By Dr. Ian Clarke
On Thursday evening I sat in traffic at the Jinja Rd traffic lights for 45 minutes. This was not because it was really busy, but because the traffic police seemed to have forgotten about us. There were three policemen, or rather two policemen and a policewoman on duty, who apparently forgot that there was a lane of traffic right behind them, so they cleared all the traffic in other directions meanwhile letting an enormous backlog build up along the Jinja Rd itself.
A few weeks before Christmas it is reported that the E.D. of KCCA complained that the police should not override traffic lights, so the police withdrew their services one afternoon and there was absolute chaos.
This seemed to prove the point that traffic police are needed at peak times. All city traffic has large peaks and troughs and the rate of traffic is not steady, but did the E.D. have a point, because it seems that other cities have traffic lights that are capable of controlling this uneven flow.
This is because modern cities have intelligent traffic light systems, which can adjust according to the density and direction of the traffic flow. Hence if the traffic is all flowing into the city in the morning, the lights will favour the heavy stream, but if the reverse is true in the evening the lights will favour the traffic in the opposite direction.
In this day of artificial intelligence, and the development of apps for everything under the sun, it would seem unlikely that someone cannot develop an app for mapping of Kampala traffic flow. The density and flow of traffic would be translated into a digital form, which would then be put into understandable patterns, for which an algorithm would be developed to optimize the flow of traffic at different times of the day.
This app could either control the traffic lights, or control the traffic police themselves. In the case of the traffic lights it would be connected to the traffic signals, and in the case of the police it would be on their phone attached to an earpiece, which would tell the police ‘Now bring through the traffic from Jinja Rd to Kampala Rd, now stop, now bring the traffic from Speke Rd’ etc.
It would know how many minutes for each road, according to the density of the traffic. This would give us ‘intelligent’ traffic monitoring and traffic control, because what we have now is the opposite: we have ‘intelligent’ human beings who act stupid.
On the other hand, as the saying goes ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’: we have a junction at the Lugogo By-pass on to the Jinja Rd, at which all the traffic coming onto the Jinja Rd from the Lugogo By-pass turned right, proceeded out of town and if some of this traffic wished to go back into town, they did a U-turn opposite UMA.
The result was there was no hold up of traffic coming down the main Jinja Rd, nor from Lugogo onto the Jinja Road. But some smart traffic planner put in traffic lights, and now we have tailbacks in all directions. Although it is very nice to be able to turn right from Lugogo onto the Jinja Rd, the price is a long tailback at peak times on the jinja Rd itself.
These traffic lights are also not ‘intelligent’, they are on fixed intervals, no matter what flow of traffic or time of day.
The other aspect of traffic control, which is practiced all over Uganda, is the obsession with speed bumps.
I can understand the desire to slow traffic down through built-up areas, but does it have to be done through putting in multiple small humps spaced in a way that is guaranteed to break ball joints, shock absorbers and bushes in our already old vehicles, not to speak of what they do to our bodies as we jolt across these obstacles.
‘Rumble-strips’ are supposed to be a gentle warning that one is approaching a proper speed bump, so that one does not go hurtling over the speed bump like the Dukes of Hazard, but in Uganda we have bigger and better rumble-strips and than anywhere in the world. We pride ourselves on the fact that our rumble strips will bring any vehicle to a bone shaking, shuddering halt, before they get within yards of the actual speed bump itself. They are not designed to warn, they are designed to inflict as much pain as possible.
Now the really evil designers of the rumble-strips make them appear uneven, and like the grass always being greener on the other side, rumble strips always seem smaller and smoother on the other side of the road, prompting many motorists to suddenly veer across the road with no warning, in search of the smoother side.
This sudden unexpected swerving across the road has the rather unfortunate consequence of knocking off any passing motorcyclist. Thus the designers of these particular rumble-strips score maximum points for inflicting the most pain and suffering on drivers.
The only rumble-strips, which serve as an actual warning to drivers (without breaking up their cars) are on Jinja Rd itself, warning of an upcoming speed-bump, which in turn is warning of the up-coming unnecessary traffic lights. How many warnings do we need in Uganda?
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