03/13: Traffic

Dhaka traffic, off all kinds and modes, is a paradox of spatial efficiency and a complete waste of time. A spare-no-inch mentality has every vehicle darting forward until they are physically unable to advance or, rarely, and existential threat (speeding car, merging bus) stops them in their tracks. The traffic is worse than anything I’ve ever seen, and honking is more prevalent here tan any city I’ve ever visited, yet I never once encountered anything close to road rage. It might exist, but perhaps only to the traffic cop or the odd bus driver. Traffic lights last anywhere from two to four minutes. Countdown clocks mockingly cycle through multiple 120 second counts, but traffic doesn’t seem to follow their directives. As these stops stretch on so do the line of cars waiting at each light. Three lanes of road will hold five lanes of cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, CNGs (motorized rickshaws) and the odd eleven seater van with “Foreign Tourists” plastered in English and Bengali on a red placard on the back window. Pedestrians filter through where they can, obstructed by the many drivers kissing bumpers with the vehicles in front of them. [Further proof that modern cars have no bumper but rather glorified hips, here chrome bars are added to fenders on everything from beat up trucks to ‘lipstick’ cars. Lipstick is a nickname given to fancy cars owned by wealthy, litigious and well insured people. The contrast is stark as immaculate new cars dodge past cars and trucks with dents on their dents and cracks holding their windshields together. Rickshaws always engage in a ‘love tap’, slowing down and then stopping by hitting their front tire on the rear axle of the rickshaw in front of them. The impact is mild and reminiscent of a rough automatic transmission engaging.] Patches of open space are formed by CNGs or rickshaws spilling around buses and trucks, forming triangles of tarmac for pedestrians to cross and beggars to solicit and merchants to peddle their wares, each at their own pace and in their own direction.

All this describes the action on the arterial roads. These roads criss-cross the city, intersecting at roundabouts (traffic circles, rotaries), where pedestrians collect at corners to either cross or to wait for buses passing through. Passing through is not a figure of speech. On one occasion it took a few slaps on the side of the bus for the driver to stop long enough for a middle aged woman to be able to exit. I saw plenty of younger men hop on and off like old school streetcars, some breaking out into a run to catch their ride, not breaking stride until halfway inside the door of the moving bus. Some buses are double-deckers (taller proportionally than the London or Megabus varieties) and some are single, but all are served by one door with a conductor standing halfway out the door frame. These conductors advertise routes, call for passengers or discourage their boarding. They also calculate fares for passengers and keep count of capacity.

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All of this, bus, roundabout, vendor and car falls under the nominal control of traffic cops in full uniform wielding batons at the torrent of vehicles. They are mostly ornamental.


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