Unlocking traffic gridlock

Last Wednesday’s TNT edition (Issue 14678) carried a report on a recent development in Kigali in which buses were relocated from the city center terminal in order to relieve traffic congestion; it got me thinking hard on what is now being addressed as a big problem in growing cities worldwide. 
Alline Akintore
Alline Akintore

Last Wednesday’s TNT edition (Issue 14678) carried a report on a recent development in Kigali in which buses were relocated from the city center terminal in order to relieve traffic congestion; it got me thinking hard on what is now being addressed as a big problem in growing cities worldwide. 

Given the increased traffic pressure on Kigali roads, it’s high-time we faced the cold facts: Kigali city center has no space for wider roads, there is an increasing number of vehicles and making public transport harder for commuters to access (the majority of the population do not own cars) is going against the grain of using mobility to achieve progress. I am fully aware that the afore mentioned solution alleviates one symptom of the problem but it is not a cure to the disease.

Having used Kigali public transport, I know fully well why someone would want to own a personal vehicle yet in fact, we should be striving for the reverse. The average Rwandan driver spends almost two hours a day navigating traffic jam and the Rwanda commuter might be using about the same amount of time walking to a bus stop, waiting on a bus and/or queuing in line for one and this is not going to get any better because the truth is, we have too many cars for our under-capacity roads!

For years now, transportation engineers have been designing traffic control systems that manage intersection signal control optimization and use adaptive control systems for volume prediction; working with time variant traffic patterns and deriving dynamic traffic plans is helpful but the fact remains that if you have 1000 cars/hour on a road designed for 100 cars/hour-as is the case in Kigali-you need to do a bit more. In line with this is the 21st century smart car network; basically a network of smart cars (implemented with smart roads and parking) talking to each other much like cellular phone networks. This solution has been successful in Hong Kong and Germany but may not be practical for Rwanda for a couple of years until we have the appropriate infrastructure and cars.

A practical solution that has been tried and tested is carpooling whereby neighbors who work in nearby locations opt to ride together to work and split the fuel costs in an agreed manner; this reduces congestion on the roads and saves drivers fuel and parking fee costs. Am almost tempted to ask if the government can promote this-as is the case in Los Angeles (California).

However, the silver bullet that will greatly relieve Kigali roads is a revolutionized public transport system that will reduce vehicle-to-passenger ratio. I am talking BRT here-Bus Rapid Transit. BRT refers to a public transport infrastructure that features bus-only right-of-way, extensive coverage, off-bus fare collection, enclosed stations and bus priority.  By dedicating a lane to buses only or using bus priority methods (intersection priority implemented with bus lanes), buses operate without interference hence reducing the commute time; low cost elements such as bus turnouts, boarding islands and more curb realignments also mean more access to commuters and less waiting times. With high-frequency service and a well designed bus network with a website to allow commuters to know when the next bus is arriving at their stop, the element of uncertainty and unreliability that prompts many commuters to buy cars can be dealt away with.  Lastly, setting up ticket stalls means that time is saved compared to fare c
ollection by the bus conductor (‘convoyeur’).

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) cites that traffic management solutions that regulate parking and charge motorists for driving have the greatest potential to reduce congestion. Congestion pricing means that drivers of personal cars are charged for using roads in the city center-this has worked effectively in London and Singapore-with the value added results of less air pollution and increased public transit ridership with less wasted time in traffic jam.

One city to look to is Bogota (Colombia)-a city that suffered from congestion turned into an urban transport reform model city. Bogota now boasts the world’s longest pedestrian-only street, a world-class BRT and a car-free day during which no private cars are allowed to enter the city. Bogota’s former mayor was quoted saying, “Typically, when we judge a city’s success we talk about skyscrapers, superhighways and parking spaces. The experience of Bogota shows that cities can prosper by focusing on a new model for success, one that is centered on the needs and contentment of all the city’s residents - not just those that own a private car.”

Author is interested in emerging technologies and their impact on business and society; she is a postgraduate student in Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania (USA).

akintore@gmail.com

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