The Dark Side of Gaborone CBD Traffic Jams (Part 3 of 4)

But who needs footpaths and cycling tracks in the CBD if lawyers working in the I-Tower drive to the High Court, which is only 160 metres away?

With bated breath, the CBD is awaiting the arrival of its newest baby, the planned mega retail mall. Its planned opening in two years will add serious stress to the already chocking traffic jams. If what I was told is correct, it requires not less than 1500 parking bays. With the traffic ever-growing, the best time(s) to do your shopping at the planned mega centre is therefore to be advised at a later stage.

Calculations were made and we argued as hard as possible. I was a part of those design meetings. Not a single planner of the DTRP took any note because they assumed that Gaborone would simply never have that number of cars. I hope Gaborone indeed is still far from that figure, but the CBD is already experiencing such heavy traffic that a trip to the CBD from Molapo Crossing can take between 6 minutes and 90 minutes, depending on the time of day.

The city planners recklessly decided to follow their dream and build this eye-catching CBD. They wanted it to reflect the wealth of the young democracy. A noble idea, indeed! While they did not get the best CBD, they certainly got the biggest traffic problem, which is now threatening the very existence of the CBD.

One developer who virtually completed his development in the CBD is now planning to convert his massive office building into a hospital. But will the ambulance be able to get to the hospital before the presumably critical patient dies? While walking to the CBD recently, I saw an ambulance risking lives by driving in the right hand lanes in an effort to get its patient to the hospital in time. The reality is that the traffic will only get worse and the only way to get a critical patient into the planned hospital will be by helicopter.

Why did our city planners of the time appoint a Canadian company to design their jewel? Why not use a local planner who understands the local coherence, or in-coherence, of our society? Did they do this on purpose? It certainly looks that way, for they are all very happy to now point the finger at the Canadian planners.

But what was the city advised by those foreign consultants? The Canadian’s report advised against a pure commercial use. They advised that a CBD without people residing therein would create traffic problems, but the planners of the then Department of Town and Regional Planning proceeded and enforced exclusive commercial use. Mixed development was banned and the ban was strictly enforced.

The planners refused to consider the many problems that other cities with a CBD had experienced. Cape Town was trying to dismantle bridges leading into its CBD and was vigorously promoting mixed development. The Johannesburg CBD became empty and exceedingly dangerous and The Carlton Centre closed its 50-storey office building and literally bricked its entrance up with a metre thick wall to avoid irate squatters taking it over. CBDs were dying all around the world as they choked themselves. No one wanted to have an office in downtown Johannesburg any longer. It was dark, dingy and empty at night.

The Johannesburg CBD is now reinventing itself as a mixed area where most offices are transformed into flats. All offices moved out to the suburbs while we continue to enforce exclusive commercial use at our CBD. It is apartheid in its worst form. No people whatsoever are allowed in the CBD.

The Canadian consultant advised that the very reason for building a CBD no longer existed as companies were no longer trading with paper documents but had a fax and soon thereafter the e-mail arrived, killing any need for a CBD. Indeed offices tended to like to be next to one another because of all trading using real paper with real hard signed copies.

The Canadian consultant advised that the average plot size should be as small as 400 M2 to give all citizens a chance to own a CBD development, but the planners refused to have any plot smaller than 10,000M2. That ensured that only bigger and taller buildings could be build, thus ensuring that more people would need to drive to the CBD at the same time. Today every plot in the CBD belongs to a handful of a wealthy elite and a fine selection of politicians.

The consultant advised that the CBD have an extra two bridges, if it should have a fighting chance to function properly. That recommendation was accepted but never implemented.

The Canadian consultants and I advised that the CBD needed more entrances and exits and provision for public transport. Talking about public transport decades ago was a non-starter. The city planners saw themselves sliding into the CBD in their massive SUVs! Mentioning public transport got you some nervous giggling and a firm rejection.

The recommendation to have more entrances and exits was flatly rejected and the 97 hectares of CBD are now served by only 9 lanes into it and 9 lanes out of it. This is already insufficient with a CBD that is 65% built and with an occupancy rate somewhere around 70 percent!

A simple comparison can illustrate the current problem. By way of an example, Airport Junction Mall is 147,000 M2 in size and has 8 entrances and exits. Taking the bulk into consideration, it has 19 times more entrances and exits than the CBD. CCI recommended introducing a train stop at the CBD, but that too was giggled away! They recommended sizeable footpaths and cycling tracks for the CBD and hit a cul de sac.

Anyone who tries to walk in the CBD knows that there are hardly any footpaths and not a metre of cycling track. But who needs that if lawyers working in the I-Tower drive to the High Court, which is only 160 metres away?

The Canadian Consulting firm tried, in vain, to argue against the CBD and warned the Government Department .The Canadian consultant could only hope to be horribly wrong but they were right and he who hopes to dispel the logic of maths knows that he/she will ,sooner or later, look like a fool.

The worst traffic jam in the history of Gaborone has been masterfully nurtured and fed by planners consistently refusing to accept simple maths, and it is growing.
So, what is the new young crop of planners doing to solve the problem?
They call in the (foreign) experts!