Once built and then later widened for private cars, the major arterial roads of Greater Cairo continue to suffer massive congestion due to bus infrastructure design issues and the huge increase in private car usage for personal daily trips. However, many of Cairo's buses continue to operate on these arterial roads despite the density of traffic. This article focuses on Salah Salem street, which is overlooked for its potential to act as a single 28 km stretch of public transport corridor, with buses currently using only specific segments of the road.
Salah Salem street extends all the way from the Airport to Monib Metro station and bus terminal, dissecting through several neighborhoods and iconic locations of Cairo including Heliopolis, the Giza square as well as both Haram and Faisal streets. It is one of the most important arterial roads and a major urban transport corridor of the Greater Cairo Region.
Despite that, Salah Salem street has no reliable bus services that connect both ends of the street. There are lines that run along reserved bus sections, however, never the entire street.
Several studies to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on Salah Salem street were made, including an Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and United Nations Development Programe (UNDP) Prefeasibility assessment on BRT in Greater Cairo (ITDP 2015) and a transportation master plan – CREATS – from the Japan Cooperation Agency (JICA 2012). The latter proposed creating Median bus lanes in specific sections of the road, along with bus priority signals and bus bays for mixed traffic sections (buses and passenger cars).
Figure 1- Screenshot from Google maps, showing map and directions from Cairo Airport bus station to Monib Metro station, passing entirely through Salah Salem st (screenshot by author – directions can be found via this link https://goo.gl/maps/LXJYySh9HwT2)
BRT can be part of a positive all-inclusive solution of the urban mobility crisis in Cairo. Many local urban mobility experts refer to BRT system as being "the metro of the poor" explaining that future projects should be only BRT and no more metro-rail projects. They criticize the later transportation means as waste of funds as "more" BRT routes could have been done for "the poor" instead of building metro lines mostly serving “rich areas”.
While at face value that might be true within “spatially (in)just contexts” (Soja 2010), however, in Cairo, most metro routes are already serving poor and rich residents alike, spanning across neighborhoods of various socio-economic backgrounds, connecting them to each other and providing a high capacity mode of transport.
The problematic aspect of the BRT versus metro argument, is that buses - whether regular or BRT - are viewed here as vehicles to transport "the poor who cannot afford a car”, and not as part of a far reaching public transport network across the Greater Cairo Region that mixes both BRT and Metro rail to support the urban mobility rights of all citizens, regardless of their social class.
In a nutshell, Salah Salem street doesn't only need buses on its own. Other major arterial roads like Salah Salem street also need gradual yet significant interventions to accommodate a better bus service in the short and medium term, and then to set up BRT routes in the long term.
In Greater Cairo, roads are usually expanded to accommodate more cars, and at times sidewalks are removed or significantly reduced in size. Constructing a BRT in this context, would require a better planning of public space, with regards to sidewalks, pedestrian under paths & bridges, traffic signals, signs, etc.; and that would require a change of mindset for the authorities.
With such improved bus infrastructure and services, public transport (which includes metro & LRT as well) will attract more person trips conducted by private vehicles and encourage better access to urban mobility for all, as a right, not as a social subsidy.
Figure 2- CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) bus picking up passengers off the West side of Salah Salem at Azhar st/Hussein Bus Stop
Figure 3- Passengers hailing a bus on the East side of Salah Salem at Azhar st/Hussein bus stop
Figure 4- Picture taken aboard a CTA bus heading south, approaching the west side of Salah Salem – Azhar st/Hussein bus stop.
Buckley, E. (2016). Plans, route unveiled for long-awaited Bogota Metro. The City Paper. Retrieved from https://thecitypaperbogota.com/bogota/santos-penalosa-unveil-route-for-long-awaited-bogota-metro/13982
ITDP. (2015). Best Practice in National Transport for Urban Transportation: Part 2.
Sims, D. (2012). Understanding Cairo: the logic of a city out of control. Oxford University Press.
Soja, E. W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice (Vol. 16). U of Minnesota Press.
Tadamun. (2015). The Mustafa Al-Nahhas Corridor Development Project: A Lost Opportunity?. Retrieved from http://www.tadamun.co/2015/04/01/mustafa-al-nahhas-corridor-development-project-lost-opportunity/?lang=en#.Wb-16NRJbIV