You’ve been there before, you know it. Sitting behind your steering wheel or in a passenger’s seat and being able to do nothing but sit there and helplessly observe. Well, maybe you won’t just sit there as a spectator. You might yield to the temptation to form insults in your mind or creatively string some of your most potent ones together in a loud verbal assault on fellow sufferers in other vehicles, some of whom might try to negotiate their way around the problem in unconventional but undeniably Ghanaian ways. You might also vent on the capitalist hawkers who take advantage of the marketing opportunity that this scenario affords. I have seen one or two physical fights but that is another story. In any case it’s all venting: doesn’t get you anywhere.
Anyone who has lived in Accra or has had to pass through the capital, needing to use a vehicle to negotiate certain hotspots (in fact anyone who has had anything to do with Accra) definitely knows that dealing with traffic creates a unique brand of frustration. Of course, traffic is a by-product of urbanization. Maybe I haven’t traveled or read much, but I am yet to see or hear of a city that does not have its own traffic challenges. However, there is something exclusively extraordinary about that type of traffic that appears clearly avoidable. It is exceptional, even more irritating than the frustration that builds up when a recalcitrant piece of meat chocks in the recesses of your teeth yet sticks just enough of itself out for your tongue to struggle to flick out. Ok so I like food. Bite me (excuse the pun).
But next time you are in such traffic danger zones during rush hour – I see you, 37, Kaneshie, Nkrumah Circle, Obetsebi Lamptey Circle – just observe the reason for the traffic. That should be easy to do because traffic isn’t going to move anyways. Thus, instead of letting the heat or recalcitrant driving get to you, study the cause of your discomfort. Let’s use the stretch at 37 that leads from Golden Tulip to the traffic light intersection as our case in point.
You will notice that the road has three lanes, with a bus stop to the right. Now most drivers should accept ALL three lanes as designed for movement (please note the caps), while unless there is an emergency, if you want to stop or park for a SHORT time (note the emphasis again, please) you should branch over to the bus stop. Anaa me boa? Surely that is what the government had in mind when it went for a loan (what would we do without foreign aid) to construct/expand the road. And surely that is what the engineers and other stakeholders intended when they built the road. I’m sure that the workers who did the manual labor on the road thought the same as well. Since the road is a busy one, creating three lanes should expedite movement and let traffic flow. But I digress yet again.
As you observe, you will notice that certain wise human beings have not only parked at the bus stop, but have also abandoned their cars there, making it difficult – if not impossible – for others to stop in that area. If you turn slightly to the left, you will notice that the right-most lane has been expertly converted into a bus-stop stop: mates and drivers will be busy calling for prospective passengers while other drivers stop for passengers to alight from or enter cars. Keep looking to the left and you will find that the middle lane is the one that trotros use to continue their journey past the traffic light after “loading” passengers. The rest of the city thus has to hustle to use the remaining lane to move.
There are a lot of comical aspects to this scenario, depending on the nature of your sense of humor. One particularly ironic sight that might offend your sensibilities is the appearance of policemen and women who tend to station themselves right next to the traffic light. Rather than deal with the indiscipline a couple of meters away, they find it more prudent to do the work of the traffic lights. Sometimes they do so even when the traffic lights are working. Maybe they feel that the traffic lights need company or something. But the question that comes up (at least for me) is: why don’t they simply clear the bus stop of parked vehicles so everyone does the right thing? Is it something especially difficult to do?
I could go on but hopefully the point is clear. What is the bottom-line, though? A lot of the problems we have in Ghana are so simple that solving them seems painfully easy. The tragedy is that we don’t look beyond pettiness to fix these problems.
This picture captures the beauty of Kaneshie traffic. You can see the vehicles parked to the right, which is the genesis of the ripple effect.