Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Untangling Kabul's Traffic

Officials hope that traffic lights and car parks will ease the city’s congestion.
By Wahidullah Amani

Like cities everywhere in the world, Kabul is facing a surge in traffic that sometimes threatens to strangle the capital. Now, three government agencies are working to ease the congestion.

The city government is planning to construct a number of car parks while the traffic department is busy installing new traffic signals in an attempt to bring some order to the current chaos on the streets.

In addition, the ministry of transport is planning to build car parks near the main entrances to the capital to get more vehicles off the roads.

General Abdul Shakoor Khairkhwah, head of the traffic department in Kabul, blamed the lack of parking spaces for much of the city’s current problems.

"In the past there was some parking for taxis and buses in the city, but Kabul municipality gave these areas over for building purposes,” he said.

Meanwhile, Khairkhwah’s agency is busy installing traffic signals at as many as 100 intersections and roundabouts. “Until now, only 14 intersections had traffic lights,” he said, adding that his department had completed about a third of the installations and the rest should be finished by the end of March.

While Khairkhwah insisted that the traffic lights already installed were working, he conceded that they were not actually in operation most of the time, a fact he blamed on a lack of electricity. "Kabul Electricity is not in a position to supply power to the intersections continuously," he said.

Khairkhwah’s claim was disputed by Amrullah Sarhadi, the head of Kabul Electricity.

"Unfortunately the traffic department has not asked us to supply power for the signals,” he said. “Only a small amount is needed and we can afford that."

Meanwhile, the city government is working on plans to provide more parking.

Ghulam Farooq Quraishi, head of design with the Kabul planning department, said, "We are considering having small and large parking lots in various parts of the city.” He mentioned a site next to the ministry of education as the site of a proposed three-storey car park. "The first and second floors would be used for different types of private vehicles and the ground floor can be used for buses," he said.

Mohammad Ibrar Bakhshi, head of the private transport sector at the ministry of transport, said, "Apart from city centre car parks, we are planning to construct parking lots at the four entrances [north, south, east and west] to the city.

"We want to build terminals for the trucks, taxis and buses that come from the provinces to drop and collect passengers. If we erect those on the outskirts, we can prevent some of the massive traffic build-ups in the city centre."

But at least one official has his doubts as to whether any of these measures will help alleviate traffic congestion.

"Until we construct more intersections, traffic signals will bring no advantage," said General Amir Mohammad, in charge of traffic in the city centre. "Another cause of delays is the high number of roundabouts, some of which are only 100 metres apart.

"Kabul can accommodate around 80,000 vehicles but there are now more than 300,000 clogging up the city's roads.".

Mohammad said the narrowness of the city’s streets, the increased number of unskilled drivers and large number of pedestrians all contribute to the congestion.

Taxi driver Mujtaba, 35, agreed that untrained drivers were the main problem on Afghan streets.

"The main problems are unprofessional drivers and those who don’t have licenses,” he said. “They are not familiar with the traffic laws. There should be educational programmes on TV to make them into considerate drivers.

"The police are currently directing traffic at intersections and they are unable to control drivers, so what will happen when they are replaced by traffic lights?"

Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.