Navigating Nairobi traffic can be a lesson in military-style evasive manoeuvres. This perhaps rings a bell for pedestrians and cyclists more than to motorists.
The city’s transport system is not designed for people on foot or bicycle riders. Even where there are allowances, such as footpaths, there is always a matatu, a hawker or motorcycle trying to encroach on this space. Divers view zebra crossings more like polite suggestions than required stopping points.
Often, cyclists and pedestrians have little to protect themselves but their own wits. Walking or cycling long distances, cheap options which should be encouraged in this era of climate change and lifestyle diseases are at the least unattractive and at the most dangerous.
“The Nairobi transport system is road-based, and oriented to private car use and does not fully take into account the contribution of all modes and offer users affordable practical choices,” states the Nairobi County Government Non-Motorised Transport Policy.
The policy is part of a long-proposed plan to make Nairobi a safer environment for non-motorised traffic. The policy is one step closer to actualisation after the Nairobi City County Assembly recently adopted it.
Non-motorised traffic includes walking, use of wheelbarrows and carts, animal transport, animal-drawn carriages, bicycles and tricycles for passenger and freight transport. Others are the use wheelchairs, skateboards, and strollers.
The policy, first drafted in 2015, requires that the county government allocates at least 20 per cent of its transport budget for development and maintenance of on-motorised traffic.
It is recommended that every road constructed in the city must have not only adequate footbridges but also walkways as well as facilities for cyclists and human-drawn carts.
The implementation of these measures is supposed to be done in collaboration with national authorities in charge of road and infrastructure development.
“We will identify some roads where we some restructuring or redesigning will be done to accommodate the non-motorised transport,” said Kenya Alliance of Residential Associations (Kara) chief executive Henry Ochieng. The Kara was one of the organisations involved in drafting the policy.
Under proposed changes in the Nairobi non-motorised traffic policy is the establishment of secure parking slots for cyclists and repair shops along cycle routes.
“Our thinking is that we have a proper model of how the Nairobi policy will work before making proposals for it to be replicated in other counties,” said Mr Ochieng.
The Kara plans to hold public awareness forums, which aim to change perceptions that cycling and walking are for the poor.
A culture of cycling and walking, as opposed to driving, has been associated with good health indicators as well as reduced pollution in the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway.
Although statistics vary, walking is a major form of transport among Nairobi’s poor residents, meaning that they are likely to suffer the most from the lack of proper non-motorised transport facilities.
The Little attention to non-motorised transport has exposed pedestrians to fast, aggressive and high motor vehicle volumes with the consequence being injury or loss of life due to accidents.
Women and children are classified as vulnerable road users, accounting for the huge chunk of victims due to the encroachment of non-motorised traffic spaces.
This conflict between motorists and pedestrians has perhaps played out most noticeably on the Thika Super Highway. Bumps and rumble strips meant to slow down traffic for pedestrians to cross the road have been blamed for traffic jams on that highway. And despite a court order compelling removal of the bumps and rumble strips, authorities are yet to comply.
Early this year, city residents petitioned Parliament to compel the Ministry of Transport to build more footbridges along the highway in a bid to avert accidents.
The 21 petitioners claimed that the majority of victims were students from Kenyatta University and the Nairobi Institute of Business Studies.
Following the petition and a court order, the Kenya National Highways Authority initiated tendering for four footbridges this month. But beyond making roads safer, proper non-motorised traffic facilities would also reduce congestion in Nairobi.
For city residents, walking and cycling more often would provide the exercise that lacks in modern urban lifestyles.