EDITORIAL: Big plans on paper not answer to traffic gridlock

Traffic jam in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Traffic jam in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Plans to ease traffic congestion in Kenyan cities have been afoot for as long as road users can remember.

Policymakers have sold to the public lofty plans aimed at solving the problem that remains a nightmare for commuters and motorists, who have to spend hours on the road just to cover distances that would ordinarily take a few minutes. Beyond the wasted valuable time is the toll of daily gridlocks on the economy.

The World Bank estimates that traffic jams cost Sh50 million a day in lost productivity in Nairobi, which accounts for 12.7 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product.

In Nairobi and Mombasa, authorities have been rolling out a chain of plans aimed at easing traffic flow, the latest coming from the Metropolitan Area Transport Authority.

The plan is to borrow a leaf from Colombia’s rapid bus transit model in Bogota, which involves construction of special lanes for high-capacity buses, as a way of easing congestion on city roads.

Past solutions to traffic congestion have come at a cost. In 2015, former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero touted removal of roundabouts at key intersections as a way of ensuring smooth flow of vehicles along major city roads.

In justifying the Sh288 million project, the former governor said that traffic jams cost Nairobi Sh91.4 billion annually.

This had been preceded by a Sh400 million failed plan to improve vehicle flow by upgrading traffic lights and installing cameras.

Other past efforts have included the upgrade of key city highways with additional lanes.

All these solutions seem not to have yielded the desired results – meaning there is need for a complete paradigm shift in fixing the traffic system.

City planners seem to be focusing a lot on the road infrastructure while ignoring other modes of transport that would help ease congestion such as the much talked about light rail system, pedestrian and bike lanes.

In a city where lifestyle diseases are rife, there are health benefits in creating safe promenades to encourage walking or bicycle ride to and from work.

Again it would be futile for policymakers to come up with big plans on paper that never go beyond the talk shops in form of public forums, retreats and seminars.