Nairobi, Kenya: Neglect of NMT makes it less safe, less convenient and less attractive.

Cities are growing at alarming rates and consequently facing a variety of challenges such as traffic congestion, pollution,  pedestrian deaths and an increasing urban populace.

Cities in South America have tried to solve their transport challenges through innovative methods like Bus Rapid Transit and Aerial Cable Transportation while African Cities are expanding roads and attempting similar mass transit systems.

Planning for Non-Motorized Transit (NMT) like Walking, Bicycling and hand carts, which play a vital role in the movement of goods and people, has been perennially ignored in Africa. Many governments appear to have an ideological preference for motorized over NMT because they regard it as technologically advanced.  This has been evident with attempts to reduce transport congestion that focused more on road construction and expansion which is mainly done through loans and grants. The political attitude toward pedestrians is often neglectful or curiously hostile and there has been little focus on the development of infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

The importance of NMT cannot be ignored. Around 50 percent of all trips in major African cities are entirely on foot, and trips undertaken primarily by public transport also involve significant walking distances. NMT is even more critical as cities embark on reducing the effects of climate change by adopting more ecologically friendly modes of transportation.

Development and promotion of NMT facilities can serve several functions. Besides ensuring delivery of rights to the majority urban poor, it also helps at reducing traffic congestion.

This neglect of NMT users has led to it appearing to be less safe, less convenient, and less attractive, making the forecast decline of NMT a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For most growing urban areas, the trend towards integrating NMTs has taken route via change in infrastructure models, policy creation and development.

Generally there are three ways in which NMT can co-exist with motorized transport:

  • Full integration gives no exclusive right or special protection for bicyclists or pedestrians using a mixed road and relies on driving behavior to protect the more vulnerable categories.
  • Partial segregation reserves a strip on the carriageway for bicyclists or pedestrians, but does not protect it physically.
  •  Full segregation gives exclusive rights to pedestrians or cyclists and makes it physically difficult for motorized traffic to trespass on that right.

Full segregation tends to be important where NMT volumes are high, for instance,  pedestrian only streets, and ensures the safety of the users.

NMT development and use has several benefits including improved access, social inclusion, safety, reduced energy consumption and pollution and increased usage of facilities by citizens.

As the County Government of Nairobi develops its NMT Policy, it needs to first take into consideration the main users of NMT and analyze their main corridors/routes vis-a-vis the current facilities. This would target the 50% who currently walk or cycle to their workplace, a majority of  these being in the working class.

Initially this would require looking into how adequate NMT facilities can be developed within and around the informal settlements so as to ensure safe, effective and efficient movement of persons within the settlements.

Involvement of the citizens through campaigns, training and education  is also critical so as to ensure maximum benefit. All stakeholders including engineers, county askaris, police, school teachers, contractors and other relevant groups should be involved in this exercise.  The training ought also to cover safety, law enforcement and encouragement programmes.

Consideration of vulnerable groups like Persons with Disabilities, Women and Children is critical in the development of urban infrastructure. Movement of children from school to their areas of residence, security of women when they are using NMT facilities as well as safety of children on the road. The famous quote that ‘a cycling lane that cannot be used safely by an 8-year old is not a cycling lane at all’ falls into place here.  A good goal in the development of NMT for a city would be where every child can walk to school without fear of vehicular interference and every PWD can conveniently move from one place to another.

What else do you think African Cities can do towards Developing NMT facilities? With the County Government depending heavily on parking fees as a source of income, where is the place for NMT?

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