The Urban Machine and the ubiquitous Nairobi Traffic Jam: A Riot of Colors, Part 1
“A society sufficiently sophisticated to produce the internal combustion engine has not had the sophistication to develop cheap and efficient public transport?’
‘Yes, boss… it’s true. There are hardly any buses, the trains are hopelessly underfunded, and hence the entire population is stuck in traffic,” the insightful words of Ben Elton, in his book Gridlock.
Nairobi City: a Smorgasbord of Machines and Humans
“In the city a funeral is just an interruption of traffic; in the country it is a form of entertainment,” how appropriate George Ade indicates, how especially true here in Kenya. I am a habitué of the Kenyan Traffic Eco-system.
Nairobi’s traffic offers a seemingly infinite almost-Broadway Theatre like entertainment, where Shakesperean tragedies and comedies gather, Ibsenian depictions of reality manifest, not to mention Brechtian power plays; yes, friends, it is a cacophony of entertaining delights, a carnival of beggars, begging for you to watch them in their masterful thespianism. Though, I must note the paroxysm of vexation I experience anytime I am caught up. Currently, Nairobi is home to 3 million and over folk and the commute structure, well, in a word, okay in two words, ‘indubitably chaotic’. Yes, yes, roads have been built, but still, you can’t solve the problem with only such construction, a multi-pronged approach should feature, for instance, the psychological revolution needed both within and without Nairobi (because I don’t see any reason of building cutting-edge roads where people will come and dump trash there yet glory in the work, futile, futile, I say, you have not solved the man, but the road upon which he walks or drives or rides).
But, first, let us look at the historicity of traffic; take a trip down memory lane to meet the late John Michuki, the Snake-Rattler (I bet the lot of you remember him wagging his finger in vehement Caesarean vogue at the cameras, or the socks situation, but let’s forget about that and focus on his transport docket). In March 2004, the late Hon Mr. John Michuki, the then Minister of Transport enacted the famous/infamous Michuki rules, depending on which side of the isle you are in; it was the first real attempt at traffic reform. The above-mentioned rules included mandatory installation of speed governors and safety belts in PSV ‘matatus’, driver certification, driver/tout fashion regalia, in a bid to bring safety and a semblance of order to the chaotic sector. I should note, despite the strong political leadership and dedicated resources, there is no statistically significant impact of the Michuki Rules, which is based on studies that have shown so, State vs. Consumer Regulation: An Evaluation of Two Road Safety Interventions in Kenya by James Habyarimana and William Jack. However, on the other side of the divide, the impact of the Michuki rules, the consensus was that after the implementation, road accidents declined nationally by 74%, while those involving urban transport buses, by a staggering 93%; this was three months after the promulgation of the rules. However, fast forward to 2014, this is no longer the case and few PSVs comply with the Michuki rules, veritably confined to the annals of history.
Over the years, the traffic reforms have been a blend of constitutional, governmental structural, and consumer-targeted reforms (remember the ‘Zusha’ campaigns regarding you to complain to the driver who happens to be driving at neck-breaking speeds). For instance, the adoption by the 10th parliament of the Integrated National Transport Policy (Sessional Paper No.2, 2012) was a big stride but failure by the government to create pertinent institutions, develop transport plans, human capacity and develop intelligent transport systems (ITS) led to unsustainable transport management regimes.
This explains why so many studies have been done by the MoT (Ministry of Transport) have never been actualized. The Traffic Act of 1954 was not equipped constitutionally to handle the post-modern day transport demand, considering it is plagued by many contradictions and probably some of the myriad amendments are unconstitutional to put it in that awkward position, well that is according to a Working Paper formulated by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Transport Sector Alliance, Justification for Road Transport Act, 2013. The doubling of vehicular activity in Nairobi since 2012 to 700, 000 has not done anything to foster infrastructural and traffic management alterations.
The Traffic Department of the Kenya Police is mandated with the power to maintain the Highway Code and other traffic laws; however, this where the Pandora’s box opens (I don’t need to tell you the seemingly ‘undying nature’ of the Hydra of Police Bribery, you cut off one head here, another grows). Incidentally, the new laws just tend to give the police more opportunity to perpetrate violations in enforcing the law. It begs the question, does Parliament have its wits about it in formulating these laws because clarity, uniformity, and certainty are pillars of a BENEVOLENT legislation. Some of these newly made up rules have the highest chance of being brought to the stand for criminalizing inadvertent events such as forgetfulness as well as discrimination toward PSVs and commercial vehicle drivers by stipulating certain offences and imposing heavier fines and penalties that target them as a click. The parliamentarian czars forget that law is voluntary conformity and the best law should be as such as the most malevolent of men declares its worth.
