All of a sudden, the road I normally take was blocked and I had to find another way home, just like many other road users. To my knowledge, no information had been
disseminated that some major road works were to begin. No official notice was given whatsoever; it just began. How long it will take is anybody’s guess and there are no road signs indicating a detour, which would allow traffic to continue; only some big blocks of concrete in the middle of the road. What followed next are the consequences of a lack of planning and coordination, urban infrastructure lagging behind, selfishness and disrespect. Drivers immediately began using back roads, trying the find the smartest shortcut to their destination. Drivers coming from the opposite direction found the same route so everybody got stuck as the road they were using was too narrow to accommodate two lanes of traffic. All of a sudden there are clouds of dust and total chaos in an otherwise quite backstreet in a relatively new residential area. Children happily took to the middle of the road that was now under repair and began playing football without being endangered by traffic. There is no other playground to speak of in the neighbourhood so the kids on the block are rejoicing. Owners of the houses along the backstreets now began blocking the same roads that the taxis found first, worrying that the unexpected traffic load would damage the very roads they had built themselves in the absence of that kind of infrastructure, which normally should be provided by the authorities.
What we are witnessing here is that, as a result of the lack of information, communication, coordination and alternatives, everybody who is affected is left to his or her own devices. Hence, people begin taking their own measures, whether legal or not, and some sort of anarchy begins to develop.
Many residential areas in the city are relatively new and indeed much of the required infrastructure is still lacking. But while neighbourhoods are developing at an amazing pace, with condominiums shooting up from the ground like mushrooms, the main through roads are only a few years old at the most and already need to be maintained or even widened to accommodate the growing traffic demand.
Many people have been working hard building their houses in new residential areas, but apart from investing their resources in their houses, they also need to invest in developing some infrastructure, especially on more back streets that lead from the main feeder roads to their homes. House owners often join forces and contribute to such community projects and it is understandable that they want to protect what they developed instead of allowing it to be destroyed again because of the same lack of urban planning.
What the role of the Woreda is in a situation like this, I have yet to find out. I would have thought that this institution is aware of what is to come and that it is best placed to provide information to the neighbourhood as to when a road is going to be maintained or closed and to plan for the most appropriate detours, thereby taking into account and protecting the interests of the house owners, tenants and road users alike. This does not seem to be the case though, which I consider a missed opportunity to provide leadership and maintain some sort of order in the neighbourhood.
The city indeed faces serious challenges of growth and management. There are issues of potential overcrowding, congestion, insufficient infrastructure and inadequate provision of services which, if not handled adequately, will negatively affect social-economic development. Urban planning is the key, together with the capacity to organize the city and regional towns, manage their growth and make them more efficient and sustainable.
There are good developments in terms of providing housing for families of various income groups and in terms of widening major roads in the city. Infrastructure will provide for quality of life and enhance social and economic development. The challenge however is to plan for it in a proactive and coordinated way, providing information to the public and taking the interests and inconveniences of the citizens into consideration.
Widening roads to accommodate growing traffic demands, however, by itself will not solve the congestion problems we witness here and there. No parking on both sides of the road, no U-turns and one-way traffic are some of the measures that are being introduced and that provide immediate relief. Coupled with better driving and behaviour of all road users, such measures will go a long way in reducing congestions that will otherwise only grow.