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The adverse impacts of Mekelle’s human and vehicle population growth and solutions

By Tesfai Hailu
Tigrai Online, May 1, 2019

Although, to my knowledge, up-to-date population or a reliable vehicle registration data is not available, a drastic population increase in human as well a vehicle (including those with license plates from outside Tigrai) has been starkly visible in Mekelle, particularly for the last year. 

However, while this growth is a testimony of the city’s ability to offer a sense of security, peace, tranquility and economic opportunities, the growth also has its undesirable side-effects.

Not only is Mekelle an old city with mostly narrow roads but also, unfortunately, many of the newly constructed, such as the Addi Shum Dehun Road, have been ill-advisedly made to be as narrow.

As a result, several roads are without or with very small sidewalks, thus vehicles and pedestrians share the road. Sure enough, as detailed below, this creates or exacerbates problems in more ways than one.

  1. Motor vehicle accidents as well as other safety and security risks

While motor vehicle accidents typically occur on highways, city roads are not exempted. Indeed, serious as well as minor accidents happen from time to time.

And the fact that vehicles are often parked on both sides of narrow streets make it extremely difficult for other vehicles, particularly bigger sizes, to pass through. This also constrains ambulances’ ability to freely access the road in case of an emergency.

Luckily, houses in Mekelle and Tigrai at large are built with stones, hence making the spread of fire rare, but not unheard of. Two weeks or so ago, for instance, fire erupted at 16 Kebele Melody Club. But it apparently happened during the wee hours of the morning that the fire department truck didn’t have a problem passing through to bring the fire under control.

Also, owing to the men and women in uniform who work around the clock to secure public safety, potential attacks on small or large groups are kept at bay. But blocked streets could surely be an obstacle to delivering help in the event of an emergency. 

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  1. The cost on time

Time is said to be “a strange economic good, difficult to price and easy to waste”. And nowhere is this more visible than on Mekelle streets. The narrow roads are not entirely to blame, however. Rather, due to a given driver’s poor driving skills, bad judgement or uncaring attitude, tens of vehicles are often seen stuck for several minutes. 

In a society where the value of time is not as appreciated as it should, the time being wasted is often not considered, but it undoubtedly comes at a cost to oneself, to a company one works for and the public.

  1. Road fights

The kind of insane “road rage” witnessed in Western countries that involves knives, baseball bats and handguns is thankfully not seen on the roads of Mekelle. But heated arguments and tempers flared high leading to punches are not uncommon.

  1. Environmental and health impact

“Vehicle pollutants cause immediate and long-term effects on the environment. Car exhausts emit a wide range of gases and solid matter ... harming the environment and human health.”

Yet, the impact of vehicle pollution on the environment and human health is very poorly understood. When roads are blocked and vehicles are at a standstill, running engines emit gases needlessly, which harms the environment as well as humans, particularly those who suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.

  1. A mitigating solution

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While there undoubtedly are big solutions to effectively tackle the Mekelle population and vehicle growth related problems – such as reconstructing wider roads and building a trolley or a sub-way train system – the price tag is indeed so high that the city and the region simply are not in a position to afford.

Instead, there are incremental things the Mekelle City Administration could embark on to lessen the burden on the people, the economy and the environment. And chief among which is increasing the number of one-way streets.

Mekelle – particularly Kebelle 16, 15, 19 (Enda Michael area) and 20 (Jebruk) – are so well designed that they are easy to create one way streets out of. Not only will that help with the smooth flow of vehicles, but also drivers will not be inconvenienced to take the next street as the roads are close to one another with a couple of blocks between them.

To that end, one-way streets have to be designed very carefully in order to remedy all related problems including, but not limited to, discouraging a left turn on busy streets. Let see some examples:

At Kebele 16 Naya Café (where Gelila Pharmacy used to be), the designated one-way street should go west–east; through Samples Club all the way up to the north-south two-lane asphalt.

Reason: So that Bajajs (three wheel vehicles) coming from the Jebruk side would be required to make a left turn at Humera Hotel, and go through the one-way street to their Kebele 16, 17 or 18 destination without having to cause congestion at the main Commercial Bank traffic light, which currently is a major problem.

The next one to the left, on the other hand, would be a west–east one-way street starting at the north-south two-lane asphalt to end at the front gate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Next, the street at the late Grazmach Asghedom memorial bldg. /ሓይልና ልዳሓር ህንፃ/ should go up east–west; through Lominat Bunna; between Stockholm and Viva clubs; all the way up to the two-lane north-south asphalt.

Reason: Vehicles that come down from the west side are often seen trying to make a left turn to the Abraha Castle direction thereby causing unnecessary halt and avoidable congestion.

A similar example applies to across the street, i.e. the road that goes to Enda Michael Church. Besides causing one of the worst congestions due to two borehole water suppliers that block the road with carts as well as mini-bus taxis that moved to the area lately, vehicles coming from Enda Michael side also cause traffic halt when trying to make a left turn to the Romanat direction.

Yet, the road to Enda Michael could easily be made a one-way street going east–west. And this has another advantage of prohibiting vehicles coming out of the church (which is rare now but worth preparing for future) from crossing through the main street or vehicles coming from the north side of the street making a left turn.

Last example on the street at Romant Square in front of Tsegereda Cafeteria where the yellow airport taxis park. It’s currently made to be a north-south one-way street for a limited one block. But that road should go south-north starting from Ledeta Restaurant; passing through Dr. Markos Hospital and all the way up to Romanat Square.

Reason: To prohibit a mistaken left turn (by putting a sign on) coming from the east or the Bureau of Education side. Besides, drivers who want to go south have the access to turn left at Abyssinia Bank and drive through Zemarias Hotel. Similarly, the ones coming from Hawzen Square direction have the choice of taking the Romanat–Abraha Castle Road, and then turn to 16.

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  1. Other related advantages of one way streets
  2. On one-way streets, parking is allowed on the right side of the street only. This leaves the middle and left side of the street for free vehicle movement.
  3. Parking would not only be orderly, but also a reasonable fee for parking would be levied.
  4. The revenue generated from parking fees as well as fines imposed on driving and parking violators would help cover workers’ salaries.
  5. Would create job opportunities for traffic police officers as well as young parking attendants.
  6. Outdoor cafes, which are affordable recreational outlets; good for business and employment, will be compelled to operate in a manner that is safe for their patrons as well as pedestrians. 
  7. How it would be facilitated 
  8. One way street, prohibited, no turn and speed limit signs would be installed.
  9. For a week or so vehicle and public safety promotion; new rules and regulations get announced in the audiovisual and print media as well as social media.
  10. Flyers get prepared and traffic police officers and the youth give flyers to drivers. Traffic rule violators are given advice with no penalty during this introductory time.
  11. After that full enforcement of rules and regulations becomes in effect. 

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