Two news reports penultimate week touched on the problem of persistent traffic gridlock in Lagos, which Governor Akinwunmi Amode expressed great concern about and elucidated how his administration intends to ameliorate the embarrassing problem.
At the inauguration of the multi-level car park built by Ikoyi Club 1938, the Deputy Governor Dr. Oluranti Adebule, who represented the governor, told the audience that the Ambode administration was resolute about all motorists and road users in Lagos to comply with all traffic laws without exception. Speaking through his deputy, the governor reiterated the determination of his administration to find a lasting solution to the incessant gridlock on Lagos roads, which is part of the goals of his government. And that the provision of parking facilities such as the one built by the Ikoyi Club 1938 is a good example of a social club’s effort in complementing what the government is doing to address the unpleasant gridlock in Lagos. While he commended the effort of the club, he called on other social clubs to emulate the worthy example of what Ikoyi Club 1938 was able to do for the benefit of its members and other visitors who are the target users of the modern car park.
The second news report was on the tour of Governor Ambode to various traffic bottlenecks in Lagos where he went for “on-the sport assessment” of the traffic situation in these areas in order to determine what can be done to ameliorate the problem. Governor Ambode said that by leaving the comfort of his office, it shows that, his style of administration, in a manner of speaking, is not an ARM CHAIR (my emphasis) where officials sit in their air-conditioned offices at Alausa and could not be bothered with the reality of what Lagosians go through in their day-to-day living. What a good talk and exemplary leadership’s modus operandi. Coming out of the tour was an official pronouncement by the governor that “all existing bus stops sited close to markets must be relocated immediately,” as a short gun measure to minimise the gridlock caused by the human activities of the two strange bed fellows. Furthermore, the governor gave the assurance that taming the hydra-headed traffic congestion in Lagos is a task that must be done by his administration.
Reading his body language, Governor Ambode has good intension, but how the good intension would translate into real action is the crux of the matter. The immediate removal of bus stops sited close to markets is just one solution to many of the factors causing traffic gridlock in Lagos and its environs. Therefore, this writer wants to humbly proffer other solutions which Governor Ambode ought to consider, if he is desirous of tackling the gridlock frontally. The solutions are classified into law enforcement, change of behavioural attitude, work ethics, urban planning/renewal effective monitoring and agency collaboration albeit not necessarily in the other of sequence, but they are integral and complementary to each other.
Effective enforcement of traffic law is an imperative to traffic calming and control in any city. It is the basis for stipulating the dos and don’ts of motorists and other road users, punishment for violation, protection of road users, parking rules and other traffic regulations to facilitate smooth traffic flow in and out of the city. Apart from its regulatory functions, it serves as a legal instrument for the prosecution of traffic offenders in a court of law. A platform the public prosecutor can rely upon to defend government action whenever the need arises, in order to be seen that government is not arbitrary or vindictive. As in all laws meant to curb the excesses of human beings against one another, it is the strict compliance of such laws that would determine their effectiveness and impact on the society. In other words, laws must be obeyed voluntarily by the citizenry and should be strictly enforced by government in order to curb the excesses of obdurate citizens who have penchant for breaking the law.
Governor Ambode has confirmed that the Lagos State government has a subsisting Lagos traffic law to control traffic in the metropolis including the activities of the ubiquitous okada operators. The singular reason why the impact of the law is not being felt positively regarding traffic control in Lagos is the lack of strict enforcement of the provisions of the law. The regulatory body seems to have gone to sleep thinking that the law will enforce itself rather than the statutory agencies of government enforcing the law. Once government is complacent with law enforcement, especially traffic law or any law for that matter, the citizens are given free wheel to be lawless. As they say in local parlance, ilu tio sofin, ese o si. Literarily meaning: A town not governed by law is sinless. This is what is accountable for the indiscipline and frequent display of road rage by all categories of motorists on Lagos roads. People seldom obey traffic light, traffic wardens’ instructions are treated with levity, parking signs are ignored, display of bigmanism is becoming part of our urbanism; and effective monitoring of traffic regulations by superior officials of the regulatory traffic agency is done half heartedly, despite the empowerment given to these officials by the government to facilitate their movement around the city to sport-check traffic flow and the performance of their field officers.
