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Shipping & Logistics

Why unlocking Nairobi traffic will require more than bus rapid transit

Traffic jam Nairobi
Traffic snarl up on University Way, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Nairobi has been ranked the sixth most dynamic, fastest growing city in the world according to the latest report by JLL’s Global Real Estate Transparency Index 2018, which also indicates the city is the second fastest growing in Africa. Its population is expected to reach seven million by 2030 and 14 million by 2050.

But as the city’s population rapidly grows, one major concern that seems to defy every strategy is the ceaselessly heavy traffic. Most Nairobi residents particularly dread mornings and evenings due to impossible gridlocks which have become part of their daily lives. The movement on the capital city’s roads is chaotic and frustrating to say the least.

On a ‘normal’ day in Nairobi, most commuters get stuck on the road for at least two hours before getting to the central business district (CBD) from their estates or vice versa. Sometimes commuters can stay in traffic for a much longer time, especially during rainy season, leading to a lot of man hours going down the drain.

Roads have been expanded, bypasses constructed at a cost of billions of shillings but the problem does not seem to relent.

Other measures have also been implemented in a bid to unlock traffic and ease congestion at the CBD. But most of these projects have failed to take off, raising queries as to how much deliberations went into their design before they were rolled out.

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Take for instance the proposed car-free days at the city centre. The plan was suspended as fast as it was mooted. Nairobi Governor Gideon Mbuvi was forced to shelve the decision when it apparently turned out its implementation would result in more transport nightmares than it would resolve.

Another proposed strategy is the much touted Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Just like the previous efforts to ease movement in Nairobi, the efficacy of BRT has been questioned with some openly resisting it.

The plan to roll out BRT is however rolling on, albeit slowly, with 32 buses having been shipped into the country in preparation for its implementation.

Proponents of BRT say it will increase transport reliability, reduce travel time, cut air pollution and generally improve the quality of life for commuters.

Transport and logistic experts, however, say BRT is no silver bullet to the congestion crisis in Nairobi and the dire situation can only be addressed through a raft of solutions with BRT being just one of them. These solutions, they assert, must include an efficient railway system, a light rail and even trams. Railway system and road transport are the ones available for commuters at the moment.

“For BRT to work it must feed into other systems within the city,” said Mr Patrick Akivaga, an urban planning specialist working in the Nairobi City County.

“BRT will just alleviate the congestion problem but will not solve it.”

One of the key solutions, he said, is to increase the frequency of train transport.

Another urban planner, Raphael Kazungu said planning of the city transport ought to take a holistic view.

“Nairobi cannot be looked at in isolation but holistically as a metropolis, while land use plans must be considered for successful implementation of the BRT,” he said.

The city, he added, must be looked at like a living organism whose every part has its function.

“The CBD is the heart of the city, the roads and the rail system are the veins and arteries which take in traffic in and out of the city centre,” Mr Kazungu said.

“If one part of the city becomes clogged, it definitely will affect the entire system, just like what happens to a living organism when one part becomes sick.”

Mr Kazungu told Shipping & Logistics that another area that planners need to focus on in a bid to decongest Nairobi is spatial planning.

This involves “demarcation of the areas where people live, work, and activity areas, and establishing the number of people living in different locations and how they use or relate to transport”.

A scattered population, he noted, will need a different transportation system from a dense population, adding that without taking into consideration the “characteristics and forms” of a population, it may be hard to establish an effective transport system.

“We need to look at the tidal flows of people in Nairobi, the population, types of commuters and the areas of influence,” he said.

Dickson Mbugua, a member of the Federation of Public Transport Sector, said BTR can potentially transform Nairobi transport if properly implemented.

“We have been operating PSVs haphazardly. We want to transform public transport from the archaic system and may be in future adopt the mass transit system,” he said.

Implementation of the new system, Mr Mbugua said will be a win-win situation for owners of public transport, workers, commuters and the government

According to the Nairobi Metro 2030 report, the Nairobi Metropolitan Region (NMR) that substantially depends on the city for employment and social facilities extends some 32,000 square kilometres.

“This has been spurred on by the rapid population growth registered in the surrounding areas such as Kiambu, Thika, Muranga, Machakos and Kajiado,” states the document.

To minimise congestion, the report says the city needs to be looked at from the wider metro region which covers 15 towns, including Kiambu, Limuru, Machakos, Mavoko Ruiru, Thika, Kajiado, Karuri, Kikuyu, and Tala-Kangundo, Kiambu according to the report.

These urban areas need to have plans and infrastructural development which is not limited to transport, but should encompass water, hospitals, banks, airports, energy infrastructure, schools and universities and communication infrastructure.

With such amenities in these neighbouring towns, people will not be attracted to come to Nairobi for better services as they get them in their backyard.

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