Think L.A. Is Bad? Take A Drive Through Traffic-Clogged Lagos

Traffic jams in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, are legendary. Known as 'go-slows', traffic can be stalled for hours — prime opportunities for hawkers as well as thieves.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For another kind of gridlock, we turn now to Nigeria. The city of Lagos is on the fast track to being the most populous in Africa, but the city is often stuck in traffic. Buses, taxis and overloaded trucks are held hostage to a road network that hasn't been updated in decades. The locals call them go-slows. Reporter Rowan Moore Gerety rode along with a Lagos cab driver to see for himself.

ROWAN MOORE GERETY, BYLINE: Olafamia De Boaga(ph) has been sitting at the same intersection for 45 minutes. He's beginning to think the traffic cop isn't doing his job.

OLAFAMIA DE BOAGA: He just stand there and be looking, doing nothing.

GERETY: Behind us, a long line of ancient yellow taxis has been stalled so long, most drivers have turned their engines off. Pedestrians weave the cars in a constant stream. It's closing time when most people in Lagos get off work, the exact wrong time to try and cross the city of 21 million.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

GERETY: Suddenly, after a burst of honking, the truck ahead of us lurches forward with a cloud of black smog.

BOAGA: OK. He's doing his job now. I can see he's doing his job now.

GERETY: When we reach the intersection, it's easy to see why things were jammed. A pile of concrete in the middle of the road forces all traffic to make a three-point turn in the middle of a four-lane highway with the traffic cop's help.

BOAGA: Try to protect your car. Yeah, come along, come along, come along. (Foreign language spoken) one more, one more, one more, one the right.

GERETY: But Boaga says this is better than it used to be, at least marginally.

BOAGA: Our government are trying to make an effort. It's puts money everywhere in Lagos.

GERETY: In addition to police, the government has put restriction on accident-prone motorcycle taxis. Hawkers who earn a living walking between lanes with snacks, clothes and newspapers have been banned from some of the more congested roads.

BOAGA: Biggest traffic wait, 96.1 FM, if you're moving around toll gates please drive with caution.

GERETY: And last year, the state government launched an FM station devoted entirely to live traffic updates. Boaga listens religiously. Before long, we're stopped again. Seeking out customers with a smooching sound, a hawker approaches the window to sell Boaga wristwatch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BOAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

GERETY: Boaga spends 12 hours of each day in the driver seat of his Toyota Camry. He says he loves his job partly because he has the luxury of air conditioning. Today, though, his AC is broken and Boaga has his windows down like most everyone else.

BOAGA: When (unintelligible) we'd be sweating. We'd have to bring in the smoke.

GERETY: Boaga says when he finally gets out of the traffic...

BOAGA: (Unintelligible) almighty God. It's God. Thank you.

GERETY: So if you're in bumper to bumper in L.A. or Miami, just remember, it could be Lagos. For NPR News, I'm Rowan Moore Gerety.

SIEGEL: Rowan Moore Gerety reports from Lagos with a grant from the International Reporting Project.

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