Traffic congestion is a major problem in Nairobi. That cannot be over-emphasized. Nairobi has a population of over 4 million people and by 2014, the city had over 700,000 vehicles. A 2007 report by the Ministry of Roads and Public Works noted that while only 15.3% of commuters in Nairobi used private cars, they accounted for 36% of vehicles on the roads.
The report noted that 29% of commuters use matatus while 47% walked to work. Matatus accounted for 27% of the vehicles on the road.The report also noted that 6.8% of commuters use public and private buses (accounting for 3% of vehicles on the road), 0.4% use railway, and 1.2% use bicycles and motorbikes. Pick-ups accounted for 23% of the vehicles on the road.There were over 30,000 matatus in Nairobi last year.
A Bloomberg article reported in 2014 that Nairobi was losing $ 570,000 a day in lost productivity and wasted fuel. So, with the traffic problem in Nairobi, what efforts if any have been tried?
Prior attempts to deal with traffic congestion in Nairobi
The solutions to the traffic problem has been haphazard. The major one has been expansion of roads with experts saying that we have only 11% of land dedicated to the road as opposed to the global recommendation of 30%. Roads expansions has only led to more people buying cars or moving to the estates near the expanded roads thus exacerbating the problem. Thika Road and Langata Road are case examples of this road expansion outcome. More roads are being expanded and bypasses opened up for more vehicles.
Another proposed solution has been the introduction of underpasses and overpasses at the points of intersections to replace the roundabouts. While this has been tried on Thika Road, most of the roundabouts are still intact. Constructing overpasses and underpasses is also an venture given the current government budget constraints. If this was to be fully done, it would take a lot of time – and time is something Nairobians don’t have.
The problem with both solutions is that at the end of the day, the number of vehicles coming into town are either the same, or increasing yet the city’s vehicle capacity (number/size of roads plus parking space) is not expanded. In fact, the points at which the large roads feed into the roads in town are always a disaster as wider roads feed into narrow ones. This is the point at which the traffic gridlock begins and forms a tailback to god-knows-where. A case in point is the Koja Roundabout in town.
The recent proposal was to do away with right-turns in the short-run as the long-term plan is to phase out all roundabouts in town. Well, this experiment created the biggest traffic jams ever experienced in the city until Dr. Kidero rescinded his decision, albeit temporarily, as he waited for the bypass to be completed. The governor wants the roundabouts removed and replaced with intersections arguing that the former are less efficient that the later.
The thinking by who have offered solutions for traffic congestion in Nairobi has been how to move a large number of vehicles through the city. With this thinking, roads have been expanded, bypasses created and drums placed on the roads to do away with right-turns at roundabouts. Even if the goal is to move more vehicles faster in and out of the city, the scientific evidence is largely in support of roundabouts.
In is certain that solutions so far tried to eliminate traffic congestion in Nairobi are not working. This might be because the approach to address the problem has based on asking the wrong question – how do we move more vehicles in and out of CBD? The question should rather be, how do we move more people in and out of Nairobi’s CBD? Moving more people, not vehicles, should be the goal of any initiative geared towards decongesting traffic anywhere. So, how can more people move in and out of Nairobi?
Step 1: Create bus stations outside the city. These can be created at places like City Cabanas, Galleria, City Stadium, Adams Arcade, Kangemi, etc. The idea is to have all routes in and out of town having bus stations outside the city.
Step 2: Ban all PSVs from getting inside the city and allow them only to pick and drop passengers from the newly created bus stations. What this does is that it decongests the city by limiting the number of PSVs that come into the city. All the residents of various estates in Nairobi will be picked and dropped at the designated newly created stations. But how do they get into the city?
Related article: Limit Matatus to 4000 to control traffic jam in Nairobi
Step 3: Invest in mass public transport – The County to invest in buses to ferry passengers from the designated newly created stations to and from town. One of Dr.Kidero’s plans was actually to invest in public transport by purchasing buses to ferry passengers. This will be timely. With only the County buses allowed to drop passengers in and out of town, scheduling that takes advantage of the only bus station in town is possible. This also means the county must invest in a modern public transport management system to ensure smooth flow of public transport and minimal inconveniences.
Step 4: Invest in light rail system – Liase with Kenya Railways to offer light rail system to Nairobi’s estates. There is already a railway station in town and several newly created stations serving various estates. More routes can be served and frequency of trains as well as capacity improved.
Step 5: Ban all private vehicles from getting into the city. This will decongest the city by keeping out unnecessary traffic. The pass-through traffic such as trailers can use the bypasses (this has already been done by Dr.Kidero).
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