Recently, actually, as of yesterday 5th of November, the president gave the directive of the re-categorization of the 14-seater which effectively meant that more ‘matatus’ in graffitic bliss will come rolling in on our roads into the city, expected to close in the rising travel demand rate. The City Council in the past decade has created Designated Centers of Alightment to be able to control traffic inflow to the city, installing automated traffic lights, which took a bit of getting used to by motorists (causing a gridlock initially).
While this had its effect in trying to reduce traffic congestion in the city, the traffic keeps coming on, so something must be going wrong, and extensively, these measures are only stop-gap measures, like tying a ban-aid to a wound, it helps, but eventually, the band-aid must be removed in favor of a more ‘healing’ long-term strategic structural regimen. The growing road network within and without the city has had its ‘band-aid effect’, additionally, the extensive transit system announced by the governorate of Nairobi is meant to have a state-of-the-art road network. A freeway designed to divert traffic from the city center is almost coming to its end. Based on a case study conducted, Integrated Transport System for Liveable City Environment, the travel demand rate as of 3 years ago when the population stood at 3 million, was 2.5trips/person/day, the total travel demand rate in Nairobi being 7.5 million trips/person/day; a fact I am sure is growing as ever by the blowing of the wind.
In for a Penny, In for a Pound:
Economically, the cost of traffic congestion is epically disturbing, costing the Kenyan economy KES 37 billion shillings annually, according to a report by the county’s Transport and Urban Decongestion Committee. It attributed this to reprobate city planning; in fact, as far my mind is concerned, Nairobi is still drawing its existential powers from the colonial 1948 City Master Plan, of course several alterations have taken place, it’s natural, but no substantial effort towards that end, probably why the government took to creating a new city all together.
The cost per day stands at $570, 000 (currency-rate adjustments applicable) it’s not a pittance when you factor in that Nairobi as Africa’s no.2 hub contributes two-thirds of Kenya’s $41billion-dollar per annum economic output, from which the GoK extrapolates that there will be a 5.8 percent growth. The economic burden will continue especially when you gather that Kenya’s projected 4.3 percent annual growth rate of urbanization from 2010-2015, where 12 million of her people will leave in urban areas. It is double the global average of 2 percent and an echelon higher above the African average of 3.6 percent, words from the United Nations.
From the gubernatorial throne, Evans Kidero once remarked in a speech in February the twelfth that the city has a road capacity only for a third of its current 3 million populace, that’s above a million folk, a figure that is expected to sky-rocket to 40 million by 2050 (drum roll please, the national population figure stands at what? You now realize the gravity of the situation). In fact, according to the man himself, Kenyans should expect as many as 9 million machines towards 2050, now the query arises, do you think all these New Age cities will have completed by then to handle the outburst of both man and machine (stuff for a science fiction film, so kickback and watch). Factually, Nairobi’s ratio of land dedicated to roads stands at 11 percent, far below the global measurement of 30 percent.
Nairobi could lose its hub of East Africa coronation if it does not effectively address the maddening situation, and that is why investments have been made and should be made developing high-capacity transit systems and sustainable smart cities. So, efforts should be focused on that aspect of having pragmatic transport and urban formats (remember, at the outset I said it is futile to have cutting-edge transport and the urban machine has faulty engineering). Interestingly, transport scientists distinguish between microscopic and macroscopic models of monitoring the flow of traffic; it hardly seems foreign, considering that the former has a profound effect vis-à-vis the latter, and vice versa.
Effectively, microscopic models are formulated on the premise of individual driver behavior whilst macroscopic models depict traffic aggregates. The tradition amongst transport economists has been to rely on the macroscopic view of things as canon, forgetting the ‘Homo’ in their elucidation of transport phenomena, incidentally, and traffic. Ergo, whatever approaches that the governorate is taking, the key is to always remember that revolution starts at the mind. ).
Case experiences offer valuable providence for insightful policy trajectory. The Urban Leviathan must be fed sustainably and an effective, comprehensive, non-discriminatory transport system is a bonafide method of doing this; roads are the arteries and veins through which flow the lifeblood of the city-THE PEOPLE.