Non-time based traffic lights planned to ease Nairobi gridlock

Traffic snarl-up on a Nairobi road. PHOTO | FILE
Traffic snarl-up on a Nairobi road. PHOTO | FILE 

The transport regulator is working to introduce intelligent traffic lights that will allow a longer period of traffic flow from the road with most vehicles, a departure from the current time-based system.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) says that with new number plates that will have micro-chips, the cameras at intersections will be able to determine the most clogged roads.

Traffic lights currently allocate an equal amount of time for traffic from different directions at intersections while in other junctions, vehicle flow is controlled by police officers.

“When you have the cameras that can tell a specific side of the roads needs to be decongested — the right, for example, has a 100 vehicles and the left has five — it will automatically allow the one with more vehicles,” Fernando Wangila, ICT director at the authority said.

He added that they are working to have all vehicles put in a database that will then be linked to the traffic lights making it possible to introduce such intelligent systems to decongest the roads.

The smart traffic flow will be part of a Sh800 million online platform dubbed Transport Integrated Management Systems developed by NTSA and the ICT Authority.

The time-based traffic lights allow for equal amounts of time which is seen to clog the roads that have more vehicles.

This has made them inefficient during peak traffic hours with police officers taking over control of vehicle flow.

Mr Wangila says police have played a small part in adding to the jam by keeping cars on certain lanes longer at traffic intersections despite having more vehicles than others.

The NTSA recently released regulations for new number plates that will come with a microchip that can be read remotely by sensors at the junctions.

The radio frequency identification microchip will be embedded on a sticker placed on the windscreen to facilitate wireless transfer of information between it and mobile police readers or at traffic lights.

Previous attempts at having the traffic lights fully control vehicle flow in Nairobi have failed despite substantial investments in the systems.

City Hall spent Sh400 million to install new traffic lights and cameras in Nairobi in 2014 but the lights are only used in a few junctions after they were deemed ineffective for the task.

A later plan to replace roundabouts with signalised intersections that would be fully controlled by traffic lights was also shelved.

By the end of 2014, Kenya had about 2.2 million vehicles including motorcycles with a substantial portion of this in Nairobi and its satellite towns.

The World Bank in a recent report said that Nairobi residents on average spend an hour to travel to work and another 60 minutes when going back home due to heavy congestion.