Of Gridlock And The Incessant Abuse Of Traffic Lights In Sokoto, By Usama Dandare

Over the years, traffic signals were controlled by electrical or mechanical devices, but with the advent of the microprocessor, they are now programmed and controlled by computer systems. These signal controls are designed around a communication system that ties individual intersection signals together through a central computer system or a series of computers that can coordinate the timing sequence of multiple intersections. The main objective of these traffic signals is to provide convenient signal coordination to motorists, in order to help reduce accident and save lives. However, the rate at which these traffic lights are being abuse in Sokoto State – by both road users and the government itself – must leave any spectator wondering whether the state government is only wasting tax-payer’s hard earned money to beautify the city center or is bereft of ideas on how best to utilize these pretty gadgets.
In this part of the world lives a widely accepted belief that traffic lights presents much often the best solution to road accidents more than any other option, as such, quite a number of them have been installed allover in the capital city of Sokoto, even in places where no such legitimate operational warrant exists. It is on record that the attitudes and misunderstandings that sometimes lead to unjustified installations of these traffic lights in the state has done more harm than the initial purpose on which they were installed, which is why it is absolutely imperative to thoroughly study the location, road capacity and conditions before determining where to install traffic lights and where not to. Traffic signals should be used only where lesser forms of control have proven ineffective because they always create more intersection delay and minor movements may experience excessive unexpected delays, particularly if the signals are improperly timed. As a result, many drivers opted for less desirable alternate routes or to residential streets or move against the signals to avoid added delay.
So far, Sokoto state government has spent over N1billion to install traffic and street lights in the last ten months, but unfortunately, the purpose for which these traffic signals were meant to serve is seemingly becoming unrealistic and misplaced, instead, they only added salt to our injuries and made things even more worst than they were. Albeit the uncompliance attitudes of motorists contributed a lot to the insuccess of these signals but the government should to a large extent be blamed.
That motorists in Sokoto have in their genetic composition a chromosomal deficiency of traffic obedience is perhaps a clear indication that the authorities themselves are also not getting the right approach and ideas favourable for citizens compliance: the ongoing installation of traffic lights at the wrong locations in Sokoto State while ignoring places in dire need of traffic signals is a clear example of how best a government can discourage citizenry from obeying safety rules and regulations.

This renewed efforts by the state government only solved problems that did not exist, but failed to deal with the problems which need tackling, as these traffic lights, though they do help a little, were hardly necessary. Traffic signals and roundabouts serves the same purpose and need not to be operating together, the former should only exists where the latter failed, and vice versa. It makes no sense to have street lights and roundabouts operating at the same location akin to what we are witnessing in Sokoto State today. There are several dangerous intersections/junctions in the state where there has been many fatalities and even lost of lives, but sadly, the state government is yet to see any reason for having traffic signals at these junctions where they are needed the most, rather, they opted to install them in roundabouts where they serve little or no use at all. To cut it short, installing these devices in roundabouts alone without giving due emphasis to the many deadly junctions in the state didn’t only made no meaning but went further to substantiate the fact that the state government lacks the required ideas on how best a traffic light can be utilized.

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The systemic problem which these traffic lights in roundabouts has not addressed (but which the state government hasn’t took into consideration) is that there are so many junctions, crossings and turnings across the state that have resulted to many lost of lives and injuries. The awkward T-junction along Gusau road, just adjacent to the main gate of FGC Sokoto is perhaps one of the most dangerous junction across the state and even across neighboring states of Kebbi and Zamfara. It is astonishing that the government saw NNPC roundabout worthy of traffic signal over this dangerous junction, it is so sad that the government did not consider this junction which has claimed the lives of many poor road users and still counting. It is a junctions with an obvious and urgent need for traffic signals, likewise several other junctions across the state, from Old Airport junction to Runjin Sambo, from Ibrahim Dasuki road to Arkilla Fire Service junction just to mention a few. If there’s any need for traffic lights in Sokoto, then these junctions ought to have been given more priority before others. Therefore, a modern sensible traffic control that will reduce accident and provide safe crossings for pedestrians as well as road users is highly recommended.

With the increasing rate of accidents recorded daily in the state, one needs no magic to believe that the state government has made the wrong choices in applying its traffic solutions and has failed to utilise the gadgets effectively. If the purposes of installing these signals are to curb accident and ensure free movements of vehicles, then sorry to say but our N1billion has just been wasted on a project that made no positive impact. The whole traffic signals were installed at the wrong places and seems no traffic study was conducted in the first place. Ideally, there are a number of factors that needed to be properly examined before traffic signals are installed, which were clearly not considered in this case:
First of all, a roundabout is a type of a circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a focal point, they were designed so to prevent any likelihood of collisions by reducing traffic speeds and minimizing T-bone and head-on collisions, especially on points where three or four junctions met. Roundabout forced traffic to move slowly in order to allow visual engagement with pedestrians, minimize driver confusion associated with perpendicular junctions and reduced queuing associated with traffic lights. As such, traffic lights need not to be installed where roundabouts exists.
Secondly, Traffic signals are important means of traffic control. When use properly or installed at the right place, they can help to improve safety, manage traffic flow, and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. However, the location that fits best for traffic signals should be taking into account first before any move, if the street is relatively narrow and motor vehicle traffic on the cross-street is moderate to low, then traffic lights can result in more pedestrian delay while waiting for the walk signal. In this scenario, impatient and hazy pedestrians would cross against the lights and motorists whose turn is to move may run them, hence resulting in a more severe damages and even lost of lives. Therefore, traffic lights should not be install on narrow and less busy roads.
Thirdly, another very important consideration is traffic signal spacing. When signalized locations are too close together, they could create more congestion and gridlock conditions, making it imperative that traffic lights be generally spaced further apart. However, due to the high cost of traffic signals and possible negative safety implications, it may be best to try other measures in lieu of traffic lights in places where signal spacing proved difficult, such as reducing the number of lanes, improved lighting, improved warning signs and pavement markings.
To this end, if really Sokoto State government is sincere in this latest drive to minimize accident and improve safety, they should carefully study these traffic signals and make proper amendments where necessary, all signals in roundabouts should be uninstall and reinstall in places where they are needed the most – junctions and intersections. Virtually all traffic lights in Sokoto have no pedestrian signal which perhaps can be attributed to the fact that little attention was paid to pedestrian activity at the time most of the signals were installed. Therefore, they should all have pedestrian crossing signals except for some narrow street crossings, but where pedestrian activities are large, a pedestrian bridge will solve it all. Though I have seen some solar powered traffic signals in about two roundabouts, there’s still the need for the state government to have an alternative energy source to power these devices in order to save cost, instead of adopting the expensive method of using power generating sets. In a nutshell, the state government should come up with a ‘traffic act’ that criminalise by-passing traffic signals and proscribe a severe retribution for noncompliance, which may not only serve as a deterrent to deter others but will go a long way in forcing all road users to comply with the rules and obey traffic control. A stitch in time saves nine.
Usama A. Dandare, a social commentator write from Sokoto. Reach him via [email protected],  www.facebook.com/usama.dandareor twitter @osadaby

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