Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Yangon: a city caught in a state of gridlock

Yangon is my home, but the introduction of epic traffic jams has revealed the inadequacy of the road network. Simply put: It wasn’t built to handle the number of cars on the streets but more new vehicles are joining the backs of the lines every day.

The city’s planners are busy trying to solve the problems but they are fighting a losing battle. The traffic jams are here to stay until expensive public transport works are completed, and it appears that municipal-level talks over such an undertaking are only preliminary.

There are major projects underway to ease congestion at the Bayintnaung junction, which will combine an overpass with a new bridge over the river. When it’s finished it will join the recently opened Shwegondaing overpass and the marginally older Hledan fly-over; both are already doing a fine job cutting travel times from north to south and vice versa.

However, both have shown that easing traffic at one spot only passes the congestion downstream – a logical analogy given how traffic flows.

And in the case of both overpasses the next snarl heading south is a roundabout – at U Wisara for Pyay Road and at the south-eastern corner of Shwedagon after the Shwegondaing junction.

Teams of traffic police are doing well to keep the traffic moving during the day, particularly along the north-south routes, and ensure the relatively swift movement of vehicles in those directions. But herein lies the problem: What about getting from east to west and vice versa?

Yangon’s biggest and most efficient roads run north-south, mostly feeding traffic into downtown.

East-west, however, is more challenging: Strand Road, Merchant Road, Anawrahta Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road prove to be an obstacle and it is often quicker to simply walk between the vehicles caught in gridlock traffic. The situation uptown is just as bad as motorists have these few options: Ahlone Road and its extensions to the east, Natmauk around Kandawgyi Lake, Dhammazedi and Shwegongdaing – all of which can become congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Further north, however, gets better with University Avenue Road, while Parami is probably the best east-west road in the city. To the east and west of Inya Lake there are other east-west roads that operate quite well, especially feeding Yankin, South Okkalapa and Thingangyun townships.

Even removing the quagmire that is downtown, getting east-west across the city during working hours is a nightmare. The emphasis on moving traffic north-south means long waits at roundabouts and major intersections, while the proliferation of schools and shopping centres on east-west roads add unpredictable blockages, multiplied by the city’s fleet of public buses.

Improving flows east-west is not an easy thing to do and the most obvious short term fix will be to replace the roundabouts with traffic lights, which should at least end the gridlock that happens at those sites when the police are not diligent. Further attempts to manage traffic will surely result in more overpasses – and the extensive delays and chaos they bring.

Of course, the long-term solution is upgrading public transport – beginning with the existing Yangon Circular Railway, but even without it, the train currently manages to get from Central Station to Ahlone Station in about 15 minutes, much faster than by car.

Stuart Deed, formerly business editor at The Myanmar Times, has lived in Yangon since 2006. He now works as director of operations for local realty firm Myanmar Real Estate.

source: The Myanmar Times
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