For several months now, there has been a noticeable effort by the Transport ministry to erect footbridges on key roads around Nairobi.
From the Thika-Nairobi highway to Mbagathi Way, contractors have for several months stayed on site erecting the multimillion-shilling facilities.
This year alone, on Thika-Nairobi thoroughfare footbridges have been installed at Survey of Kenya (just before the junction to the Kenya School of Monetary Studies), the Garden Estate junction and at Witeithie and Mang’u late last year.
Ideally, such developments should ensure pedestrian safety in a city where the simple act of crossing the road is to gamble with ones life.
The reality, however, is that most pedestrians will continue chancing their lives on the busy roads as the multimillion-shilling safety facilities are anything but safe.
Hawkers, street families and motorcycle taxi (boda boda) operators have taken over. Today, one is just as likely to get knocked down on footbridges as the pedestrian crossing the road below.
And if they are lucky to make it from one end to the other unscathed, they’ll have to hop and skip over hawkers wares, making what should be an enjoyable exercise stressful.
The invasion of these crucial pedestrian safety facilities risks making nonsense of the multimillion-shilling road investments already put up as well as others in the pipeline.
Hawkers who spoke to the Business Daily claimed economic hardship had pushed them to take up sidewalks and footbridges to maximise sales. Because of high human traffic, they said footbridges are prime locations.
Mary Mburu, who sells wares such face masks and peanuts on the Mutindwa footbridge, said she was unable to afford Sh5,000 to run a stall within the adjacent estate.
“Evenings when workers are leaving offices have the highest potential on footbridges,” said Musili Musyoka, a hawker who deals in women clothes. On a good day he makes Sh800 sales.
Like Mary, he was adamant that he cannot afford Sh20,000 each month to pay for a stall in the city centre.
For the boda boda operators, the footbridges are hard-to-resist ‘highways’ that substantially cut their travel time. In a city of perpetual gridlocks where their services are highly sought after by those keen on arriving at their destinations in time, they said the footbridges are come in handy.
“The footbridge is a short cut to the other side of the road and I also avoid getting stuck in traffic,” said a boda boda rider at the Cabanas crossing who sought anonymity.
But it is not just boda boda operators and hawkers that pedestrians have to consider. Street families have completely turned some of the facilities into their homes and reports anyone who walks into their ‘territory’ is attacked. Muggers too have turned others into dens.
Pedestrians have particularly learnt to give the footbridges around Muthurwa market and the Machakos country bus station a wide berth.
Besides risking an arm and leg on footbridges, pedestrians have also displaced from sidewalks by small traders including motor vehicle garages and furniture shops, especially in areas such as Buruburu, Umoja, South B, Lang’ata, Imara Daima, South C. They are forced to fight for space with vehicles on roads.
Boda bodas and matatus also use the pedestrian walkways in an attempt to beat traffic jam.
According to a recent study, the pedestrian safety problems starts from the infrastructure design.
The joint study by the NTSA and the National Police Service estimated 35 percent of road traffic deaths in Nairobi occur within 20 metres of matatu stages, highlighting infrastructure design flaws around these sites as well as rogue behaviour by drivers and lack of safety consciousness among pedestrians.
“This staggering number is a call for action,” the report urged.
“Developing a better understanding of how to regulate and enforce matatu flows, and driver and pedestrian behaviour, while at the same time improving the infrastructure at these sites will be required to guide policy action”.
Indeed, a spot check of the matatu termini in Nairobi shows that many pickup and drop-off points around the city lack safety features such as designated crossing points or protected sidewalks — exposing pedestrians to harm or even death.
A recent study conducted at Kenyatta National Hospital dubbed the Pattern of Pedestrian Injuries in the City of Nairobi urged new thinking where pedestrian crossing will become part of road designs.
It called for a shift from the vehicle-focused designed to a more inclusive vehicle and pedestrians’ model.
“Seventy percent of pedestrians were hit while crossing the road, 10.8 percent while standing by the road and 8.1 percent while walking along the road with the highest proportion of pedestrian crashes occurring on Saturdays (25.5 percent) and Sundays (16.7 percent) ,” observed the study.
The researchers noted that footbridges had not improved road safety but perpetuate a culture of careless speeding and driver negligence.
Their study revealed that in Nairobi , traffic accident deaths and injuries are concentrated between 5am and 8am and between 5pm and 11pm, representing 53 percent (deaths) and 50 percent (injuries) of the total.
The deadliest times for pedestrians are at night between 7pm and midnight when 41 percent of pedestrian deaths occur.
Meanwhile, as the footbridges and sidewalks invasion continues, data by National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) shows that pedestrian deaths continue to rise. Last year 1,390 fatalities were registered, a 15.4 percent increase from the previous year. This was the single highest number of deaths by type of victims since the agency started tracking accidents.
With walking as the main mode of transport in Nairobi, especially among the poor, the study findings and NTSA data shift focus to improving safety features at the matatu termini and city roads.