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30 March, 2019 10:23:33 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 30 March, 2019 04:42:20 PM

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Going green: When will there be bikeways in Dhaka

All the anomalies and deaths on roads are ample proof that the present BRTA as well as the traffic police has very little to offer in terms of traffic management
Kazi Mostaque Ahmed
Going green: When will there be bikeways in Dhaka

For long, I have cherished the desire to go to my workplace, (The Independent office is now located at Tejgaon just in front of the head office of Roads and Highways Department) from my Shewrapara, Mirpur residence with a bicycle, but I am yet to muster the courage to do so. Whenever I seriously plan to buy the eco-friendly bicycle, the pictures of chaotic main streets come to my mind with flows of undisciplined buses, private cars, auto-rickshaws and motorcycles, and my inspiration to ride a bicycle immediately dies down.

I think of using alleys of different neighbourhoods rather than the main roads. I make up a map in my mind. No, it is not possible. To go to my office, I have to cross any of these busy intersections, near the PMO on Bijoy Sarani, or Farmgate, or Mohakhali and, for crossing either of these intersections, I will have to use some parts of the main streets. Since there is no lane for bicycle on the main roads, I cancel my plan. The young people take risk and they paddle through the roads rather easily. But shouldn’t all cyclists, young or old, male or female, deserve a dedicated passage for their bicycle? Or shouldn’t the authorities encourage people to use bicycle considering Dhaka’s acute air condition? Even a five-foot wide passage would have been enough.  

2.
Condition of safe driving, or even riding a motorcycle/bicycle, or even safe walking, at least on the footpath of Dhaka, is not only about you have to go properly following traffic rules, but you have to also remain aware of, while driving, or walking, the potential mistakes what others can make. Even when you are driving correctly and you are alert about other vehicles, you cannot be sure you can safely reach your destination, at least on the roads of Bangladesh. Just a few days ago, Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury, a university student, was run over by a bus of one Suprovat Paribahan near a zebra crossing. Responding to his death, a former journalist colleague of mine at The Independent, Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, posted on his Facebook timeline this post with an echo from King: “I have a dream: just to meet a natural death. Nothing more, seriously.” A country of unusually high rates of road accidents this is a dream of all who use roads every day. Such has become the predicament on our streets.2.

But why do I want to use bicycle for my personal commuting in the first place? Exercise. If I make one hour ride in bicycle for five days a week, health experts say, it will be enough for my weekly course of aerobic exercise. There is also something romantic about it: young ones love to do it. Next, a bicycle is cheaper, and, of course, it does not release obnoxious fume to pollute the air, a phenomenon Dhaka city is especially notorious for. Only my bicycle will not help reduce the pollution of Dhaka, but if a large number of city dwellers use it, leaving their motorbikes, cars or even boarding on a killer bus, it will certainly have an impact on the city’s air quality.

3.
Nuisance of motorbikes is specially a case in point. After bike ride sharing was introduced on the streets, it became quickly popular. There is a good reason for it. Dhaka is a city of traffic jams that waste hours of the commuters every day. Once you are caught in gridlocks, you realize the horror of it. You have seen MPs, govt. secretaries, high ranking police officials and journalists all were caught by traffic police when plying their vehicles through the wrong side of roads. Who does not want to avoid nerve-wrecking jams if he could do it? Don’t misconstrue me, but such is the reality on Dhaka’s roads.        

The motorcycles are very deft in carrying their passengers to their destination by whatever narrow passage they get on their way. You may have probably spotted a swarm of motorcycles is always there before all stopped vehicles at a red signal in front of an intersection. This is because the bikers pull their bikes through thin spaces or invading the footpaths. If you have the habit of walking through footpaths, you know these motorcycles very often climb on them to avoid jams on the street and become a great nuisance for pedestrians. If even there on the footpath, you fall on their way, the biker will surely make a sharp brake before you and give a belligerent glance at you as if you are an unwanted intruder into his circus ring. It is he who has violated a traffic rule, but there is arrogance on his face. This is because no police is there to point out his fault. Just a few years ago, so many bikers were not on the streets. Their appearance within so short a time indicates another major problem our society faces: joblessness. Besides creating nuisance, these motorcycles are constantly emitting toxic fumes in the air.

4.
There are people who quickly buy a car if money comes to their hands. This is because possessing a car is still a so-called status symbol for these people. About four decades ago when we used to attend schools in the early eighties, even possessing a telephone at home was regarded such a symbol, now it is no more. But a car has its positives: it is comfortable, takes you to your destination quickly and protects you from noise and air pollution of outside, despite the fact that it constantly emits carbon dioxide and is a cause of harm for others. And people will still buy a car even if it is not necessary and make the capital even unhealthier. But take it for sure, a lot many people will, however, buy an environmentally sustaining bicycle instead of a car if there are bikeways in Dhaka.  

But, in fact, there is no lane for any kind of vehicles on the streets of Dhaka. Here traffic movement is undisciplined and chaotic, despite the fact most drivers of motorized vehicles have traffic licenses and there are trained police to control the traffic. Also, the state at different times spent huge money for building an effective signaling system, but all went in vain, the traffic condition in the city has not improved. The schools and college students came onto the streets protesting death of two of their fellow students several months ago, showed to the nation what is meant by regulating the traffic as they forced the vehicles to ply lanes.

They put the whole nation, not just the traffic police, on shame as they guided people to the right way of moving on the streets. As a reaction to their uneasiness, many then said that there was a lot to learn from these children. Following their protest, traffic police observed traffic weeks, caught the errant bus drivers and motorbikers and fined the vehicles with what result we all now can see: nothing has changed. One Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury had to give his life just a few days ago followed by many more students like him. And there are other countless accidents killing a countless number of people all around the country. Well, the shame is a nation can still sleep, even when these deaths could be avoided.

All the anomalies and deaths on roads are ample proof that the present BRTA as well as the traffic police has very little to offer in terms of traffic management. When this is the prevailing condition, calling authorities for an individual lane for bicycles on the main roads may seem a redundant suggestion. But the truth is pollution has so affected Dhaka’s air that the 2018 World Air Quality Report released by Greenpeace and AirVisual—that monitor global air quality—put Dhaka as the second most polluted capital in the world after Delhi about three weeks ago. Since we do not have reliable statistics on what colossal damage is being done to public health, we ought to take this kind of reports from internationally reputable farms very seriously.

5.
No, I am not going to get a lane for bicycle on the roads of Dhaka any time soon and my desire to move in the city will remain an unrealised dream, but let’s assiduously hammer the authorities, with the hope that one day they will awaken from their subterranean sleep and save us from jams and pollution.  

The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent.  

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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