Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Creative thinking can solve our traffic problems in the city

While driving on the Western Bypass, carefully avoiding the many deep potholes that were created by yesterday’s rain, I wondered if some of our city problems could be avoided by creative thinking.

The long queues on our roads are well known and politicians and planners alike are trying to come up with solutions.

Many millions of Pulas are thrown at the problem and the result is not satisfactory.

How would a creative mind, rather than an analytical thinker, resolve the problem? Engineers, those who think analytically, tried and failed.

When roads are jammed with traffic, they make the roads wider. They insist on more tarmac and more space for the almighty car. They add lanes, they widen lanes, and they make ever bigger junctions and construct huge arteries through our city. Their widened roads then become huge, noisy and stinking insurmountable hurdles for everyone, including cars! To address that problem they build pedestrian bridges or tunnels and tell the consumer to either climb over the hurdles, or accept to go into a dark long tunnel.

Can we do it differently?
What would a creative mind come up with?

Why do we not tackle the problem at its roots?

Do we really all have to be at work between 7H30 and 8H00? What if the GOB, as the biggest employer in Gaborone, decided to have different ministries opening up at different times? Even better, they start earlier and close later by using 50% in an early shift and 50% of their employees in a later shift.

The famous traffic jams would be resolved instantly….and the consumer would finally be able to get some service form the GOB after his/her own working hours.

The Government would be able to serve its citizens far better and would save millions in the process. Those funds could then be used for more pressing problems, like resolving the lack of housing.

Maybe, because the engineers do no longer need more tarmac for roads, the GOB would be able to get more land in the center of the city. The engineers might even be able to build their roads more effectively and not waste huge tracks of land for servitudes. We could have houses and living areas instead of stinking roads.

If this could be done, the private sector would respond in kind and more businesses would be able to diversify their working hours. Their employees can then also avoid peak hours. The spreading of the peak over several hours, instead of cramming it into one hour, can reduce the traffic by as mush as 65%.

Maybe some of you find this idea far-fetched and irresponsible. If you feel strongly about it, come forward and argue why, let’s have the debate.
Some other creative thinkers uttered even more “crazy“ ideas. Some are swearing that free public transport is cheaper than building and maintaining all those roads.

Is there any engineer who made the sum?
Are we allowed to think “outside the box”?

I am sure that many will say this is simply too ridiculous to investigate.
Well, someone, a mayor of a similar sized town as Gaborone, made the calculations and … it is cheaper! He was perplexed by his own calculations. He was called a fool and needed to get some credibility. Price Waterhouse was invited to check his calculations. They proved his calculations wrong.

Price Waterhouse had the audacity to take indirect savings into account and came up with some surprising results. They calculated the cost of the lost productive time, during working hours. They added the cost of hospitalization and death. They calculated the savings due to noise and air pollution. They accurately estimated the maintenance of the road network and the economic cost of accidents. Their report proved that free public transport is not only viable, but it is far better than the current system. It is financially responsible and saves lives and adds to the quality of life.

So what happened with the mayor? Did the public ridicule him?

No, he became the Minister of Transport and introduced free train transport for all the civil servants in the country! Nobody asked him to prove the merits thereof any longer. The traffic jams were so long and so costly to the economy that nobody could even begin to argue. Some creative thinking saved the capital of Europe!

So, we could stop building roads and spread the traffic. Free public transport is better.

Any other foolish and better ideas?
I think I have another idea.

Why go to work in the first place?
Can we not all do our work from home?
Gaborone is, as capital of the country, a city full of civil servants employed in massive office buildings. All of them seem to be busy doing some form of paperwork. Most of them, or virtually all, have a desk job. Are they busy typing letters? Are they busy attending some meeting/are they checking documents?

All those jobs can be done at home!
Surely, typing letters can be done behind a computer linked to some network, anywhere in town. Surely checking documents can be done from anywhere in the country? Holding meetings can be done from anywhere in the world?

I distinctly remember a meeting with a minister ten years ago, who appreciated all this mad ideas, but attributed my madness to being European. “You are 20 years ahead of us. This is Africa and it will not happen here!”
Ten years have lapsed and the Minister was right.

We are still widening roads, ensuring that the car can go faster and kill more people.

We are still totally ignoring technological progress and behave as if the internet is not invented.
The Hon. Minister was correct. Gaborone is still building office buildings to get crammed up with civil servants. Those buildings are, thanks to our planning department preferably all situated in the same area, thus ensuring maximum effectiveness in the creation of a massive traffic jam… We are still all driving to work at the same time and wondering why we keep on doing it.

Maybe it is time that we prove ourselves that we are prepared to think different. We are proudly telling everyone that we joined the 21st century and embraced the mobile information age. Why not using its potential and stop printing millions of papers who then need checking and moved from one room to the other.

NOKIA introduced the office without paper… but that is another story.
If you disagree with these mad ideas, please respond to this article and let’s have the discussion… it might lead to a better city with more space for the human beings who inhabit it.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.