Africa’s most populous cities continue to experience both rapid growth as well as growing concerns and challenges. The need for innovative solutions to address various problems is ever more imperative. Lagos, with a population of about 21 million people, sits easily at the top of the list of most populous cities in Africa, and also endures significant challenges due to this.
Everyone who has ever been to Lagos, or has ever heard of Lagos, can easily point to the most popular characteristic of this bustling, vibrant city – the traffic. The people are just too many, the cars are just too many, the state is just too small and the roads even smaller. Traffic in Lagos is generally described as a nightmare, with motorist and road users spending anything from 2 – 8 hours daily as they commute to and fro work and regular business activities.
Countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, already realizing the potential challenges that come with rapid growing cities, are taking steps to mitigate this challenge.
In Ethiopia for example, last December in a move led by the country’s health minister, Amir Aman, thousands of people marked what is called ‘Car Free Day’ in cities across the country. The idea was to promote healthy living and reduce pollution on roads usually caused by clogged traffic in the cities. It has now become a monthly activity where one day in every month, the roads are free of vehicles and people walk on the roads and take part in exercises and street performers have a spectacular time showing off their skills.
In Kenya, although met with some resistance, the transport minister, Kames Macharia, had earlier announced a pilot programme for its own car-free days in February.
It is obvious that vehicles on the road are clogging our cities. In Nigeria, motor vehicles (per 1,000 people) was reported at 31 as at 2007, a figure expected to have more than tripled in recent times.
Before we quickly point to ridesharing and autonomous vehicles as solutions to this issue, recent studies and research seem to contradict the theory that ridesharing reduces traffic, and that the same applies to autonomous vehicles. But even any of these is already dreaming rather far in the context of what is presently available in Africa.
Perhaps we can draw from examples of other large cities such as London or Singapore, that impose ‘congestion fees’ that require motorists to pay a flat rate to enter the city centre. However, the challenges with infrastructure and lack of efficient public transportation systems and solutions in many African countries might make a strong case against ‘congestion fees’ in African cities, as there really aren’t quite any reasonable alternatives.
Nonetheless, a Car Free Day, or two, in Lagos might do the city some good, even as we continue to look forward to a Lagos with functional rail and water transportation systems that will go a long way to decongest the roads, as well as encourage people to explore other commute options as they go about their daily activities.