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Nightmare that is traffic jam

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By Peter Kanjere:

Driving in the country’s cities is no longer fun because it is like entering into a trap; one that you must avoid but one you just cannot because it is the only gateway to essential services such as banks, marketplaces, schools, shopping malls and workplaces.

Many people are having to endure hours trapped in traffic jams especially in the morning and late afternoon as car and human population boom coupled, lately, with the closure of some main roads, due to maintenance, have raised questions on the roads’ capacity to meet growing demand.

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Such was the case one Friday evening a fortnight ago when Blantyre experienced unprecedented traffic jams, leaving commuters stranded and frustrated.

The rage on the road was common on the street as frustrated commuters were involved in heated exchanges.

An article on www.theconversation.com says traffic jams are costly as they lead to loss of time, more pollution and spending of gasoline.

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The website says research has linked traffic jams to negative mental outcomes including stress and aggression.

The cost of the traffic jam was felt at the corporate level in Blantyre.

For example, Chartered Institute of Malawi marketers’ awards ceremony started three hours late at 10 pm in Blantyre as some officials were caught up in the congestion.

“Traffic in Blantyre today has escalated to a disaster,” one motorist posted on her Face-book page on that particular Friday.

Another chipped in: “The traffic situation in Blantyre is insane and very sick.”

Another one man commented: “Stuck in BT for three hours now. Feeling the pain.”

Such cases are also common in Lilongwe and Mzuzu where once driving was sheer interrupted fun.

A few weeks ago, a woman in Lilongwe shared on the social media the frustration of being stuck in traffic for an hour from Chitukuko area to Area 18 roundabout, a two-minute drive in normal circumstances.

Such has been life in the country’s cities.

But what has changed in the cities? Have the roads become too small to accommodate population growth and increase in cars?

The population of Blantyre fluctuates between 800,000 and 1,200,000 between day and night, a big jump from a decade ago.

Blantyre City Council Public Relations Manager, Anthony Kasunda, admitted that traffic jams have reached “alarming levels” in the commercial city.

Kasunda attributed the worsening congestion on the roads to upgrading of

Chileka Road to dual carriage saying this forces motorists to use Zalewa Road, which passes through town.

“You will notice a great traffic improvement once the dual carriageway is completed. We are also planning to create some arterial roads for those that have no business to conduct in the CBD [central business district] such as Sunnyside Bank road to Multichoice on Independence Drive and Glyn Jones Road through Namiwawa to Chemusa. Once all technicalities have been sorted out, the one-way traffic system in Blantyre will be introduced and there will be proper traffic ability on our roads,” he said.

An arterial road is defined as high capacity urban road whose primary function is to deliver traffic from collector roads to freeways or expressways, among others.

With a population of 1,227,054 and the coming of more cars, Lilongwe City has for many years experienced traffic jam nightmare.

The situation gets worse when the capital city is hosting major events such as football at Bingu National Stadium.

Lilongwe City Council publicist, Tamara Chafunya, alluded to this problem but said traffic congestion would soon be solved.

“You may wish to note that Lilongwe is fast growing and so is the city population, consequently, there is also an increase in [the] number of vehicles on our roads in the city,” she said.

Chafunya is, however, optimistic that the dualisation of Lilongwe’s roads would ease congestion.

“Another way forward would be having the day-time traffic control systems. Introduction of public transport systems can also be a deliberate approach to reduce congestion on our roads,” she said.

A few years ago, Mzuzu City was not associated with traffic jams. But that is no longer the case.

The city council authorities have also promised that traffic congestion would ease down once they finish constructing some roads in the city.

It appears that for many years, the possibility of traffic jams in Malawi seemed inevitable.

A 2016 report titled: ‘Malawi Vehicle Population and Growth Rates’ from the Ministry of Transport and Public Works put matters into context on the increasing numbers of automobiles plying our roads.

The Daily Times sourced the report on www.wedoc.unep.org.

Records indicate that from 2008 to 2016, motor vehicle average growth rate has been 12 percent and that in nine years, the vehicle population has doubled in Malawi from 104,800 to 290,935, translating to an average of 20,681 per year from 2008 to 2016.

“Using the linear equation, a 20-year forecast projects tripling of vehicle population by 2036. (704,000). Atkins- Consultant who is developing the Transport sector master-plan using a different forecasting method projects that by 2036 vehicle population will hit 1,043,000.

Another website tradingeconomics.com suggest that car registration in Malawi increased to 2,386 cars in April 2015 from 2,257 cars in 2014 with car registration averaging 2047.25 cars from 2011 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 4195.000.

To deal with traffic jams one also has to look at the capacity of the roads.

National Roads Authority Public Relations Officer, Portia Kajanga, said they were working towards expanding the roads’ network so as to meet demand in the cities.

She cited capacity improvement dualisation, by-passes and junctions expansion as among the interventions aimed at easing congestion.

Kajanga cited the current works to expand the road from Parliament roundabout to BNS Junction with Kaunda Road in Lilongwe and construction of the interchange at Area 18 Roundabout in Lilongwe.

“We are also currently working on designs for the expansion of the road from Mchengautuba past Katoto to Mzuzu University. We are also working on a procurement plan to hire consultants to do designs to expand a section of the M1 from Chidzanja Road junction to Mchinji roundabout in Lilongwe. Another contract will also be given out for designs of a dual carriage from Crossroads roundabout to Kia Junction

“We are working on the construction of two by-passes i.e. the Lilongwe City East By-pass as well as the Blantyre By-pass which will pass near Mpemba. By-passes divert some of the traffic like big vehicles and trucks from the city centres as another way of decongesting our cities. We will also be expanding most junctions within the cities so that they are able to allow several vehicles to pass, thereby decongesting the cities,” Kajanga said.

While such plans sound good, it is clear that the response to increased traffic on the country’s roads is slow, resulting in so many inconveniences which compromise service delivery.

Asked if there are special measures to regulate such congestion on the roads, Malawi Police Service national spokesperson James Kadadzera said they always do that.

It appears that traffic congestion, once associated with countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, is here to stay.

Brace up for more hours trapped on the road.

 

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