26 February 2018

Zimbabwe: CBD Congestion Also an Infrastructure Problem

editorial

Now that Harare City Council is going back to the drawing board on how to upgrade rather than ban public transport, it must also start thinking seriously about sorting out congestion, especially at peak hours and in the central business district.

This CBD congestion was bad, especially in the west of the CBD at the best of times and intolerable during peak hours. It was this congestion that caused the poorly considered kombi ban, although, as already pointed out, kombis are less than 10 percent of the vehicles even in the western CBD and each kombi replaces a minimum of 20 private cars. Bad infrastructure, not kombis, is the root problem, although working out sensible solutions to kombi parking in off-peak hours can help, but not solve.

The council has tried with its one-way streets to alleviate the congestion, and that made a significant improvement. But the single major problem, identified right back in the late 1960s, is the access roads into the city centre.

The main east-west pair of one-way streets across the CBD are Robson Manyika-Robert Mugabe and Jason-Moyo-Nelson Mandela. Ideally each pair should run from Enterprise Road South to Rotten Row, and those two bounding highways widened if necessary, an easy task since the council owns the very wide road reserves.

But Robson Manyika Avenue comes to an abrupt end at Julius Nyerere Way, so cannot take west-bound traffic into the western half of the CBD, instead dumping it into the overburdened Julius Nyerere Way to be channelled through that impossible intersection where Julius Nyerere Way and Seke Road (the same road running north-south) are crossed by Kenneth Kaunda Avenue and Charter Road (the same road running east-west) with the railway line doing its very best to constrain any effort to open up the intersection.

Even worse in many ways is the northern pair. Nelson Mandela runs from Enterprise Road to Harare Street, just two blocks short of Rotten Row. Jason Moyo Avenue starts at Simon Muzenda Street and at Harare Street suddenly has to become two-way, without widening, as it takes the east-bound Mandela Avenue traffic. At the same time Mandela Avenue has to be two-way from Muzenda Street to Enterprise Road.

So both streets can carry twice as much traffic in the middle blocks than can use them to enter or leave the city centre. And that is very noticeable at peak hours. The obvious solution is to extend them, and somewhere in the council archives must be the plans, although we suspect every chief city engineer for half a century has sat looking at them, improving them, and wishing he could get his political masters to see sense.

The colonial council got as far as starting the process to expropriate the half dozen or so run-down properties needed to connect Mandela Avenue to Rotten Row and possibly expropriating some frontage of properties in the narrow section of the Avenue. But since then nothing has been done.

Extending Jason Moyo Avenue west is even easier. First, the old polytech single building once used as an RF headquarters and now as Zanu-PF provincial headquarters can be demolished; the tenant can be given another site. Then an arrangement with Raylton Sports Club, which does not really use the land much now, can be negotiated, with the club offered land and money compensation for its back couple of acres. Just about doubling the number of vehicles that can enter or exit the city centre each minute will see an instant improvement.

At the same time widening the two narrower sections of Samora Machel Avenue so it is six lanes between the bounding roads will help a lot, giving an extra lane at each entry and exit point.

And, of course, there are those who dream of the flyover intersection at that horror corner where Julius Nyerere Way, Seke Road, Charter Road and Kenneth Kaunda Avenue meet. But that will be expensive, although the colonial council built the first flyover to solve the even worse problem lower down Charter Road. Extra land will also be needed, but with the police thinking about redevelopment of the old station building now they have a nice new CID headquarters, there seems to be opportunities for land swaps.

Such a modest upgrade of infrastructure will only help for a while of course, as car ownership rises.

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