Namuyiga is on a mission to champion road safety in Kampala

Namuyiga facilitates a road safety training. 
PHOTO/courtesy

What you need to know:

Irene Namuyiga says most road designs prioritise vehicles over pedestrians and cyclists, which poses a challenge to road safety. She wants road designers to focus on walking and cycling as modes of transportation. She also believes that no matter how beautiful the infrastructure is, if people are still comfortable parking on walkways and getting away with many traffic offences, progress in the public transport will remain a myth.

When Irene Namuyiga is not in the field looking out for black spots on the road, or high pedestrian volume areas that need zebra crossings, she is busy developing and reviewing concepts to support the public transport sector to enhance road safety interventions in Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

This has been her kind of work since 2017 and earned her a place at the table as the only female road safety engineer at KCCA. A civil engineer by profession, Namuyiga joined KCCA in 2012 as a road technician. Her first duty station was at Nakawa Division and she had to make time for her Bachelor’s degree in roads engineering at Kyambogo University.

When she graduated, she was appointed acting roads officer in Kawempe Division, in 2014. Two years later, she was taken to Rubaga Division to serve the same role. 

Early start

“At Rubaga, KCCA was running sensitisation campaign for the Namirembe road non-motorised transport corridor. This was my first time to take part in a road safety innitiative aimed at walking and cycling. It is here that I developed interest in road safety,” Namuyiga recounts.

In 2017, an opportunity to travel to Japan to train in urban public transport, majoring in road safety came calling. The training, introduced Namuyiga to transport planning, public transport, road safety and how they both intertwine. “When I returned to Uganda, my supervisor then asked me to join the transport planning department at Rubaga Division. I decided to focus on road safety,” she says. Namuyiga enrolled for a Master’s of Science in Transport Planning and Engineering at Edinburgh University in 2019. The same year, she was officially moved to the road safety department. 

Namuyiga’s roles as a road safety engineer involve assessment of the city road network to check for road crash black spots, develop counter measures, assessing crossing points, pedestrian walkways, and assessment of different high pedestrian areas.

She uses data from the traffic police directorate to assess high risk areas and propose interventions. When funds are available, she procures a contractor to implement the interventions.

“If it is a black spot, I determine whether it is human behaviour, infrastructure or otherwise. Most road users do not like speed bumps and rumble strips but the authority installs them in areas where motorists are reckless and need to slow down. This is what my fieldwork entails,” she adds.

The cost

Namuyiga says responsible authorities need to focus on measures to reduce fatalities or the injuries that happen to road users. “Fractures, amputated limbs and spine damage are permanent injuries to victims. They cause brain damage to victims. The survivors or witnesses who see people die, live with the mental trauma of road crashes. It is an expensive venture to be involved in a crash directly or indirectly,” Namuyiga explains.

Career highlights

Increased crossing points within Kampala City, spearheading policies and regulations to improve road safety such as the junction boxes, also known as yellow boxes such as the one at Parliament Avenue and Kiira Road police station are some of the successes Namuyiga has registered.KCCA has a road safety strategic plan from which it developed an action plan. It has also established collaborations between different stakeholders, something that Namuyiga says has earned KCCA visibility in terms of road safety.

“I can call someone at the Ministry of Works and Transport or Uganda National Roads Authority or any other organisation working around road safety and they will respond. We have started external collaborations to undertake different activities such as cycling and road safety related events,” she says.

Turning point

During her civil engineering and building course at Kyambogo University, she was the only female in her class. When her masonry works lecturer tasked her to carry 10 eight inch blocks, her male coursemate offered to help. But this didn’t go down well with her lecturer.

“Let her carry them herself. It is always going to be hard. No one will keep doing it for her,” Namuyiga recalls.

“This was the defining moment of my career as a woman. You must carry your load and weight,” Namuyiga says.   

Some of the countries she has been to for work and leisure include Kenya, Rwanda, Sweden, Japan, Turkey, US and China, where walking and cycling are a lifestyle. She has benchmarked mass transit buses and the metro system, which integrate into the bus system. She hopes some of these interventions are adopted in Kampala.

Namuyiga wants Ugandans to change the driving behaviour and make the roads safe for other users. PHOTO/courtesy

Reducing crashes

Namuyiga believes reducing road accidents in Kampala requires increased enforcement. “Road users get away with so many traffic offences. It should be punitive for someone to cause an accident. Authorities should make it very expensive for people to drive past red traffic light, driving or parking on walkways and causing collisions,” she says.

“Traffic police numbers are currently small. They need to be beefed up and given the necessary tools because the city is big. We also need to reintroduce road safety studies in all curricula at all school levels to promote road safety,” she adds. 

