Thoughts about Fixing Lagos Traffic — Dubai as a Case Study

Tomiwa Ogunmodede
8 min readMay 16

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Photo by Dami Akinbode on Retna

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and my beloved city of birth, with its lively markets, vibrant colours, and… well… infamous traffic jams.

It’s a problem as notorious as it is persistent, but what if we borrowed a page from Dubai’s transportation playbook? Is it plausible that we could significantly enhance our public transport system?

Could we transform our daily commutes from a test of patience to a smooth journey?

I thought I’d take a stab at it from my firsthand experience of living and driving in both cities.

Short Term Fixes

Carpooling? Yes, Please!

A simple solution we can try right now is to encourage carpooling. Lagos is a densely occupied city, with a population of over 21 million people¹. With more than 5 million cars and 200,000 commercial vehicles on the roads, it’s no surprise that we have traffic problems. In fact, there are about 227 vehicles for every kilometer of road, making traffic jams a regular hassle.

Drawing inspiration from Dubai’s approach, where their Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) endorses carpooling, Lagos could experiment with similar initiatives. Offering incentives such as preferential parking spaces and discounted toll fees for cars with multiple passengers could be an excellent place to start.

Not only could this strategy help reduce the number of cars on the road, it could also help bring Lagosians together. Carpooling offers a chance for people to chat, share stories, and maybe even make new friends during their daily commute. Plus, less time in traffic could mean less stress for everyone. That’s a win-win situation if ever there was one!

Clever Traffic Management.

Another immediate measure we could take to ease Lagos’s traffic situation is to improve our traffic signal timings and roll out intelligent traffic control systems. Again, looking at Dubai, we can see the power of efficient traffic management. The city’s Roads and Transport Authority has managed to slash waiting times at intersections by a significant 10 to 20 percent.

In Lagos, we have the potential to replicate this success. A key step could be retraining our LASTMA officials to better manage intersections during the busy peak hours. Importantly, we need to make sure the traffic rules are enforced fairly for everyone, including the notoriously unruly Danfo, Keke NAPEP, and commercial truck drivers. By doing this, we can help to keep traffic moving smoothly and start to tackle the all-too-familiar Lagos traffic jams.

Photo by Richard Badejo on Retna

Mid Term Fixes

You can never go wrong with Buses.

Dubai’s air-conditioned buses, operating on dedicated lanes, are a sight to behold and a joy to ride. Following their example, Lagos should consider handing over operation of the bus network to an SPV jointly operated by private sector players.

This would allow Lagos to focus on subsidising bus pricing and maintenance, making bus transport a more efficient and attractive alternative to private cars. With buses able to transport a larger number of passengers per trip, we could reduce the overall number of cars on the road significantly.

The Magical world of Slip Lanes.

The introduction of slip lanes on heavily trafficked roads such as Kudirat Abiola Way, Isaac John Way, Admiralty Way, and the infamous Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way could markedly improve traffic flow.

For those unfamiliar, slip lanes are clever road design elements that allow vehicles to enter or leave the main road without disrupting ongoing traffic, facilitating smoother movement and reducing delays.

I have a bit of a soft spot for slip lanes. Implementing them in new road plans, along with the retrofitting of existing roads where feasible, could contribute significantly to alleviating congestion, particularly those arising from vehicle entries and exits on busy routes.

Embracing Multilevel and Shared Parking Systems.

Adopting multi-level parking systems for new building projects and refurbishing older buildings to accommodate such structures could dramatically ease congestion on our streets.

When multilevel parking isn’t feasible, we can turn to shared parking solutions. With this approach, a single, well-organised parking lot can cater to multiple buildings, reducing the need for individual parking spaces and making better use of our city’s space.

Interestingly, these parking systems, if metered, can also be a hidden goldmine for daily revenue. Whether operated by the state government or private individuals (who will be subject to taxes), they offer a potential source of steady income, making them not just a solution for traffic, but also a smart economic move.

Efficient Refuse Collection.

Implementing a more reliable waste management system with timely collection, while simultaneously aggressively investing in a lot more smaller modular strategically located collection bins that can be evacuated daily along busy roads and streets can prevent waste from causing street clutter and traffic disruptions and minimise the time waste collection vehicles spend on the roads, easing congestion.

Additionally, incentivising community participation in refuse collection and disposal can empower everyone to actively contribute to keeping Lagos streets cleaner and more efficient, city, allowing for smoother traffic movement and enhancing the commuting experience for everyone.

Minimising Flooding and Traffic Delays with Covered Drainage Systems:

Covering existing drainage systems and planning for regular drainage decongestion and cleaning can mitigate flooding and prevent road closures, reducing traffic delays during the unavoidable heavy rainfall that comes with the rainy season.

This should go hand in hand with encouraging responsible waste disposal practices so as to further prevent drain blockages, enhancing drainage system effectiveness, minimising the risk of flooded roads and subsequent congestion and improving traffic flow.

