via Harare’s gridlock nightmare | The Herald November 7, 2013 by Shingirai Huni and Grace Chingoma
It is that time of the year again when motorists and pedestrians have to brace themselves for one of their worst nightmares in Harare’s central business district — congestion.
For many, the rainy season brings with it a new wave of joy, farmers get down working in their fields and for everyone it ushers the festive season.
However, for motorists and pedestrians battling to move inside the CBD, the word joy is beyond their imagination especially during peak hours.
Many pedestrians and motorists are each year left with the questions, as to why traffic grinds to a total halt for hours whenever there is a drop of rain.
Are there no solutions to curb congestion in Harare’s CBD?
“It seems as if congestion is increasing by the day and we don’t see any solutions being implemented to curb it.
“As a kombi operator I always brace myself for the worst during peak hours. I lose a lot of money being trapped in town and that is why we increase our fares to a dollar.
“Council should do something to rectify these traffic jams,” said Prince Zibgowa, who plies the Glen View-City route.
Across the globe countries that face the worst traffic jams are busy coming up with solutions to reduce congestion. In Vietnam the government in 2008 passed a resolution mapping out comprehensive measures for the two major cities to address the mounting problem of traffic congestion, which was fast becoming an urgent social issue causing economic loss and disrupting people’s lives.
The country highlighted the opening of more ring roads and flyovers, an increase in traffic police patrols and the re-organisation of bus routes and timetables as key measures that have impacted positively on the congestion situations in the cities.
According to the Japan Times, Japan has gone the extra mile by adopting intelligent transport systems (ITS) as a way of reducing congestion.
Experts in Japan say the use of ITS will lead to fewer traffic jams and accidents.
“Synergistic effects can be expected by deploying ITS and infrastructure together. This effect depends on the provision of traffic information, so ITS play an important part,” said Yukihiro Tsukada, director of the Research Centre for Advanced Information Technology at Japan transport ministry’s National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management.
If big economies like Japan are taking traffic jams seriously, why not our own council? A survey of businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce put the cost of congestion at £11 billion a year in Britain. The same survey found congestion to be a problem for around 90 percent of businesses.
Lord knows how much Zimbabwe is losing to congestion.
It is a fact that congestion has been on the rise in Harare’s CBD but many feel the city council has not done much in addressing the situation.
Three big changes are needed.
A southern bypass on the other side of the railways line would at least would give an option to that dreadful intersection of Kenneth Kaunda Avenue-Charter Road-Julius Nyerere Way-Seke Road-Railway.
Buying out those handful of properties at the western end of Nelson Mandela Avenue, and the owners have been on notice for decades that this will happen, will at least make it easier to leave the city; and having all traffic lights working all the time would stop that crazy Zimbabwean game of four cars driving simultaneously into an intersection, because it is apparently better to wait all night in the middle of the road than let someone else through ever.
Harare City Council Director of Urban Planning Services Mr Psychology Chiwanga attributed congestion to a number of factors and said the city’s efforts to address these are mainly being handicapped by the lack of capital.
“The vehicle population has grown from 160 000 to nearly 310 000 vehicles entering the CBD everyday and with at least 5 800 registered kombis entering the city centre on a daily basis over the years without the attendant widening of roads.
“The behaviour of kombi operators and illegal pirate taxi operators has also contributed. The operators ignore no stopping signs and marked pedestrian crossings,” said Mr Chiwanga.
Asked why they flout council traffic regulations taxi operators laid the blame on the council which
they accused of spending time chasing and harassing them on a daily basis while ignoring the real problems of traffic jams such as damaged traffic lights.
“The council is the one which has over the years failed to address the problems of congestion.
“Kombi and taxi operators are at the mercy of the municipal police which spends much of its time chasing us and causing these traffic jams. Instead of spending that time chasing us why not spare some hours repairing the defunct traffic lights in the CBD,” said a taxi operator who refused to be named. A survey conducted by the Herald indicated that most traffic lights in the CBD are dysfunctional during the day on a daily basis and the major cause was the power cuts.
Mr Chiwanga said while it was the council’s target to install solar traffic lights in the CBD their major challenge was that of capital.
“While it is plausible to install solar traffic lights, the major handicap remains that of capital funding of panels, and energy storage gadgets.
“So far 18 solar traffic lights have been installed in Harare but the preferred number is 68 in the central business district,” he said.
Mr Chiwanga also highlighted council’s efforts to control kombi and taxi operators through the construction of kombi holding bays and the closure of certain roads at given intervals to allow for the smooth movement of vehicles during peak hours.
“The city is building the kombi’s holding bays along Coventry Road. This will ensure that kombis do not park at termini and block the roads leading into the various termini.
“At the moment kombis spent up to six hours of their operating time parked. Only kombis ready to load would be called via a radio system to the loading bays.
“Very soon the section of Kwame Nkrumah Avenue that feeds into Julius Nyerere Way would be closed between 0730-0830hrs and 1600-2000hrs to allow for the smooth flow of traffic (by not blocking the North-South and South-North bound peak period traffic).”
He, however, bemoaned the slow pace at which the completion of the holding bays was moving saying funding problems were the major cause.
As much as many motorists would have wanted Harare to move with time, adopting what other cities are doing to improve their transport infrastructure by having raised motorways and trains in the CBD, it seems that dream might be far-fetched for now.
That is not part of this year’s city’s capital budget.