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

Harmonizing Initiatives: Nairobi, Kenya works towards developing an NMT Policy

bicycle road sign

The Nairobi County Government in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) and the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) have set up a team to develop a Non Motorized Transport Policy for the County. Led by Engineer Tom Opiyo, the team of experts will work towards developing a policy and presenting it to Governor Evans Kidero by the end of February 2015.

The policy will aim at harmonizing all previous initiatives that have been made by different agencies, developing specifications and standards, accommodating social and environmental standards, improving capacity of the county to develop facilities and thus improving quality of life.

The county government has recently made an effort towards providing footpaths and walkways, though a lot is left to be desired. Very few of them are suitable for persons with disability or children and in many cases, they are seen as an ‘extra addition’ during road construction. The few bicycle routes in existence are not networked.

The pillars of the policy as stated by Liana Vetch from UNEP include Road Safety, Accessibility (linking to public transport) and Environment (local and global greenhouse gas emissions). The main two existing policies that will be considered are the Nairobi Agreement (East Africa better air quality Agreement) and the action plan from the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum.

As per the targets set by the County government, the policy report should be out by the end of February 2015. This gives about two months for data collection, review of existing policies and regulations, organization of platforms and making improvements based on feedback.

Professor Winnie Mitullah from The University of Nairobi, states that NMT ought to bedirect, attractive and safe. At the moment, she pointed out; there is no institutionalization of NMT.

Among her preliminary research findings are the reality of the high cost of infrastructure and a recent change to  integrated planning modes from purely motorized. She notes that NMT should not only be thought of ‘with a road’ but also ought to be considered on its own e.g. pedestrian only streets or cyclist only streets.

Currently all urban roads are considering NMT but are limited by financing, lack of space, retrofitting, and the battle between the ideal and the reality (what suits a place on paper and what can actually be done on the ground).

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Most of the previous urban development has been based on what one may call an elitist approach, thus putting NMT on the sideline and taking motorists as the main players. Critical towards avoiding this is to consider demand as a key factor, making pedestrian counts, NMT Audits, prioritization and budgeting. This brings about the need for integrated planning  e.g. if people will trade on the bridge build the bridge to accommodate traders other than spend money enforcing rules and regulations.

Engineer Opiyo informed stakeholders that the key aspects of NMT being carts, trailers, cyclists and walking, (though we do not like talking about carts). Among the characteristics of NMT include exposure to danger, slower in non-congested streets, faster in congested streets, use of human power, less pollutant and cheaper in short trips.

He outlined the key areas that will be considered in the policy including the Problem statement, Vision, Mission and Strategic Objectives.

Important considerations in developing the policy will be multimodal transport, design based on ‘principles of universal design,’ NMT facilities meeting user requirements and development of streets based on road network hierarchy. Recognition of street trading and street design elements are also leading considerations.

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One of the more recent successful cases of NMT was in Chennai, India. A City that is known for its high usage of vehicular transport, they set up an NMT policy in 2012 where they also allocated 60% of their transportation budget to NMT.  The prioritization of people over cars has seen safer streets and promotion of walking and cycling.c

The City of Bogota, Colombia is also well known for its success in creating pedestrian paths and a network of bicycle lanes that traverse the city. These have been helpful especially in the poorer areas where residents have always used NMT as their mode of travel. It has also created opportunities for placemaking and the creation of recreational public spaces.

If you are interested in making contributions towards the policy, please get in touch with the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations or naipolitans@gmail.com

Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources, Originally posted by Naipolitans