Setbacks

Namuyiga says most road designs prioritise vehicles over pedestrians and cyclists, something she says poses a perennial challenge to road safety. She wants road designers to focus on walking and cycling as modes of transportation. “The mindset of road users has to change. No matter how beautiful the infrastructure is, if people are still comfortable parking on walkways and getting away with many traffic offences, we shall never progress in the public transport,” Namuyiga argues.

She explains the transition from the 14-seater mini buses to mass transit will significantly improve road safety. This means there will be less vehicles because people will leave their private vehicles at home and use public transport.

Counting losses

According to Namuyiga, one major cause of road accidents in Kampala City and suburbs is speeding. Previously, the maximum driving speed in urban areas was 50km/hour.

This was, however, reduced to 30km/hr, as per the amended Traffic and Road Safety Act 1998 (Amendment) Act 2020. It is believed that when knocked by a vehicle driven at 30km/hr, there are high chances of surviving with injuries compared to 50km/hr.

She highlights inconsiderate use of roads. The previous annual police crime reports indicates that pedestrians, motorcyclists and their passengers are the largest victims of road crashes. The 2021 Uganda Police Annual Crime Report says there was a 42 percent increase in the number of crashes from 12,249 in 2020 to 17,443 in 2021. More than 3,000 crashes were fatal, and 4,616 survived with minor injuries.

The reports says on average, Uganda loses approximately 10 people per day due to road crashes.

“Whether you are a motorist, motorcyclist or pedestrian, be careful and patient whenever you use the road. Patience creates room for safety of your life and other road users. Plan and start your journey early to avoid unnecessary speeding, she advises.

Excitement among certain categories of road users, especially young motorists between 25 and 35 and disregard for traffic regulatory frameworks such as traffic lights and speed limits also cause accidents.

About road safety

Road safety is a section in transport planning engineering, an area of civil engineering that focuses not only on road development and how people can move efficiently on these roads with safety. 

“I detested traffic jam and the time delays that come with it. This sparked my interest in road safety. Losing two hours in travel time in the morning and another two or more in the evening is something I am not comfortable with,” she says.

Namuyiga says contrary to her initial belief that construction of more roads would be the game changer, her experience has shown that the more roads KCCA constructed the more traffic jams increased.

She joined KCCA 10 years ago as a roads technician. Prior to that, she had worked with Build Masters as a site engineer, a works inspector for the maintenance of Nakivubo and other auxiliary channels.

Her typical day is characterised by field works, meeting several internal and external stakeholders, analysing the city network, identifying feasible measures, planning and procuring contractors to implement infrastructural measures.

Role at KCCA

 She assesses the safety of several roads in the city, safety to vulnerable road users, pedestrians, crossing facilities of roads, plan new crossing facilities at desired lines, designs road safety improvements, ensuring all work is carried out to construction specifications and traffic safety standards as well as overseeing road safety during road projects.

She also review road safety audit reports, prepares treatment matrices for the road safety hazards identified and prioritises implementation and prepares estimates, procures for and supervise road safety infrastructural initiatives around the city.

As part of the City action plan, KCCA plans to engage Ministry of Education and Sports to incorporate road safety education into the schools and tertiary institutions to foster behavioural change alongside safer infrastructure.

Behavioural change is key

While KCCA receives funding under which several roads in the city will be rehabilitated, Namuyiga says this will not solve the traffic mess if motorists do not change driving behaviour and acknowledge other road users. “Prioritising vulnerable road users such as persons with disabilities, children, expectant mothers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists while we enjoy our roads as car owners is important,” she adds.

 According to Namuyiga, the first ever Kampala Capital City Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 was launched last year under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Project. It introduces the Safe systems approach in working towards the global objective of halving the road fatalities and road related injuries by 2030. It highlights the gaps in infrastructure and funding as well as the need to increase efforts towards change in road user behaviour, among others.

During her diploma course, she was the only girl out of 44 students and at bachelor’s level, she was among the five girls out of more than 60 students. Namuyiga says exposing the girl-child to the civil engineering or other science courses and mentorship cannot be overemphasised.


Safe streets for children to cycle

The civil engineer plans to promote road safety among her peers (engineers) considering that their role in designing and implementing safer roads, designing and manufacturing safer vehicles, junction improvement as engineers is critical.

“We need streets safe enough for children to cycle to schools. I plan to initiate and make a contribution to sustainable and environmental friendly mobility initiatives,” she says. In Uganda, transportation related activities are estimated to contribute 24 percent towards air pollution.

Besides engineering and road safety, she enjoys nature walks, jogging while listening to podcasts, cycling and swimming. “I treasure friendships, meaningful conversations and family time,” she says.

Dr Maggie Kigozi, Sylvia Nagginda, Maria Kiwanuka, Allen Kagina, Justice Julia Ssebutinde, Mitchelle Obama, The late Queen Elizabeth are some of Namuyiga’s role models.


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