Friday, August 15, 2008

Could People-Focused Planning Reduce Traffic Congestion in Dhaka?

Could People-Focused Planning Reduce Traffic Congestion in Dhaka?
A Transport Engineer’s Perspective

Mahabubul Bari

It is important from the transport planning point of view to adopt a people-focused policy, which would ensure maximisation of door-to-door mobility and accessibility for the majority of road users, not just maximization of vehicle-km/movements of cars within road links. Moreover, a people-focused planning process should promote environmentally-friendly, energy- and space-efficient sustainable transport modes.

Approaches to transport development can lead either to a focus on the movements of vehicles or on the movement of people. In the urban context, the former, which is analogous to maximization of vehicle-km, tends to favour long distance and high speed travels, whereas the latter favours long distance and high-speed travel only when taken by public transport, and creates favourable conditions for short distance travel by fuel free transport (FFT) and walking. This in turn can lead to the development of a people-focused policy by prioritizing sustainable, environment-friendly, fuel- and space-efficient options, as demonstrated in Table 1.
Table 1: Traffic Prioritization on the Basis of Pollution and Fuel Ratting and Occupancy
Fuel Rating
per PCU
Zero emission
Zero emission
Zero emission
PT (Bus)
Considering the nature of trips in the mixed urban environments of Dhaka City, which are predominantly short (76% of trips are less than 5 km) people-oriented approaches would ensure maximum door-to-door mobility and accessibility of the majority of road users. Moreover, such approaches could also ensure maximization of overall social and environmental benefits.
Considering the superiority of the people-oriented approach, most of the developed cities of the world have adopted maximization of the mobility of people rather than vehicles as their policy objective. In well-planned German cities, over 80% of trips under 3 km take place by walking and cycling, whereas in Jakarta, where rickshaws were banned during the 1980’s and poor conditions exist for walking and cycling, over 70% trips are made with motorcycles and other motorised para-transits. Yet per capita income of Indonesia is only one-twentieth (5%) that of Germany. We also know the consequences of the pro-motorisation policy on Jakarta, which is notorious for its unbearable congestion and pollution.

Despite the obvious consequences of pro-car versus pro-people planning, the planning process in Dhaka has set maximization of the movement of vehicles as their target, thereby ignoring the mobility and accessibility of the majority of the city dwellers. For example, the proposed 20-year Strategic Transport Plan (STP) for Dhaka City totally ignores the contribution of short trips (76% of all trips) as well as all fuel-free transport (pedestrians, rickshaws and bicycles). Within STP, resources were allocated apparently arbitrarily for the capital-intensive projects, which promote long-distance travel and car-friendly policy options (and thus are likely only to lead to further traffic congestion).

In order to develop alternative transport strategies, STP adopted the top-down approach, employing a number of influential bureaucrats, a group of 32 advisors mainly drawn from the elite section of the society, and a consortium of local and foreign consultants. No attempt was made to ensure wider participation of stakeholders, NGOs, professionals and socially-deprived sections of the society in the decision-making process.

Disregarding their own evaluation process, the STP team selected a preferred alternative, which is 231% more expensive than the option which they themselves ranked as number one, out of a set of eleven (original ten and a modified option) previously-developed alternatives. Their final choice, based not on the extensive evaluation they had carried out, instead involved a sequential elimination process on the basis of arbitrary reasoning.

The best transport strategy, thus adopted, is unlikely to represent the best possible compromise considering overall technical and economic perspectives; rather, it reflects the evaluator’s own interests, biases and convictions. While some already-privileged sections of society may benefit—including those who profit from road-building—the interest of the majority of the city dwellers, and particularly vulnerable groups, would likely be seriously undermined by such an arbitrary and nebulous planning process.

For many years, discussion of transport issues and problems in Dhaka has had a singular focus on the supposed contribution of cycle rickshaws to traffic congestion, and the need to facilitate movement of automobiles. In line with this analysis of the transport situation, various projects have been undertaken, focusing on banning rickshaws and rickshaw vans from major roads, and sometimes relegating them to narrow rickshaw lanes. The problem of car parking has been addressed mainly through insistence on provision of separate parking places by offices, shops and restaurants, even by enacting law under the building code. Yet not a single transport policy decision was undertaken from the perspective of people-focused planning, which seeks to maximise the door-to-door mobility and accessibility of people and goods, rather than the movements of vehicles within road links.

The results of these various initiatives have been made clear through government-mandated studies, including the HDRC report on the rickshaw ban on Mirpur Road, and the DUTP after-study report. The results, almost astonishingly negative, would suggest that the basis for such anti-rickshaw and pro-automobile policy decisions and transport plans are flawed.
Moreover, despite the strong evidence of increased travel costs and traffic congestion, transport planning continues to focus on expanding the role of the automobile and reducing that of fuel-free transport. That pattern has been reflected by the further extension of the rickshaw bans on more city roads. Yet policies continue to give car owners absolute priority, while ignoring the fundamental principle of any transport project appraisal, that is, that net user benefits of any transport intervention must exceed net loss.

Now, it may be appropriate to investigate whether a people-focused transport policy in fact reduce congestion in Dhaka City. In the following paragraphs, answers to this question will be analysed from the perspective of traffic engineering.

Performance of FFT Modes at Intersections of Dhaka
From the traffic-engineering point of view, the capacity of the road network of a city is usually governed by the capacities of the junctions. Under the STP study, the passenger car equivalent of different vehicles was determined at the stop lines of 25 intersections within Dhaka City. The supplementary data from another study are also presented. The data clearly demonstrate that the passenger car equivalent (PCE) values of FFT are significantly lower than that of cars, which indicates the superiority of FFT and the potential for FFT priority measure in relieving congestion from Dhaka City. As shown below, over eight bicycles or 2.5 rickshaws occupy the same space as just one car.

