Expanding the discussion on car traffic in Kigali

The traffic snarl-up consequent to the just-concluded 10th Extraordinary Summit of African Union that was hosted in Kigali affected everyone in various ways.

I witnessed impatient driving and overlapping that only makes the situation worse, I read so many rants, I sympathetically watched children including preschoolers walk long distances sometimes in the rain to attend school, and read a lot from the grumbly faces of parents or guardians accompanying these kids and forced to do things they never imagined doing, including an early morning walk.

Before these memories fade away, it is important to put ourselves inside this story with some reflective interrogation on how better we could deal with traffic nightmares and related situations in the future.

Yes, I mean all of us; beyond complaining and pointing fingers, there is always something each of us can do to mitigate the situation. It is said that if one has time to complain about something, they have more time to do something about it.

It is not just visiting delegates and VIPs that cause traffic jam in cities; it is actually as a result of our individual and multifaceted reactions to it.

If you don’t believe me, tell me how rain causes traffic jam.

It is always certain that when it starts to rain, immediately a traffic snarl-up begins to build. It is actually our reaction to the phenomenon that worsens the situation. Some panic and they want to arrive to their destination faster, some imagine a poor visibility and slow down, etc.

How then do we relate better to our roads and fellow road users to ease traffic jam?

How ready are we to accept that cars are not the only travel option at our disposal? We want to drive to literally everywhere, including when traveling to a proximate place, say the supermarket near home.

The Government has increasingly been investing in pedestrian and bicycle networks that are meant to not only encourage us to refrain from using the car but also exercise and keep a healthy lifestyle.

In fact, if well-designed and safe, the benefits of walking and cycling outweigh those of driving in cities. How many of us have or are willing to try the alternative options?

How ready are we to embrace public transport as an option for moving from point A to B?

Interestingly, research has shown that those who resist the idea or totally refrain from using public transport in their own cities will happily use public transport in other cities abroad.

In some cases, private transport is way too expensive. I’m sure some of the excuses are quality-related but I am also aware that the public bus systems in Kigali are generally satisfactory comparing to other cities in the region.

Ideas for adopting a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are in the pipeline, ‘tap as you go’ technology makes Kigali buses just cool. How many of us will actually agree to leave our cars home and take a bus?

How ready are we to embrace car-pooling? To accept to co-share private cars; to accept to drive my neighbour’s kids to school this week, and that my neighbour will drive mine to school the next.

In some residential areas, a home will have three to four cars; one for the husband, one for the wife, one for the kids and driver, and a luxurious one for weekends and special events.

From these types of neighbourhoods, in an estate of say twenty homes, at least thirty cars drive out and in each working day. For a weekend party, more than fifty cars will visit a single home, including those driving from less than half a kilometer.

The astonishing reality behind these numbers is that on the road, the floor area coverage for a bus with a capacity of sixty people is the same area covered by thee cars with an average total of only six people, hence just 10%. Now frame this alongside the rapid urbanization story, how shall we cope?

How ready are we to opt for a common job van or school bus for our children? A principal in one of the ‘big schools’ in Kigali once said that kids are safer with a school bus driver on the wheel than a parent or guardian running late for a meeting.

We need to seriously rethink our travel means.

How ready are we to acknowledge those working hard to resolve this and other urban related issues? I encourage the Government to continuously recognise those leading a precedent in good practices.

I honestly believe the persons or teams that come up with a solution for traffic congestion in cities deserve a Nobel Prize.  Incentives for that guy/lady who voluntarily walks to work or to the market can be inspiring.

Traffic congestion in cities is a complex problem, but I strongly believe it is our attitude towards it that worsens the situation. The thoughts that come to mind when stuck in traffic is that ‘we need more roads!’ … ‘These meetings interrupt our normal schedules!’ … ‘Traffic police are not doing their job right!’ …’

But time and facts have proved that all these are not necessarily true. For instance, we have built more roads, but the new roads also get congested with traffic.

A new and great friend has this signature at the bottom of her emails and it sounds more and more powerful each day I read it. ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent a night with a mosquito’.

As we await Traffic Police and Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) to deliver us out of traffic situations, there is also a lot more we can do towards a traffic-smooth future.

The writer is a lecturer at the school of Architecture, University of Rwanda. An architect and urban designer with keen interest on the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.

josemwongeli@yahoo.com

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