Friday, October 05, 2012

Doha Traffic

Coming back to work after my lengthy illness something became quickly apparent -- the morning rush hour had gotten substantially worse. Rush hour is much lighter in the summer when many people are on vacation and the schools are out but the difference between early 2012 and now is incredible.

For me to get from my apartment to the office:

Under ideal conditions with no traffic (ex. Friday morning): 8-10 minutes
Rush hour when I moved to my apartment in early 2011: 16-18 minutes
Rush hour in early 2012: 20-23 minutes
This week: 30-35 minutes

So what happened over the summer? Before at roundabouts where there would be little traffic I now find myself waiting a few minutes. At roundabouts where I used to wait 5 minutes I am now waiting 10 minutes.

I'm not sure how such an increase to the commute occurred just over the summer but it is what it is. I spoke to work colleagues and the stories are similar. One of my colleagues lives on Al Waab Street and it takes him over an hour to get to work now.

Coincidentally there was an “Intelligent Transport System and Road Safety Forum” in Qatar this week which I believe is developing both short and long-term solutions for the traffic issue. A recent article in the newspaper had some surprising facts:

1) Qatar’s population on December 31, 2002, was 616,718, while according to the latest figures released by the Qatar Statistics Authority, the country had more than 1.84mn residents at the end of September 2012.

2) The number of vehicles on Qatar roads went from 287,500 vehicles in 2000 to 656,686 in 2010.

So in the last 10 years the population of the country has tripled! And the statistics for the number of vehicles only goes to 2010, if I extrapolate based on the average growth per the last 10 years I estimate there are around 730,000 vehicles now.

I don't envy the Government Minister who had to try to ensure infrastructure kept up with a tripling of your population in 10 years. It would be a challenge that almost no municipality or country has ever gone through (I think Dubai has as well but offhand I can't think of any others).

Traffic is getting worse and worse but it's not like the Government has done nothing: converted many roundabouts to intersections, the Shammal highway/freeway opened, Salwa road is being converted to underpasses and intersections, but unfortunately the changes to the road system are not keeping pace with the growth.

West Bay, however, is a special problem.

I recommend people go to Google Earth and find West Bay. Google Earth allows you to look at snapshots from the past so you can see West Bay as it looked all the way back in 2003. At that time there was City Center Mall, the Sheraton, The Four Seasons, and a smattering of small office towers but 80% of the land was sand. At that time there were three roads to get into West Bay:

• the Corniche,
• the Al Bidda road (about 100 m back and parallel to the Corniche), and
• the road from Arch Roundabout.

Nine lanes of road for traffic to enter the neighborhood.

Since then the neighborhood has grown to dozens and dozens of towers and by my rough estimate around 12,000+ people work in the office towers and hotels there, commuting in every weekday. And the road infrastructure to enter the neighborhood now consists of:

• the Corniche,
• the Al Bidda road (about 100 m back and parallel to the Corniche), and
• the road from Arch Roundabout.

Nine lanes of road for 12,000 commuters to enter the neighborhood. There are no additional roads being built to enter West Bay. There is no Metro or subway. Public transport to West Bay consists of two buses that run once every 20 minutes. If you work in West Bay you have little choice but to take a car.

Yet the building of office towers continues. I estimate another 6-8 office towers will open over the next 12 months adding 200+ floors of office space, and another 6-8 towers the following year (and I'm not even counting the opening of the QP district, that's around 10 towers). Why is the Government allowing more office towers to be built if the traffic infrastructure will not be able to handle the additional commuters?

The road system in West Bay is already at capacity, so even a slight increase to the number of cars has a significant impact on the commuting time (which is what I suspect is happening now). In two years time the increased traffic to West Bay will put such a strain on the system the entire thing will gridlock. People living on Al Waab Street will likely be facing commutes of around 1hr 45min. My 20-minute commute will become at least 45-50 minutes.

Immediate solutions are needed. I can only hope the Forum has developed some.


Paul said...

Great post Glen, your observations & experiences tally with my own. I first came here in 2004 and Doha was a delightful little town, so easy to get around, no traffic barbarism because there wasn't any cause, 15 - 20 minutes from outer Doha to City max. i cant see why the statistics are not current, all vehicle registration is electronically recorded, we even get sms reminders when it is due. you should post this on Doha News website, the comments list would be impressive. Regards, Paul.

Glen McKay said...

Hi Paul, thanks for popping by. I've only done one article for Dohanews at their request (a Ramadan piece). They occasionally link to my posts if they feel like alerting their readers to the contents so I don't concern myself about submitting articles to them. If they want to link to it they can.