The capital’s automated traffic signal system, an instrumental tool to ensure mobility and safety on its roads, has remained out of use for years after repeated initiatives were made and crores of taka spent. 

Currently, the vast flow of traffic on the roads of this megacity is administered by traffic police with manual signals.

Different initiatives—taken by authorities including the two city corporations of Dhaka and the Dhaka Metropolitan Police—to put the signals to use have gone in vain.

Expressing doubt over the efficacy of the existing traffic signal system, road transport experts said that the authorities should take such measures that would be effective for the capital’s roads.

Once the automated signals would become functional people would increasingly tend to follow the traffic rules resulting in a gradual reduction in the number of road accidents, they viewed.

Against this backdrop, the High Court on January 20 directed the authorities concerned to submit a report on the mismanagement of the traffic signal monitoring system in the capital within 30 days.

The court also asked the ministry concerned to form a policy on traffic signals for the city.

Back in 2005, automated traffic signals were installed at 70 major intersections of the city at a cost of Tk 13 crore under the World Bank-funded Dhaka Urban Transport Project.

The signals went out of order within a few years for lack of maintenance, officials of the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority said.

According to a World Bank analysis published in July 2017, the average traffic speed in the capital dropped in 10 years from 21 kilometres per hour to 7 kilometres, slightly above the average walking speed.

The World Traffic Index-2020, published by the world’s largest user-contributed database NUMBEO, shows that Dhaka has ranked 11th in terms of worst traffic management among 228 cities in the world.

Over the maintenance issue, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police and the city corporation authorities of Dhaka blamed each other.

At present the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority is implementing the Dhaka Integrated Traffic Management Project on a pilot basis at a cost of Tk 50 crore.

Of the cost, the Japan International Cooperation Agency is funding around Tk 19 crore and the government the rest.

Under the project, an intelligent transport system would be installed at the Phulbaria, Paltan, Mohakhali and Gulshan-1 intersections on a trial basis for a few days, said project director and DTCA additional executive director ASM Elias Shah.

The system, using CCTV cameras, ultrasonic vehicle detectors and image detectors, is able to count the numbers of vehicles and pedestrians at an intersection on a 300-metre stretch in four directions.

A Japanese expert team is scheduled to run the system next month and if it is found to work properly then it would be widely replicated, said Elias.

A DTCA senior official said that the pilot project would not work as this was an ‘isolated’ initiative.

Professor Md Mizanur Rahman, director of the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, echoed the DTCA official.

Mizanur said that in Dhaka city many initiatives were taken to make the traffic signals work, which proved futile.

The volume-capacity of the existing road network had long exceeded the existing traffic signal system, he explained. 

The professor said that watch towers should be built at the intersections from which traffic police could control the signals by watching the volumes of vehicles on all the adjacent roads.

Under this system, the traffic police would use mechanical signals instead of manual signs and the road users would go by the rules by following the signals, he said.

The number of accidents would too decrease when people would follow the rules, he added.  

In 2018, the police had taken an initiative to control the signals at six crossings using a remote-controlled mechanism on a pilot basis, which did not work due to faulty technical support, said police officials.

Back in October 2009, the two Dhaka city corporations installed timer countdown systems at 70 intersections and 30 new signals in the city at a cost of Tk 96.71 lakh under the WB-funded Clean Air and Sustainable Environment project.

There have also been at least 17 big and 14 small digital display boards set up at key points of the city by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police at a cost of Tk 27 crore to remind drivers and others about the traffic rules and speed limits, which have remained largely ignored.

All these timer systems, new signals and digital display boards now lie in a state of disuse.

Dhaka South City corporation chief executive officer Shah Mohammad Imdadul Haque told New Age that the city-governing authorities had the responsibility of providing all services for the city people around the world but in Bangladesh.

He claimed that all the traffic signals in the city were functional now, adding that they would soon meet with all the stakeholders to make the traffic signal system effective.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police joint commissioner for traffic south Ashraf Uddin said that currently the traffic police were manually managing the traffic as the automated signals were not functional.

‘We have to go for an automated system for the traffic management as nowhere in the world traffic police manage the traffic manually,’ he added.

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