Brussels beats Kenya in worst city for traffic jams
Posted Thursday, June 28 2012 at 16:38
As a teenager, I had been dying to try out my skills behind the wheel and on a visit to relatives in Nairobi’s Upper Hill estate one Saturday, I again pestered my beloved Uncle Dave to let me take a spin in his car.
He handed me the keys to his old Beetle, took the passenger seat and patiently waited for me to show him what I could do.
I easily mimicked the gestures I had studied so diligently over the years and was doing quite well until we came to a steep section of the road with a junction at the top.
Stopping had not been the problem but moving on again proved to be impossible; with every attempt I rolled further back down the hill while Uncle Dave just sat there looking out of the window, completely ignoring my predicament as mounting panic turned into hysteria.
He finally took matters in hand when I nearly crashed into a car that had come up behind us and thus succeeded in putting me off driving completely; it would be decades before I would again take the driver’s seat.
Then I set my eyes on the Lancia Ypsilon, all curves and seduction with a touch of 50s retro chic, was immediately smitten and finally understood how blokes might get more emotionally attached to their cars than to their girlfriends.
I visited a dealership, sat and passed the theory exam and while home on holiday took driving lessons with the AA on the premise that if I could drive in Nairobi, I could drive anywhere in the world.
Having endured the insensitivity of matatu drivers towards those under instruction, taken the mandatory 20 hours of driving lessons in Brussels and done the test, I joined the hordes of drivers daily clogging the streets of Brussels.
A report released by INRIX, the international provider of traffic information, shows that drivers in Brussels lose more time in traffic jams than elsewhere in Europe or North America.
Traffic jams in Brussels are worse than in New York, Paris or London and last year drivers lost 72 hours on average sitting in traffic.
The Brussels-Capital region is a major employment catchment area with over 50 per cent of the employees coming from outside the region yet only 20 per cent of commuters use public transport with hundreds of thousands of private cars converging into the region daily.
But traffic should begin to ease with the inauguration of sections of the regional express network which is being developed with funding from the federal state and the regional governments and with the collaboration of the railways and the public transport companies.
Known as the RER, the rail network will extend 30 kilometres outwards all around Brussels, covering a region with over two million inhabitants.
The 350-kilometre rail network will carry an estimated 100,000 passengers during the peak hours and provide services for twenty hours every working day.
The RER project was first mooted in 1990 and a proposal tabled in 1995 with commissioning scheduled for 2002, but because of the complexity of Belgium’s administrative framework, setbacks due to opposition from communities living along the proposed rail network and pressure groups opposed to the infringement of the RER on protected nature sites, the network will only become fully operational in 2019.