Given the above caveat, Governor Ambode must ensure that all traffic laws in Lagos are enforced by the law enforcers, while all road users must comply with the laws. It is when the officials fully support government in implementing its laudable policy of unlocking traffic gridlock in Lagos will relative relief can prevail in the mega city. The wishy-washy way the traffic laws are being implemented calls to question the seriousness of government to really tackle the problem on-head. Ditto for the lack of responsibility of government officials who are being paid monthly salaries for under performance.
If the change mantra of the new dispensation is to be of consequence, Governor Ambode must tell his traffic regulatory agencies to shape up or shape out. The era of arm chair operation and lackadaisical work ethics must stop! There must be performance indicators to gauge the performance of every official of Lagos State government in all Ministries, the Ministry of Transportation being the prime target.
Re-introduction of tested traffic regulation can make a difference in behavioural attitude. In tow with the above suggestion, the Lagos State government should re-introduce the regulation of sending traffic offenders to mental institutions to examine their state of mind all in the effort to curb obnoxious attitude of motorists. When this particular regulation was first introduced circa 1993(?), it was very effective in controlling the nasty behavior of commercial drivers who were found of driving against traffic at the slightest sign of a traffic hold up. But with time, the enforcement of the law was inexplicably relaxed, prompting the target commercial drivers to return to their old habit of lawless driving. A drastic problem requires a drastic solution. Lagos gridlock is an embarrassing problem, which requires a variety of solution no matter how unpopular, but inasmuch as it is effective, so be it. We should let logic rules our mind, not sentiment.
Innovative urban development planning cannot be overemphasised. In the quest for a solution to the incessant traffic congestion in Lagos, the Ministry of Physical Planning in conjunction with the allied Ministry of Transportation has a major role to play. The handiworks of the two Ministries must been evident in their innovativeness to ameliorate traffic jam in the city, not just a siddon-look approach as if the problem is insurmountable. Transportation problem can be enormously complex. It is not well understood by the experts, let alone by the public. Lack of understanding, however, keeps no one from proposing remedies. Again, actions that may be popular may not solve traffic problem, and actions that may help may not be popular. This is a common dilemma, but should not drive us into a cul-de sac. Urban planners with specialisation in transportation planning in the employ of Lagos State government must demonstrate their expertise in practice by coming up with innovative ideas in collaboration with traffic engineers on how to unlock the gridlock. For example, transportation planners must consider where it is ideal to provide additional infrastructure to ease traffic congestion such as alternative roads to places where people frequently visit for shopping or recreation.
Provision for more public parking facilities is a necessity. Whereas public parking facilities are insufficient within the metropolis, there are vacant lots around Broad Street on Lagos Island whose ownership has been traced to the Lagos State government. A planning proposal for the development of these lots to car parks should be brought to the attention of the governor for his consideration. Likewise, the car parks at Marina have not been put to optimum utilisation. They require upgrading and modernisation to multi-level car parks for maximum usage and once this is done, motorists coming to the Central Business District would not be fearful of where to park their vehicles. The current modus operandi of car park around the CBD is an all comer’s affairs, a mumbo- jumbo arrangement where one cannot exactly determine the holding capacity of the car parks, if there is a need for car count or feasibility study to warrant an improvement of the existing situation. In already built up areas, government can apply the power of “eminent domain” to acquire land for public use to develop parking facilities once they are for the good of the majority, which good urban governance connotes.
A re-think of bringing back the park-and-ride system can also be a worthy option to control inflow of traffic into ever-congested areas in Lagos. The improvised park-and-ride site located at the old Lagos toll gate is miniature of what is required along that axis. The old site of the park-and-ride around the National Theatre can still be considered for re-use because the need for it now is compelling.
