Bicycle riders on their own and in danger as town plans ignore them

Cyclist crossing the road at a highway in Mombasa County. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Cyclists are the forgotten lot in Western Kenya's transport sector. They are loathed by matatu operators and despised by boda boda riders on motorcycles who view them as a nuisance.

In the planning of towns in the region, the plight of cyclists is not a subject of discussion and has been largely ignored by authorities. In the entire Nyanza and Western regions, there are no special cycling lanes.

Yet, cyclists continue to form a crucial part of the transport sector in the two regions and are a vital resource of cheap transport within cities and towns.

For a long time, the two-wheelers were the main means of short-distance transport before the introduction of motorcycles that have now taken over the boda boda industry.

In Kisumu, it would only cost you Sh10 to hike a ride from a cyclist while moving within the town. With the tough economic times, the amount has now doubled to Sh20, but still varies depending on the distance.

In several towns in the region, however, cyclists still operate on a daily basis. While some, who mainly use Black Mamba model of bicycles, compete with motorcycle boda boda operators in the transport business, other riders are private citizens who use bycycles for either leisure or their own transport.

In Kisumu, a majority of learners in day schools rely on bicycles to reach school and most of the time are forced to dangerously escape speeding matatus during rush hour.

While towns ignore them in their planning, hospitals and mortuaries in the region have not ignored them. They form part of casualties in traffic accidents reported in the region.

A report by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) indicates that from January to December 13 last year, the number of pedal cyclists who died in accidents was 57. In a similar period in 2021, the number of fatalities stood at 83.

Although the figures represent a decline of 31.3 per cent, it is the tip of the iceberg on the problem that pedal cyclists are going through across the country.

Interviews with a number of cyclists across the region established that a number of them are dicing with death on a daily basis.

In Kisumu, the cyclists blamed lack of proper planning on their woes, saying a majority of them have been involved in accidents.

Fredrick Opiyo, a cyclist who has been operating as a boda boda operator for 15 years in Kisumu, said it is a daily struggle for them.

"Our colleagues who operate on motorcycles do not want us at their bases. Most of us have also been knocked down during rush hour," said Opiyo.

He said he has suffered a twisted ankle twice on two separate occasions after he was sandwiched by two matatus competing for passengers next to the Kisumu bus park during rush hour.

He is not alone. Maurice Okumu, another cyclist who operates in Kondele, said he has also been a victim of accidents.

"Cases of hit and run are very common. Vehicles or motorcycles knock you down and push you off the road before fleeing," he said.

Attempts by Governor Anyang' Nyong'o's administration to put up a non-motorised transport system in the town are yet to bear fruit. The initiative promotes walking and biking and may be a game changer for cyclists.

The situation is the same in surrounding towns, including Ahero and Siaya, where pedal cyclists are the most preferred mode of transport.

Unlike motorcycles that charge more, pedal cyclists are slightly cheaper but are slow.

Kisumu County Health Executive Gregory Ganda said they have been treating them for various injuries. Before he was elevated to a CEC, Ganda served as the CEO of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) where most accident victims are treated.

Isaac Opiyo, a cyclist in Ndhiwa Sub-county, Homa Bay County, said recklessness among some drivers on major roads predisposes them to accidents.

"The manner in which some drivers drive on roads puts our lives at risk. Sometimes we are forced to stop cycling abruptly when vehicles are overtaking each other. The only way to help us is to create special lanes for us," said Opiyo.

Maurice Odeka urged drivers to respect pedal cyclists.

"There are drivers who drive as if they don't consider the welfare of cyclists but I think they hate us. Let them consider us as people who have equal rights to use the roads," Odeka said.

Bicycle riders in Kakamega and Bungoma counties said they are being discriminated against by motorists along highways and other key roads.

Samuel Juma, a bicycle boda boda rider in Kakamega town, said motorists look down upon them, leading to accidents in some cases.

He said some of his colleagues have been hurt and maimed in the line of duty by motorists.

"We have learnt to accept our situation and stay away from trouble," he said.

Despite using the two-wheelers, Juma said he has to adhere to traffic rules like any other road user, including motorists.

"Drivers and sometimes motorcyclists will never pave way for bicycle users because they feel superior, sometimes, they force us out of the way," said Juma, who has been in the business for at least three years.

Benson Wanyonyi, a bicycle boda boda rider at Kimilili town, Bungoma County, said he risks every day riding along Kimilili-Bungoma Road "because sometimes motorists can be careless."

The boda boda leadership in Kakamega says bicycle riders and motorists must follow laid-down traffic rules. They warn that children should not be allowed to ride along busy roads.

Earlier, police had issued a stern warning against adults who allow children to ride motorcycles in Western without considering their safety.

This followed concerns raised by NTSA about the increasing number of children seen riding along key roads in Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia and Vihiga counties.

During the launch of Usalama Barabarani Programme in Kakamega last year, NTSA linked a surge in accidents on roads to unlicensed motorists and children who don't understand traffic rules and regulations.

The authority, in its report, indicated that 40 per cent of accidents reported annually in the region are caused by boda boda riders.

Between 2005 and 2021, the fatality rate of motorcycle accidents rose to 40 per cent from 5 per cent.

[Additional reporting by Jackline Inyanji]