How KCCA can decongest Kampala

Posted on May 5, 2015 12:03 am

Anyone who has had a chance to visit the ever busy Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, will agree with me that congestion is a major source of frustration for road users and has worsened over time as more and more Ugandans get rich. Since the entry of Kampala City Council Authority Executive Director Jennifer Musisi there has been different solutions proposed, such as introducing congestion charging to private motorists which according to Uganda’s brainbox in transport economy will encourage use of public transport and the other solution is the proposed investment in public transport like building railway lines that connects city’s suburbs like Kibuli, Muyenga, Kawempe, Kansanga, Mbuya, Bukoto, katwe, Makindye to mention but a few. One solution that is most often put forward is to build more roads, but does this approach work for Kampala?A recent study in Uganda identified Kampala’s Jinja, Kampala and Yusuf Lule roads as the top three most gridlocked roads in the city. All of these roads use exclusively road-based solutions to transport citizens.While Uganda has increased its expressway network, the average commute time in Kampala for 2014 was 1 hour and 15 minutes, up 15 minutes from just the year before.Why, then, do residents of Kampala with large amounts of road capacity, not live in a driving utopia?

Have several suggestions to one of Uganda’s most competent women managers in the name of Jennifer Musisi.The first concept Kampala City Council Authority well known as KCCA need to get around is induced demand which is about the division on which Kampala residents live. If a new road makes driving to work quicker from Kansanga, residents may benefit from that, but this reduced travel time might be enough to encourage two other people in same area to start driving and two more people in the next area which is Kibuli and two more people in Muyenga after that; and so on. Very quickly the drive to work takes just as long as it ever did.In transportation, this well-established response is known in transport jargon as the Downs-Thomson Paradox where a new road may provide motorists with some level of respite from congestion in the short term but almost all of the benefit from the road will be lost in the longer term.However, while more roads may solve congestion in Kampala, more traffic on the road network may result in more congestion elsewhere. In Muyenga, for example, the road along Green Hills school may improve traffic conditions on Kibuli residents, but may worsen congestion in Kampala.

Those of us with transport management systems knows all too well Braess Paradox is a classic example in which building new roads in the wrong location can lead to longer travel times for everyone, even without induced demand, because such new roads may lead more car drivers to the weakest links in the network but also removing roads may even improve traffic conditions in Kampala.Congestion is determined by the weakest links in the road network and that is the same in Kampala. If road capacity expansion by KCCA does not involve widening of these bottleneck links, congestion may simply move to another part of the network without solving the congestion problem. Moreover, it could potentially make congestion even worse yet the city is one of the fastest growing in sub saharan Africa.In Kampala such occurs because each driver chooses the route that is quickest especially the Taxi(public transport vans as they are known in Uganda) without considering implications their choice has on other drivers and that is very common along Mukwano industries. Car drivers only care about the number of vehicles in the queue in front of them and do not care about vehicles queueing behind them which those familiar with road leading to Bugolobi will attest.

One recent study that I came across few weeks back showed that a strong relationship between the amount of new road length and the total amount of kilometers traveled in cities.Similar findings are reported in Western countries, where even major road capacity increases can actually lead to little or no reduction in network traffic densities. It has also been found to exist in Finland, Estonia, Germany and Belgium, where neglecting induced demand has led to biases in appraising of environmental impacts as well as the economic viability of proposed road projects like happened in Norway and Denmark in early 2000s.An experimental study confirmed that expanding road capacity can result in worse traffic conditions for everybody and the theory of induced demand is accepted by a large majority, but not by everyone and that is the challenge facing Kampala City Council Authority today.In reality, building more roads in Kampala can certainly improve traffic conditions but effects may only be local and only in the short run. Congestion may become worse in other parts of the City and experience shows that spare road capacity is quickly filled up with new cars and that is what is happening in Kampala.Even without the extra road users that new roads in Kampala create, if the new roads are built like it was done with Mengo area in the wrong locations,congestion may actually become worse simply because of the way people behave.Roads alone do not solve congestion in the long term and that’s a fact KCCA has to live with,they are only one of the many problematic tool in a transport management toolkit that Executive Director Jennifer Musisi needs.

Contador Harrison