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?


How can Nairobi, Kenya deal with its ‘Buildings of Death’ ?

A Building comes up in Nairobi, Kenya

A recent study by a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that at least three out of four buildings in Nairobi would be seriously damaged in the event of a major earthquake. The report revealed that most concrete used in Nairobi lacks the required compressive strength. Among the causes listed for this include poor incentives for construction supervision with a high disparity between design fees and supervision fees for professionals (75% vs 25%), while contractors try to increase profits by reducing steel and concrete. In some parts of the county, almost 100% of the buildings were reportedly unsafe.

This report was strongly denied by the Governor of Nairobi, Dr. Evans Kidero, who questioned the methodology used for the study.

His denial was short lived as it was followed by the collapse of a residential building on the 17th of December in Makongeni and another one in Huruma on the night of the 4th of January 2015.  This led to a presidential order requiring an audit of all buildings in the County. The Governor  also took stern action, suspending 18 officials  and bringing together professionals to form a task force to look into the collapsed buildings.

Sadly, the collapsing of buildings is not a new affair in the City County of Nairobi. In 2006, a building collapsed while under construction, killing 11 and trapping many alive underneath. In 2012, a similar case saw four persons buried alive. In January 2014, another building collapsed not far from the Central Business District within an area popular with up country travelers.

Local Governments have continually been blamed for this though little effort has been made to improve the situation. Another report revealed that 65% of buildings in low income areas are not fit for human habitation. A recent television report portrayed several buildings in the city of Nairobi as ‘Buildings of Death’ with several not conforming to health and safety regulations.

City Hall, Nairobi, Kenya

Columnists have also blamed local governments, professionals and investors for this continued state of affairs.  With the continued rapid urbanization and consequent demand for housing, there is need for urgent action to be taken as we go deeper into this catastrophe.

A study done at the University of Nairobi in 2006 on the same recommended better training of clients and awareness of the benefits of always including registered professionals in their projects. It also recommended more active participation of government and professional bodies in supervision of projects.

What would be the best way for a growing city to deal with uncontrolled growth and development? How best can this trend be reversed considering the large number of unauthorized constructions in the city?

Images by Constant Cap. Data Linked to Sources