ACCRA, GHANA —  In the Accra of the future, Hassan Salih (@bullz_i) envisions himself rising later in the morning as he sets out from his home on his way into work, taking a brief stroll to a nearby Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station. There, along with other urban commuters, he’ll board a gleaming new bus that cruises along an exclusive high-speed lane, arriving to his office in less than 30 minutes.

In Salih’s present however, his mornings are a rush of activities, only to then sit idle for hours, inching along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Whether riding in a trotro, taxi or their own vehicles, Salih and Accra’s other daily commuters are left to wonder when the chaos will ever come to an end.

Salih said the city’s exhausting traffic tie-ups happen not because there are not enough roads but because there are too many vehicles. For commuters coming into Accra each day however, there are no reliable public transit options available to the city’s wide social and economic spectrum of workers.

“The former mayor of Bogota in Colombia once said in a video called ‘Urbanized’ that a developed country is not one where the poor drive cars but where the rich use public transport. That’s why we need to take a second look at our ways of transporting the masses.” – Hassan Salih

Salih is one of many advocates for a BRT system in Ghana’s capital. Accra’s mayor has spoken on issues of traffic and the lost productivity of workers who commute to and from the city. Even President Mahama has said, a BRT system is coming to the Accra-Amasaman corridor road by the end of 2015.

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Architect and urban designer, Hassan Salih

But Salih said there’s more for the city’s urban planners and government officials to consider if they hope to improve Accra’s resiliency with the addition of BRT services.

He offered these 5 points to help ensure a future Accra that provides a more efficient, effective, and sustainable solution for the city’s commuters.

  1. Take a holistic view
    Salih said he believes the BRT system is relatively easy and not very costly to implement if  he said, city officials are willing to use some of the city’s existing infrastructure and do some ‘smart planning’.

    “It’s not rocket science. Buses have been around for a very long time and now it’s just being reimagined for further convenience. So we have to plan for a BRT system from a holistic point of view. First, we can’t bring in buses without having the lanes for them to run on. Any new infrastructure projects for the city should incorporate the existing plans that have been made for the BRT system.

    Before the N1 was constructed,  people in Ghana were talking about the possibility of  implementing a BRT system. If we were a bit smarter, we would have made provisions such as designated lanes, for the BRT within the budget of the N1 design. Instead of creating three lanes so private vehicles can speed across, there would be two lanes for these cars and one for the BRT at no extra cost.”

    Schematic layout of proposed BRT system for major Accra roads (courtesy: Hassan Salih)

    Schematic layout of proposed BRT system for major Accra roads (courtesy: Hassan Salih)

  2. Quit with the excuses
    When building something new, there are risks involved such as cost overruns, the possibility of corruption and unplanned repairs. But BRT systems have already been tested in the developing world in places very much like Accra. Salih said city planners should look to these examples for inspiration and to help them remain committed to their goals.

    “It started out in South America, the developing world. It was a solution that was made for the developing world by people from the developing world. And it has even now transcended the borders of the developing world into the more advanced world where they already had subway systems and monorails and hi-tech systems. A lot of them are now scaling down to BRT because it is competes directly with subway system in cities like New York in terms of the number of passengers it is able to transport and how efficient it is for just a fraction of the cost.”

  3. Focus on what it will add to the economy, not what it may take away
    Critics of the BRT  argue the system may puts trotro drivers and taxis out of business but Salih said he disagrees. He said the economic advantages of the system are comprehensive and can benefit drivers as well as commuters.

    “We need to plan to employ as much of the existing market as possible. The system is not one that is exclusively run by the city. It is open to public participation.  So if I was in the business of transporting people by trotro and I had a fleet of about 10 or 20 trotros and that’s my means of making a living, I’d trade my trotros and invest the money in acquiring a bus. That’s how the system works. The buses can be owned by individuals, organizations and already existing players in the transport industry but then plugged into a system of order.”

  4. Design for inclusiveness and sustainability
    Salih said the BRT system can do more than move the masses around. He said urban planners should engage more with the individuals they are designing for to understand all the ways a BRT system can benefit a community.

    “To me, the BRT is really a miracle solution not just to traffic but to other problems in the city. If I was designing a BRT system for Accra, which I hope someday I’ll be called to do, I’d take the opportunity to create other facilities for communities that lack social amenities. Let’s say I was going to design a BRT terminal the size of a football field, I’d consider making the roof of it a park. Rather than taking away from the environment and the people, add to it.”

  5. Think long-term
    Beyond a BRT solution, Salih said he would suggest making the inner city more “walkable” to reduce congestion but also establish rail services across the nation to improve mobility of citizens and increase inter-city trade and businesses.

    “Inter-city, a BRT is not viable. Maybe a rail network is more viable. My dad has a farm in Wa, in the north, and I’m very much interested in being a part of it. To get there, I’d have to drive and that back and forth between there and Accra is stressful. A more expensive option is to take a flight to Tamale and still have to drive to Wa. It’s really inconvenient. Imagine a public transit system, a high speed train, that could get me to Wa in 6 to 8 hours. Even those 6 hours wouldn’t be going to waste because I am not driving. I could be working on my laptop. For farmers, they could easily transport their goods. I think an efficient transportation system across the country is the single most effective way of transforming the country for the better.”