Piazza: A Place Where Street Inequality Thumps

Roads are meant to serve everyone. But that depends on the way they are designed and constructed. Major roads of the city of Addis Abeba are far from this ideal. They seem to serve some more than others. It is on top of this that the city is witnessing the construction of new modalities of transport that might widen the inequality.

Last Friday morning, I had to step down from a cabbie before I reached at my destination. The traffic jam compelled me to walk half of the way to Piazza, earlier in the day.

The sky was almost invisible because of the unusual fog and mist that screened it. Even the statue of Emperor Menelik mounted on a horse, the mast sign of this page, had lost it commanding sight from a distance. Motorists had to use their headlights as indicators.

As I walked down the Aden Street, it occurred to me that I had been unfair blaming City Hall officials for not naming the roads and streets of the city. Alas, here are Aden Street, De Gaulle Square, Churchill Road, King George Street, and etc. I could go on like that if I had to.

Of course, lately, some roads have also been christened after African nations. As I was contemplating why the capital has dedicated so many roads a flash back of old memories took me back decades during the fascist invasion.

Who was genuinely backing Emperor Haileselessie at the League of Nations in Geneva? Who was behind the 1929 and 1959 Nile water sharing agreement concluded between the Sudan and Egypt?

Of course there is no denying the fact that the allied forces, the British in particular, have given a helping hand to Ethiopia’s leader during his return to Ethiopia triumphing and hence the naming of the roads. Yet, next to nothing has been written about roads.

Roads are but forums of democratic expressions. All urbanites have the right of sharing roads equally. But there are many people who argue otherwise.

They say that even if these roads are funded from the coffers of the national treasury, by default from taxpayer, dwellers of the less fortunate kebeles who are pedestrians, are not given equal share. This is an unfortunate moment to quote George Orwell’s famous satire that says “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”

Think of the 4.3km Meskel Square to Bole Road (officially named African Avenue) renovation project that coasted over 60 million dollars. The project was completed in 18 months time and meant to be of the first class any motorist can drive almost non-stop. It is everything but short of serving its end.

Its very design does not allow drivers to pull over and park for a while for business or sipping coffee. This problem of the need to park is yet on the agenda of designers to be reconsidered. Who knows the next complaint could come from the railway transport agency.

Ethiopia has committed herself to develop a green economy that entails cutting on the consumption of fossil oil and use electricity instead. This calls for creating conducive situation of deploying modalities of mass transport like the tram or light train tracks. Sooner or later, the 60 million road might have to be dug and scrapped for an electrically-powered modality.

Incidentally, the new cross-country train track terminal is reported to terminate at Holleta. I would have thought the horticulture and flower export freight could have been urgently shipped to the airport directly by train to be unloaded at the freezing house, instead of spending money and time on double transport or constructing new airstrips. This is just my food for thought.

The pedestrians of Addis are truly enduring folks. They continue to suffer despite the expansion of roads in the city. It all goes as if the essence of constructing roads is not to optimise the use of time, which can be expressed in money terms.

Mass transport systems could be of great help as a means to realize that objective and serve people. But the means seems to counterfeit the end. Look at the number of taxpaying businesspeople whose shops have been demolished down to ruins having nowhere to go and earn their living.

The scapegoat this time is the construction of the tramway track. The water lines and sewerage pipes have to be moved. A lot of cost is involved here. However, the costs of the projects are normally considered in terms of capital costs required for the project.

Opportunity costs involved in the process and the inconveniences caused during the traffic jams is not appreciated. People ask the weight given to the benefits expected from the train transport and the social and economical costs that the project entails.

Incidentally, the perennial action to plant tree seedlings along the pavements and left to fate are also costs unless planting them is taken as a bread earning activity for some unemployed youngsters.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on July 14, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 690]



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