We have a crisis on our roads; how do we deal with it?

What you need to know:

Rules need to be applied to every aspect of roads, vehicles, drivers, other road users and roadside settlements, and in regulations and administration, all measured for their impact on traffic flow.

Our roads and traffic have undergone a huge change in the past number of decades. We have been tarmacking and improving and extending roads on an unprecedented scale in towns and highways throughout the land. Progress has been remarkable.

And at the same time, the number of vehicles has quadrupled from around half-a-million to more than two million, including an astonishing number of motorcycle taxis, the boda bodas, which have transformed the mobility of people and goods at exceptional levels of availability, flexibility and affordability.

They are not so good on manners and safety though, but while their conduct and “swarm of bees” impact may not be pretty, in addition to delivering an additional and now essential dimension of transport, they have also generated livelihoods for many millions of people.

Indeed, boda bodas (along with mobile phones), are arguably among the most life-changing features of our modern history.

The rate and scale of these changes could throw even the most orderly and well-resourced traffic systems into some degree of disarray. In Uganda’s socio-political and economic context, some sizeable negatives are inevitable. For example, almost all journey times have literally doubled, which has a national economic impact on productivity and costs that is somewhere between damaging, devastating and disastrous.

Policy planners and road users have coped remarkably well, and one of our options is to be grateful that the current situation is not even more chaotic. Another is to recognise that while the positives are some compensation/consolation for the downsides, they are not a solution to the increasingly negative consequences. And that is our challenge now; not to blame or excuse the current situation, but to find the best ways to fix it.

What are the priorities?

There is no silver bullet solution to our traffic problems. The fix will have to be in stages and it will take time. Also, however fierce the current fire-fighting challenges are, any long-term project must start with an ultimate objective against which all interim measures can be designed and measured.

That bit is relatively easy. It is defined by what motorised road transport is for; the movement of people and goods from one place to another, as smoothly, swiftly, economically and safely as possible.

And it is self-evident what feature best serves all of those elements. Not difficult to remember because it is not a wheelbarrow load of research data, analysis and policy papers. It is one word; flow.

So, the next steps are clear

What are we doing to improve traffic flow, could we do more?  What are we doing that obstructs flow, could we stop doing it?

These principles need to be applied to every aspect of roads, vehicles, drivers, other road users and roadside settlements, and in regulations and administration, all measured above all (and if need be exclusively) for their impact on traffic flow.

In summary

On vehicles, remove or re-route slow vehicles of any size or type that cannot maintain an ambient speed of 60-80 kilometres per hour on highways.

On drivers, publish a highway code, give driving schools a mandatory syllabus, and thoroughly test that learner candidates have a full working knowledge of both. Make “adequate progress” and “the clearway principle” cardinal messages of the tuition and test processes.

On other road users, at least start to segregate some of the traffic, starting with pedestrians, livestock, handcarts, cyclists and boda bodas. Wherever possible, they should use the hard shoulder only. Run public education campaigns with that message.

On roadside settlements, educate, enforce the sanctity of road reserves, and make settlement planners accountable. Make those who want a speed bump next to them responsible for ensuring the warning signs and markings are properly protected and maintained, and immediately remove the bump if they are not.

On regulations and administration, make promotion of compliance with the foregoing measures a priority and devote enforcement resources to facilitating flow above any other issue. None of those measures costs a lot, all can be legislated and actioned almost immediately.

On roads

Stop adding speed bumps, remove most of those that are already there and make sure those that remain comply to set standards. Reclaim the sanctity of road reserves and make strict observance of the “clearway” principle physically possible, with hard shoulders and road reserves that are truly “reserved” as unobstructed open space.

The number and shapes of bumps, everywhere, has moved from grossly excessive to downright ludicrous. There are now so many, mostly unmarked and illegally shaped, that this factor alone increases journey times (and fuel consumption and wear-and-tear) by at least 30 percent. That is the additional cost to one vehicle on one trip, every vehicle on every trip.

Bear in mind that on busier roads, bumps also cause streams of traffic to concertina into tailbacks, which leads to even more delay and or a dodgems of overtaking, harsher acceleration, harsher braking. Through the resultant kinetic waves that can start many kilometres before a bump and continue for many kilometres after it.

The remedy for all this could be started immediately, would not take long and would have a minimal or manageably moderate cost.

On vehicles

The other main cause of tailbacks on busy roads, with similar ly horrendous consequences, is slow vehicles. They are, in effect, speed bumps on wheels.

No arterial highway in the world can operate properly if some of the vehicles in the main stream drive all day at between 20 kilometres per hour and 40 kilometres per hour on a road where the ambient speed of all other traffic is between 80 kilometres per hour and 100 kilometres per hour. The heavier the traffic, the worse the obstructive consequences become.

There are three possibilities which might explain why so many of our goods vehicles are so incompetent.

Either we are importing trucks with specifications that are not suitable for our conditions, especially altitudes, or the trucks are being grossly overloaded, or the condition of the crawlers is defective and unroadworthy.

Adapted from the Daily Nation

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