Perils of being a pedestrian on Nairobi roads

Pedestrians cross the Airport North Road off Mombasa Road. [File, Standard

Despite non-motorised transport being the oldest and most common, pedestrians in Nairobi are an endangered lot.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 46 per cent of all human movement in the city is through walking, while 97 per cent of Nairobians use public transport. But save for a few roads like the Thika Superhighway and the Kileleshwa Bypass, city roads have no pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes, more than 100 years since the city came up.

The county government says transforming Nairobi into a Non-Motorised Transport (NMT)-friendly city will take up to 10 years.

“All the new roads we are constructing have to be NMT compliant,” says Mohamed Abdullahi, the County Executive for Roads and Public Works.

“You must remember that for a long time Nairobi’s planners never considered NMT so there is a complete lack of space. But we are gradually rolling this out in areas where we know have huge pedestrian traffic such as Haile Selassie Avenue, Limuru Road and Mbagathi Road,” he says.

Crossing zones

Despite Mr Abdullahi’s assurances, there is inadequacy in the number of designated pedestrian crossing zones, bus stops and resting areas and  matatu drivers have turned picking up or dropping of passengers anywhere a normal affair.

Likewise, a spot-check by Sunday Standard shows roundabouts have become the most favourite crossing zones for pedestrians in the absence of enough zebra crossings or total disregard of their existence by motorists. At the Haile Selassie roundabout, pedestrians time the police manning it to stop traffic so that they rush over to the other side. It is a risky affair and most of the times pedestrians are caught up by vehicles while in the middle of the road as they are also in a rush.

The results of such dance affairs with death are grim. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) estimates that about 65 per cent of all accidents in Nairobi involve pedestrians. The capital city also accounts for the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the country at 42 per cent.

Most dangerous

In this regard, Mombasa Road is the most dangerous for pedestrians, followed by Thika Road, Waiyaki Way and Eastern Bypass. Last year, 69 pedestrians, a number enough to fill five 14-seater matatus, died on Mombasa Road. On Thika road, 44 pedestrians died, while 40 and 21 people lost their lives on Waiyaki Way and the Eastern Bypass, respectively.

NTSA Director General Francis Meja says this is a drop from previous years, attributing it to the setting up of guard rails on some roads through a collaboration with the county government and corporates.

“We agreed with they county government that they waive a 100 per cent on advertising fee for corporates who wanted to set up guard rails,” he says.

What is however common among all the four roads in question is lack of adequate footbridges and the available few are considered too dangerous for pedestrians to use for fear of mugging. Some have been turned into market places.

Along Uhuru Highway, boda boda operators compete for space with pedestrians on the sidewalks. Further west at Nairobi School, people living at Waruku slum next to Delloite risk their lives every time they cross Waiyaki Way.

Between the CBD and General Motors on Mombasa Road, there are only three pedestrian footbridges for a distance of 13km.

This means on average a pedestrian is supposed to walk four kilometres to find a safe crossing zone despite the dozens of factories, hotels and companies that dot the road.

Thika Road has just 19 footbridges along its 46km stretch. A plan to add another 12 was announced three years ago but it has remained just that. And on February 7, the government was ordered to remove speed bumps at Survey of Kenya, Homeland and Breweries in 60 days.

Bumps and rumble strips

While issuing a ruling in which Senator Mike Sonko had sued the county government for causing traffic jams, Justice George Odunga ordered the government to ensure that pedestrians on that road use the already provided footbridges.

“There is no rational basis for erecting rumble strips and bumps when the authorities concerned have erected footbridges. It is the responsibility of the executive to ensure that thoroughfares and footbridges are used and that they are secure,” said Justice Odunga.

The 60-day period ends on Tuesday and in the absence of enough footbridges, pedestrians are set to suffer more.

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NTSA Mombasa Road