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Opinions of Thursday, 28 July 2011

Columnist: Mante, Kwadwo

Accra traffic in the year 2020

By Dr. Kwadwo Mante

According to a Harvard report, traffic congestion can not only cause premature deaths, but the economic loss in terms of time, productivity and pollution can be enormous. In that report, the researchers found “strong evidence for a causative role for traffic-related air pollution and premature death,” particularly from heart attacks and strokes. Anyone who spends any time commuting knows that the time and fuel wasted while sitting in traffic can not only be annoying, but can also lead to real economic costs. Sitting in traffic leads to higher tailpipe emissions which everyone is exposed to, and the economic costs of those exposures can be fatal. The ever growing traffic jams in Accra is well known, and many foreign and local travelers have expressed their total displeasure of our incompetent traffic management systems in Ghana. Going home after work in Accra can give you a heart attack, yet I don’t see any broad master plan to tackle the issue.

The “commonest solution to addressing urban transport problems is to expand the road space - either build new roads or widen them or construct fly-over’s and elevated express-ways. Planners project it as neat and logical, politicians see it as populist, consultants and contractors view them as cash-cows and people find it sexy. Everyone loves it, at least in its immediate aftermath”. Yet, Studies over the last decade have pretty much dismantled the theory that more roads equal less traffic congestion. It turns out that the opposite is often true: building more and wider roads can increase traffic congestion"(Urbannomics).

Currently in Accra some road are been widened and expanded, overdue by - passes are been constructed and so forth. While these efforts are laudable, these measures are not enough to handle vehicular and human traffic in Accra .According to Magnus Quarshie (who is the Chairman of the Public and International Affairs of the Ghana Institution of Engineers ) the “country might not be able to deal with the current heavy traffic jam in the city despite government's effort of widening roads in the country…road widening, which is a short term approach to solving traffic congestions would not be able to deal with the current deplorable situation”(see Ghanaweb’s story on Sep. 2010).

If the current traffic management policy continues without any strategic intervention, I foresee Accra coming to a standstill in 2020.It will be virtually impossible to travel and move from one end of the city to another because of continuous increase in vehicular and population traffic. I mean going to downtown (circle) will be impossible any part of the day except when everybody goes to sleep. Currently, some places in the capital are no “go areas” during certain hours of the day.

The solutions to these problems are there and well documented. All that we have to do as a nation is to learn from cities with an efficient traffic management model, and customized that system to suit our environment. We don’t have to invent any thing new strategy: Just copy and implement. But how come a nation of more that 20 million people cannot manage just one city. Please don’t tell me we don’t have the resources to efficiently manage traffic in Accra and beyond.

Widening roads and fly-over’s are quick fixes. Traffic control should focus on human behavior than vehicle count. One of the cheapest and easiest ways out of this traffic congestion is to have an efficient public transport system which is reliable and affordable. The country should also adopt a more comprehensive use of land by way of building more flats and high rise buildings as a means creating more public spaces for other activities. We can solve this chaotic, maddening traffic jams if we decide to do so but where the leaders with balls to lead us?

Radically, the department of Urban Roads must come out with a well published plan that addresses the short, medium and long term problems of the traffic chaos in Accra. Then again this is a country without any development plan so how do you expect Urban Roads to deal with the current traffic situation in Accra? But folk’s things cannot continue to deteriorate while we sit down unconcern. Something got to give. What do you think?

***Dr. Kwadwo Mante is freshly minted PhD. He is a Corporate Finance and Public Health expert based in the US. He can be reached at