Study finds road constructions cause of increased pedestrian deaths in Nairobi

More deaths of pedestrians are expected with the building of more roads, a new study has found.

The research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities warns that the drive to build faster roads in Nairobi is being placed ahead of the safety of poorer people who walk and cycle.

The lead researchers were Kenyan journalist Beatrice Obwocha and Clare Cummings, a research fellow at ODI.

The study, ‘At the crossroads: the politics of road safety in Nairobi’, highlights how more than half of road deaths occur on the new high-speed highways built through Nairobi, while pedestrians and motorcyclists, often the poorest members of society, are the most likely to be affected.

Kenyan government figures show that of the 668 people killed in traffic collisions in Nairobi in 2015, 74 per cent were pedestrians.

In 2016, 65 per cent of the 461 killed were pedestrians. At the same time, the number of motorcyclists killed in collisions has continued to rise. The report warns however that there is very little investment in walking and cycling infrastructure with only 20 per cent of roads have pavements.

The study warns a lack of consideration for road safety among politicians, developers and investors is putting the lives of hundreds of pedestrians at risk each day.

Cummings said: "Nairobi is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa with more people using cars every day, yet road and pedestrian safety remains a low priority. While wealthier residents can often afford to travel by car, poorer people rely on public transport or walk, meaning they are at most risk of being killed or seriously injured in a collision."

She charged that politicians and policy makers gain popularity with car owners and construction companies by building super highways through Nairobi which often leads to an increase in the number of pedestrian road deaths and puts the most vulnerable road users at greater risk.

Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation, said: "Road traffic deaths and injuries are not 'accidents'. They are the direct consequence of system failures and political choices, for example building high speed urban highways through local communities. This report clearly shows that, if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals target to halve road deaths, which the UN and the Kenyan Government have signed up to, politicians must start listening to and providing safe mobility for the majority of the people: who walk, cycle and use public transport."

Anna Bray Sharpin, Urban Mobility Associate at WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities, said: "While congestion is a common frustration for Nairobi residents, building more roads does not address the problem of increasing private car use. Rather, better public transport and safe infrastructure for people walking and biking on existing roads would reduce the need to travel by car, making Nairobi roads less frenetic and improving safety for everyone."

Researchers found that while road safety has gained more prominence in policy and regulation in Kenya, it is often poorly enforced and overlooks underlying causes of road collisions, such as the increasing number of private vehicles on the road, low investment in public transport, and the lack of safe road space for vulnerable road users.

Some of the solutions the recommended in the report include undertaking legally-binding road safety assessments on all proposed road projects; development of a bus rapid transit system and the redesign of major city roads to ensure safety of pedestrians.