Tackling traffic jams

A study has rooted out some of the causes for traffic congestion in Thimphu and recommended how to address them
Transport: A study to implement an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) in Thimphu city has identified several causes for traffic congestion occurring in the capital. It has also suggested some solutions which not all drivers may agree with.
The study identified nine key issues that would have to be solved before an ITS can be successful in Thimphu. An ITS uses technology to increase the efficiency of traffic management.
Improving public transport services, implementing congestion management strategies, convincing more people to use public transport, walk and bicycle, among others, are solutions provided.
The study points out that Thimphu does not have a serious traffic congestion problem as traffic movement is relatively low and peak traffic periods are short, and are therefore “curable”.
“The current level of traffic congestion in Thimphu is largely a result of a lack of effective traffic management,” the study says.
Four key issues are pointed out: population growth, high automobile ownership and usage, uncontrolled parking habits, and an under performing public transport system.
The study points out that angle on-street parking, which is practised on Norzin lam, should be done away with and instead parallel parking reintroduced. It explains that angle on-street parking not only takes away more road width but is more hazardous given that traffic vision of the driver when reversing from a angle on-street parking is constrained by adjacent vehicles. A vehicle exiting an angle on-street parking also tends to stall flowing traffic.
It is also pointed out that Norzin lam at times becomes a car park. “Taxi and private vehicles stop and pick up wherever they want.”
The study recommends that parking fees be increased on both Norzin and Chang lam to reduce demand and parking for long times. It says the current rates being charged are inexpensive.
Driver behaviour is also highlighted. “Thimphu is fast transiting from a ‘large country town’ to a bustling city with a rapidly growing urban population and private car ownership. Yet, from a transport perspective the behaviour of road users is still stuck in the old ways; undisciplined and inconsiderate of others,” the report says.
The general standard of driving and driver’s knowledge of road rules in Bhutan is deficient, the report says, which will reduce the effectiveness of any ITS measure. Some of the causes for poor driving habits are identified as RSTA lacking capacity and funds to improve driver training, inadequate driving instructors and lack of proper facilities in driving institutes, and an out-dated driving code.
The study also calls for a reversal in how the government prioritises the different modes of transport. The study says that the government currently prioritises cars, taxis, and commercial vehicles rather pedestrians, bicycles, and public transport.
It is recommended that the government focus on projects that identify pedestrians and cyclists as the most important road user with their accessibility and safety considered.
“Provision for pedestrian foot paths and crossings in Thimphu are inadequate and of a low standard; often in poor condition,” it says. Funding for public transport, pedestrian facilities and traffic engineering measures is described as “paltry” especially when compared to funding provided for roads, says the report.
It suggests that road space currently used for parking be reallocated to pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport.
“Poor walking and cycling conditions force people to drive for even short trips,” the study says. This forces motorists to chauffeur non-drivers for local trips, for example, driving children to school which often includes empty return trips. “So a kilometre of passenger travel generates two kilometres of vehicle travel.”
The study recommends a short term action plan from now until 2018, which would include improving public transport to convince people to use it, improving traffic management, updating traffic regulations, inclusion of bus bays in any new road works, improving driver training and behaviour, among others.
Specifically related to ITS, the study recommends immediate installation of CCTV cameras in the city centre, major road junctions and bus terminal, which would be overseen by a 24/7 operation control centre.
Installation of speed bumps with sensors that would activate a pedestrian flashing warning light on Norzin lam is also suggested by 2016.
Introduction of traffic signals or lights on Norzin lam is also recommended for evaluation next year. While the study did not find any intersections that would require traffic lights given low volume of traffic, it points out that further investigation is needed. Some of the likely junctions identified were the main traffic, Chubachu and swimming pool roundabouts, among others.
The likeliest area for traffic lights is identified as the main traffic junction on Norzin lam.
A mid term action plan is also provided which mostly concentrates on ITS measures, roll out of bus bays and shelters, signalisation and public transport reforms. The mid term plan would also involve many activities that have to be refined and further developed from the short term plan.
The study was carried out by an international transport consultant earlier this year.
By Gyalsten K Dorji

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