A cousin of mine who came for a brief visit from abroad once said that a safe return home from a day spent out in Addis Ababa is yet another day survived from the dangers that corner the streets of the city. The simple act of crossing a street imposes on the pedestrian a mental burden comparable to the one faced if confronted with the task of solving a complex mathematical problem. Crossing a street using zebra crosses is as dangerous as crossing one without it. In the absence of a traffic police officer, the scene on the streets of Addis can be compared to that of a chaotic jungle. I particularly never fail to be amazed by the presence of livestock on vehicle and pedestrian lanes and by the attempts of some pedestrians to cross ring road partitions in a hurdle like fashion while a pedestrians’ crossing is available few meters away. Who is to be blamed for the chaotic nature of our traffic system? I believe that the blame should be shared by both the road users and the road and transport authorities.
Sometimes I wonder if the city has an owner. Because an owner duly cares about his or her ownership. In my definition of a full-fledged city, traffic lights are not a luxury but a necessity. Addis is a city packed with intersections, squares and roundabouts. How many of these are supported with properly functioning traffic lights, if any of these are even in place? I bet it is safe to say close to inexistent. In the absence of traffic officers, the result is a state of complete confusion. Each driver wants to be the first one to leave the junction and the winner is the most aggressive of them all. Although the number of deployed traffic officers has seen a recent increase, the efficiency with which the traffic flow can be controlled could have been much better with properly functioning traffic lights. Just imagine yourself having to endure the constant burning of the sun while at the same time having to deal with all sorts of driving behavior! Lamentable road conditions in several areas of the city make commuting difficult for drivers and pedestrians alike. In an attempt to avoid roads filled with holes and pedestrians lanes mounted with dirt, drivers and pedestrians expose themselves to avoidable accidents. Travelling the city at night is an even more dangerous expedition. Why is it that the nice looking street lamps erected along the streets remain turned off while the driver is desperately trying to figure his or her way out in pitch black darkness?
Impatience, selfishness and disrespect of other road users are at the roots of the road-user induced traffic chaos. Some drivers are so impatient to bypass other drivers that one wonders about the matter that they have so urgently need to tend to. And this at the expense of others’ wellbeing. That a public road is actually public and thus to be shared with others does not sink in the minds of many drivers. Parking close to intersections, blocking the road while chit chatting with a passerby or dropping off/picking up a passenger (this particularly applies to taxies), not treating pedestrians crossing the street as human beings with life objectives that are equally important as those behind the wheels, shouting obscenities at other road-users disturbing own’s and others’ mental states and drunk driving (this one being selfishness at its best) are few of the ruthless driving behaviors observed in our city. Lack of good road manners is observed among pedestrians as much as it is observed among drivers. Preference to walk on vehicle lanes while a spacy pedestrian lane is available (although these are rare), jumping over road partitions to avoid the presumably tiresome task of walking few minutes to the nearest crossing and barging into vehicle lanes without giving the slightest warning to the driver to reduce speed add further chaos to the hectic streets of Addis.
The picture painted above of our city’s traffic system may be a grim one. The point that should be taken here is not that our city is an unlivable one but that it could be much more livable if each of its citizens did their share in making it so. Road and transport authorities, pedestrians and drivers are all part of the puzzle. Finger pointing will not solve the problem. As we commute each day, let each of us think about what we can do to make travel in the city an easy one.