Measures to curb the activities of unruly tanker drivers require urgent attention. Mention must be made of the operations of tanker drivers who menacingly drive their articulated vehicles in defiance of posted speed limit on Lagos roads. These lawless drivers park their vehicles indiscriminately at the road sides for days on end ostensibly waiting to load fuel from the oil depots at the Tin Can Island. The law has to be applied to the time when these tanker drivers can operate on Lagos roads for sanity to prevail. There is an existing ordinance to that effect in Lagos. The government must have the political will to enforce it. To condone the tanker drivers to do as they please is a sign of weakness of government authority. They should not be above the law, but under the ambit of the law.
Let us renew Lagos and its various districts. The issue of decentralisation of commonly used central places such as markets, shopping malls and event centres (new generation of activity centres) is a good urban development strategy for decongestion on the roads. If the recommendation for the creation of a specific number of activity centres as contained in the outdated Metropolitan Plan for Lagos (1980-2000) can still be accommodated in the regional development of the Lagos Mega City, Governor Ambode should ask for the advice of his urban planning officers or planning consultants to explore the possibility of creating additional activity centres within the metropolis. The Lagos-Epe axis of the mega city and Lagos-Badagry areas are yearning for such facilities. The trending rapid development with the concomitant population drift to these areas justifies the need. We should start to introduce the development of “smart neighborhood/city”, which is a contemporary urban renewal strategy or new urbanism where people shop, work and recreate within workable distance of their residence with very minimal need for automobile as a mode of transportation.
Application of Development Control standards and accountability must be the norm for urban planning practice in Lagos. In addition to the strict enforcement of traffic law, Governor Ambode must focus attention on the strict enforcement and compliance of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning Law (2010) and Town Planning Regulations meant to back the law. In an earlier write-up, this writer pointedly enumerated some of the urban planning foibles being experienced in Lagos Mega City due to what is considered in planning parlance as urbicide (the death of a city at the hands of its own people through the misguided efforts of its officials or the indifference and neglect of its citizens). Nothing fits perfectly into this scenario of what obtains in urban planning practice in Lagos. The granting of inappropriate approvals for incompatible land uses, conversion of buildings to schools/offices in purely residential areas and location of multiple traffic-inducing activities such as banks, churches, mosques, retail stores and petrol stations on a stretch of ever- busy roads and in obscure places, many of which lack adequate setbacks and provision for off- street parking for their clienteles are contributory factors compounding the gridlock in Lagos, if the truth must be told.
Governor Ambode is advised to tour some of these areas along Alagomeji, Adekunle, Oyingbo, Apapa Road on the Mainland, part of Lagos Island and Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway as an eye opener for him to know more about the human planning errors and the underlying causes of traffic chaos in Lagos. A situation where indiscriminate approval is given for any development without regard to prescribed development control standard and due diligence of the implication on the smooth flow of traffic, is inimical to good urban planning practice. It must not be condoned by the new administration and whoever indulges in such destructive planning practice must be called to defend his/her action(s), otherwise it is tantamount to conspiracy of silence by the regulatory authority for physical planning and development control.
The final admonition is that Governor Ambode must declare total war on all kinds of indiscipline causing traffic gridlock in the nooks and crannies of Lagos Mega City. One of the effective methods he can go about it, is to set up his own monitoring team who will watch the watchers. A selected group of “undercover operatives” who will constantly monitor the conduct of every official’s work ethics in Lagos State. The government can also set up a special telephone hotline dedicated for public complaint about any suspicious behavior that could aid and abet traffic gridlock. For any city to be on the path of economic buoyancy and a destination of choice for visitors, it must be user-friendly by design and administered by a focused leadership who is ready to promote good urban governance in a pragmatic way. Governor Ambode by his recent utterances on matters of public interest cut a figure of a deep thinker and a doer, a new era Action Governor.
By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner and Urban Planning Advocate) in Hayward, California, USA