Newly constructed road does little to ease Utawala’s crisis

Matatu dropping passengers at a road diversion obstructing other road users. Matatu operators along Utawala-Githunguri road complain of not having enough stages on the new constructed road which forces them to pick and drop passengers on the road causing obstruction and risking the lives of passengers. ON 19/02/2019. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Until last year, the feeder road from the Eastern bypass to Utawala estate was rough, potholed and layered with dust.

Its condition was made worse by lorries that used it to transport stones and construction materials to the rapidly developing suburb.

In September 2018, residents staged a protest, burning tyres and barricading the road. The protest drew an immediate response and the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura), who promised an upgrade.

Today, work on the nearly three-kilometre stretch is almost complete. But the protests that it stirred are far from over.

According to a number of motorists, the road still has a number of faults, the most glaring being that with only two lanes, it is too narrow for the heavy traffic it experiences.

Worst of all, the new road has no bus stop.

“It is terrible, especially at Kinkar junction where matatus keep blocking the road to pick and drop passengers,” says John Mwendwa, a motorist.

The matatus have all but taken over the entire road, especially during rush hour.

No courtesy

“They have no courtesy. Sometimes they block the road completely forcing us to use alternative routes,” says Mwendwa.

The return of heavy trucks on the road has only made matters worse.

Boda boda operators who also fight for space on the road, absolve themselves of blame, saying matatus and lorries are to blame.

“For us, the situation is okay. The problem is the lorries and matatus,” says Kevin Oduor, who chairs Kinkar Boda Boda Association.

Members park their motorcycles at Kinkar Junction, waiting for clients, with lorries carrying construction materials hurtling dangerously close.

Several matatu saccos operate on the road, from Tawala Sacco to City Shuttle and Kenya Bus Services. They all say that they do not block the road deliberately, but for lack of a designated place to drop and pick passengers. 

“We sometimes drop passengers in the middle of the road,” says Chris Mogaka, a bus driver.

For this, the drivers and the boda boda operators play cat-and-mouse games with the police every day. Many are arrested for stopping at undesignated places, with claims of bribes changing hands coming up.

“The police blame us for stopping on the road. They arrest and fine our crew, yet it is not our fault,” says Mogaka.

He says the road is so narrow that whenever a vehicle stalls, traffic comes to a standstill. And when it does, no one is safe from the police, not even the boda boda operators. 

“Officers from a nearby Administration Police (AP) camp impound our motorcycles claiming that we are parked on the road. Where do they expect us to park?” says Oduor.

The boda boda association accuses the police of demanding up to Sh5,000 to release impounded motorcycles. And even as the road nears completion, its users doubt it will be a blessing, unless its design is changed.

But City Hall says this will not happen.

Mohammed Dagane, the man in charge of roads at City hall, says that the design of the road is up to standard. He says the road cannot be expanded any further due to lack of space, something he blamed on roadside developments.

As for inadequate bus stops, Dagane says these will be in place when the construction is completed.

Whether this will happen, only time will tell.

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Eastern bypassUtawala estateKenya Urban Roads AuthorityKinkar JunctionBoda Boda AssociationBus stopsNairobi