Hard times with traffic blues

On a rainy day morning traffic comes to a standstill on the corner of the West Coast Road and Blaauwberg Road opposite Bayside Mall.

In the last three months, I have witnessed several really horrific accidents and bad driving.

One of the worst was a few months ago, when, on my way home from work, at about 7pm, just at the start of the N1 from Marine Drive on to the N1, a VW CitiGolf nipped in front of an articulated truck in the fast lane.

I watched in horror as the truck, in trying to slow down, lost control and couldn’t brake. It pushed the little white car along, at times into the median barrier between the two directions of traffic for a good 2km, until both the vehicles came to a stop. Amazingly, the driver and passengers of the VW emerged from the vehicle dazed, shocked, but… unscathed.

I had put on my hazard lights and driven in the left-hand lane as far as possible from the potential mayhem that spread before my eyes. And, as I always do on these occasions, when the outcome could have been much worse, I thanked my lucky stars there were very few vehicles on that particular stretch of highway at that particular time.

I was also extremely grateful that the other drivers had been driving cautiously and responsibly.

But what is it about some drivers who feel the need to act like cowboys on the road; whether it’s virtually joining the driver in front of them on the backseat by not keeping their distance, or weaving in and out of lanes in a manner that befits an obstacle course racing car driver?

My regular drive to and from work takes me along the R27, Marine Drive and the N1. And I regularly travel the N1 northbound towards Kraaifontein, Brackenfell and/or Kuils River.

Monday July 18, Mandela Day, saw yet another accident on the road – a serious one in which a truck lost control close to N1 City, broke over the median barrier and faced the oncoming traffic. Mercifully, there were no casualties, but the chaos it caused, after hitting six cars, led to absolute gridlock on the highway, as we all came to a stop for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the traffic started moving, and we inched forward. Two of the lanes were closed and diverted onto the right-hand hazard lane, in which the aftermath of the accident, bits of metal and broken glass, was still scattered.

I got to my appointment in Brackenfell an hour late, and on my way through to town a couple of hours later, at 1 pm, the northbound traffic on the N1 was backed up for at least 3km. I was glad I was travelling in the opposite direction.

Which brings me to the second point: Cape Town is bursting at the seams, and this has been confirmed by Transport for Cape Town (TCT), which says because of the rate at which the city is growing, exacerbated by the inadequate provision of public transport, congestion is not going to be completely alleviated for a while (so how long is a piece of string?).

There was a lot of hoo-ha earlier this year when the City announced plans to spend R750 million on road upgrades over the next five years, but, according to TCT’s latest bi-annual congestion management progress report, the under-investment in expansion of the primary road network infrastructure in recent years is the main contributor to the congestion commuters are experiencing on the city’s roads.

Cape Town was named the most congested city in South Africa in a recent survey by Tom Tom. The GPS service provider said Cape Town was the most congested city in the country for the third year running. Of 174 countries ranked globally on congestion, Cape Town was 47th.

The fifth edition of the TomTom Traffic Index, which was released earlier this year, said Cape Town motorists spent 152 extra hours a year behind the wheel because of traffic congestion.

This translates into more than six extra days in traffic over a year, or an extra 40 minutes a day.

Add to this the city council congestion study that identified Blaauwberg, Kuils River and Kommetjie as the three “growth areas” that would continue to add more private vehicles to the road network and a very disturbing picture starts to emerge.

There are no tips on how to avoid the traffic because if there is one thing predictable about the traffic: it’s unpredictable.

On Tuesday night, I left the office at 6.40pm, well after rush hour, but to my extreme annoyance and frustration, I found myself coming to a standstill the moment I got onto the N1 – the left lane going towards Paarden Eiland was closed due to construction.

A 25-minute journey took me 70 minutes. Initially, I cursed, but then, as I cast my eyes around (most people were sitting in their cars illegally toying with their cellphones) I accepted my predicament and thought this is already a waste of time, why waste more time and get wound up, spending bad energy on something that cannot be changed, at least not in the near future.

We need to rethink the way we commute, even if that means carpooling, using public transport or working from home. Because let’s face it, folks, the traffic situation is only going to get worse. Gone are the days when everyone with a job could expect to hop in a car with four empty seats around them and then pop off to the office in under an hour. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, take a look around you: how many other motorists are alone in their vehicles. Now ask yourself how fewer cars there would be on the road if each of those motorists was giving the four other solitary motorists nearest to them a lift.

MyCiTi has certainly done a lot to help commuters in certain areas, particularly in Table View, with buses now reaching all the way to Atlantis. But it needs to go further, drawing in more suburbs and getting more people out of their cars and onto the bus.

Transport officials need to spend more time looking at overseas cities which use of alternative transport methods – a city like Cape Town could dream of, and possibly achieve, a system of ferries, as are used in cities like Sydney with great effect.

It’s a wonderful way to go to and from work, and with our burgeoning tourism industry, will greatly enhance the experience for visitors.

Istanbul also uses ferries which cross over the Bosphorus, and the system is well-patronised by both tourists and locals.

Then there’s overhead trains and trams… and dreaming further, underground travel. If you’ve ever been to Paris, you’ll know that getting around is a pleasure with the Metro; as it is in cities such as Singapore and Athens. You can get virtually anywhere and everywhere using the underground.

If we don’t put these pipe dreams into action soon, we’re going to have a major problem.

Sure they come with hefty price tags, but they won’t be nearly as expensive as the price we will all have to pay when Cape Town’s arteries finally collapse, putting the regional economy on the road to ruin.