We can do better to manage city traffic

Of late the weather in this region especially in the cities has been characterised by very hot days. The politics has also been at almost similar temperatures. In Tanzania the general elections at the end of the year will be preceded by a referendum on the country’s constitution.

Of late the weather in this region especially in the cities has been characterised by very hot days. The politics has also been at almost similar temperatures. In Tanzania the general elections at the end of the year will be preceded by a referendum on the country’s constitution.

Meanwhile in Burundi the controversy over whether the current president should contest for another mandate has made the political talk even more heated. The Kenyans have always had politics for breakfast whether it is an election year or not. With general elections set for early next year, Uganda is already of a political fattening diet.

Rwanda’s next general elections are still two years away but the debate over what should happen in 2017 has already taken off. The constitution requires a leader to serve only two terms but now some feel that provision is limiting and should be amended if indeed that is what the people want after all that is what democracy is essentially about, right?

Speaking of democracy, I know one place we can urgently apply it and solve a prevalent problem. Our cities have grown much faster than our urban planning and implementation processes. In most East African cities, this growth is becoming a pain especially if you have to endure the monster that is city traffic, on a daily basis.

I haven’t experienced or heard much about the traffic in Bujumbura but I have heard lots of stories of how bad traffic can be in Dar es Salaam. In Kigali, traffic is not a big issue if you have lived and experienced Kampala and Nairobi. The rapid growth of Kigali is slowly giving room to traffic congestion mainly because of narrow roads and absence of alternative routes. It is not easy constructing roads in a country of Rwanda’s topography.

In Kampala and Nairobi the traffic jams can be so mad compelling drivers to do all the shopping they need while seated in their cars thanks to the street vendors. In the past week, the Governor of Nairobi outlined a number of changes he planned to implement in order to improve traffic flow in the city. I have followed the debates around his pronouncements and one can see why we shall continue killing productive hours sitting in cars and staring at other stationary cars.

In my view we can achieve a lot more if solutions to this mess carried a tinge of democracy. Democracy being a game of numbers we should focus on solutions that make life easy for those with cars carrying many people as opposed to the minority lone drivers in personal cars.

We need to have discipline on the roads and although taxis or matatus are painted as the devils on the road it is the personal cars of ‘big men’ that get away with more bad manners. I do not for example know why in countries like Uganda and Kenya, ministers, MPs, security officers and so many other people are allowed to drive around with escort cars often driving on the wrong side of the road.

It is not democratically sound for one person who is not even a president to block traffic at the expense of so many other people using public transport as if they all do not matter but only he does. Why should a bus with 50 passengers give way for one Toyota land cruiser that is essentially carrying just one passenger who is not good at keeping time?

According to several studies, less than 10 percent of the city working population drive to work while the rest of us (including yours truly) walk to work or use public transport. Based on this alone, we can again democratically propose to ban street parking for personal cars and leave this for public transport vehicles that carry more people. Also because many parents have failed to adopt car pooling, a school bus can save the day and the traffic.

It is commonly agreed that expanding roads does not solve traffic jams as this has been likened to an obese man buying bigger trousers. We need behavioural changes and strategies that favour high capacity transportation and flow of traffic.

I still fail to understand why we spend lots of borrowed money to install traffic lights and then pass the responsibility to traffic officers. The same applies to the myopia of licensing small capacity minibuses (matatus) to work in the city where only high capacity buses should reign.

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