200 bikes.
To ensure discipline on roads, Dhaka needs strengthening of the institutions. Transport for London, that manages the city of 8.4million has a 25,000-odd staff, while Dhaka Transport Co-ordination Authority (DTCA) had just 10 officers in 2015 after seventeen years of operation, which points to the central government's low priority for the agency.
He refers to the scale of investment proposed in the draft RSTP and asks where the $45bn investment, or equivalent of building 12 Padma Bridges, will come from to implement it by 2035.
He believes that the average traffic speed in Dhaka could be increased by nearly one-third simply by good traffic management, and a traffic management project would pay for itself within a year, simply from the reduced traffic congestion.