For the average commuter, Accra is choked by bottlenecks and traffic congestion. The city’s commercial activity attracts two-thirds of commuters to the CBD, but the ineffective transport system stifles accessibility, productivity and liveability.
The city’s longstanding transportation planning bias toward cars is catching up with the growing city. An estimated 70 percent of commuters get around using tro-tros (secondhand mini-busses that transport between 15 to19 passengers), while the 15 percent who commute via private vehicles take up 40 percent of the road space. Eleven percent walk and the rest (4 percent) get around by bicycle.
To address its increasing traffic congestion, the city, through local and foreign intervention, is expanding its transportation options. The first, in adding lanes to existing roadways, serves to connect neighborhoods within Accra’s functional boundaries, and address bottlenecks. But it also reveals a continuation of the city’s lack of consideration for non-motorised options.
In February 2012, construction was completed on the upgrade of the N1 Expressway, transforming it into a three-lane roadway linking the communities of Mallam, Odorkor and Lapaz to the centre. Although lauded for reducing commuters’ travel times, the Ghana Highways Authority has recorded over 100 deaths on the expressway involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists as of August 2012.
“It’s not surprising that you find a lot of accidents (along the N1), because there wasn’t proper consideration (for the needs of cyclists and pedestrians),” says Magnus Quarshie, transportation engineer and executive director of the transportation-planning firm Delin Consult. Despite the presence of shops, kiosks and informal vending all along the expressway’s 14km stretch, there are only six bridges for cyclists and pedestrians to cross.
The N1 reflects overall transportation design in Accra, where, in the city’s entirety, there is only 1,6km of segregated bicycling lane infrastructure. Many, but not all, of the roads have adjoining sidewalks, but bicycles must share the road with cars. Bicyclists in particular commute under dangerous conditions. “Sometimes they are shoved by cars. They literally have to fight their way in traffic,” Quarshie says.
A new direction in addressing congestion is in the development of a bus rapid transit system, which will run from west to Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra’s main transportation hub. The city is also developing a second system of better quality busses to run from north to the CBD.
The Ghana Urban Transport Project, which is developing the BRT and additional bus system, is the third generation in transportation interventions in Accra. The first, in the late 80s and early 90s, and the second, in the late 90s, were infrastructure upgrades for roads and corresponding drainage. The current project also seeks to regulate existing transport operations, key among them tro-tros; the union-owned, independently operated and governed mini-busses that have existed for decades as the major transport service.
“All over the world, municipalities are in charge of public transport…In Ghana, it has not been so – operators are self-regulating,” says Bernard Abeiku Arthur, CEO of the Centre for Urban Transportation. Arthur says that the centre has succeeded in rectifying the relationship between the two parties, with tros-tro owners as operators and the municipality at regulators.
Both Quarshie and Arthur are optimistic about the city’s potential to improve, and not only in terms of alleviating congestion. “Personally, I wish that in the next five or 10 years, we could turn Accra into a sustainable city, or a liveable city,” Quarshie said. “But we need to underpin this with a very good transport system – a sustainable system to enable people to access the city.”
Victoria Okoye is a Community/urban planner and media professional based in Accra
This article is part of Urbanafrica’s reporting project
image credit: passmoreplease/Flickr
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