Businesspeople and pedestrians along Nairobi’s Luthuli Avenue can now breathe easy.
The once noisy and chaotic road in the central business district (CBD) now has some order. Pedestrians can now relax on street benches, stroll comfortably along this street which has since been converted into a one-way street.
The expansion of pedestrian walkways has also made businesses visible and convenient to buyers who mostly troop there to buy electronic goods in an area the United Nations in 2017 identified as one of the most congested in the city.
The facelift, in its final stages, was allocated Sh24 million by the county government in a joint project with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).
Motorists will now join the road from Tom Mboya Street and exit at River Road.
“We decided to make it a one-way street so the business community can operate well. They too are taxpayers and we can’t allow obstruction of people’s businesses,” Governor Mike Sonko had earlier explained.
Eastleigh route matatus were kicked out of the street. The road shrank to allow for wider sidewalks, space for trees and some benches.
“Luthuli will also have air pollution gadgets to monitor pollution. It is an important electronics hub in the region and if this pilot project works in the decongestion efforts, it will be replicated across the city centre”, county Roads and Transport boss Hitan Majevdia said.
The project was opposed by matatu operators who claimed they were being kicked out of business. Some even heckled Sonko when he toured the street to announce the changes, but the business community has embraced the new look.
Sonko has promised to sit down with the affected matatu operators to decide on where they will be relocated.
“It has created visibility for our businesses. For a long time, customers kept off Luthuli (Avenue) because of congestion and noise. But they can now see our wares and our fronts are roomy,” said Benson Kimanzi, a businessman.
UN-Habitat deputy executive director Victor Kisob said the facelift is the beginning of a project to regenerate and beautify Nairobi like other counties.
Constant Cap, an urban planner, noted that the CBD died a long time ago due to lack of multi-modal mobility options.
“For one to access the CBD, it is either by car or matatu, yet people can use bicycles if there is safe parking for bikes. For many people, this is discouraging. What we have now are people and corporates moving to Upper Hill, Westlands and Kilimani, but the same problems are being shifted there - like congestion and lack of parking. Business districts ought to have safe, reliable and efficient public transport as well as proper non-motorised transport linking these transit nodes and all buildings” he said, adding that: “The day we stop thinking that walking, cycling and public transport are only for poor people, is the day our city will change.”
According to Cap, the problem with cities like Nairobi is planning with cars in mind and not people, yet “most of the best cities in the world like Curitiba (the capital of Parana, Southern Brazil which was designed by former mayor Jamie Lerner); and Vauban District (south of Freiburg in Germany); function well because of their prioritisation of non-motorised transport. Not only does one get healthier people, people also interact more, shops do brisker business, the air gets cleaner and the city tends to be generally safer for women and children.”
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