25 February 2013

Cameroon: Douala Motorists Still Violate Pedestrians' Rights

Motorists in the port city of Douala appear to have forgotten the inconveniences caused to pedestrians by illegal parking. A look at the situation raises the need for drivers and bike riders to be provided with some effective pedestrian-awareness training.

The Highway Code advises on how motorists must drive on or over a pavement, footpath or zebra crossing except to gain lawful access to property or in the case of an emergency. Today, it is common to see some police cars parked in antisocial ways along streets in the city. A marked police-car was recently seen parked with two wheels up on the pavement and probably within less than 10 metres from a junction. There wasn't an emergency. The policemen were on a routine traffic control. In the same way, private cars, taxis, trucks and trailers park with their bonnets spiking out and blocking the entire pavement.

In office and business premises, vehicles park into pavements and streets. Blame is imputed on the construction of buildings without provision for parking space. The current situation was summed up by one visitor who says Douala has great pavements, but they are useless as they are full of motorbikes. He suggested a ban as a measure to ease traffic chaos and create more rooms for pedestrians, who are forced to climb over vehicles or walk on the roads to avoid parked vehicles.

Frank Okays, a visiting tourist to Douala, sees the situation as being a deep-rooted prejudice in favour of motorised traffic at the expense even of the safety, let alone the convenience, of those who dare to travel on foot or bicycle. There is a culture among motorists that pedestrians and the pavements they rely on are less important than motorists and their needs for convenient places to park.

Motorbikes seem to maximise problems for pedestrians. A more nasty side is common with bicycles or commercial bikes with aggressive riders who threaten or assault pedestrians or other motorists for space or ride on pedestrian pavements. When CT asked some drivers and bike riders about their reasons for the parking, most of them immediately quibbled or complained. They quickly tried to justify how they have been careful to position their automobiles to minimise inconvenience to other road users. In a recent example, a bike rider baffled a police officer when he said he has never known that riding on the pedestrian pavement is forbidden by the Highway Code.

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