Who Will Pack Their Benz and Cycle? Kampala Speaks Out

Kampala Capital City Authority on Tuesday unveiled plans for what is slowly being described by sections of the populace as an ‘ambitious project’ that will seek to replace motor-vehicles in some of Kampala’s busiest streets with a strictly bicycle and pedestrian system.

The Non Motorized Transport [NMT] according to the Authority which is being piloted beginning July next year will have a 3 km stretch of roads redesigned and reconstructed to allow usage only by bicycles and pedistraians.

The earmarked section includes the vast portion of Namirembe road stretching from Bakuli, down though city center and going up to the City Square.

KCCA’s Transport planning and traffic management department head, Jacob Byamukama says this road section was picked to be used in the pilot because it already ‘belonged’ to pedestrians.

Namirembe road is dominated by pedestrians

“When you walk through that Namirembe-Luwum section, over 70% are people walking on foot. Cars and bodabodas there are a smaller fraction but a huge menace.  That’s why we want to take them somewhere else.”

Vehicles displaced here have been apportioned other roads,  entailed in the broader Ministry of Works Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project,  including Entebbe road and Kampala road, which will also be redesigned to allow, buses, other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians’—all with their specific lanes. [Check]

When we set out to find out from Uganda’s leaders, city dwellers, taxi drivers and car owners how this amendment is likely to affect them once successfully implemented, a cocktail of reactions came out.

To some, the proposal is one other passing government propaganda, and largely unachievable while to others it is long overdue.

Kalungu West Member of Parliament Hon Joseph Sewungu told our reporter, the project was a ‘lie.’ He said it lacked a research basis, and that its proposed cost was too unrealistic.

The project according to Byamukama is being costed a Shs 3.1 billion, which Sewungu says is a small amount to suffice in redesigning and reconstruction of a city transport system of that magnitude.

“If the project was real, I personally would welcome it. I believe that such an initiative is capable of minimizing the chaos in that section of the city, but I think they are telling us lies. Where is the physicality research they have conducted to prove that it will work?”

Many women in the country are challenged when it comes to riding bicycles
Many women in the country are challenged when it comes to riding bicycles

He added, “This system took some of the developed nations several decades to implement, I don’t know why KCCA are positive they can pull it off in only a few years like they are saying.”

Looking at the brighter side of it, Makerere University Urban Planning Lecturer Amanda Ngabirano says the new system will go a long way in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.

“Today a person riding on a bicycle is seen by drivers as a destitute. There is completely no respect for people on two wheels in Uganda, and we normally see that in traffic jam.”

“Yet in developed countries, it is the opposite. We have seen city mayors, high ranking politicians, even President (Barrack) Obama riding on a bicycle.”

However some of the traders working around the affected central area we spoke to, are not looking forward to parking the lovely cars to jump on that the bike.

“What then is the essence of owning a car when you can’t use it? Besides Kampala’s terrain is generally terrible; Having to ride on some of these hills will be more of punishment,” said Hajji Ali a trader at Mukwano Arcade.

“I have no issues with walking. I am not lazy, but most of the times when people’s incomes grow, they tend to get a little busier and so time becomes more of great essence: that’s why I bought a vehicle, to help deliver me to work in time. But now since I can’t cycle from Zzana to Kampala every morning, it means that I will have to leave car in a lot outside the city and use another 30 minutes walking to my work station,” added another trader Moses Mugume at Mukwano arcade.

One Aisha a city trader residing in Nateete noted that the issue of women having to adopt to using bicycles in a social setting like Uganda’s would not go without friction.

“I have never cycled on a bicycle in my life. I don’t see myself finishing breakfast and jumping on a bicycle to work. My children would laugh at me,” she said.

However, Mrs Ngabirano who is part of the team spearheading the project however said the women issue would take some training and motivation from respectable role models to shake off the stigma.

“We are trying to get some leaders and may be some musicians to support this project. Perhaps if people saw KCCA Executive Director Jenifer Musisi riding on a bicycle to work, it would get them inspired especially the women.”

Taxi drivers who have been vastly using the route to access the old taxi park, and now have to utilize part of Entebbe road and Ben Kiwanuka Street, also voiced out their grievances about the plan.

Eddy Lukyamuzi who operates on the Busega-Kampala route told us the plan could have an domino effect on transport fares, since taxis would have to loiter a little more to access their designated parking spaces.

Speaking at a press sensitization conference on the project, Mrs Ngabirano said that NMT was necessary or the city would soon be swallowed up in vehicles.

US President Barrack Obama cycles with his daughter Maria

“We have a problem of the number of cars in the city center. The bonds are full. It appears that every person wants to use their first salary to purchace a car,” she noted.

 “We are as a result having parking crisis; in Kampala today one could easily run out of fuel trying to find a parking space.”

She further defenced the cycling and walking idea noting that it would go a long way in conserving the environment by reducing noise and air pollution, and enhance people’s physical fitness.

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