Packed Like Sardines

A daily commute that would usually take a few minutes has quadrupled and now drags on for close to an hour for anyone going from one end of Addis Ababa to the other.

When Addis almost elastically stretched from its nucleus to what it now holds within its district, who would have thought that the roads wouldn’t suffice for the number of people that use them.

If for a moment we put the obvious health hazard of the hundreds of people stacked in the trains and the dozens sardined in the mini-buses aside and concentrated on the lines of cars that go for kilometers, it becomes almost inexplicable.

Whether it is individuals with their private cars, buses, mini-buses, taxis or the light rail, the four corners of Addis seem to be jampacked on specific hours during the day. It seems as though within a span of a few months the jam keeps getting worse at those peak hours to the point where the saying that goes ‘patience is a virtue’ needs to be applied.

Once these said hours have been identified most tend to look for alternative roads, streets, and alleys to avoid the traffic jam that is not only exhausting but also time-consuming. What is funny though is that through time even these alternative roads, streets and alleyways start getting clogged with four wheel vehicles that slowly follow each other on those bumpy roads and soon enough these too are jammed to the brim, taking even longer than the main road.

I hear a lot of drivers often complaining about these jams asking how roads can be constantly built and that we never seem to match the demand.

Obviously there is an increasing number of car imports that are flooding the streets of Addis, making the need for bigger and better roads even more flagrant just as soon as a new road is built; meaning once a road is finished the number of cars ready to use it have possibly grown three-fold than when the project started.

In addition to the growing number of vehicles on the streets of our city, some of the major roads rarely have traffic exhaust options and/or alternatives. There is either the light rail or an island in between the two-way streets preventing turns or the neighborhood streets and alleys lead to a dead end.

Given the fact that for the major parts the cars have no other way to go but straight, if the flow is obstructed anywhere on that line of cars then it becomes impossible to pass through without having to wait longer than it would normally require.

Moreover, it has now been a couple of months since some of the roundabouts have been turned into intersections with lights. Though this has been a solution in managing the flow of the cars all the while avoiding accidents, it has not solved the jam either because the waiting period is too long or the time to pass through the intersection is too short, both giving the vehicles enough time to stack up anew.

It is becoming noticeable that more and more people are now experiencing allergies and similar ailments due to the evident pollution. However, without steering this discussion towards the environment and the long-term effects of so much Carbon Dioxide in the air or towards how polluted Addis Ababa is becoming.

How about we considered other solutions that reduce the number of vehicles on our streets?

Maybe even attempt to apply these different available solutions voluntarily without waiting for them to be laws like in the West. I must admit that when the convenience of having your own vehicle is opposed to waiting for half an hour, standing in line for irregular minibuses or being stacked like sardines in the light rail, then the choice is indisputable.

However, it might be a good idea to have a certain number of cars, selected by their license plate sequences and have them running on alternative three days a week. Of course, this is only if the situation worsens. But until then can we envisage co-riding instead of three neighboring households taking two vehicles out on a daily basis?

What will make Addis a pedestrian and eco-friendly city in this regard?

By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled "Poetic Saturdays" - a platform created to allow everyone the freedom of self-expression through art. She can be reached at

Published on Mar 11,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 879]



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