Editorial Comment:Roadworks needed to back police clampdown

Source: Editorial Comment:Roadworks needed to back police clampdown | The Herald

Editorial Comment:Roadworks needed to back police clampdown

Among other problems on the roads the police are tackling, as an adjunct to their operation against the mushikashika, is the incredible lack of courtesy and sheer obedience to the rules of the road by many drivers, who all appear to now regard the Highway Code and rules of the road as a suggestion book only.

So stepping up enforcement of basic road rules is needed. The extent of the problem can be seen in the plea by the police spokesman for drivers to stop at traffic lights “even when it is raining”, highlighting the general and growing feeling that traffic signals are some sort of option.

Besides the drivers, the traffic flows are badly affected by the growing number of traffic lights that are ceasing to function. 

Harare City Council has not only been skipping road maintenance, but also the repair and maintenance of traffic lights, and their replacement when they are smashed by a careless driver or finally wear out.

Hear there are arguments for putting a number of intersections into the road rehabilitation programme launched by central Government, and especially the replacement of many sets of traffic lights outside the city centre with roundabouts, and preferably roundabouts with the new design that allows left-turning slip roads.

Some years ago a city roads engineer came up with the interesting statistic that a roundabout on a major intersection cost around the same as a new set of modern traffic lights. 

This should be generating some innovation and redesign in a planned programme to replace as many sets of lights as possible with roundabouts.

Functioning lights that are replaced can then be moved into the city centre and into other areas where there simply is not enough road reserve for a proper roundabout.

But one important point is that whoever was doing the town planning some decades ago was not frightened about putting in wide road reserves on many major arterial and ring roads in the Harare area. 

Some of that was obviously to ensure that roads could be widened in future decades, but it also ensured that there was space for roundabouts when a road engineer took the plunge. 

The rebuilding of the road through Hatfield to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport showed what was possible, and the work done over the last year has simply made the roundabouts more efficient as better design was put in place.

Roundabouts have so many advantages it is surprising that they were not universally adopted as the default where possible. 

For a start they do not break down, like lights, and are not subject to power cuts. Bad accidents might need some kerbing replaced, a simple task and far simpler than digging out the wreckage of a set of lights and panel beating it or buying new.

They also have the advantage of self-regulating in most circumstances. When traffic is lighter drivers do not sit and wait for the lights to change colour; they can move into a near empty intersection. 

This is important late at night when many drivers fear that criminals might be lying in wait at a traffic light, and even if they are not, and cases are rare, many use this as an excuse and in any case police tend to back off on road enforcement at night.

Generally speaking a roundabout will be more efficient at controlling an intersection than a set of traffic lights and the need to slow down as you approach a roundabout ensures that you cannot get those drivers who just floor the accelerator while sounding their horn as they approach. 

There can be some problems if one of the roads going into an intersection is exceptionally busy and the side road is on the left side of that highway.

It can be very difficult for anyone to enter the roundabout since the gap does not appear, but a really first-class road engineer might well be able to find solutions with angled approach roads and the like.

In time flyovers may be needed to replace a roundabout, but the majority of major suburban intersections in Harare are some way off from this next, and very expensive, upgrade and we can get a great many years of useful service out of properly designed and constructed roundabouts. 

Traffic flows will be enhanced and congestion will be reduced significantly since traffic tends to be self-regulating.

A traffic light’s timing sequence often has to be set to cope with the worse case each day, which might only last half an hour, while a roundabout will self-adjust, allowing far more vehicles to move through the intersection in any particular period. 

The design does need to be made reasonably foolproof. We have seen people trying to create new lanes and there will be need for municipal staff to clear out the illegal vending and vendor shacks regularly in the approaches, but this is simpler than trying to repair a set of lights or even put in new light bulbs. 

The major congestion in the city centre needs some work. The fact that Samora Machel Avenue is narrowed each end has been a problem ever since the colonial engineer was denied the required cash to widen it for four blocks each end and that two block extension of Nelson Mandela Avenue to the west has been planned for half a century. 

There are three old buildings that cannot be developed because one day they are to go, but they will probably fall down first at this rate.

A number of traffic professionals have been proposing for the same half century to put a bypass along the Mukuvisi to the south of the city centre, to keep away a large block of traffic, including heavy trucks, that do not want to stop in the city centre but have to pass through as there is no other route. 

A lot of congestion is caused by the need for people to move from one side to the other and it should be possible for that southern bypass to take a lot of the load. 

Having the main national east-west highway running through central Harare is bad enough at the moment and as it is dualised it will become impossible to carry the national traffic in the city centre and the city centre traffic. The national traffic needs to be diverted.

The police, by enforcing rules and directing traffic at broken lights have been trying to at least avoid a total gridlock, but we come remarkably close at times to this and once again we need the road engineers to be brought on board to design and build the modest number of roundabouts, diversions and other works that can showcase a middle-income economy and its capital city.