Traffic solutions for a megacity
"It's not enough for us to stay in the office and believe that we can create solutions to the traffic challenge that we have in the state..." said Akin Ambode, the Governor of Lagos State, on an inspection tour of traffic hotspots last month. In his first few weeks in office, Ambode visited the 3rd Mainland Bridge, Oworonshoki, Ketu, Abule-egba, Alimosho, Mile 2, Apapa, Mile 2 and the Lekki-Ajah Expressway. On those visits he announced plans to widen roads, install traffic lights, build a footbridge (in Berger) and a flyover (in Ajah). He also ordered the relocation of a number of traffic-causing bus-parks.
Like in other megacities around the world, vehicular traffic is one of the most pressing challenges facing Lagos. It's especially acute here for one simple reason: Lagos is one of the biggest megacities in the world without a functioning city-wide rail system.
There's also one important thing worth noting: the paucity of existing road infrastructure in the city, relative to other cities. As I summed it up in a recent column of mine: "London's Thames River and Paris' Seine are each crossed by more than 30 bridges. Lagos, with more people than either city, and a larger body of water (a fifth of the land mass is covered by water, compared to less than five per cent of Greater London) has a grand total of three bridges crossing the lagoon."
Most of the projects mentioned in news reports of the Governor's tour are quick-win interventions, and will not in any obviate the need for investing billions of dollars in investments (over the next several years) to build new roads and bridges, and to complete a light-rail project that is now well behind schedule.
The latest quick-win solution unveiled by Ambode focuses on deploying modern communications technology. As a press statement put it: "The state will introduce a world class traffic information and management system. A smart network comprising of hundreds of cameras, road sensors and electronic displays have been specially designed to collect and deliver real time information to city commuters that will help regulate traffic. Highly visible displays and a mobile phone application will flag highly congested hotspots, suggest alternative routes and estimate arrival times – all in real time."
There are no details yet regarding the planned traffic management system. Factors that will need to be considered include mobile phone usage patterns in Lagos. Nigeria has one of the highest mobile phone penetrations in the world (in excess of 100 percent), about a third of those phones are smartphones -- but I haven't seen anything that disaggregates the national data by city or state (I imagine smartphone and Internet penetration in Lagos would be well above everywhere else in the country).
The previous government launched a radio station exclusively focused on providing traffic reports. If this new management system takes off as planned, it'd be a welcome addition, offering useful opportunities for synergy between online and offline mediums (old-fashioned radio in this case).
I'd end this post by saying the government would do well to pay attention to a number of existing applications, developed privately, and enjoying varying degrees of success across the state. I'm sure there are lessons and experience to be shared; no point repeating mistakes others have spent time and money figuring out.
- Tsaboin: Live traffic cameras, available for viewing on a Mobile App.
- Traffikator: Real-time traffic info using a combination of crowd-sourced traffic updates and geolocation.
- TrafficLite: Android and Blackberry App that offers real-time reports and updates on traffic and road situations. Assembles real-time data (travelling speed, travelling times) by tracking road journeys of registered users.
- Traffic Chief: Crowd-sourced traffic reports obtained from Twitter, and displayed interactively on Google Maps.
- GidiTraffic: Crowd-sourced traffic reports (including photos and videos) obtained primarily through Twitter, and disseminated through Twitter as well as to subscribers to a Mobile App for Nokia and Android Phones.
- Lagos Traffic Radio (96.1FM): Radio Station offering crowd-sourced, real-time traffic information.
If you know any other interesting interventions aimed at making it easier to drive through Lagos, please share them below as a comment.