By Dr. Amin Tamale Kiggundu
Suggestions continue to be made by some local pundits that the construction of flyovers would help improve traffic flow and alleviate traffic jam in Kampala.
While the building of flyovers may not necessarily be a bad idea, it is critical to recognise and understand that traffic jam is not only a product of insufficient road space but also the emerging car dependent travel behaviour, the failure to adopt an integrated approach towards land use and transport planning as well as the inefficient use of the existing road infrastructure.
Lustrous studies conducted in various role model cities across the globe also revealed that where new road expansion programmes have been implemented to address the challenge of externalities such as traffic jam, the urban residents viewed these programmes as an opportunity to own and use private vehicles, leading to more traffic jam and negatively denting the performance of public transport systems.
Flyovers are also unpopular and widely seen as eyesores in many role model cities in part because they divide hither to united urban communities, lead to forced evictions of the city residents, alter the aesthetic character and beauty of cities, lead to noise pollution and escalate municipal expenditure on transport infrastructure.
Instead of building flyovers and new roads, many role model cities such as Singapore, London and Hong Kong have adopted a more feasible strategy of managing travel demand and improving the efficient utilisation of the existing road infrastructure through policies such as congestion pricing, promotion of high capacity transit systems such as buses and rail systems, establishment of car parking bays (park and ride facilities) outside the central business district (CBD) as well as increasing car parking charges.
Flyover- based strategies are also viewed as less feasible because they tend to focus more on the supply-side aspects of traffic jam such as expansion of the road infrastructure, leaving the demand-side issues unresolved.
New innovative spatial planning ideas such as car free cities, compact city and mixed use urban development have also been used in developed countries to reduce travel distances as well as the need for travel among commuters.
The problem with Kampala is that it is a single centred city with low population densities. Besides, most the key economic activities in Kampala such as shopping and banking are concentrated in the city centre, forcing commuters and those wanting to access the services to travel each day from the suburbs to the central business district.
Continued dependence on outdated city planning approaches such as zoning has also contributed to the emergence of a mono-centric urban structure in the region and separated residential areas from work places, something that has increased the need for travel among the city residents.
In short, the idea of building flyovers in a resource poor city like Kampala to alleviate traffic is nothing but a fad, likely to hit a brick wall. What need to be done is for KCCA to look beyond flyovers.
It is also important that a new strategy is adopted to promote public transport such as bus transit, introduce policies to manage travel demand and change travel behaviour among private car users as well as improve the road infrastructure in the city divisions such as Kawempe to attract more investments and reduce the need to travel and work or shop in the central business district among the city residents.
The writer is a lecturer and researcher based at Makerere University