Saga of hand signaling by traffic cops

Publish: 3:39 PM, January 19, 2019 | Update: 3:39:PM, January 19, 2019

Many very busy places in Dhaka city from the perspective of traffic movement are not served by automatic traffic lights . Roads in modern cities round the world are seen well served by such lights and flash red to signal traffic to stop and flash green to allow resumption of movement. The signaling lights and posts are there at many places in Dhaka city. But these have been dead for all practical purposes for a long time for what reasons no one probably knows or are not being used by the traffic department to regulate the traffic.
The job of signaling was taken over by traffic policemen long ago. They signal with their hands and arms these day waving their batons. Specially, such manual signaling activities are seen at all busy intersections of the city such as Purana Paltan crossing, New Market Crossing, Kakrail crossing, etc.
If policemen have replaced the automatic lights, then it is expected from them to do their signaling job with the same efficiency. Normally, signaling lights flash red and green respectively at two to three minutes intervals so that on no side traffic is held up for long creating a jam like situation. But more often than not traffic policemen are seen holding up traffic for ten minutes or more at intersections on one side with their hand signaling. Sometimes the waiting period can be twenty minutes or longer. The opposite picture is seen at few places where signaling is still done by automatic signaling lights. At these points, the lights flash red and green at much shorter intervals comparatively and hardly jams or long queues of cars are seen.
Thus, someone in authority should tell the traffic policemen to change their very irrational habit of holding up traffic at intersections for so long. If the automatic lights can do a good job of traffic management with such shorter periods of signaling, why then traffic policemen cannot do the same ? More important question is : why nothing is being done to reactivate the system of signaling with automatic lights at all places in the city ? The systems are there in most places. All that is needed is some energy to take the initiative to make them operable again and put an end to hand signaling.
One may contend that sometimes traffic policemen stop traffic from moving on at intersections when they sense that further on jams have not eased. But this argument is hardly tenable because in many cases traffic is held up for no good reason by traffic policemen because this has become like their long standing bad habit they loathe to give up.
The DMP authorities declared to members of the public three years ago that from then on they would allow the automatic signaling lights to control traffic on an experimental basis for a short period of time. Within this period, they would examine how the changed system work to further streamline its operations.
The first day under the changed system was a spectacle in bewilderment and frenzy. It was a hotchpotch that worsened traffic jams all over the city when, ironically, the purpose of the new measure was easing jams. Traffic cops were found allowing the automatic signals to control traffic in the limited number of places where these are still not out of order. But there were many places in the city where the signaling lights remained out of order for a long time. No step was taken to make them operative before enforcing the new directive.
Thus, on the first day of the new rule, the traffic signal was a ‘mixture’ of manual signaling and automatic signaling–really– though people were told that everywhere in the city traffic management would be through automatic signaling devices. So, the DMP started out on the first day of its new traffic operations by misinforming and misleading the people. After the first day, the cops were seen not even going by the signaling lights in some places but reverting to the manual signaling system.
No wonder that no benefits could be seen arising from such a shabby and muddled system of signaling. The automatic signaling in some places, manual signaling in some places despite the presence of signaling lights and the usual manual signaling at many places, all these made a complete mockery of the declared intention of using only automatic signaling to ease jams. Rather the jams only turned the worst after that change over. This was the overwhelming opinion of the road users.
So, what is the real purpose of this hoodwinking of the people ? It could be no other than imprinting in their minds that the use of the signaling lights can be no good under the present circumstances, to hide the present dereliction of their duties by traffic policemen and the other foul things they do.
The automatic signaling system is no marvel in the context of Bangladesh. Such lights were set up in core areas of the city and contributed to the efficiency of traffic management even in the pre independence era. But after independence, the signaling lights that existed in some landmark areas of the city such as Gulistan and Mothijheel went out of order one by one and nobody showed the care to make them operative again. Gradually, the entire traffic management was turned over to traffic policemen for manual controls.
The manual signaling system is seen to be at the heart of the traffic management related agonies of the city’s commuters. The automatic signals in other modern cities– where these work well– are synchronized to change after no more than two or three minutes or five minutes at most. This ensures free-flow of traffic all the time without allowing stopped vehicles to form long lines leading to jams.
Traffic policemen know that some quarters including the writer of this editorial have been shouting for long that traffic signaling by hand must change to improve conditions. So, in order to prove us wrong they had to resort to this gimmick of allowing traffic signaling by lights in name only. But if their trick is allowed to go undetected, they will get every opportunity to justify reverting back to manual signaling as the lesser evil and perpetuate that system.
Therefore, it becomes everyone’s duty to expose this deceitful move on the part of traffic wing of the DMP. People must know that automatic signaling is the right solution. But the automatic signaling can deliver and deliver well if it is operated properly. Presently, DMP is going for the automatic signaling in name only without changing anything . They must be ‘obliged’ to ‘truly’ operate a full fledged automatic system. To that end all the presently out of order signaling lights should be made functional and changing time of such lights all over the city should be ‘synchronized’ after a study of traffic movement and pressures on the roads at different times. When such a comprehensive and well synchronized automatic signaling system becomes ready and gets enforced, the traffic management would most likely improve a great deal.
Meanwhile, the government leaders who must have recommended switching over to the automatic signaling system but are finding feedbacks about the change not producing results, they should not lose heart. They need to see through the scheming of the traffic policemen and take immediate steps to set up a smoothly functioning and properly synchronized signaling system all over the city on a sustainable basis.