Friendly of machines, unfriendly of people

Farhat Afzal writes how in absence of a clear walkway, young people prefer to take cars to travel even the shortest distance that they would choose to walk in a developed country

Zonayed Chowdhury

Zonayed Chowdhury

The conditions of pedestrian footpaths of Dhaka city are a pity. Cracks in the pavement, leakage from sewage line, garbage littered by the careless citizen and hawker settlements are just some of the major obstacles pedestrians in Dhaka face every day. As if the existing conditions for pedestrians are not worse enough, the footpaths are also often occupied by concrete pipes, bricks, sand and other construction material if there is a construction site nearby.
All of this is unfortunate and ironic because the city’s first priority should have been pedestrians, and not vehicle users. Because of these various inconveniences, both the young and old are forced to use other means of transport.
This is especially regrettable for the young people because despite being young and healthy, they have to become dependent on something other than themselves. Due to lack of sufficient walking space, our generation is growing somewhat reliant on motorised means of travelling rather than a simple walk down the block. As a result, they end up needing other means of transport even to go a small distance.
Walking can be a light form of exercise that keeps people healthy and fit. Not only does it benefit physical well-being, it also makes one a better observer. Moreover, it sharpens your thinking abilities as your brain is always alert. All this helps in functioning of the brain and helps enhance memory and concentration power. Alas, our youth is severely deprived of these benefits.
The city provides less than 45 foot over-bridges and underpasses for the millions of users. Understandably, pedestrians rarely feel compelled to use them. They seem keener to jaywalk across the vehicular road which often leads to numerous accidents. Can we really blame them? The city has become so unfriendly for pedestrians that users risk their lives by crossing the streets amid moving traffic to reach their destination on time.
Young people in the United States and even in neighbouring India prefer walking instead of taking public transport. Walking gives you freedom in your movement. People’s timings are not hindered by limitations such as car breaking down or being stuck in traffic. If pedestrian conditions are improved, I believe a lot more people will feel comfortable going on foot.
As it happens, a large number of young people have chosen the next best alternative – cycling. Cycling clubs are growing increasingly in numbers all over the city. This is a good indication of an altered outlook towards better health and a cohesive community spirit, both of which lose priority in the rush of urban life. Not only are cycling clubs a step towards transport efficiency, they provide relief from traffic woes, recreational and outdoor activity and most importantly, a greener Dhaka.

Zonayed Chowdhury

In 2014, Dhaka was listed as the second least livable city in the world, for the fourth year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Livability Survey.
The assessment was based on 30 factors in five broad categories and environment, pollution, poor urban planning were some of the key factors behind the ranking. In a city that is inhabited by roughly 18 million people, proper planning must be carried out for people’s comfort.
Dhaka’s traffic congestion is a globally known phenomenon. The city provides public transport system that mainly includes buses, CNG auto-rickshaws and manually pulled rickshaws. However, the public buses are too congested and limited in number. As a result, a large number of people of various social classes face severe transportation shortages. On the other hand, access by rickshaw has been limited in several parts of the city as a measure to reduce traffic congestion.
Most people in the upper-middle class and upper-class travel by private cars. According to findings from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, private cars occupy 70 per cent of the city space. City Corporations are tending to the growing number of private cars by widening roads. The Dhaka North City Corporation took initiatives to widen a 1.3-kilometre road between Purabi and Kalshi in Mirpur to deal with overflow of traffic, during the ICC T20 World Cup in March 2014.
Where does that leave the pedestrians? The city is always considering the needs of the people on the move. But what happens to the people moving on foot?
It is the responsibility of this generation that we improve living conditions in Dhaka. If purchasing of cars is reduced, Dhaka will be a lot less exposed to car exhaust fumes. Also, traffic conditions will significantly improve. But all of these require policy decisions from the top order and only perhaps, us, the youth of the society can have a healthy life.
Moreover, other means of transport such as rickshaws, bicycles or walking are not only environmentally friendly, they also keep us from being a mechanised group. Technology is invented to make our lives easier. If it is making life difficult, perhaps it is time we get rid of the machines.
– The author is a final year student of architecture at the American International University-Bangladesh.

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