We are wasting 30 days in traffic every year. Is it time to ban cars from entering cities?
New research suggests that we could be spending an average of 30 days sitting in traffic every year. 70% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050, compounding the scope and scale of traffic.
On XFM this week, we looked at the traffic problem across major cities in East Africa and why City Hall can not solve 21st century problems using 20th century tools.
We are going to have to think very differently on how to solve the traffic problem in our cities.
New research suggests that we could be spending an average of 30 days sitting in traffic every year. If you spend 190 minutes to and from work then you will be spending 45 days in traffic this year. That's a full year spent in traffic every decade.
It only gets worse!
The proportion of the population in cities is growing by about 5% annually.
If about 3% of the "newcomers" acquire new cars and another 3% bring their cars with them, that will add about 25,000 new cars into the Nairobi traffic nightmare and another 15,000 new cars into the traffic mess in Kampala.
It only gets worse!
70% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050, compounding the scope and scale of traffic.
What about increasing the efficiency of existing city capacity?
Sydney is one of the cities with the best road infrastructure in the world, yet Sydney has worse traffic congestion than New York, less comprehensive public transport networks than Lisbon, and more traffic pollution than Mexico City.
In Nairobi, the road and highway infrastructure has undergone numerous upgrades. Flyovers were built. New carriageways increased capacity eight fold. Many years later and the traffic situation is probably worse than it used to be when most roads were single lanes.
In Kampala, the completion of the Northern bypass was supposed to mark the end of traffic congestion in the city. It takes twice as long today to get into the CBD via Jinja road.
In Entebbe, the Southern bypass was recently completed to minimize the time it took to get to and from the Airport. Today, it takes anyone coming into Kampala almost twice as long in the morning and almost three times as long to exit the CBD on Entebbe road.
Increasing the efficiency of existing road capacity is not working. Building more roads and highways is simply not the answer to the traffic problem. We have been doing this globally for over 100 years.
What about changing the capital city?
There was a time when Abuja roads were not only very decent and neat, but also largely free of heavy traffic. Streets were well paved. Driving from one end of the city to another hardly took more than fifteen minutes. Functional traffic lights were installed in Abuja. The city was fresh and new. Soon traffic crept in.
Today, driving through parts of Abuja is a horrible nightmare.
When Pakistan moved it's capital city from Karachi to Islamabad - traffic crept in. When Brazil moved it's capital city from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia - traffic crept in.
So, what do we do?
The 20th century way to look at this nightmare has been to understand traffic at a granular level within the city.
This information is then used to optimize traffic light timings, improve road junction design, and hopefully influence traffic to smoothly flow into and out of the city.
The keyword here is hope!
This has largely not worked because City Hall master plans focus more on infrastructure growth and never the cars.
By the time the blue print is out, the traffic dynamics of the city has since evolved and the challenges are completely different. The number of cars on the road have since doubled.
That upgrade from a single lane to a dual-carriageway in the new city plan is not going to work.
Back to the drawing board.
This is akin to a doctor treating the symptom and not the cause of the disease. The patient will never get well.
So, what do we do?
In Palo Alto, they have been able to manage traffic flow by utilizing real-time traffic data, collected from sensors in different locations of the city, to design smart road intersections cutting traffic by 40%
In Barcelona, initiatives were put in place that encouraged its residents to drive less, walk more, and get out and explore. As a result, pollution levels dropped, obesity rates dropped, & resident engagement rose.
In Madrid, an app allows car owners to make money by sharing their car on their daily trips. This is cutting CBD traffic & CBD congestion. Shared cars are effectively replacing about 20 privately owned cars in the city.
Most global cities have moved away from traffic lights that use fixed timers to those that use sensors to pinpoint where cars are, how many cars are on either lane, then adjust accordingly to ease traffic flow.
Sensors are great for letting the system know when a car is approaching, where it is approaching from, and maybe even where it is bound to go.
Accidents on certain streets can then be announced on an app alerting motorists not to use certain roads leading to the affected streets.
With all this data available to the system, the Control Unit at City Hall can make intelligent decisions around policy and planning to design and serve the city better.
We can not solve 21st century problems using 20th century tools. We are going to have to think very differently on how to solve the traffic problem in our cities.
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