Hooray for the highways engineer

There are few jobs more derided than that of the highways engineer. Architects, landscape architects and urban designers all love to complain about highways engineers’ lack of foresight and imagination, their box-ticking approach, the way that they litter the environment with unnecessary and ugly street furniture and with ill-considered signs. And often these criticisms are valid.

So it is worth considering the other side of the coin, what happens when this work isn’t done at all. There is a salutary article in this week’s Observer magazine about a road in Bangladesh that has been built with none of the correct considerations. Headlined in the print edition ‘Is this the most dangerous road in the world?’ the shocking piece strongly suggests that the answer is yes.

Funded by the World Bank, the road runs from Dhaka to Sylhet and replaces an older road on which there were constant delays. Now traffic moves much faster, but the side effect is a horrific toll of deaths, largely of pedestrians and of rickshaw users. There are no crash barriers, there is no central reservation and, with a river running alongside the road, a significant proportion of the casualties (government figures say that there are 180 deaths a year but the actual figure is believed to be much higher) die by drowning.

Doubtless in this country we could have a more imaginative approach, and successful projects such as the Exhibition Road shared surface in west London have only been achieved in the teeth of opposition from the unimaginative.

But Exhibition Road is appropriate (although some argued strongly that it was not). The enormous shared surface of the Dhaka-Sylhet is a shared surface too far, that is not only inappropriate but lethal. We have a government that seems to think that the only way to promote development is to tear up regulation. Bangladesh’s death highway is a salutary reminder of what happens when you do so in an inappropriate manner.







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