The entire traffic system of Dhaka has taken a severe blow amid the onslaught of digging being conducted by various service providers in both city corporations, while ongoing work on development projects such as the Metro Rail has further deteriorated this problem.
As soon as the capital began witnessing its usual flow of pedestrians and vehicles after the government relaxed Covid-19 restrictions last month, gridlocks gradually became a common occurrence in city thoroughfares.
The worst victims of this situation are daily commuters, especially those who commute to their offices six days a week. Roads in at least 40 areas across Dhaka have been cut up for development activities, raising city dwellers' suffering to a whole new level.
Commuters say such severe tailbacks are the effect of ongoing development activities, increase in pedestrians and vehicles on city roads, and compounded by reckless driving.
Meanwhile, the Traffic Division of Dhaka has assured that the gridlock issue will decline after the completion of ongoing mega projects – including the Metro rail. They also admitted that controlling the traffic has become more difficult due to digging on various roads.
The government is planning to reopen all educational institutions from next week as the Covid-19 situation improved, but many fear that the current disarray in Dhaka's traffic system would cause further misery to commuters, including the students and their guardians.
Saleem Khan, a resident of the city's Eskaton area, told The Business Standard, "My office is situated in Gulshan-1. I used to reach my office from home within 25 minutes. But in the last few days, the commute is taking at least two hours.
"Sunday is the first working day of the week at my office. My vehicle stopped multiple times on the road due to tailbacks. The government should find a solution to this problem."
He added, "When the educational institutions reopen, it will be difficult even for the pedestrians to commute. Guardians will worry about their children while they commute to and from their educational institutions."
Hemayet Uddin, a resident of Malibagh area, said, "Work has been going on here for quite some time. They have dug up the whole road. Bus services are running barely on one side of the road, and tailbacks last for multiple hours.
"Commuting has become a serious chore due to the hot weather and traffic jams."
Traffic situation on Sunday
During spot visits to major roads throughout Dhaka, The Business Standard found consistent tailbacks in nearly all of them. It took commuters at least 4-5 hours to travel the 40 kilometre stretch of road between Gazipur and Gulistan.
Commuters travelling through Tejgaon and Mohakhali had to wait for several hours in traffic jams due to digging on many parts of the road.
Gridlock began appearing in the morning in all major areas of the city and intensified as the day progressed. The worst tailbacks appeared during the noon and continued till midnight – albeit at much less intensity.
This situation was witnessed in Banglamotor, Karwan Bazar, Shahbagh, Mohammadpur, Dhanmondi, Tikatuli intersection, Gulistan, GPO intersection, Paltan intersection, Kakrail, Malibagh, Rampura, Badda, Notun Bazar, Newmarket, Moghbazar, Mouchak and other areas.
The city's Traffic Division also complained that many pedestrians and vehicles are not following traffic laws, which further deteriorates the tailbacks caused by digging on the roads.
Echoing the same, many commuters said drivers are violating traffic rules rampantly. The violations include driving on the wrong side of the road, ignoring traffic signals, and driving on the footpath, sources said.
Saima Haque, who was crossing the foot-over bridge in Farmgate, said, "Everyone is trying to get to their destinations in a hurry, using whatever means necessary. But such behaviour and desperation are disrupting the commute for everyone.
"Besides, many pedestrians are crossing the road without using the foot-over bridge, and by doing so they are disrupting vehicular movement. Even such smaller disruptions are also causing large tailbacks."
30 areas in Dhaka South, 10 in Dhaka North
According to the Traffic Division of Dhaka, around 4,000 of its members work in three shifts at nearly 600 signal points every day and night. The digging and cutting up of roads is not only affecting the development project areas but the whole city as well.
Besides, the information provided by various development agencies reveals that roads have been dug up in nearly 30 areas under Dhaka South and 10 areas in Dhaka North city corporations.
According to the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) data, around 15% of the commuters in Dhaka are taking up 70% of the city's roads. These are the users of private vehicles. The remaining 85% of the commuters use various mass transportations, and only get to use 30% of the roads.
The Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) said they had two ongoing projects at the time – one for supplying water to residential buildings in Dhaka, and the other for supplying water to the capital itself.
These projects are not affecting any major roads, because the work is ongoing in some alleyways, insiders have said.
A WASA official, on condition of anonymity, told The Business Standard, "No WASA projects are causing gridlocks in Dhaka. Most of the work is being carried out by city corporations."
On the issue, Additional Commissioner (Traffic) of Police Md Munibur Rahman said, "I am optimistic that the traffic congestion in Dhaka will decrease once the ongoing development projects are completed.
"The tailback situation worsened because various agencies are digging and cutting up the roads at different places in the capital"
He continued, "The number of people and vehicles plying the roads is increasing every day, but the ongoing development projects have shrunk the available space on these thoroughfares. But we are doing our duty with utmost sincerity.
"When the number of cars increases there is nothing we can do. It also puts more pressure on us."
When asked how the Traffic Division will manage the roads after the reopening of educational institutions in the coming days, Munibur said, "We have to work regardless of the upcoming situation.
"We will follow any fresh instructions coming from the top. But I am admitting that the reopening of educational institutions will cause the gridlock situation in Dhaka to worsen."