Upgrading public transport in the capital is essential, but it will take time to fully materialize. Until it does, simple, temporary fixes can be employed to make better use of our road infrastructure and improve traffic conditions.
By Hazem Zureiqat
Improving public transport and having a more balanced mobility system in place that encourages other ways of getting about besides the car, such as walking and cycling are key to solving Jordan’s transportation woes.
Such a solution is multi-faceted; it involves projects that need a whole lot of time, money, and political will to implement. It also involves short-term fixes that can be implemented relatively easily and help alleviate at least some of the pain. Some of these fixes relate to the existing public transport system and include things like the unofficial map that was recently launched by a group of volunteers at the advocacy campaign traffic Ma’an Nasel.
Other short-term fixes relate to the vehicular traffic system and making it operate more seamlessly and efficiently without the need for building more road infrastructure. With the increasing and unprecedented levels of traffic congestion we are experiencing—at least in Amman—such fixes have become critical, and if implemented correctly, they can have a tremendous impact on traffic flow.
The underlying premise here is that Amman’s road infrastructure is well built (the city is over-saturated with multi-level intersections), but it is not being used in the most efficient manner. In other words, with the same road infrastructure we have in Amman today, we could be moving more vehicles—and, thus, more people—per hour or per day with a few tweaks here and there.
For decades, our city’s engineers kept building their way out of traffic jams—widening roads and adding more layers to intersections and roundabouts. These ‘solutions’ only offered relief at the local level but did not help the wider network. In fact, they often made matters worse by merely shifting congestion elsewhere.
What we need are smart solutions that are fairly easy to implement, can be sustained, and take into account the network as a whole and changing travel demand patterns. Fortunately, we have begun to see such solutions being put in place in Amman, and GAM should be given credit for that. Such solutions include channelizing traffic to avoid conflicting movements by separating through traffic from that entering City Mall or by building traffic islands around the Third Circle or separating both directions of traffic along Sulayman Al-Nabulsi Street in Abdali. They include grouping (platooning) vehicles in such a way that can be accommodated on a stretch of road—by adding traffic signals to the Seventh and Eighth Circles and reorganizing those intersections or by adding more traffic signals along Mecca Street.
Technology can help a great deal in finding more solutions and making the above fixes work better. Rather than assigning a police officer to organize traffic at a roundabout, a traffic signal can be installed and can be programmed to operate based on the number of vehicles on each approach. Multiple signals can also be programmed to operate jointly in such a way that maximizes flow. Smartphone applications and radio stations can be used to inform people of traffic conditions or accidents across the network and suggest alternative routes.
And the list goes on. But as always, enforcement is crucial. A single car that’s double parked can throw off any solution that’s implemented on a stretch of road. It is, therefore, important that GAM and the traffic police coordinate closely to better manage the road network.
Another aspect of these solutions involves policies related to transportation in the public and private sectors. Introducing flexible work hours and carpooling incentives are fairly easy to implement and can make a difference.
A wide array of short-term solutions can be implemented today. Although such solutions can represent quick fixes, they should not be shortsighted and should not divert our attention away from or put off the longer-term vision.