STP PCE values (from STP 2005)
Car/Jeeps = 1.0; Small Bus = 1.5; Large Bus = 2.0; Auto-rickshaw = 0.7; Rickshaw = 0.4
PCE value from Ali (2006)
Motorcycle = 0.41; Bicycle = 0.12
That is, fuel-free transport (walking, cycling, and rickshaws) could move people while occupying far less space per passenger, and would—though not captured in the above figures—also involve significant reductions in demand for space for parking. In terms of the prejudice that cars are faster than other transport forms, the shorter travel times during hartals, when travelling by rickshaw rather than car, suggest that cars offer little in terms of speed in congested urban conditions—just the conditions which will prevail in mega-cities.

Reduction of Traffic Congestion by Integrated Demand and Supply Management Under a People-Focused Transport Policy
The growth of motor vehicles is so great that it neutralizes whatever development is carried out to improve the transport infrastructure of the city. That is, as cities around the world have experienced, it is impossible for road building to keep pace with the increase in car growth—unless strong measures are introduced to reduce the growth in cars and to encourage the use of less polluting and less space-consuming means of transport, i.e. fuel-free transport (FFT). The promotion of short-distance travel and people-oriented transport modes by integrating fuel-free transport with adequate public transport could in fact act as a deterrent to car growth and thus contribute to reduction of traffic demand. The restraining impacts of sustainable modes of transport could have far reaching impacts in reducing traffic congestion in a mega-city like Dhaka.

International experience has shown that an integrated public transit and bicycle priority lane could increase passenger carrying capacity of an urban road significantly. Similar findings have also been reported in research in Greater Dhaka. The study developed and validated incremental linear mixed models using audio and video speed and flow data from 27 road sections within and around Dhaka City. Using the models it can be demonstrated that the replacement of 65% of cars with the equivalent number of rickshaws could increase passenger carrying capacity of a road by as much as 43%.

More importantly, there is no justification to ban FFT from city roads, when a combination of FFT and public transport (PT) priority measures in fact offers the best possible solution for the reduction of congestion and pollution, at the same time ensuring significant improvement of roadway capacity and person mobility, as PCE (Passenger Car Equivalent) values for FFT are significantly lower in comparison to cars and other motorized para-transits. (And, as mentioned above, the differences would be even more significant if space demands for parking were included.) The STP in its original working paper on public transport recognised the superiority of a combination of FFT and public transport (PT) options and proposed three possible alternatives for roads of Dhaka City, such as a pedestrian lane +a single-lane bus rapid transit (BRT) for very narrow roads; a pedestrian lane + a mixed mode lane + a single lane BRT for intermediate to major corridors; and a pedestrian lane + one/two FFT-only lanes + one/two BRT lanes for intermediate to major corridors.

It is important to note that STP did not propose any combination of BRT and fuel-dependent transport (FDT) solutions. If Dhaka introduces public transit (PT) priority measures, such as BRT, there will be no need to give additional priorities to cars and motorised para-transits. BRT will be able to cater to the needs of intermediate and long trips in combination with FFT priority measures, which will ensure the ease of short trips. Such an integrated FFT and bus priority measure has the potential to significantly reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka City.

The advantages of integrated bicycle and bus operation were demonstrated in a number of case studies in New Delhi. The studies demonstrated that a combination of bus lane and NMT (bicycle) lane could increase mobility and passenger carrying capacity of three-lane corridors, where only motorised vehicles were allowed to operate. The passenger carrying capacity of such corridors can be as good as any other capital-intensive mass rapid rail transit system (MRRTS).
Concluding Remarks This paper has shown that measures prioritizing people—by emphasizing pedestrians, bicycles, and rickshaws over automobiles—could significantly reduce congestion in Dhaka. It is important, in conclusion, to point out that pro-people planning must involve a strong collaboration between urban planning and transport policy. Traffic congestion will most effectively be reduced when travel demand, rather than supply, is addressed. As such, short trips must be emphasized. However, short trips are only viable when most of people’s daily needs (for instance, to reach workplaces, schools, shops and recreation) are accessible close to homes. Urban planning that attempts to separate uses will by necessity increase the need for travel and the length of such trips, thereby increasing congestion; the opposite is true of urban planning that encourages mixed use.

When considering the need of people rather than automobiles, it becomes clear that requirements for car parking, wide roads, bans on rickshaws, and failure to give attention to the needs of pedestrians, bicycles, and rickshaws, will both increase congestion and worsen the day-to-day existence of city dwellers. That is, car-friendly measures, by inviting more car travel, also invite more air and noise pollution, and make life ever more difficult and expensive for those who do not travel by car. Fortunately, by focusing on the needs of people rather than a single mode of transport (the car), it is possible to improve the situation for all of Dhaka’s residents by easing congestion, reducing pollution, and creating people-friendly environments wherein socialization will be enhanced. Surely such a city is one worth working to attain.

Dhaka Rickshaw Pro-people Transport Plan All Newspapers on one click

http://www.dhaka-rickshaw.blogspot.com/ Dhaka Rickshaw
http://www.dhaka-transport.blogspot.com/ Pro-people Transport Plan
http://www.dhakanewspapers.blogspot.com/ All Newspapers on one click

Syed Saiful Alam
Save the Environment Movement



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