• User-Behavior Versus Engineers’ Designs.

    A civil engineer in the United States of America made a profoundly unorthodox road-design by putting bicycle lanes in the middle of a street road.

    For a moment, I imagined the kind of extreme road-mayhem his design would cause, if this design was on a road in Africa (if it’s not there already!). Ha-ha.

    Given that I was used to my country’s old paradigm of putting them on the side, or even not putting them at all, I was challenged to embrace ingenuity. The American’s design triggered a paradigm shift in my design skills.

    When I was at university, a certain professor told us that traffic jams were here to stay! “Are Traffic jams here to stay?”, I wondered.

    To justify his phenomenon, the professor sighted the world’s greatest cities such as New York and London as ones that are still grappling with this predicament of traffic jams.

    He further went on to debunk the efficiency, accuracy and suitability of the mathematical models and or formulas globally used to design traffic signals and other road features.

    As if the professor’s lamentations were not enough, it is a poignant culture in Africa, to put the blame of the failure of designed civil engineering systems, on the designers.

    Incessantly collapsing buildings, “narrow roads” and failed sewer systems in urban areas, are not only often, and naively blamed on the inefficiency of the designers but also on the designers’ ineffectiveness.

    However, one evening when I was leaving my office desk, I got onto an Uber cab. For 2 hours, we had to forge our way through a pandemonium of vehicles on a journey that ought to have taken 45 minutes. There was a traffic jam-mayhem on the road. Damn!

    En route home, I realized that we did not spend all that time on the road because the highway engineers did shoddy works or incorrect designs for the road curves and junctions (round-abouts). It was because of the psychological predicament of the road users.

    Drivers who wouldn’t respect the movements of other road users, stress-laden pedestrians, naïve motorcycle-transport riders, exhausted fat women and men, confused traffic police officers, malfunctioning traffic signals were all part of the cocktail of challenges that transformed a 45-minute journey into a 2-hour one.

    At the center of all that mayhem lies a subtle problem of a psychological handicap.

    That day’s traffic jam is a quintessential justification that traffic jams on our roads are purely, or at least largely attributed to the inability of the road users to withstand fast moving paces hence getting caught up in their own confusion, which in turn translates into a domino effect of jams, accidents and enormous delays.

    Much as our professor largely attributed the permanence of traffic jams to design constraints, it is irrefutably clear that the cause of the problem of traffic jams is largely skewed towards the uncouth behavior of road users.

    To solve this, I believe that our Civil engineers need to study psychology so as to make holistic designs that not only incorporate user comfort but also significantly incorporate user behavior and psych, in the design.

    Better still, African countries need voluntary interventions from psychologists, who could do a mass mind-therapy on most of our citizenry.

    How exactly could we do this? To get an answer to that, you might want to join me, in my research, when I go the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, in Harvard University. Ha-ha!