The Albatross Of Traffic Congestion In Our Cities

Sat, 19 Dec 2009 Source: Ellimah, Michael A. K.

- Any Way Out?

By Michael A.K Ellimah

“Life is like a bicycle; to keep your balance, you must keep moving” Albert Einstein Movement and locomotion have since creation been an inevitable pivot on which the survival and life of human processes hinges. Motion is vital in keeping a desired balance of life and that anything that annihilates or precludes this phenomenon imposes greater risk on the existence of humans and the environment in general. One does not require a PhD in quantum mechanics, a branch of Physics to understand and accept that the human body was designed to move within the environment it interacts with for survival and comfort. In being obedient to the natural dictates of movement, several options have been made available depending on need, purpose and affordability. The option that overwhelmingly dominates the transportation of people, goods and services has been the use of the automobile. As a result, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of vehicles on our roads leading to traffic congestion and several other problems. Each passing day new models, second hand and a preponderance of next to scrap vehicles are added to the present number of vehicles on our roads. The associated problems of the traffic situation on lives and the economy are devastating. Even though the causes are very familiar with policy makers and relevant authorities it appears there are little or no thoughts on the way outs.

One needs not repeat or belabor the causes of the needless traffic congestions ranging from the lack of alternative means of transport (rail transportation), unplanned road works with little or no practical diversions, broken-down vehicles left in the middle of the roads, to poor road infrastructure. Again, the obvious causes make it tautological for one to preach the unavailability of solar powered and disfunctioning nature of traffic lights, the too many entry routes to major roads and the inadequate road signs. Issuance of road worthy certificates to rickety and road unworthy vehicles and licenses to persons who virtually have no idea of the location of the crutch or brake of a car, persons driving without licenses or with fake licenses, indiscipline and disregard for traffic regulations can not pass without mention as key causal factors. Besides these palpable causes, are poor maintenance of our roads, shoddy works due to poor supervision and monitoring, corruption and the negligence of duty bearers. The result of the blatant disregard for a way out of the situation can not be painfully quantified.

Rising incomes, combined with an increasing propensity for personal mobility and inadequate mass transportation facilities, has resulted in a pronounced increase in automobile ownership and its utilization in major cities in the country. Growing motorization, coupled with an absence of appropriate road traffic reduction strategy on major corridors, an ageing and ill-maintained vehicle stock, a sizeable share of two-stroke engine technologies, absence of an efficient public transport system, inadequate separation between working, living, and moving space, and lower fuel quality, have all led to traffic congestion resulting in longer travel times, extra fuel consumption, high-level pollution, discomfort to road users, and degradation of the urban environment.

Air pollution, caused by fuels used in Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi is rising rapidly with growing motorization. Motor vehicles emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and other toxic substances. The evils of the air pollution caused by slow moving traffic during rush-hours puts the environment and lives in high danger and consequently stretch our health facilities beyond their capacities. During these hours our hardworking police officers and traffic wardens risk their breath for fresh air to keep the traffic flowing and thereby most of them suffers from ear, lung and throat problems. Is anybody paying attention to the health implications of the traffic situation on precious lives? Economic activities move at snail pace due to precious man hours lost in traffic jams. The cost of doing business increases astronomically not only by price hikes in petroleum products but the transportation cost calibrated within the delays drivers have had to endure in long traffics. The situation negatively feeds into the cost of production which eventually increases the cost of finished products passed on to consumers thus making living expensive. Reporting to work late and closing earlier than normal coupled with reduced working hours is unavoidably hampering productivity owing to the terrible traffic situations. Also, delays may result in late arrival for meetings, school and other businesses resulting in lost business, disciplinary actions and other personal or corporate losses. Increased fuel use may also in theory cause a rise in fuel costs; not to talk about the increased maintenance cost of the wear and tear of vehicles as a result of idling in traffic and frequent acceleration and braking, leading to more frequent repairs and replacements making life unbearable for many. Is anybody thinking of a way out?

Situations requiring prompt response from emergency institutions such as fire, ambulance and the police service have completely been made difficult if not impossible. If anyone is heading for a hospital in case of an emergency, then one would have to count on divine attention. The effects of many fire incidences such as that of Agbogbloshie market would have been mitigated if fire attendants had had easy and early access to the place. The traffic situation has unfortunately been an accepted failure for the security agencies in dealing with crime and armed robbery incidences requiring exigent traffic free response. Who cares of a way out?

The situation makes it difficult to forecast or plan travel times leading to drivers allocating more time to travel and less time on productive activities. One key consequence of this is the stress and frustration motorists endure which unconsciously encourage road rage; forcing drivers to engage in unwholesome verbal altercations and sometimes exchanging ugly blows. The health of motorists thereby reduces as a result of the anxieties and worries in traffic especially, when one is time pressed to meet deadlines or business associates. It is therefore not surprising that road signs, street lights, shoulders of the road and other neighbouring amenities have been destroyed as motorists attempt using the shoulders of the road as a way out of the traffic queues. Traffic congestion whose duty is it?

The Way Out

The Motor Transport and Traffic Unit, MTTU must use technology for controlling and monitoring the movement of vehicles on important and busy roads. With the help of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) indiscipline and the wanton disregard for traffic regulations can be checked and offenders brought to book. This will not only promote sanity among road users and motorists following traffic signals strictly, it will also help guard the police against motorists who attempts bribing their way out when they flout traffic regulations.

The services of the public transport system, like the Metro Mass Transit must be improved and the number of buses increased to ply all major commuting routes to deal with the rising number of vehicles on our roads. The services of the MMT can be repackaged to integrate the transportation of workers working in proximate and organized locations such as the ministries by introducing monthly or weekly boarding tickets and special services.

Government must role out a conscious programme to encourage the use of bicycles for short distances and promote formation of bicycle users clubs. This, government must take the lead fully dispel the social psychology and stigma attached to bicycle users as people with low economic standing. In doing this, separate lanes for specific user groups such as bus lanes or motor bike and bicycle lanes should be created to allow free flow of traffic without obstruction. Also new laws should be enacted to protect bicycle users from indisciplined drivers. The approach may sound a bit simple; it is however cost effective and has worked in my developed countries in easing traffic. Government must be proactive in lifting the rail transportation option from its disposition of doldrums. The move will reduce the number of vehicles on our roads thereby saving the environment from air pollution.

Proper city planning and urban design practices may have huge impact on the levels of future traffic congestion. The construction of interchanges and overhead bridges must be extended to major junctions to free movements from motorists having to stop for other crossing movements. While doing that entry routes must be limited and unapproved entries created along major roads be closed or monitored.

Zoning and road space rationing where regulatory restrictions prevent certain types of vehicles from driving under certain circumstances or in certain areas must be put in place to check traffic flow on our streets. Reliable diversions to major roads must be constructed before major road works are carried out. The roads and highway authorities must proactively monitor the needless and indiscriminate digging of trenches in and along busy roads. Where digging is unavoidable, effort must be made to reduce the impact of such work and road contractors who abandon their trenches for unreasonable amount of time must be sanctioned.

As Christmas fast approaches with its perennial concomitant long traffic queues economic activities can not be crucified on the cross of negligence and apathy on the part of duty bearers. The visible causes and the painful costs of traffic congestions to lives and the national economy are horrifically familiar therefore all persons, agencies, authorities and institutions responsible better straighten their backs.

The writer is the Executive Director of Movement for Social Change and Development-MOSCAD

Email: michaelkwamek@yahoo.com

Columnist: Ellimah, Michael A. K.