11 -17 February 1999
Issue No. 416
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Quest for traffic cures
By Gihan ShahineIs the new traffic bill the perfect solution to traffic problems? The answer to this question has been the subject of many discussions and seminars, the last of which took place at the fair on Monday.
The two-hour discussion addressed reasons behind traffic problems in Greater Cairo, possible solutions, whether the new law will serve to streamline traffic and pedestrians' right to safer roads.
"There is no doubt that several factors have contributed to causing the traffic problem," said Ibrahim El-Demiri, vice-president of Ain Shams University. "These factors must be diagnosed before solutions can be worked out." According to El-Demiri, these factors are: the population explosion, the high frequency of daily trips by motorists and urban and economic development. He explained that, on average, a motorist makes 2.5 trips daily in Greater Cairo, which underlines the need for a more efficient public transport system and a more efficient network of roads and railways. As for the population growth rate, it remains at a high of 2.8 per cent, "which means that we have an increase of one million people every year."
"The situation is aggravated when investors launch projects in an area without studying its ability to cope with the resulting increase in activity," El-Demiri said. A case in point is Abbass El-Aqqad Street in Nasr City. "The street was originally planned for residential purposes, but has now been transformed into a commercial area," he said. "This has caused recurring traffic jams."
The required solutions should not be traditional. "A comprehensive plan should be drawn up to study road networks, the number and course of trips made by motorists and commuters, the number of parks that are needed and the problems of pedestrians," El-Demiri said. Road maintenance, an efficient public transport system and increasing the public's awareness of traffic regulations are also necessary, he added.
A recent study shows that 25 million trips are made inside Greater Cairo every day, 50 per cent of which are made by private cars. The same study shows that 50 persons will occupy an area of 250 metres if they use private cars, while the same number will not occupy more than 10 metres of the road if they use public transport buses. In this context, El-Demiri said that the underground metro network should be expanded to carry 10 million people daily instead of the current number of 750,000 commuters.
How about the controversial traffic bill that was recently submitted to the People's Assembly? Will it succeed in easing traffic congestion? "The bill will help control drivers' misconduct by imposing harsher fines on violators, thus solving part of the problem," retorted Abdel-Aziz Mohamed, head of the General Traffic Authority. "But, of course, the law alone cannot solve the problem."
Another issue that came up for discussion was the high rate of road accidents that claimed the lives of dozens of citizens during the past two months. Is the reason defective planning of bridges or drivers' negligence? The audience specifically referred to an accident on 25 January when a bus plunged from a bridge above Giza Square, killing 22 passengers. Official statistics show that about 5,000 people die annually on the nation's road network.
Fouad Awwad, director of the roads department at the Cairo Governorate, affirmed that all roads and flyovers were properly designed and tested. "Drivers' carelessness in exceeding speed limits is behind most of the recent accidents," he said. "The proof is that most of these accidents took place in the early morning hours."
Mohamed conceded, however, that there are defects in the design of a number of well-known flyovers, but said that these flaws could be avoided by careful driving and adherence to speed limits.
One other issue raised by the audience was the immense volume of exhaust emissions that pollutes the air and endangers commuters' and pedestrians' health. It was pointed out that the drivers of these vehicles go unpunished. Mohamed responded that a protocol was recently signed by the Ministries of Interior and Environment to deal with this problem. "We have already bought 30 emission-check machines and will install them soon in the capital's streets," he said. "These machines measure the volume of emissions discharged by vehicles. If a vehicle surpasses the maximum limit of emissions defined by the environment law, a penalty will be imposed on its owner." But Mohamed said that before this procedure can be enforced, motorists should be given an adequate grace period.
Since public awareness is essential when addressing traffic problems, Mohamed said that the Ministry of Interior has been working with the Ministry of Education to include traffic regulations in school curricula. Moreover, in 10 days, a television traffic awareness campaign will be launched to enlighten older generations.
What about pedestrians? The last few minutes of the seminar were devoted to reviewing the latest government efforts to address their problems, which are usually forgotten whenever traffic plans are being made. According to Magdi Geme'i, head of the Giza Traffic Authority, a plan is under way to build a pedestrian tunnel, equipped with escalators, in front of Cairo University. If this proves a success, other tunnels will be built in other parts of Giza, he said. Awwad quickly intervened to point out that a pedestrian tunnel has been built below Salah Salem Street in front of the Cairo Trade Fair grounds. Two other tunnels will be built in the areas of Abbasiya and Fustat, he said. He also pointed out that motorised traffic has been forbidden on some downtown Cairo streets that have been turned into promenades for pedestrians.