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ANALYSIS: Respect for the law is essential to improve traffic flow

Bnamericas Published: Monday, May 04, 2009
Investing in roads and highways is ineffective if traffic laws are not complied with, as vehicular chaos can slow down logistics just as much as insufficient infrastructure networks. "Investing in road infrastructure in cities where traffic rules are ignored may even be counterproductive," a traffic analyst from the Chilean public works ministry's ( MOP) road department told BNamericas, as additional roads will only result in more widespread disorder when drivers do not respect the law. Last week, when Peruvian legislators discussed the need to create a new transport authority to regulate traffic and optimize the efficiency of the country's road and highway network, the problem of reckless driving did not take long to come up. Traffic in Lima is so disorganized that both legislators and transport ministry ( MTC) officials said any further investment would be virtually useless if people continue to drive as they do. The chaos is so severe that road accidents are the main cause of death in the country, one congressman said. Lima, which is currently working on the design and implementation of an integrated mass transport system, must first improve people's respect for traffic laws, an MTC official said, adding that in addition to the safety issue, infrastructure is more expensive to maintain if drivers do not respect the law. SUCCESS STORIES While the lack of sufficient road and highway networks throughout Latin America is a reality, respect for the law is the common denominator in cities that have managed to improve traffic flow. "In Chile, we have worked very hard for people to understand the importance of complying with traffic laws and respecting authorities," the road department analyst said. Large Chilean cities such as capital Santiago, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar historically have had to cope with insufficient road networks. Intransigent traffic laws, however, have alleviated the problems and reduced delays considerably. Other, much larger cities - such as Mexico City and São Paulo - cope with deficient infrastructure in a similar manner. Meanwhile, Colombian city Medellín achieved notable improvements in traffic flow thanks to educational campaigns aimed at school children. "Kids took part in competitions in which they earned points if their parents drove correctly or if the children themselves reported infractions. Within a couple of months, we saw that kids had become extremely aware of traffic regulations and kept correcting the adults," a Medellín municipality official told BNamericas. A campaign to improve the institutional image of the police was also launched in schools, the official added. "In the 1990s, people were shooting each other over traffic disputes and they did not trust the police. Now the city is totally different and traffic flow is much smoother, even though the problem is not fully solved," the official said. Latin American transport authorities need to learn from successful solutions, such as the one implemented in Brazil's Curitiba, and adapt policies and technologies to serve local needs, an MTC official said, adding that the Chilean model is another example to be followed. Some of the cities where public and private transport is in dire need of improvement are Lima and neighboring city Callao, Buenos Aires, Quito, Asunción and Mexico City. But in order to justify the investments needed to improve infrastructure, each administration must also make sure that traffic authorities are beyond reproach. It is one thing to educate the public, but it is just as important to sanction corrupt officials, who would rather accept bribes than enforce the law.

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