By Azmat Haroon
Traffic woes hit a new peak in Qatar this year, with many upset residents arguing that they have never experienced the kind of rush they see on the roads now. Since the beginning of the new academic year last month, traffic jams have become a widespread phenomenon. During peak hours, drivers complain about being stuck in congestions for as long as three hours.
Experts point out several contributing factors for the increasing congestions on the roads. One of them is the population growth, which is expected to cross 2m by the end of this year.
Some have also bitterly criticised the Public Works Authority (Ashghal) for digging too many roads at the same time, without considering the impact of construction work on traffic.
According to a report released by Qatar National Bank (QNB) recently, Qatar’s population is projected to grow by an average 10.5 percent annually over the next two years. This growth will be driven by a huge influx of expatriate workers who will be arriving for massive infrastructure projects ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The number of vehicles on the streets has already exceeded 1m and the figure will only go up in the years to come. Some argue that the alarming traffic scenario shows that roads in Doha may not be able to accommodate any more vehicles in the near future, despite attempts by Ashghal to increase the number of lanes in the recent infrastructure projects.
While traffic jams are seen across the city during peak hours, many think they are caused by heavy congestions on the Corniche Street, forcing drivers to flock to other areas, such as the Doha Expressway.
Brigadier Mohammad Saad Al Kharji, Director of Traffic Department, has said that once works on the Corniche street ends, drivers will see less congestion in other areas.
A new traffic control system that can measure flow of vehicles and open roads accordingly is being installed on the Corniche street.
“The new traffic signals on the street will reduce the concentration of traffic in many areas,” Al Kharji said on the popular Arabic-language radio programme Good Morning, My Beloved Country.
He said that nearly 200 traffic patrol and security teams are monitoring traffic at the moment.
The department has also deployed a helicopter that provides details about traffic to patrolling teams. The helicopter makes rounds between 6am and 8am to ease early morning congestions on the roads.
Al Kharji said that the number of vehicles crossed 1m this year, comparing the situation to 2005 when there were 250,000 vehicles on the roads.
He said that every developed country in the world goes through problems related to traffic jams and Qatar was no exception.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one traffic expert told The Peninsula that even if work on the Corniche street winds up in November, there will be little change in traffic.
“Every time the country goes through traffic problems, people start blaming the Traffic Department. We are not the ones constructing roads.”
He said there are serious problems with the way roads are being built in many parts of the country.
“A majority of areas have roads that have only two lanes. There are roads that have three lanes but no shoulder or emergency lanes, which only makes traffic worse in case of an accident.”
In some cases, traffic mounts with a car breaking down in the middle of the road.
He, however, said Ashghal alone cannot be blamed for traffic woes. Most developed countries in the world have a robust public transport system, which Qatar currently lacks.
Qatar’s traffic chaos can only be resolved by boosting public transport facilities.
Mowasalat, for instance, can help by increasing the number and frequency of busses, while authorities need to encourage people to use buses, according to the expert.
One of the peculiarities of Doha traffic is that every time the schools have holidays, congestions on the roads drop. If most school-going children start availing school bus service, there may be a decrease in traffic.
“Most Qatari children don’t avail the bus service provided by their schools. Many buses of Independent schools ply almost empty in the morning,” he said, point out that people needed to work together to solve traffic problems.
The driving schools have also been notified not to give practical lessons during peak hours.
“We have strict directives from the Traffic Department. We are not allowed to give lessons during rush hours from 6.30am to 8am and 12.30pm to 2pm,” Adil Salim, Director of Al Raya Driving School, recently said in a radio interview.
Asked why heavy vehicles were seen on the roads during peak hours, one official from the Traffic Department said trucks and other heavy vehicles can get permission from the department to move at all times. “In principle, patrols should check the documents of these vehicles, but if they start stopping them to do that, traffic will be disrupted.”
He said that the department is also studying proposals to address the traffic issue, including one where people will be able to park in stadiums or other public areas, and then take buses which will stop at different destinations.
“Parking is also a major problem in the city and we see vehicles moving around endlessly in search of a place to park, especially in the West Bay area. If we allocate areas where people can park and take buses to their offices, for example, that will also reduce congestions.”The Peninsula