Africa already has three cities with megacity status (Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa), with others such as Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Luanda expected to become megacities by 2030. The growth and expansion of these metropolises due to suburban sprawl are always associated with increased motorized transport, which eventually leads to traffic congestion. The problem is made worse by poor planning and/or lack of implementation of effective plans in the transport sector, thus making the issue even more complex.
In cities, congestion increases automobile emissions, which ultimately degrades ambient air quality. During periods of rush hour traffic, concentrations of hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen emissions are normally double the rate of free-flow periods. With increased air pollution due to traffic congestion, morbidity and premature deaths are anticipated, especially among people living or working near the major roadways. Sustainable health and well-being in cities is therefore heavily linked to reducing traffic congestion.
Why it is important to tackle traffic congestion in cities
Tackling traffic congestion is important for economic reasons. Commuters waste significant amounts of time in daily traffic. In Lagos, Nigeria, it is estimated that commuters spend approximately 30 hours in traffic every week, time that could be used more productively. For businesses, supply chains could also be impacted, leading to long waits in the delivery of raw materials and finished products to the customers. Traffic congestion has also been linked to more fuel consumption. It is estimated that fuel consumption is 3.5 times higher in congested traffic than in free flow traffic, based on a simulation conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tackling traffic congestion is not only important in avoiding such economic costs, but would also contribute to the sustainable use of oil, a finite natural resource.
We live in an age in which climate change is a clear and present danger. Transport is considered the leading source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 29% of all 2019 emissions in the US. Reducing traffic congestions in cities will not single-handedly solve the climate change problem. However, it would help contribute towards reducing the emissions that cause the greenhouse effect and in turn help address climate change. The essential task of reducing climate risk depends on simple but effective steps which are in partial fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action.
Ensuring shift from individual to mass transport
How should cities and governments ensure a successful shift in preference among citizens for mass transport over individual transport?
First, there is a need to invest in mass rail transport that would connect different city suburbs in African cities. Rail transport will not face traffic jams like those seen on roads due to timely departures and arrivals set for train operations. As a way of attracting passengers to use railways, city governance should create a subsidized transport fee and make the trains comfortable enough for commuter services.
Secondly, buses should be made a more attractive option to commuters. This can be achieved by making sure that they reach their destinations quickly and comfortably. A special lane can be dedicated to bus transport that will allow commuters to reach their destinations as quickly as possible. Bus seats should also be redesigned in a way that would provide better comfort to the commuters. Issues of costs and space may be a challenge to mass transit, but through proper investments and use of funds, African governments can cover the costs of mass transit infrastructure in phases until completion. On matters of space, governments should consider the use of city spatial plans that would act as a guide for all development within cities.
To encourage collective transport, there is a need for cities in Africa to introduce the carpooling system, especially among people who work at the same place or those who attend the same institution in the case of students. The feasibility of carpooling system may be difficult and it should be encouraged progressively as a culture for people to adapt. African cities should also introduce congestion charges for private vehicles in road sections where there is frequent congestion. This will mean private motorists avoid these areas and ensure the proper flow of public transport.
In conclusion, the elimination of traffic congestion in Africa’s growing cities will require careful planning with all stakeholders involved, political goodwill (which will be important in the implementation of policies) and giving priority to investment in mass transit infrastructure.