Dhaka - where it's almost faster to walk than drive
By Diane Cooke
Residents in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka lack access to basic services and in the last 10 years, average traffic speed has dropped from 21km to 7km an hour, only slightly above the average walking speed, according to a new World Bank (WB) analysis.
"Congestion in Dhaka eats up 3.2 million working hours per day," said the analysis.
Dhaka's urban development has not kept up with the city's rapid growth, resulting in a messy and uneven urbanisation process. In addition, lack of adequate planning has led to poor living conditions and vulnerability to floods and earthquakes. Often roads are flooded causing traffic tailbacks stretching miles.
The government has even limited the number of cars families can own to ease the burden on Dhaka's roads.
The New York Times' Jody Rosen explains Dhaka's traffic problems, thus: "If you spend some time in Bangladesh’s capital, you begin to look anew at the word 'traffic,' and to revise your definition. In other cities, there are vehicles and pedestrians on the roads; occasionally, the roads get clogged, and progress is impeded. The situation in Dhaka is different. Dhaka’s traffic is traffic in extremis, a state of chaos so pervasive and permanent that it has become the city’s organizing principle. It’s the weather of the city, a storm that never lets up."
In the 2016 Global Liveability Survey, the quality of life report issued annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Dhaka ranked 137th out of 140 cities, edging out only Lagos, Tripoli and war-torn Damascus; its infrastructure rating was the worst of any city in the survey.
Like other megacities of the developing world, Dhaka is both a boomtown and a necropolis, with a thriving real-estate market, a growing middle class and a lively cultural and intellectual life that is offset by rampant misery: poverty, pollution, disease, political corruption, extremist violence and terror attacks. But it is traffic that has sealed Dhaka’s reputation among academics and development specialists as the great symbol of 21st-century urban dysfunction, the world’s most broken city.
That is why the Bangladeshi government has been mulling over the introduction of the death penalty for traffic accidents in which people are killed.
The current punishment for serious traffic offences which result in death is a maximum jail term of three years. Using the death penalty for road accidents is rare anywhere in the world. Bangladesh's transport authority listed punishments given in different countries that ranged from 14 years in the UK in extreme cases to two years in India.
Bangladesh's cabinet on Monday approved raising the maximum jail time for rash driving deaths to five years from three, the law minister said, as students protested for a ninth day over the deaths of two teenagers killed by a speeding bus in Dhaka.
"As per the proposed law, an accused has to face five years of jail for negligent driving (leading to death)," Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
The deliberate running over of people will draw murder charges and carry the death sentence, he added. Parliament's approval for the proposal to become law is seen as a formality, since Hasina's ruling Awami League has an overwhelming majority.