By Levi Mukarati
MR Obert Mlambo, a minibus driver, has been driving commuters from various Harare residential suburbs into the city centre for the past 30 years.
Sadly, he has had to helplessly watch the once passable roads in the central business district (CBD) grow from busy to a congested mess
“The city centre now resembles a car park,” says Mr Mlambo in frustration after enduring close to 45 minutes stuck in a traffic jam along Robert Mugabe Road between Julius Nyerere Way and Chinhoyi Street.
“Chaos, near-misses and minor accidents among motorists is now the order of the day. Drivers must always brace themselves for any eventuality when driving in Harare,” he continues.
With tens of thousands of drivers taking to the roads each day, driving in Harare during peak periods and worse during the rainy season is now a nightmare.
One has to be a daredevil to navigate the streets of the capital.
Municipal roads are failing to cope with the increasing vehicle population in Harare, estimated to be above 1,3 million.
The vehicles increased after the introduction of the multiple currencies in 2009 and normalisation of the economy that saw Zimbabweans purchasing many cars.
The influx of vehicles is straining the capital’s roads, which are always clogged.
Most affected roads in the CBD include Samora Machel Avenue, Robert Mugabe Road, Julius Nyerere Way, Chinhoyi Street, Cameron Street, Kenneth Kaunda Avenue and Fourth Street.
Feeder roads into the city centre that have been difficult to use include Bulawayo Road, Seke Road, Simon Mazorodze Road, Lytton Road, Willowvale Road, Mutare Road and Enterprise Road.
Analysts said it seemed the town authorities were caught unawares by the recent flooding of vehicles.
The traffic planners are yet to avail a prescription on unclogging local roads.
Critics say if a plan to decongest the roads already exists, the authorities need to pull the document from the shelves, blow off dust on its covers and speedily implement it.
Careless driving, especially by taxi and commuter omnibus drivers, has not helped the situation.
Interestingly, private vehicle drivers have joined in the fray of immoral and dangerous driving.
On the other hand, blocked storm water drains have turned roads into rivers, making it difficult for motorists to drive during this rainy season.
During the traditional peak periods of between 7am and 9am and 4pm to 6pm, one needs to employ various tactics, in most cases unlawful, to get to intended destination on time.
Double lanes become triple as motorists rush to and from work.
Some drivers willy-nilly enter intersections where exit is not clear.
This is despite the fact that such negligence attracts a US$10 spot fine. Others overtake dangerously from the left side of the road, while some opt for cycle tracks and pedestrian paths.
While all these misdemeanours occur on the roads, traffic police seem to be battling to contain the situation.
The failure to stop commuter omnibuses from parking in undesignated areas is a testimony to this.
With the realisation of the challenges faced by traffic officers, most motorists now tend to ignore signals from police at road intersection and straddling the yellow line is now a common feature.
While the police stand accused of failing to bring sanity back on the roads, they said they were doing their best.
Harare Traffic police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Tigere Chigome said the law enforcement agents were arresting violators of traffic laws.
“We used to ticket traffic offenders, but we have since stopped and we are now enforcing spot fines. This was necessitated by the fact that we had a backlog of 10 000 cases since 2005 of motorists who have not paid their fines,” he said.
“Whenever you are found on the wrong side of the law and you don’t have money, you will be taken to the charge office and issued with a 265 form which is a notice to appear in court or you pay admission of guilt fine.
“The roads in the city centre are now a nightmare for motorists, but we are doing everything we can to bring sanity.”
A number of factors have been identified to cause traffic congestion in Harare.
The CBD lacks dequate parking space and some motorists end up abandoning their vehicles along the roads.
The failure to enforce laws prohibiting heavy trucks into the CBD during the day has also resulted in some haulage trucks, especially in the downtown area, affecting the smooth flow of traffic.
Malfunctioning traffic lights are the major cause of traffic jams as motorists tend to ignore the general rules when approaching such places.
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe director Mr Proctor Utete said despite a sharp increase in vehicular population in the city centre, it was possible to plan for the smooth flow of the traffic.
“We have got to ensure traffic signals are in good working condition, we must make sure that route signs are in place and laws are enforced. The city council must make sure people comply with the laws,” said Mr Utete.
“The police are trying, but they need to put more effort. Another problem is that we don’t have properly planned designated pick-up and drop-off points for commuters and there is need to address this because that is the major cause for the congestion.
“We need to dissuade passengers from dropping off and boarding commuter omnibuses at any point. The authorities could also consider allocating certain roads for commuter omnibus use only.”
Local government expert Mr Percy Toriro said the local authority must consider diverting traffic that has no business in the CBD.
He said there was no logic in having traffic from Mutare destined for Bulawayo passing through the CBD.
“The best situation is to develop more ring roads such as Harare Drive that go right round the city without getting into town,” he said.
“Authorities must make such roads to be freeways with much higher speed limits, say, 100km/h or 120km/h.
“All traffic that utilises too much space such as heavy trucks must not be allowed access though the CBD. They create bottlenecks and cause problems when turning. Harare has attained a high level of sophistication and complexity that now require advanced strategies such as the out-of-city parking integrated with park and ride facilities.”
Mr Toriro said mass transportation systems should be introduced to phase out the 18-seater commuter omnibuses, which have congested the city centre.
He said there was need to construct transport stations on both ends of the CBD.
In an interview with Sunday In-Depth recently, Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda said traffic congestion was a result of poor roads, but the city was carrying out a programme to resurface most roads.
“Our road network is now old and needs to be upgraded, but all this can happen if those who owe us play their part, we have begun surfacing some roads as well as patching others and we hope this will improve movement of cars in the city,” he said.
“There is also the ongoing exercise to install traffic lights and traffic signs all meant to improve driving on the city roads.”
Traffic congestion occurs when road networks fail to handle vehicular volumes and is characterised by slower speeds, longer trip times, and vehicle queueing.
Harare is developing and planners need to address the chaos on its roads which are fast resembling car parks and inconveniencing commuters.