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‘Orderly traffic’ as a governance measure: a suggestion

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Traffic in IndiaMeasuring good governance can be tricky, but 'orderly traffic' can be used as an indicator since it offers insights beyond its limited definition.

As hard as it is to define ‘governance’, we have plenty of indicators to measure its quality: quality of key public services, extent of corruption, ease of doing business, etc. One of the challenges with these indicators is the distance between the process and outcomes, in particular, the assumptions involved in the translation of certain process into tangible outcomes. It follows that by mixing up indicators for processes and outcomes, we risk, well, measuring what doesn’t matter, and not measuring what does matter.

So as the title of this post suggests, could ‘orderly traffic’ be a good measure?

A familiar context: I live in Nairobi (and prior to that, in Delhi) and spend a considerable time waiting in traffic. What often makes traffic a problem is a complete lack of coordination amongst motorists on the road. However, I don’t think the onus of coordination at an intersection should rest on motorists – there are traffic lights or traffic police whose job it is to enforce discipline to ensure orderliness on the road. In many cities though, this is plain theory. In reality, traffic lights may not exist, or be broken; the traffic police may be absent, or just be incompetent. Motorists joust with each other every day and often end up creating gird-locks that hold everyone up. Please note that I am not talking about slow traffic caused purely due to long stops at intersections waiting for the lights to change. I am specifically concerned with the ‘orderliness’ of the flow. People waste time, fuel and a lot of their good humour (unless you are in a zen state) when they are in these gird-locks. It is usually more than evident to everyone whose fault it is and what the solution should be – and that usually only serves to raise tempers on the road. On days when the traffic flows smoothly, everyone seems happier. Zipping home after work is often the high point of the day.

#8 from 2013: Today’s Grimfographic: How Many People Die a Violent Death, Where and How?

Duncan Green's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts from 2013
This post was originally published on July 31, 2013


From Action on Armed Violence using data from the Geneva Declaration’s Global Burden of Armed Violence report (whose link seems to be down at the moment). Key points to note:

Only one in 8 violent deaths occur in the ‘conflict settings’ so beloved of news coverage. Most of the rest are ‘intentional homicides’ committed in gun and drug-plagued (but supposedly non-conflict) countries like El Salvador (at 62 deaths per 100,000 people, the world’s most violent ‘peaceful’ country). People often claim the death toll in El Salvador is now worse than during its 1980s civil war, but the numbers don’t seem to add up – 70,000 died over about 12 years in that war, whereas the current carnage kills ‘only’ about 3,600 a year. Latin America remains the world’s homicide hotspot.

Total global death toll is 526,000. That’s a shocking one a minute, but less than half the deaths from road accidents (which I imagine have a similar victim demographic).

But things can improve.  The murder rate in El Salvador has halved since the data for this report was gathered, thanks to a truce struck between the country’s two main street gangs.

What if We Allocated Aid $ Based on How Much Damage Something Does, and Whether We Know How to Fix It?

Duncan Green's picture

I usually criticize development wonks who come up with yet another ‘if I ruled the world’ plan for reforming everything without thinking through the issues of politics, power and incentives that will determine which (if any) of their grand schemes gets adopted. But it’s been a hard week, and today I’m taking time out from the grind of political realism to rethink aid policy.

Call it a thought experiment. Suppose we started with a blank sheet of paper, and decided which issues to spend aid money on based on two criteria – a) how much death and destruction does a given issue cause in developing countries, and b) do the rich countries actually know how to reduce the damage? That second bit is important – remember Charles Kenny’s book ‘Getting Better‘, which argues powerfully that since we understand how to improve health and education much better than how to generate jobs and growth, aid should concentrate on the former.