Rangoon to Remove Unpopular Concrete Traffic Blocks

By Moe Myint 28 May 2016

RANGOON — To alleviate worsening congestion in the city, and in response to numerous car accidents, the Rangoon Division government is gearing up to remove concrete traffic blocks currently placed between the lanes of busy roads, according to Rangoon Traffic Police Col Aung Ko Oo.

Col Aung Ko Oo said the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), Rangoon’s municipal council, would oversee the removal of the concrete blocks at eight sites in the city, including Myaynigone Junction, Eight Mile, and Pyay, Ahlone, Insein, Kabaraye Pagoda, Parami and Shwegondaing roads. But firstly, blocks will be removed from a section of downtown’s Anawrahta Road—although some will remain in place for “safety reasons,” which he would not specify.

According to Aung Ko Oo, the Rangoon Traffic Police had recommended to the divisional government that the concrete blocks be substituted with strips of vegetation or iron fencing, to divide the lanes of traffic. They also recommended creating more one-way systems, and better signposting of smaller link roads, as a means of managing congestion and improving safety. The concrete blocks, once removed, will be kept at a location in the Sawbwar Gyi Gone area. Their ultimate destination has not been made clear.

Under the previous mayor of Rangoon, Hla Myint, 1.6 billion kyats (US$ 1.4 million) were spent on the concrete blocks—over 44,000 in total costing a little over 30,000 kyats (US$25) each—partly to designate separate bus lanes, intended to curb the aggressive over-taking habits of Rangoon bus drivers.

Rangoon residents have complained that the concrete blocks, which were installed in busy road sections across the city, have not eased the city’s traffic volume. Additionally, the blocks have caused a number of accidents, with vehicles crashing into these solid barriers. The project was considered a waste of public funds.

Kyaw Kyaw Htun, who represents Hlaing Constituency-1 in the Rangoon Division Parliament for the National League for Democracy, submitted a proposal last week on the subject of Rangoon’s mounting traffic congestion, which was approved in the divisional parliament on Thursday.

Kyaw Kyaw Htun had claimed that removing the concrete blocks, regulating street vendors, and installing better sign-posting for smaller link roads, could decrease traffic congestion by 15-20 percent—although he envisaged it as a long-term strategy.

“We should not get rid of the street vendors. Because they are our citizens, we must understand their situation,” said Kyaw Kyaw Htun.

Kyaw Kyaw Htun said he had advised the divisional government to develop an open-air market in a convenient location where the street vendors could operate—although he considered it unlikely to be implemented soon.

Kyaw Kyaw Htun also stated that the 960 police officers currently supervising traffic in Rangoon were insufficient. Around 120 extra traffic police officers are to be sent from the capital Naypyidaw to Rangoon—although Kyaw Kyaw Htun was skeptical that this would improve conditions markedly.

“We should not expect too much,” said Kyaw Kyaw Htun.

As another means of addressing traffic congestion, the divisional government is currently searching for large car parking sites in Rangoon’s outskirts. However, with limited public transport options besides overcrowded buses, it is unclear what effect this would have—if any—on congestion in the city center.

Myo Win, owner of the Dagon Hlaing bus line, which operates in Rangoon, welcomed the removal of the concrete blocks. He claimed that they had harmed his business, because the separate bus lines created by the blocks were too narrow; when a solitary bus breaks down, it effectively blocks the routes of multiple bus lines, prompting chaos.

Myo Win claimed that a city bus could complete its route almost six times in a day before the previous mayor installed the concrete blocks, after which it could manage only three laps [an argument which does not seem the take into account the sharp increase in traffic volumes in recent years]. This slower passage harmed some private bus line owners so gravely that they sold their all vehicles, he said.

Earlier this week, the Rangoon Division Motor Vehicles Supervisory Committee (popularly known by the Burmese-language acronym “Ma Hta Tha”) announced that bus lines in Rangoon Division would be reduced from 357 to only 50. A regular criticism from Rangoon’s residents was that public bus routes regularly overlap—with as much as 20 bus lines plying some road stretches in central Rangoon—worsening traffic congestion and the efficiency of bus services.

Kyaw Soe, a minister in the previous Rangoon Division government, has admitted that the 129.8 billion kyats (US$ 110 million) spent on road flyovers over the previous five years have failed to substantially alleviate traffic problems in the city.

In December, the Rangoon Division government announced that a traffic control center would be constructed around People’s Park, with an estimated cost of 20 billion kyats (US$ 17 million).