Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | October 15, 2010

City Traffic Alternative

That previous post by Jasem got me thinking about a solution to the traffic and parking problem within the city. Most of the cars that are driving around are actually people looking for a place to park. That’s a fact. The problem is made worse by people double parking and making a two lane street into a one lane crawl. It seems obvious to me that the problem is not that people can’t get into the city fast enough; which seems to be what the First Ring Road expansion is all about. The problem has to do with three things:

  1. Ensuring a constant flow of traffic within the city and with as few bottlenecks as possible.
  2. The inability to find parking that is close to where you want to go. People are willing to park in the baking sun as long as it’s close to their destination.
  3. There are just too many damn cars.

The First Ring Road project will not solve any of these problems. It will encourage more people to drive into the city, adding more cars that need a place to park. Also, I have a bad feeling that every exit on the new highway will have the same problem with people trying to use the exit and blocking the highway for people who want to drive past. During rush hour, this will be a nightmare.

Personally, I feel that the roads leading into the city are fine the way they are. The problem is inside the city. There are simply not enough parking structures. There are way too many surface parking lots in areas of very high density. Why not build a multi-level parking structure there?  If people know that there is a parking space waiting for them near their destination, then they wouldn’t waste time and create traffic driving around looking for a spot.

Free parking is a terrible idea, and all the parking spots in the city should be priced according to the demand for them. Since parking is free, we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s being abused. We should follow the SF demand-responsive pricing model in the city. No free parking during rush hour. You cannot do this equitably without creating alternate means of transportation for people who can’t afford the new fees. This is why building a light rail system within the city and expanding and simplifying the bus fleet is very important. In short, my alternative to the First Ring Road expansion is this:

  • More multi-level parking in areas of high density with shops on the ground floor of the parking.
  • A new and cheap light rail transportation system that goes around and across the city, with stops that are walking distance from each other.
  • No free parking anywhere in the city during rush hour. Prices are adjusted based on demand with strict enforcement of parking penalties.
  • More bus routes into the city at predictable timings.
  • Invest heavily in public space to create a better walking experience; meaning better and wider sidewalks, more trees, benches, rubbish bins and water fountains.
  • More policemen and traffic police walking the street to ensure that rules are enforced and order is maintained.
  • Incentivize more mixed use development in the city so that more people of different backgrounds and incomes live inside the city; this is to reduce the impact of traffic migration to avoid the rush to drive into the city in the morning and escape in the evening.

As you can see, this is not a one step solution. It can’t be, because it’s a very complex problem. Building the expansion of the First Ring Road is a terrible idea that will exacerbate the traffic problem. The reason for this is that decisions are made by individuals that either don’t have a clue about what they are doing or have a vested interest in green-lighting these mega-projects. We don’t have a long term plan for the city based on empirical evidence and good urban design fundamentals. For a more comprehensive look at my thoughts on traffic, click here.



  1. You have some very thoughtful suggestions and wondering have you ever contacted the road design department in ministry of public works or the ministry of interior affairs or al amana al 3ama lil takh6ee6

    these are the places that are making all the wrong decisions since they lack talented ,educated and dedicated individuals who fleat from government jobs and leave them to gready consultants who come up with falty solutions .

    Please 3ashan al Kuwait try to bring action to your words and reach out to the people in charge they might listen

    al Kuwait ti7tajkum

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words.

    I haven’t actually approached anyone regarding any of the traffic proposals. The thing I value most is abolishing the fuel subsidy, but that premise is so politically untenable that there’s no point in trying to argue for it.

    I am trying to do something about residential energy consumption and trying to make things better in that domain, mostly because this is something that I know more about. I’m an architect, so other architects and real estate developers will sort of listen to what I have to say, but i’m not a traffic engineer and most people involved in that field won’t take me seriously, I guess.

  3. Really liked the article and all the comments. Also agree with some of the conclusions. But please allow me to throw something new to the chaotic traffic issue in a small country like Kuwait.

    Too many cars on the road is just one aspect – other things that must come into the equation include:

    1. Majority of the drivers on the road are not qualified/competent
    2. Traffic flow is not managed or planned
    3. Traffic police don’t actually know how to police

    If we take the first point that majority of drivers are not fit to be on the road and how that causes congestion (not to mention deaths). Pick any country with a good driving setup and just think how many of the drivers in Kuwait could go to that country and actually pass the driving test. I learn t how to drive in the UK and passed my test there – I can tell you that a very very small percentage of the Kuwait drivers would be able to get a license in the UK.

    Bad drivers cause congestion and not allow traffic to flow smoothly by blocking lanes i.e. driving at the wrong speed because they have never been taught lane management.

    To the question of Traffic Flow – this is a science. Traffic management is about observing and tracking the flow and understanding patterns. With this information lights can be adjusted. In Kuwait this doesn’t happen – all lights are set and forgotten. If you notice the next time you are stopped at lights – the side with all the traffic gets the same time on green as the side with no traffic.

    To my third point – traffic police don’t know how to police. This is a big issue – I work in Kuwait City and do that journey every single day. People are parked in bus stations – so buses have to stop on the main road blocking it for other traffic. People are parked whenever they like – the lines on the road mean absolutely nothing. Maybe once a month I see police placing clamps on cars that are parked in the wrong place. Which actually causes further congestion. People have money – they pay and the car is released. The congestion problem remains the same.

    All the 3 issues can be resolved and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist. But does anyone in Kuwait want the issues resolved?

    The problems are much deeper than lets build more roads – Kuwait has money so they just think throwing money will mean all will be OK. None of the money is going into the right kind of projects.

    Thanks for letting me post my thoughts.

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