Thursday January 16 2014

What is with the traffic lights and police officers?

Traffic lights at the Jinja Road intersection

Traffic lights at the Jinja Road intersection aka Yard. They control traffic to and from Jinja, Kololo, Bugolobi and to Industrial Area, Mukwano, Yusuf Lule Road and the main city centre past Kitgum House. Photo by ISMAIL KEZAALA  

Jude: Why do people choose wrong lanes then fidget their way out when the lights turn green. Imagine you are coming from Garden City side and you are heading towards Namuwongo, sixth or Seventh Street but you are in the lane that is meant for those going to the city centre past Kitgum house. So when the lights release these motorists and you are ahead of them, they start hooting at you. Here you are, (in the lane of those hooting) waiting for the lights for the lane on your left.

Mustafa: The punishment for being in the wrong lane means you follow what the lights say, in such a case, not to delay or annoy the motorists behind you, you go on and turn to the Kitgum House side although your destination is towards Namuwongo.

Paul: The other issue I see here is that it is important to choose your lane quickly. Sometimes, when you do not do that, you can get boxed onto the edge.

Jude: I often see people switch lanes and this is annoying, because at times they can scratch your bumper and scrape off some paint or “soil it” with a different shade of paint.

Paul: Choosing early and sticking to your side helps, sometimes when you do not someone can box you into a situation whereby you are close to the lane going towards Jinja Road on the extreme left.

Jude: There are times when you are in the right lane but someone is impatiently hooting.

Mustafa:Yeah, this happens a lot especially with taxi drivers. They use specific routes quite often so they know that perhaps in the next five or so seconds, the lights will turn green, so he starts hooting at you impatiently. He starts moving even before the lights turn green, so he goes on a hooting spree. That aside, the bigger issue for me is do our lights work? In the morning when there is a rush hour, the traffic officers take over.

Jude:That is my biggest worry. Sometimes they help, but at times they worsen the situation.

Paul:I think whenever they intervene they cause more delays because the lights are programmed to release vehicles at certain intervals.

Jude:The lights are timed, unlike the officers.

Paul:They are timed to avoid a buildup of traffic. But when the officers intervene, they do it manually and actually increase on the buildup because the officers depend on their judgment which is sometimes wrong.

Mustafa: It happens because of the way the traffic is set up. You find that at some stage of the day, there is a lot of traffic coming from a particular section say from Nakawa side towards the city centre. The officers feel that you guys coming from Garden City are fewer so you can do with a little waiting. In such scenarios, the timed lights are useless. It usually happens from 5pm onwards on Entebbe road towards Clock Tower.
In other countries, the person in the control room turns the lights red and green depending on the way he sees the traffic flow. But what we have here, when there is a heavy build up, the motorists coming from Industrial Area towards Mukwano heading to Entebbe Road end up in a lock-up, while those going towards Garden City and others coming from there all end up in a lock-up.

Paul: Actually what happens in the UK is that they programed lights to study the volume of traffic and then change the colours from green to red or amber appropriately.

Mustafa: We need that here.

Jude: I was actually impressed with the lights in South Africa. When they sense (or is it someone in the control room), that there is less traffic and yet they had turned red, they turn green within seconds and release you. Back home, the Entebbe road situation has forced some of us to intentionally avoid that route. I talked to a senior traffic officer and he told me that the reason they “delay” motorists coming from Nakivubo side (Ben Kiwanuka Street) /Shoprite especially in the evenings is because motorists leaving the city or those coming from Entebbe side and joining the city are usually for lack of a better phrase “more important” motorists such as ministers or even the President.

Mustafa: When the President is approaching, the taxi drivers know. They know that they will have to wait for about 30 minutes, so they turn off their engines and start conversations between themselves. Obviously the President cannot want to be held up in a jam.

Paul: That route is busy because it takes people to the airport. So the delays are sometimes quite unfortunate.

Jude: I know it is busy but it comes with challenges. Whenever these taxis and other cars from the Ben Kiwanuka side are held up for longer periods sometimes for 45 minutes to an hour people lose phones and bags. There are countless times taxi passengers and people in small cars have lost phones in these traffic buildups.

Mustafa: That is gross, but you cannot blame the traffic officers for such scenarios. Those are unpredictable events.

Paul: Give credit to traffic officers, they have tried. But looking forward, maybe we need a flyover at the Clock Tower. And do we need that Clock Tower anyway?

Jude: It is a monument with some historical attachments.

Paul: I know it is a monument, but sometimes historical monuments give way for development.

Mustafa: A flyover would do, I don’t see that road becoming any wider. The other side has the fire station. I think the missing key word here is information. There is a lot of data here. Give a project to one university student and tell them to study traffic patterns and come up with the best strategy. Let them study this section for six months or a year.
A traffic officer once told me that in most cases people coming from Serena Hotel side going down are usually heading to Nakawa side and a few to Industrial Area especially in the evening.
And he was right because he had known the pattern for long; he told us that is why they release these people first. So we need someone to study the patterns and offer solutions otherwise what we have now with the police is just visual judgment. A flyover is needed at Kalerwe and Wandegeya .
The fly over is good but it is doubtful that the economy can support them.

Jude: I believe the university students or traffic officers do not need to go abroad, we could even be having technical engineers available for such projects. But before the engineers come in, where do we put the boda bodas, they are such a nuisance at traffic lights because they jump the lights, knock our bumpers, hoot unnecessarily, abuse pavements, they move in opposite directions etc.

Mustafa: They are like mosquitoes moving past your ears but they are a necessary evil.

Paul: In their nuisance, they have some value. They buy our fuel.

Jude: There are cases when the lights release you and there is a boda in front of you, maybe it has failed to start and motorists in other lanes want to go.

Paul: Actually they have caused accidents at lights sections.

Mustafa: They do not respect the rule of law. I think we need to sensitise them. Police beating them and chasing them away from the city will not help. They need to be sensitised on traffic rules.

Jude: Bodas aside, you people should be honest, have you jumped lights past midnight when there is less or no traffic at all?

Paul: I do not jump lights at that time. Around Kampala road joining Entebbe road, the cops are there unless you are anxious about kawunyemu (Breathalyzer stops).

Jude: I have seen taxi guys do it a lot. He is alone and when the light turns red, he drives on.

Mustafa: The ones at Jinja Road usually after midnight flash red all the time. Some people stop but they do not change colour. But the ones at Nsambya (heading towards Mukwano on the left and Gaba on the right), any time past 11pm, I just go. It is a very dangerous place. A thug can smash your windows and harm you as you wait for the lights.

Jude: Cars are on the increase yet the roads are narrow and lights are few, we need to work on so many things at the same time.

Paul: In general, I think we need smart lights or flyovers.