'Pedestrians should not only be fined but also be detained to show how serious the matter actually is'
It was a fine day around 1pm. Some college students were crossing the road in front of New Model Degree College, with a zebra crossing merely 50m away from where they crossed the road.
When approached, some of them identifying themselves as students of that very college, said it's their wish how, and where they wanted to cross the road.
When asked for their names, they became aggressive. They, however, left immediately upon learning the identity of the reporter.
Elsewhere, a CNG-run auto rickshaw driver was stopped by a traffic constable. He tried running the lights claiming he had less time, but stopped on the zebra crossing as a pedestrian came in front of his vehicle.
He was fined.
When asked, driver Rakib Razzak, said he did not intend to break any laws. He tried to stop, but the vehicle skidded onto the zebra crossing.
The scenario was a little different when this reporter tried to cross the road at the Shishu Mela crossing in Dhaka’s Shyamoli area on the morning of May 18. Busy roads kept people from crossing.
When they were about the cross, a biker almost hit one of them.
He started arguing with the pedestrian asking why he was crossing the road at that time. When asked where he was standing, the biker said it did not matter whether it was on the zebra crossing or not.
Upon learning the identity of the reporter, he too left immediately.
When a constable, who was nearby, was questioned, he merely said he was not stationed there, so he could not stop him or charge him.
Police Sergeant Badrul Alam was also standing nearby. When approached, he inquired if the pedestrian was crossing alone or as a group. When he was informed that it was a group, he said in that case, the pedestrian was not at fault.
However, he said the biker fled the scene, so let go of the issue, and let us do our job.
What labour leaders are saying
Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation admitted that the drivers, and labourers do have very little knowledge about zebra crossings as they are unfamiliar with it.
He emphasized on effective campaigns, and organizing of training programs for drivers to ensure the effective use of zebra crossings.
Abul Bashar, organizing secretary of Bangladesh Inter-district Truck Driver Union said, truck drivers are also not so familiar with the issues.
The drivers enter the city after 9pm when there are relatively lesser pedestrians. But it is important nonetheless for drivers to learn about the traffic rules, and facilities, he said.
However, it is should also be mentioned that some drivers who do know of these rules are unable to identify the zebra crossing from a distance because the marks may have faded, Bashar added.
Law enforcement agencies’ take
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia at a view-exchange program on traffic on March 20 said: “Pedestrians do not use the designated foot overbridges, and zebra crossings to cross roads. Instead they jaywalk, while wearing headphones, endangering themselves, and others.
“In such cases, pedestrians should not only be fined but also be detained to show how serious the matter actually is,” he added.
But it seems, the decision have rarely been followed.
Hundreds of such incidents can be found across Dhaka every day, where pedestrians cross roads in unruly manners, drivers seem to be careless, and the traffic police seem to be reluctant or even nonchalant over the issue.
Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Mir Rezaul Alam said: “What we have seen in developed countries is that if anyone is seen crossing the road, vehicles stop before the zebra crossing.
• Most drivers and pedestrians do not care about zebra crossings
• Pedestrians cross the roads here and there citing time constraints
• Pedestrians find it difficult to use zebra crossings due to improper management of it
• Police sergeants say they feel helpless at crowded places
• Police sergeants want fences at road islands upto chest height
• Experts are of the opinion to implement a mixed method for pedestrian movement on roadside
• Experts suggest implementation of “All Red System” on busy intersections
But in Bangladesh, many people do not want to obey the law, willingly or unknowingly. Police have launched a variety of campaigns to increase the awareness among pedestrians, and drivers about zebra crossings, he added.
Police Sergeant Abdullah Al Noman, stationed at Dhanmondi 32, told Dhaka Tribune that the Police department is launching campaigns every 15 days but unable to get through to the people.
He said controlling people at crowded places, especially near educational institutions, recreational parks, big shopping malls, or political places becomes very difficult.
The pedestrians do not want to follow the rules. We even detain them, but it has been fruitless, he added.
Meanwhile, Dil Bahar Ahmed, a city planner at the Dhaka North City Corporation, said: “A master plan is being drawn up in relation to traffic discipline. Soon the mayor will present it. “
Experts’ opinions on the matter
Former chairman of Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Buet, Prof Shamsul Haq, said walk-on overbridge were first built in the 1970s and 1980s, as pedestrians were seen as unrelated to road management issues.
But in the recent past, experts identified zebra crossings as the best possible practice for safety, taking the differently-abled people into consideration, he added.
He identified the interrupted traffic signal system as one of the major problems in implementing zebra crossings. This seems to be a far cry for the city dwellers as they need to wave at moving vehicles, creating confusion between pedestrians, and drivers.
The government has to take the responsibility for establishing a better system, the professor added.
Kazi Saifun Newaz, an assistant professor with the ARI, said both the police, and the drivers are found reluctant to make the best use of zebra crossings.
He was an exponent of another approach - zebra crossings at intersections, and foot overbridges in the middle of the roads.
“An 'All Red System' needs to be installed in the city to solve the problem,” he suggested.