March 12, 2010

Building up Blvd 30 Juin


It's impossible to not have mixed emotions about the current construction that is transforming Blvd 30 Juin from a functioning, 4-lane road into an 8-lane monster of a highway. And thanks to an increased frequency of power outages and because our 5th floor balcony looks out onto the now treeless road, we've had time and a view to observe firsthand how the construction is fundamentally changing the way that Kinois will have to get around.

Blvd 30 Juin, today

Just this morning on our walk to work, we passed a group of people gathering outside of the Banque Internationale pour L'Afrique au Congo (BIAC) building and in between cars that had come to a stop during rush hour gridlock. As we got closer, we saw that the group had formed around a recently downed motorcycle and two mangled, still bodies on the pavement. People were shouting and tempers quickly escalating as more onlookers ran by us to get a better look. And this past weekend, we witnessed another group form around a rear ender. The police showed up, demanded to see paperwork, and promptly got into their own car and sped away, the cars not having been cleared, and some bribe likely having been exchanged.

The Blvd 30 Juin, named for the day DRC (formally Zaire) won independence from Belgium in 1960, is a major transportation artery that runs from west to east and into downtown Kinshasa. The Blvd accommodates motor, foot, and the occasional bike traffic for Kinshasa's 10 million+ population. Commuters will typically line up along the side of the road and use very specific finger and wrist movements to indicate where they'd like to go and wait to pile into a taxi or van or hire someone to help get them a seat. With no designated crosswalks to speak of, crossing the road resembles a game of frogger. And as traffic and traffic speed increases thanks to the sleek new roads, crossing the boulevard has become downright treacherous.

Blvd 30 Juin, before construction

Over the course of the last 6 months, Congolese construction workers led by Chinese companies have widened and repaved the road to accommodate large volumes of car traffic. The growing presence of Chinese businesses in Africa and in the DRC in particular is just beginning to gain increased international attention but is a phenomenon that is hard to ignore while getting around the city on a day to day basis.

Though the construction is incomplete, visibly absent are street or traffic lights or lanes. This comes to no surprise in a city whose drivers are most accustomed to dirt roads. However, the new traffic patterns and capabilities introduced by the Blvd will not likely be an easy or safe transition for these drivers and the city's countless pedestrians. And as we saw this past weekend, the police will not be the ones responsible for maintaining or promoting order. On 30 Juin, progress is beginning to sound a lot like the screeching stop of cars out of control.



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