Nigeria, August 13, 2008
And by slow, I mean really, really slow
Think back to a bad traffic day. When you sat in your car, inching along in a morning commute that seemed to take forever. Or a drive home that doubled in length because a traffic accident. Now think yourself lucky.
In West Africa, traffic is approaching total and permanent gridlock. And I'm not talking about the American kind, where a one-hour commute, becomes a two-hour commute, or your average speed drops to 30mph.
I'm talking about gridlock that makes vehicles useless, has managers sleeping in hotels next to work, and sends the populace out at 6 or 7am to travel 5km in time to start the work day. I'm talking about the Lagos "go slow".
In the commercial capitol of Nigeria, there are four and five lane highways. There are overpasses and rapid bus lanes. And there are a mix of buses, cars, and motorcycles for human conveyance. But for the 14 million people of Lagos, cross-town movement has become impossible.
I know this because I've experienced it myself, twice, in my attempt to fly into and out of Murtala Muhammed Airport while staying on Island and working on Victoria Island. The first time, was a Sunday night, my first in Nigeria. Then it took us about two hours to drive the 12Km from the airport to my hotel. The second time, was a mid-day return to the airport, where it took us another two hours to drive 12Km.
Now before you think that not insane, let us describe what those 6 miles are like. First off, the entire distance is urban, but most of the time we were on limited access roads, what should be a quickly moving highway. Instead, it was the most densely packed car lot I've ever seen.
Cars are so close to each other that you couldn't open your door if you wanted to. If there is space between cars, it will be filled with a motorcyclist trying to squeeze his way through. Or a street hawker selling anything from cakes to clocks to custom bathroom sets (I kid you not!). Each car is also doing its best to be inches from the car in front of it, and like any good traffic jam, lane changes to gain a millimeter are common.
Some cars have the air conditioning blowing fiercely; others have windows rolled down, occupants sweating in the carbon monoxide cloud. In busses, people pressed check to jowl; there isn't much room for a breeze to pass, even if there was one.
This giant mass of humanity and metal flows slowly, lava-like, down these clogged arteries of the city. Flowing so slowly, even my math-challenged mind realized a simple fact: I can run faster than a Lagos "go slow". At 12km an hour, I can run twice as fast as Lagos traffic.
Think about that the next time you're stuck in what you think is a traffic jam.