Reimagining Street Parking with Meters and Payments:

If you’ve ever driven in Lagos, even for just a day, you’d quickly notice that haphazard street parking is a significant obstacle to smooth and safe navigation, with numerous vehicles parked with little regard for traffic flow.

Now, imagine a scenario where we transform the sides of major roads and avenues across Lagos state into well-designated parking zones, with areas for both long-term and short-term parking, as well as clearly marked no-parking zones. These zones would be regulated through a network of parking payment markers or meters, integrated with a smart mobile payment system and links payments directly to vehicle license plates.

This seemingly simple change has the potential to dramatically reduce illegal street parking and provide a substantial increase in state revenue.

And the icing on the cake? This initiative could give LASTMA officials, and even local ‘agbero’s’, an essential role to play, working alongside existing CCTV systems (where available) to scan license plates and promptly identify and penalise those not complying with parking regulations.

Another win-win solution for everyone if you asked me!

Photo by Tope Asokere on Retna

Longer Term Fixes:

Expanding Road Infrastructure:

Prioritizing the construction of additional roads, particularly in the chronically congested Lekki-Ajah-Ibeju corridor, is essential. The proposed Lagos 4th Mainland Bridge is a step in the right direction, and its timely completion would be beneficial for all. This becomes particularly important considering the upcoming Dangote Refinery, Lekki Deep Sea Port, and the proposed airport expected to commence operations in the next few years.

By expanding road capacity through the creation of new roads, we can significantly improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion on these vital routes. This solution would support the growth of Lagos — its population and its booming economy — while making the daily commute a little easier for all Lagosians.

Expanding Water Transport

Expanding boat transport in Lagos is a promising solution to alleviate traffic congestion and offer alternative transportation options. The Lagos state government can provide financial grants or tax breaks to individuals or organisations looking to invest in boats for passenger and cargo transportation to help reduce initial costs and foster private sector involvement.

Simplifying and streamlining water transport regulations is also crucial. By removing bureaucratic hurdles, reducing licensing requirements, and easing operational restrictions, as well as establishing fixed routes for commuter and cargo transportation on Lagos waterways will enhance efficiency and reliability, providing clarity and stability for operators and passengers alike.

Effective collaboration between the government, private sector, and state/federal maritime agencies is essential for the success of this strategy and help Lagos tap into the immense potential of boat transport, easing traffic congestion, expanding transportation options, and creating new opportunities for businesses and commuters.

Smart Traffic and Infrastructure Management:

Implementing Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has the potential to transform traffic management in Lagos. These advanced systems leverage technology to effectively handle traffic flow, monitor road conditions, and provide real-time information to both drivers and road safety officials.

The benefits of adopting ITS go beyond just managing traffic. These systems can also play a crucial role in tracking road traffic stress levels, allowing for proactive maintenance planning to prevent infrastructure breakdowns.

By embracing smart traffic solutions inspired by those in Dubai, Lagos can significantly enhance its traffic flow management, reduce congestion, and improve road safety, ultimately leading to a smoother and safer commuting experience for all.

Smart Payment Solutions for Public Transport

Implementing a central payment system, like Dubai’s Nol Card or London’s Oyster Card, would enhance efficiency in Lagos’ public transport.

It would streamline payments across different modes of transportation and encourage more people to use public transit. The system would also provide valuable data for optimising routes and schedules, resulting in a more efficient and responsive transportation network.

Road Safety and Maintenance at Local Government Level:

Establishing a modular road maintenance and security structure at the local government level across the state is paramount. By providing modular infrastructure and expertise for road repair and maintenance, we can incentivise road safety and maintenance.

Integrating these incentives into the fund disbursement structure for local governments will empower them to take responsibility for their roads’ upkeep. This will also enable them to invest effectively in necessary road safety infrastructure like road signs, traffic lights, and crosswalks.

Emphasising Traffic Safety:

It’s important to ensure traffic safety and adherence to traffic rules and regulations. Regularly updating the training and performance evaluation for road safety personnel, including LASTMA officials and members of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), is crucial to improving road safety standards.

Pedestrian Safety:

Another key area of focus that is oft overlooked should be pedestrian safety. Our plans should incorporate efficient crosswalks, sidewalks, bike paths, and jogging paths that are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and the elderly.

Where feasible, these safety features should also be added to existing roads, making them more pedestrian-friendly and safe for everyone.

Photo by T O on Retna

In conclusion, Lagos has a golden opportunity to improve its road network and tackle traffic congestion by drawing inspiration from Dubai’s success.

With a combination of short-term, mid-term, and long-term solutions, Lagos can reduce congestion, enhance transportation access, and establish a safer and more efficient road system that is known for its efficient transportation, leaving behind its infamous ‘go-slow’ reputation.

Caveat: I’m no urban planner, just a layman offering educated suggestions from a designer/driver’s perspective. Please correct any misconceptions or expand on the ideas I’ve shared in the comments.

Also worthy of note is that while some solutions I’ve put forward may have been tried before, I believe they should be implemented as part of a cohesive and well-planned strategy over a fixed period of time for maximum impact.

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