Dhaka residents’ incessant bout with traffic gridlock has hit a new low on Thursday due to a ruling party-endorsed "the day democracy triumphed" rally, 24 hours after Awami League’s student front organisation held citywide celebratory rallies to mark its founding anniversary.
The Awami League has organised two separate large rallies – one at Russell Square organised by north unit and another on Bangabandhu Avenue organised by south – to mark the third anniversary of the January 5 national elections which returned it to power largely unopposed following a BNP boycott.
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Commuters were forced to disembark from their vehicles and walk to their destinations Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
It took one Dhaka Tribune reporter more than two hours to reach work at Panthapath from Kallyanpur. All the major roads were blocked from Shishu Mela intersection, and incoming traffic was being diverted to Rokeya Sarani from there, which resulted in a bottleneck at the Agargaon intersection.
According to other Dhaka Tribune reporters, Sat Masjid Road and the adjacent streets in Dhanmondi and Mirpur Road are experiencing brief congestions along a number of routes leading to Dhanmondi Road 32 where the first of the AL rallies is being held. Dhanmondi Road 27 is severely clogged, holding up traffic moving from Mohammadpur via Sat Masjid Road.
The previous day, which marked the 69th anniversary of the Awami League’s student-wing Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), day-long processions crippled the city from the morning. Shahbagh and its adjoining areas, which are notorious for gridlocks, were exacerbated with ambulances held up, people arriving late for work, and overall vehicular movement indefinitely suspended whenever a BCL procession moved.
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Thursday has been startlingly thick with congestion, in stark contrast to situation during the largest Awami League movement of recent years - the Awami League National Council 2016 back in October - when traffic flows were smooth despite thousands of out-of-Dhaka Awami League activists pouring into the city. The two-day conference provided a shrewd decision on part of the ruling party to minimise citizen discomfort by organising detours, planned routes, traffic redirection, and constant vigilance on part of the traffic police.
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The Dhaka traffic scene is no new phenomenon, given the increasing number of vehicles on the road every day, and the lack of new roads to accommodate existing traffic. But political demonstrations and processions have an impact on the traffic. In September 2016, the prime minister’s return from the US caused one of the worst tailbacks while only two weeks later, the state visit by Chinese Premiere Xi Jingping effectively stalled Dhaka traffic while memories of the September congestion were still fresh.
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The gridlocked roads are a testimony to how vulnerable our roads are in case of mass public events Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
Studies have shown, time and time again, that these mass tailbacks cause Bangladesh as a whole to lose billions of dollars per year. The government, companies, institutions, individuals, all lose out with every gridlock. In 2015, the Board of Investment released a study which showed Bangladesh loses $12.56bn per year, a whopping 7% of the GDP, due to gridlocks. The same study cited economic growth would hike to 13% from 6% if gridlocks were eliminated.
Another independent study carried out by researchers from Stamford University through 2010-11 revealed Bangladesh had lost $3.49bn in that fiscal year due to the incessant traffic congestion.
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