Improving traffic flow for a smart city

Author: Uchiyama Takayuki. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Urbanisation contributes to better economic outcomes, but if not well harnessed, the reverse can be true.

Traffic congestion continues to be one of the major concerns in Kampala and the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA), imposing delays in travel, economic losses, loss of man-hours that would have been used efficiently, and accidents that sometimes result in permanent injuries and death. 

Kampala’s transportation system is mostly dominated by a mix of private vehicles, taxis, motorcycles, and heavy-duty vehicles due to shortage of public transport means. This, coupled with the ever-growing city population and poor traffic control methods, has cumulated effects of this unending traffic congestion in Kampala.

Sustainable Development Goal No. 11 aims at making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. However, studies have shown that traffic congestion in Kampala continues to have socio-economic implications such as increase in travel costs of commuters, noise or air pollution, substantial health effects such as heart attacks, stress and fatigue, decreased mental satisfaction which in turn influence the productivity of the city’s workforce, not overlooking the challenge traffic jam poses to proper and sustainable planning and development of  Kampala, among others. 

According to the UNHABITAT report, 24,000 man-hours are lost each day by commuters in Kampala due to traffic congestion. Labour productivity is a key dimension of economic performance and an essential driver for development, yet Kampala loses about 52 days of labour per year due to traffic jam. Kampala has one of the fastest growing city populations in Africa, at 4.1 percent. It can only mean that if the traffic congestion trend is not disrupted, its impact on the economy will be on an upward trend. Urbanisation contributes to better economic outcomes, but if not well harnessed, the reverse can be true.

From a regional perspective, Kampala lies along the Northern Corridor, East Africa’s important transport and logistics corridor that runs from Mombasa Port in Kenya through Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo. This, therefore, means that traffic congestion in the city makes Kampala one of the bottlenecks to transport and logistics on the Northern Corridor, affecting not only Uganda but the EAC.

These challenges suggest that efforts need to be made to find a lasting solution to this traffic menace. As such, Japan International Cooperation (JICA) and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) launched a technical corporation named “The Project for Capacity Enhancement of KCCA in Management of Traffic Flow in Kampala City,” in 2015, which among other things proposed the use of a smart traffic system “MODERATO”, a Japanese area-wide traffic control system that was found to be suited to Kampala’s road pattern.

This was followed by a grant aid project – “The Project for Improvement of Traffic Control in Kampala City” , whose groundbreaking ceremony was officiated in November. 

The project shall go beyond facilitating the construction of the traffic control centre, to improving 27 traffic junctions by signalisation and removal of five critical roundabouts in the city. The project is the first of its kind in the region, and will serve as a model for other cities to leverage technology twinned with infrastructure development for more safe, efficient and sustainable service delivery systems, and in doing so, propel Kampala towards the achievement of a smart city status.

It is worth noting that infrastructure and technology alone cannot combat the challenges of traffic congestion without good discipline of road users. Also to note, is that the Christmas season has in the past, been characterised by fatalities on both urban and trunk roads. As the government and partners put the right infrastructure and systems in place, citizens also need to play their part by respecting traffic regulations and safeguarding the infrastructure put in place. 

Mr Uchiyama Takayuki is the Chief Representative at JICA Uganda Office.