Why Lagos is choking with traffic gridlock
THAT Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, is choking with a killer traffic gridlock is no longer news. Residents of the city are groaning. Going from one point to another daily is hellish. The last month of October appeared to have witnessed the worst traffic gridlock ever in the bursting megacity but I can tell you, it was not. Traffic gridlock is what living in Lagos portends. The problem has only worsened.
There has been no time in Lagos in the past three decades, at least, that commuting in the metropolis was a pleasure. It has always been hellish. Lagos traffic gridlock has defied all the measures the authorities have applied over the years. Rather than getting better, it gets worse. The authorities are overwhelmed by the intractable traffic situation in Lagos.
Daily, travellers and commuters on Lagos highways spend hours on one spot in traffic. The other day, I was to deliver a letter at Idowu Taylor in Victoria Island; I left my house in Surulere at 7a.m., hoping to beat the traffic. But to my chagrin, I got to the office at 1p.m. to deliver the letter. I spent solid six hours for a shuttle that would normally take about 20 minutes without traffic.
A flight that left Lagos for London at the same time would have arrived before I got to Victoria Island. I lost six hours going and another four hours returning making 10-man hours. I lost the day’s working hours in traffic. That is how everyone working in Lagos is wasting man-hours daily. When you sum up the man-hours lost by Lagos workforce in traffic, it is amazing why productivity is seriously affected. The economy bears the brunt. The whole experience is like madness. The stress is a public health issue that needs to be addressed.
Blaming the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) or the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) for the chaos is misplaced. The agencies are overwhelmed and can’t do much. The agencies can only be effective under normal traffic situation. But they are working in an abnormal situation, which is not their making. The traffic chaos in Lagos is systemic and can only be handled by addressing all the systemic issues that make for smooth traffic flow. Otherwise, there is no way out. What are the causes of the monster traffic gridlock in Lagos?
First are bad roads. Despite being the economic power house in Nigeria, the roads in Lagos are few and among the worst in the world. The same roads and flyovers that were built more than 40 years ago, precisely in the 70s, when the population was less and vehicular traffic was low, are the same roads that are still in use. Nothing has been added. Worse still, those roads are now dilapidated, thereby making vehicular movement more difficult.
For instance, the Ikorodu road, which is a major arterial highway at the centre of Lagos, has been constricted to accommodate BRT Buses. With the exception of the Fashola administration, successive administrations at both the federal and state levels have done very little to address the road network in the city. Endemic traffic crisis in Lagos was one of the major factors that forced the Federal Government to decide in 1976 to relocate the capital to Abuja. This shows that the problem is not new, yet, nothing has been done about it 40 years later. What would have been the situation if the Gen. Gowon administration did not build the few flyovers in Lagos in the 70s?
Second is lawlessness and undisciplined motorists. Lagos is perhaps the most disorderly city in the world where traffic goes in all directions. A first time visitor in Lagos is astounded with the anarchy and chaos on the roads. Commuter buses, private cars, security vehicles, motorcyclists and tri-cyclists move in all directions and against traffic. There is no order. Traffic rules are not ignored. Traffic signs are few. Motorists ignore traffic red light. Uniformed personnel – police, army, Customs, navy, etc, drive against traffic unperturbed. Law enforcement is weak and corrupt. Driving on Lagos roads is madness. Scores of LASTMA personnel have been manhandled by military officers for attempting to stop military personnel from driving against traffic. It is as bad as that.
Third is increased vehicular numbers. As I said earlier, Lagos roads were built in the 70s, when the number of vehicles in the city was minimal. There was no provision for motorcyclists or pedestrians. As a Geography student at the University of Lagos in the early 80s, we conducted a project research on vehicular traffic on Ikorodu road starting from Ojota to Jibowu. At the time, there were about one million vehicles in Lagos. We discovered that the road was four lanes in both directions. But at Jibowu, the lanes tapered to two in a form of a bottle-neck, thereby, causing traffic snarl from Jibowu to Yaba.
Today, there are over five million vehicles operating on Lagos roads. When the motorcycles and tri-cycles are added, the number might be up to 10 million. At the same time, the population of road users has quadrupled. The population of Lagos is over 12 million people. That same Ikorodu road has been constricted to two lanes to accommodate the BRT lanes in both directions. Therefore, it is like forcing a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, which is impossible. The road space is small in relation to the large number of vehicles. With that, nothing can remove traffic gridlock even if motorists were orderly, which is impossible.
Fourth is large number of rickety vehicles in Lagos. It is no exaggeration to say that about 85 per cent of vehicles operating in Lagos are not roadworthy. Practically, all the trailers, tankers and other heavy-duty articulated vehicles in Lagos are decrepit. The implication is that quite often these decrepit vehicles break down on the busy highways and thereby compound the traffic. Tankers and trailers upturn at bad spots. Faulty vehicles stall in traffic and the driver, instead of pushing the vehicle out of the road, would stay there to do repairs. There is no Automobile Association (AA) in Lagos that could be called to tow broken down vehicles on the road.
Fifth, lack of parking lots, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles. Lagos is perhaps the only city in the world where trailers, tankers and heavy-duty articulated vehicles park on the roads. Because, Lagos is largely unplanned, there was no provision made for parking lots for trailers and tankers. The ad-hoc provisions made by the State authorities have not worked. Besides, there are thousands of disused abandoned vehicles on the roads.
The way out, to start with, is to repair all the roads in Lagos. The inner city roads should be repaired to provide alternative exit routes where necessary. Thereafter, the other issues could be tackled systematically, one after the other