Lifestyle

How traffic jams are changing lifestyles

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A heavy traffic snarl up along University Way in the CBD. Early risers are finding new ways to use their time as they wait for offices to open. PHOTO | FILE |

Summary

  • Those who live in satellite towns around the capital city like Kitengela, Ongata Rongai, Ngong and places like Thika get to town as early as 5.30am and have to find something useful to do with their time until offices open.
  • Find out what’s cutting at dawn in Nairobi

At 5.30am when many people are still snuggling in the comfort of their beds, Lang’ata Road is bustling with activity.

This is the morning rush into the city as residents of Kiserian, Ongata Rongai, Karen and Lang’ata try to beat the traffic jam that will see them spend over two hours on the road as they head to work.

Their reason for being out so early is simple: in half an hour, the road takes the semblance of a parking lot with motorists covering 10 kilometres in two hours. And on a bad day, this can easily turn into a four-hour commute. By 6am, the build-up of traffic towards Galleria Mall is eminent.

Across town on Thika Highway, the early birds hit the road at 6am, half an hour after their Lang’ata Road counterparts, as they too rush to avoid the traffic snarl-up that can keep them on the road for over two hours.

James Rono is at his health club in Upper Hill every morning by 6am. He goes in for an aerobics session before taking a swim to cool down and leaves for the office.

“I get at least an hour-and-half each morning, sometimes more, for my workout. I then have breakfast before heading to work,” he says.

The routine is a relatively new one for James, who has opted to have his workout in the early morning rather than while away the time in traffic. Martin Njoroge, leaves his house in Rongai at 5.15 am.

He is in the city by 6am, where he spends at least half an hour catching up with the local dailies before heading out to Westlands where he works.

Waiting

To cash in on the early morning trend, businesses and academic institutions have now resorted to opening their doors in the wee hour for the early birds.

By 6.30am, most restaurants in the city centre are bustling with activity to cater for the early morning group who did not have time for breakfast in their homes, or those looking to keep warm in a restaurant rather than stand outside as they wait for their offices to open.

According to Njoroge, a worker in the banking sector, most people in his line of work are forced to stand outside the premises until doors are opened, usually a few minutes before clients arrive.

“Most of my colleagues who do not have access to the office at that hour either go to class or read newspapers outside the office until it is open,” he said.

Morning aerobics

Gyms and health clubs have adjusted their opening hours and are now open from as early as 5.30am for their members. Colleges and universities have also added early morning classes which begin at 6.30am and end by 8am.

Samto Fitness in Madaraka has introduced morning aerobics classes which has been drawing in more clients than the usual individual gym workout hours.

Though according to gym officials, the number is not as big as those who come in for workouts in the evening when more people prefer to spend time in the gym instead of wasting time in the evening jam.

Jaffrey’s Sports Club in Lavington has its fair share of visitors at dawn as they work out before the office hours begin. At the sports grounds, you will see both young and old people jogging and walking around the pitch as early as 5am.

Fitness

With students reporting to school earlier by the day as their parents aim to keep time, some institutions have allowed parents to use the school sports tracks and pools after they drop off their kids.

It is not just those looking into fitness that are using the traffic situation to improve their lifestyles. Others have taken up classes in the early morning.

About two years ago, the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) introduced morning classes due to demand by students.

“We have people here as early as six in the morning yet class starts at 6.30. By eight, people are headed to their offices,” said David Muturi, the KIM chief executive.

According to David, these individuals prefer to be in town early to avoid traffic and leave early in the evening for the same reason. “This is proper utilisation of the extra time in the morning.”

Colleges, especially those offering diploma and certificate courses as well as professional courses like ACCA and CPA, are having early morning sessions between 6.30am and eight in the morning.

Morning classes

This is not limited to morning hours only. In the evenings, classrooms have more than their fair share of students. This has been the trend for the last five years or so.

Mary Maina, who lives on Mombasa Road, has opted to join a gym near her office in the city centre to avoid the rush to leave town in the evening.

“I would rather spend some time socialising with my friends or in the gym rather than sit in endless traffic outside the office for hours on end,” she said.

For others, they have taken to walking home or to a bus stops outside the city centre as a way of beating the traffic. Greg Wanjau walks from his office in Westlands to the city centre to avoid getting caught up in the University Way traffic.

“It is faster and healthier since it takes me 30 minutes of brisk walking,” he said.

Churches have also not been left behind in this new trend of catching the early riser. Most now hold their first Mass starting between 6.30 am and 7am. Consolata, All Saints Cathedral and Holy Family Basilica are among those that are open at dawn for worshipper while the evening has Bible study and Mass from 5.30pm.

Ashley Oluoch joins her worship group in a hall in town every morning for an hour before she heads out to work. While walking the streets at that early morning hour, one can hear songs of praise in various buildings as people turn to spiritual nourishment before heading to work.

“Our offices are not open until eight, so we have to find something to do till then. I cannot afford to eat breakfast at a restaurant daily so I just go for praise and worship,” she said.

In April, the county government unveiled a plan to bar public transport vehicles plying up-country routes from the central business district in yet another city decongestion plan.

Easing traffic

This was after the diversion of heavy trucks on Mombasa Road to the Southern bypass to ease traffic on city roads.

The county government had introduced new traffic rules that prohibited right-turns at key roundabouts, which in turn saw the capital city’s roads become chaotic with some residents opting to walk to work.

Most recently, Trapos Africa, consultants for a public-private partnership project, have come up with a master plan to ease movement in the city similar to one they have been promoting in Mombasa.

The group is proposing a Sh58 billion ($600 million) cable car investment plan that could be operational in the next two years, saying that it would help ease Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams.

The plan, which will not require public funds, has already been approved by City Hall and is currently awaiting scrutiny by the Treasury and Cabinet approval.

Solutions

The transport network would be spread over several miles with fleets of large cable cars passing over Nairobi’s streets every few minutes, carrying up to 35 people each.

These are mostly used in Western countries to ferry up to 11,000 passengers per hour moving in both directions – an equivalent of what 200 buses with 65 seats each, 700 14-seater matatus or 2,000 saloon cars can carry.

With the city plans of working on decongestion and an efficient public system remaining a pipe dream, individuals and businesses have been quick to cash in and make the best out of the situation.

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