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The Financial Express

The traffic circus

Shihab Sarkar | Published: March 28, 2016 22:06:36 | Updated: October 22, 2017 01:26:18


The traffic circus
Before crossing a city road one would pause for a while. He or she ought to check on the approaching traffic and become sure about not being hit by a vehicle. These days, this normal practice has disappeared from Dhaka. Whenever you make an attempt to cross a road, a rickshaw pulls up and asks you about your destination. He takes you for a prospective passenger, or else why you'll be standing by the road. He is used to watching people cross roads whenever they wish, at whatever place they find convenient. That one should wait for the road to be cleared of speeding vehicles before crossing never occurs to the rickshaw-pullers. The normal scene in Dhaka has pedestrians walk headlong across a busy street. With one arm raised to caution the people behind wheels, they apparently feel all safe. The drivers are at their mercy. Because they don't let themselves be hit by running vehicles.
The whole cityscape is filled with people jaywalking in reckless abandon. People in droves walk through the rush-hour roads; the footbridges stand mostly unused except by vagabonds and hawkers. In spite of the ubiquitous zebra crossings, jaywalkers home in on every possible point along the road. If someone encounters hurdles like road-divider fencing, he or she wriggles through the iron bars or simply scales over them. Why bother about traffic police signals? 
From early morning to late into the night, the Dhaka roads appear to be a mad street-theatre play directed by invisible persons touched in the head. We, the characters, the road users, do our parts with equal madness. Thus 'The Great Dhaka Traffic Circus' continues to be enacted day in and day out. It has its elements of tragedy, the weird comic and absurdity. 
This would not have piqued anybody, had it not for its being a cause of ill reputation for Dhaka. Coupled with it are people's seemingly endless sufferings, disillusionment and anger. Defining Dhaka as a city incapacitated by wholesale violation of traffic rules will not save us. In reality, the city has been overtaken by a debilitating form of traffic mismanagement. Unfit minibuses with their devil-may-care drivers call the shots on roads. Streets remain choked by swarms of rickshaws and manually operated transports. Cars, exclusive sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other luxury vehicles ply the wrong lane at will. There are none to stop them, even if these errant transports cause fatal accidents. And lo, how the giant motorbikes keep roaring along the footpaths, with the passers-by cringed in fear. At the intersections, traffic police are often found helplessly watching transports rush past a stop signal.
What boils down is the grim fact that the whole traffic system in the metropolis has lately assumed the form of an unwieldy behemoth. Some might dismiss this development by calling it just dysfunctional. But the story cannot be brought to an end this sloppily. It is accountability coupled with sensitisation of people and awareness-building that can markedly change the tale's course for the better. Pithily speaking, Dhaka's traffic system has lately reached the point of a near-collapse. Irresponsible behaviour of a section of road users and pedestrians adds to a fast deterioration in the overall situation.
Calling Dhaka a city of traffic-law breakers is understatement. To many, the city's notoriety stems from not just flouting of laws. The Dhaka-dwellers appear to be pathologically averse to abiding by traffic rules. If that is the case, we ought to delve deep into the menace. What is needed for now is a crash programme including tough law enforcement. It's time the authorities stopped Dhaka's traffic chaos from sliding into a harrowing level.            
shihabskr@ymail.com
 

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