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Intelligent lights keep Nairobi traffic moving

heavy traffic jam
City residents caught up in a heavy traffic jam. Intelligent lights can help ease snarl-ups. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Driving into the Nairobi city centre from Muthaiga requires bravery and patience. At the Globe Cinema roundabout, where three roads converge, motorists are perpetually treated to rush hour chaos as matatu drivers dangerously squeeze themselves between other vehicles in the race to stay ahead of their competitors.

Every so often, this results in avoidable collisions — and worse traffic jams as drivers manoeuvre their way around aggressive drivers, adding to the emotional toll that driving in the city takes on motorists, not to mention the wastage of precious time.

The situation is replicated in most other roads across the city, leading to prolonged traffic bottlenecks, angry motorists and damaged bumpers. Yet, this is not for want of proposals detailing how to ease congestion. The challenge has always been that they remain unimplemented.

Now, however, the international tech giant, Huawei, has a viable solution to end the traffic headache with its Intelligent Transport System (ITS) that uses artificial intelligence to manage urban traffic. Huawei, in partnership with the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) has successfully piloted the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) at several major junctions outside the city centre.

The ITS uses intelligent cameras, variable timing traffic lights and a control centre to observe and control traffic, thereby reducing the burden on traffic police officers.

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“So far, the system has been implemented on the Western Ring Road from Yaya Centre through to Kileleshwa Ring Road extending to Waiyaki Way,” says Stone He, the Huawei Kenya Chief Executive Officer.

At the core of the ITS is a traffic management centre located in Kenya Urban Roads Authority office in Barabara Plaza that handles the task of city traffic road monitoring, discerns the general traffic conditions and obtains traffic flow data in real time. Using intelligent algorithms, the smart traffic lights system allows longer traffic flow from roads with the most traffic. It also allocates less time where there are fewer vehicles, thus minimising unnecessary waiting time.

“The ITS changes with time depending on traffic flow within several arms of the junction and that makes it more efficient, and more traffic flows effectively,” Kura director-general Silas Kinoti said in an interview with the Business Daily’s The Edge Magazine.

According to Mr Kinoti, the system predicts congestion based on the analysis of historical and real-time traffic data, serving as a reference to commanding and dispatching traffic signal control and traffic guidance.

The systems also comes with a mobile electronic police system that enables flexible monitoring of roads. The command centre is able to identify traffic law violation incidents where they occur.

This functionality is supplementing police efforts in enforcing traffic rules and regulations for safer roads and fighting crime.

According to Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, the ITS has met the expectations of the government, and plans are underway to implement the system in other locations across the city.

“The pilot has matched our expectations in terms of cost-benefit analysis and we now have the confidence to go to the next level. From the pilot, we shall be scaling up to more junctions across the city,” Mr Macharia said.

Motorists who previously had to endure lengthy red lights even when the roads were clear have welcomed the new system, saying it should be implemented across the city sooner rather than later.

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