The Root Cause of the Traffic Jams in Yangon

Khin Maung Myint

Traffic jam on the Banyadala Road.
Traffic jam on the Banyadala Road.

The traffic jams in Yangon haven’t eased  noticeably even with the constructions of the overpasses or flyovers along the arterial roads at busy road junctions. Unlike in cities such as Tokyo or Bangkok, where traffic jams are notorious, Yangon traffic jams occur not only on the main roads, but also on the streets in the residential wards too. Such conditions are causing nuisances, not only to the motorists, but also to the residents of the wards.
The car density (the ratio of the number of cars to the population) in Tokyo and Bangkok are very much higher compared to that of Yangon. No wonder they have traffic jams.  Although there may be traffic jams in Bangkok or Tokyo, the motorists and the pedestrians alike are well disciplined. However, in Yangon, with far lesser car density, traffic jams are happening because the motorists as well as the pedestrians lack discipline and etiquette. Most motorists do not observe the traffic rules or the driving etiquettes. They have no regards towards the pedestrians and the latter do not observe the rules, which they should obey.
Most pedestrians are reluctant to use the zebra crossings or the overhead passes to cross the main roads. These jaywalkers are also responsible for slowing down the traffic flow. Jaywalking could cause accidents, which would bring the traffic to a temporary standstill. On the other hand, some motorists, especially the bus drivers, do not care to give priority to the pedestrians using the zebra crossings. I had seen some motorists purposely raised their speeds at such places and would angrily honk the horn to indicate their displeasure at the pedestrians. Honking the horn is considered as swearing in many countries. Such activities made the traffic congestions look worse than they actually are.
A few years back, I had contributed some articles in which I suggested some ways and means to solve the traffic congestion problems. My suggestions included: curbing of car imports, levying high amount of tolls from cars entering the busy downtown areas during the rush hours, constructions of elevated motorways, introduction of the sky train system, riverine ferry services, proper town planning and to insist inclusion of adequate parking spaces in granting building construction permits, etc.
Having said these, I would like to analyze what cause the traffic congestions of such mammoth proportions in Yangon. My perception is: the followings are the most salient factors that caused the traffic jams:–
1. Uncontrolled importing or manufacturing of cars in the last few decades.
2.     No strict control on illegal imports of cars.
3.     Lack of proper upgrading of the road systems.
4.     Absence of efficient mass rapid transit systems (MRTS).
5.     Lack of adequate public parking spaces, which lead to undisciplined parkings along the roads and streets.
The traffic congestions in Yangon are occuring due to the undisciplined parking of cars and lack of adequate parking spaces. Almost everywhere in the crowded downtown areas and the residential wards in the nearby townships, there are cars parked on both sides of the roads or streets at all times of the day. In some places they are even double or triple parked. These caused the motor-able space to become too narrow, forcing the traffic to meet head-on and come to a standstill. Until and unless one side relented and back down to give way to the cars coming from the opposite direction, that street would be shut down. Thus, I deemed that the lack of adequate parking spaces is the root cause of the traffic jams in Yangon.
To further prove my statement, I would like to describe the situations in the Kyaukmyaung ward, where I live. The Banyardala Road is the arterial road that runs through the busiest sector of Kyaukmyaung. It is a six lane road and was designated as a “NO PARKING ROAD”, and signs indicating to that fact are posted at many places along it. However, if one happens to be passing through this area would notice the endless lines of cars parked on both sides of the road rendering two lanes, one on each side, unusable for the traffic. In some places where the cars are double parked, the bottlenecks are formed. These situations impede the traffic flow, resulting in traffic snarl-ups. Such scenes are happening almost every day.
Most of the cars parked along the roads and streets belong to the residents of the nearby buildings. These are clearly the results of lack of provisions for adequate parking lots incorporated in their buildings. In practice, the authorities must see to it that adequate parking spaces are available for all the residents before granting building permits. The scarcity of parking places in the wards led to quarrels that sometime led to blows and even to murder in one extreme case. In most cities in the neighbouring countries, I had never seen cars parked on the roadsides, during the day or overnight, as in Yangon.
I noticed that traffic jams in Bangkok were caused when the cars were caught up in the red traffic light at the road intersections or when there were accidents. However, in Yangon  the traffic snarl-ups are not in the vicinity of the traffic lights, but mostly at the bus stops. As most of the outermost lanes and sometimes the one next to it are occupied by parked cars, there remains only one free lane. Some undisciplined bus drivers would stop on that last remaining free lane to pick up passengers and thus blocked the traffic. Swearing and honking of horns would ensue, sometimes leading to blows.
I strongly support the Yangon regional government’s decisions to limit the number of floors in a building to be compliant with the availability of the parking spaces. As for the buildings already constructed without parking lots, necessary parking arrangements, such as the automated parking systems or the multi-story parking garages should be considered. If the parking problems couldn’t be tackled, the traffic congestions wouldn’t be solved. If the number of parking spaces are not enough for all the residents, the cars would have to be parked by the roadsides, which would definitely cause road congestions. Thus it is a wise and reasonable decision, so I hope the authorities would stand their grounds and wouldn’t back down.
Some property developers are complaining that the halting of the constructions for reassessments are costing them billions of Kyats. In my opinion, they should bear the consequences of the malpractices to which they are party to. They had collaborated with the  1 unscrupulous officials who had granted them permission to construct the controversial buildings without proper assessments of the building plans in the first place. Such undertakings are tantamount to malpractice. In fact, even disciplinary actions should be taken and levied fines for their misconducts.

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