Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Future landscape of Gaborone

It’s now time for a review of the Gaborone Development Plan.

The job is actually ongoing and is in the hands of experienced urban planners.
I have been able to read the Terms of Reference for the project and, to my delight, I can see that the important issue of proper public transportation systems is raised.

Let me use my time machine and remind the planners (consultants and public officers) how we once discussed it.
We went into great detail about it but (then) the time was not right with the (then) restricted development funds.
The congestions on the major roads of the City are now passing the limits of pain that can be accepted.

The traffic volumes we predicted in the 80s were severely underestimated, despite the fact that we had very good traffic engineers in the planning team. Reasons to this are obvious: speedy economic growth, official car purchase schemes, booming kombi businesses and so on. Un-restricted private transport doesn’t work anywhere, not even in Los Angeles!

Traffic around the Mall is now hardly moving and the major four lane roads are up to capacity most of the days despite increasing fuel costs that will increase further until the commuters can no longer pay for the current mode of travel.

People with transportation needs must be given an alternative to the private car and kombis. Consequently, a proper, feasible public transport system must be introduced as Gaborone is no longer an infant town.

But that was already foreseen at an early planning stage and, consequently, the major roads were dimensioned to allow for more feasible systems than the myriad of small kombis and private cars we have competing for road space.

As the road reserves, primarily in Gaborone West, were designed wide enough to take a future public transport system (I know, being responsible planner for the Structure Plan of 1979/80), I see no practical major problem.

But first some conceptual discussion:
What do we want to achieve now when Gaborone has grown from a toddler to a walking infant? In my opinion ÔÇô less congestion, less emissions, less noise, fuel savings, affordable transport and, of course, less future expensive widening of roads due to private cars and kombis (as well as a proper use of the transport routes given).

I have a book with three pictures on one page ÔÇô the first of something similar to Botswana Road (or Queens Road). About 35 private cars, bumper to bumper. The second picture is the car passengers (69) standing in the middle of the road. The third a single bus alone on the road but filled with all these 69 passengers.

I have also another picture in that book: A 25-meter wide road reserve, containing two tram tracks (that could be trolley bus lanes) in the middle, one vehicle lane on each side of the tracks plus a parking lane and sidewalks on each side. This urban concept can transport 16 000 people per hour in both directions! Without trams (i.e. private transport only), the need will be six 25 m wide 4-lane roads to transport the same amount of people! And remember: public transport isn’t there only for people with small money ÔÇô it must be for all people!

Now, trams are expensive to introduce, being dependent on tracks and probably more suitable to 500 000+ cities. But in Grenoble (population 250 000) they introduced electrical trolley buses in 1987, so called duo-buses as they also had a diesel engine to be used in less dense areas and during emergency. Trolley buses preferably need their own lanes in denser urban areas, which is possible to have in Gaborone.

Furthermore, they are flexible and can pass broken down cars occupying the reserved lane, if needed, and move into a vehicle lane when passing narrow bridges etc. Ideal for Gaborone, in other words!

Funny enough, we had electrical, smooth and quiet, trolley buses in Stockholm from the 30s to the middle of the 60s.

But they were not duo-buses and the transport company scrapped them as they had to follow the line back to the garage after shifts. A long and cumbersome journey and, unfortunately, diesel buses were introduced. NOW, they realize what a stupid decision they took and the duo-trolleys will be introduced. But the electrical overheads that were scrapped must be restored. Money, money!

Plus the scrapped trams on tracks might also be reintroduced, by time. Hence, the trolley bus and tram systems are nowadays in fashion, again ÔÇô after only a few decades!

In my mind, there should be routes from Mogoditshane to Tlokweng, passing the CBD area, following the primary roads we already have, including the Gabane and Airport roads. Some north-south routes are also needed from Gaborone North to Kgale and Broadhurst East to Old Naledi, for instance. At the end, stations should be at drop points or terminals.

It is not the intention to kill the kombi system, rather to move the kombis out of the congested urban areas. Kombis are needed for transporting people to these commuter points, where people can change to trolleys.

This needs much analysis and planning and I hope the time has come to dig into this problem with the help of good professionals. But it is still a local problem, defined to Gaborone as it is today, rapidly running out of expansion land.

For interregional transport I think we can make use of the railway line (with extra tracks) for a high-speed commuter system. Oh yes, it has been half-heartedly tried but not full-heartedly! Let’s try again!

Let’s say we have a double rail line all the way to Lobatse and Artesia! Only a few stops in between Gaborone and those places. Maybe, we also have a spur to Molepolole! Then we can forget the lack of land within the city limits and concentrate on developing a city region with all people within 45 minutes from the regional centre! That’s how other developed countries handle expansion problems. Why should we be less creative? Let’s walk instead of crawl!

Let us start the discussion now when some intelligent people are handling the future of Gaborone. Maybe we can define the steps to be taken in order to avoid becoming another Lost City of the Kalahari.

*Jan Wareus is a retired architect/planner. He has been active in Botswana since 1979