Myanmar and us
As the aeroplane was landing to Yangon at 4 p.m., the announcement declared it was 41°C outside. Travelling downtown in the evening, the hustle and bustle of Dhaka was replaced by relatively freely moving vehicles with a strange adherence to traffic rules. At the many traffic lights on every main crossroads, each vehicle stopped at a red light and waited patiently until the green showed before continuing.
Fewer vehicles may have tempered the need to fight aggressively for every cm of space, as seen on Dhaka's streets. The countdown timers were a bonus. They showed how long in seconds before the traffic lights turned red and how long until the green came back on. However, there was more to this than less congestion affecting temperament. At 11.30 p.m. when there was little traffic, lone cars invariably obeyed the rules - I saw no one trying to jump the lights. Drivers were more considerate to smaller vehicles, such as motorcycles or bicycles.
Refreshingly, there was hardly any of the deliberately prolonged horn blasting to show dominance to clear the road, from the kings of the road, the madly racing Bangladeshi bus and lorry drivers. There wasn't the continuous unpleasant jarring cacophony from the pointless reflexive use of the horn by any Bangladeshi driver when in a jam, to signal others to move immediately when movement was impossible.
Out of Yangon it was noticeable that lorries and buses did not riskily overtake each other in an overly aggressive way. The larger vehicles showed respect for the smaller road users by overtaking carefully or waiting until there was enough space to do so.
Nor was there disregard for sensible traffic rules on the dual carriageway out of Yangon. On the dual carriageway from Dhaka to Chattogram there are many lorries that slowly trundle along in the right-hand side overtaking fast lane of the two-lane dual carriageway. This means faster moving vehicles have to weave dangerously in and out from right to left to overtake instead of just going into the faster right-hand lane when they need to overtake (because it's blocked by slower moving vehicles). It's a direct cause of some road crashes.
This situation in Bangladesh is rectified if there were enough traffic police on the roads (they are noticeable by their absence, except perhaps in the weeks preceding Eid when they are mysteriously proactive in groups on many city streets and highway points) and they did their job of enforcing road rules.
These Bangladeshi police, by their negligence in failing to intervene to correct such dangerous habits as slower vehicles hogging the right-hand lane of the dual carriageway, may show their ignorance of what constitutes as acceptable norms of road safety practiced in most countries worldwide - they may benefit from urgent training. On the other hand, it might be construed to be not entirely the fault of the rank and file if monitoring of their performance is lax.
Yangon, Myanmar's largest city (know as Rangoon in the past) used to be the capital until the military government decided in 2005 to relocate the capital further inland, 240 km north of Yangon, after it constructed a new capital on former scrub land.
During the day, there is noticeable congestion on some main roads of Yangon. Sometimes there are frustratingly long stationary jams characteristic of Dhaka streets, but it does not completely grind to a halt into a series of gridlock jams covering extensive areas, which Dhaka residents regularly endure. The air is cleaner: less dust, fewer construction sites and a lack of polluting brick kilns. Like Dhaka, flyovers are built to ease traffic congestion. These sometimes become completely clogged with traffic.
Yangon suffers the same major problems found in Dhaka where there is no underground railway system and the overground railway is limited to a circular railway (being upgraded) and infrequent mainlines services out of Yangon. Like Dhaka, the limited railway system cannot hope to ease the pressure from commuters.
Although expensive and time consuming, an essential component to combat the ever rising tide of vehicles is not just to build more flyovers, better roads or improve the flow of traffic - all short-term fixes - but to construct a comprehensive underground/ metro railway network in cities such as Dhaka and Yangon. The Bangladeshi authorities have realised, albeit too late, that this must be part of the solution. Myanmar recognises the need too: the Yangon Urban Mass Rapid Transit project is being planned for a 'sky train' route.
The London Underground network is the oldest system in the world. The first part opened in 1863. It has 270 stations. About 45% is underground. A 24-hour service operates on some lines on Fridays and Saturdays. London continues to expand public transport, for example, by building a new east-west railway connection with ten new stations and an underground section across the heart of the capital.
If you search online for a map of the London Underground, then add the equally impressive overground railway network to this you will be amazed by the number of lines and stations in London, which has a much smaller population than Dhaka.
There's also an extensive network of bus routes in London, aided by bus lanes in busy areas that allow the buses to move past other stationary vehicles. There are designated bus stops. Buses don't stop and wait haphazardly, blocking the road to pick up passengers as in Dhaka, nor do they park all along the side of certain roads to reduce the width of the road. The law enforcers would take action against such traffic violations. This is facilitated by road kerbside markings showing parking on the road is prohibited. In Dhaka, unregulated buses are often a cause of traffic congestion.
Expensive city centre congestion charges in London, enforced by CCTV monitoring, discourage the casual use of vehicles in the central areas. You won't see traffic police controlling traffic that obeys traffic lights. It frees the police to deal with other violations. This infrastructure has taken many years to develop, though you can see it in other cities worldwide where public transport networks are supported by government investment. The result is that it reduces traffic jams when people have other viable alternatives to private transport.
To be continued...