Possible solutions to Nairobi City transport problems

Commuters trek to Nairobi CBD along Waiyaki Way, after being dropped at new designated bus termini. [Photos: Courtesy].
NAIROBI, KENYA: Over decades, Nairobi City has been experiencing rising motorisation rates with many of its people opting for private car ownership.

Previously, the ownership of a private car was perceived as a status symbol attained with shift from perceived pro-poor public means of transport industry, which seems to be dwindling and deteriorating over time.

Planning in the past has often given the reason on this model choice having focused on car transport as opposed to planning for alternative non-motorized modes of transport.

This has seen great disparity of the high rate of people relying on Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) but with less provisions, allocation and funding given to them.  What is the end result? Traffic congestion and delays, urban sprawl, air and noise pollution, climate change, community severance and high rates of traffic accidents particularly between NMT users and motorists.

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The City resident population would have wished to see good accessibility of public transport systems by all with integration of other modes of transport such as walking and cycling in an integrated and seamless manner.

Many have wondered how much it would have taken to give provisions for dedicated lanes for NMT, secure pedestrian crossings and street lighting to safeguard their safety and security.

Would it be a grave mistake to revitalise or give provisions for public spaces where the NMT users and other public can rest or use them as leisure joints? Are the available public transport (Matatu) affordable to allow passengers to travel whenever they want and that are they assured of their availability with route possibilities, timings and frequencies? How acceptable are the available modes of transport systems in terms of their comfort, cleanliness, personal safety and security? Are there support amenities and sanitation facilities especially at the bus stops and consideration for people with disabilities, elderly, sick, children and women?

These are some of the questions many Nairobi residents ask but which remains unanswered.

Best practices dictate that transport systems should be based on environmental performance with main emphasis on prevention of air and noise pollution and enhancement of economic development with car users being charged for any social, economic and environmental impacts.

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This has not been the case with many un-serviced smoking cars seen plying along major residential and work place areas where they have been great pollutants. What about consideration of travel time? Most of the land uses are segregated with  commercial or work place distances located far away from residential areas which makes commuters travel long distances, stay in traffic jams with great consumption of fuel, loss of time and economy.

Transport systems which ought to consider social inclusion for all classes through access and prioritisation of pedestrians through provisions for walkways and cycling lanes with shorter distances seems to be lacking.

Many have wondered how equity should have been given preference with prioritisation of public transport and enhancement of walk-ability. Most of the decisions made done hastily have left the public astonished since they are rarely consulted or engaged through public participation to enhance acceptability and transparency of decisions made on their behalf.

Planners have a great task in the execution of land use plans which enhance integration as opposed to segregation of land uses to minimize car use as well as enhance connectivity thus reduction in traffic congestion.

Compactness of land use developments have to be emphasised to reduce urban sprawl and be integrated to Transport Oriented Development options.

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With the rising population, sustainable mode of transport have to be promoted with efficient high capacity public transport and NMT modes that relate to urban form (densities) with mobility.

The link between public transport system, NMT and land uses will improve on human rights access and equitable to destinations with acceptable walk-able distances coupled with revitalisation strategies and paradigms which promote sustainability and functionality of the transport systems.

Any well designed transport system consists of networks which are composed of lines and nodes being the points of connection are interconnected in the same space or across jurisdictions.

Although roads may have been built in different times or periods of history, some of different types, classes or conditions, there has been a great concern of their interconnection. Transport planners and urban managers have to rethink of restoration of some of the poorly thought out designs that have often led to traffic jams with the roundabouts done away with to enhance smooth flow of traffic.

Interoperability between transport systems takes place across different jurisdictions platform of counties although they may be part of the same agglomerations of Nairobi Metropolitan. Such transportation infrastructure systems have a different limited capacities.

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As a result, the limited capacity has crunched the capacity of roads that can accommodate the cars along routes such as Kiambu Road, Langata Road, Ngong Road, Thika Super-Highway, Jogoo Road, Mombasa Road and Outer-Ring Road among many others.

The entire transportation infrastructure system has to be managed such that if there is a traffic congestion or accident along Thika Road or there is an inefficiency, it should not extend to Kiambu Road or the rest of the transport system as it happens in Nairobi.

The links and interfaces between different transport systems have to be managed such that there is no difficulty to run them as they affect interrelated links.

Planners and policy makers have no choice of formulating strategies and measures that focuses on integration of land uses.

They have to rethink of the transport strategies which enhance accessibility, connectivity, transit oriented development, structural form of urban growth, compact and mixed land use developments to minimise vehicle trips.

Avoid strategies which improves the system efficiency is normally aimed at reducing or avoiding the need for travel.

It therefore emphasises on walking and cycling, integrating land uses and transportation through location of traffic generators near transit stations, compact and mixed use developments, pricing and regulatory mechanisms, enhancing seamless interchange between transit modes and corridors.

Make cycling safer

Policy makers, urban planners and managers have to promote shift strategies which enhance trip efficiency by shifting from energy intensive to walking cycling and public transport. This can only be possible by making cycling safer and attractive, promoting public transport, improving street designs to encourage walk-ability, providing adequate public spaces and street furniture, promoting seamless flow and interchange between transport modes such as walking/cycling with Public Transport (BRT), road safety priority to public transport and NMT users, introduction of park and ride facilities,  parking policies, enforcing hefty pricing and regulatory mechanisms especially during peak hours.

Nairobi City is one of the big polluters in Kenya. Operation of transport sector should be done in the least polluting way through the use of technology such renewable approaches. Improved strategies to transport systems shall enhance vehicle efficiency which can be achieved through use of vehicle and clean fuel technologies that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient, through inspection, maintenance and use of intelligent transport system.

Other key interventions to be used include prioritisation of public transport, walking and cycling, encouraging the use of more fuel efficient vehicles, pricing and regulatory mechanisms and use of alternatives such as cable cars, electric trains and battery cars, enhancement in use of cleaner fuel technologies.

Planning for closer land uses or compact developments should be key focus to encourage walkability, promote safety and security of road users by use of curbs, installation of security lights and fly-overs with dedication of pedestrian and bicycle lanes.

Emphasis should be laid in consideration of road hierarchies to sieve traffic easily, densification with development regulations of Plot Ratios, Coverage, reduction in parking requirements, enhancement of visual active frontages and setbacks and building lines with shorter pedestrian blocks to encourage use of NMT modes.

What about the network development and identification of certain primary corridors as ‘mobility corridors’.

Priority should be given for increasing the throughput by having public transit system(s) with more space allocation for public transit maneuvering through high density residential developments hence serving the entire population.

Therefore the public transit connectivity should be promoted with the design catering for the needs of people and provisions made for inter-modal stations to facilitate seamless transfers and integration of NMT modes.

Policy implementer should establish connected walking networks within the CBD areas with adequate walkway and path surfaces to enhance safety and security of pedestrians. Cyclists should be provided with bike lanes and bicycle boulevards.

Cycling should be integrated with transit with provisions made for bicycle parking/rickshaw stands which many people will not be comfortable unless the safety and security concerns are addressed.

Many wonder why most streets lack street furniture and pedestrian friendly design features which should take the shortest time to implement at very minimal costs to encourage use of NMT modes of transport.

Parking Strategy

Parking is another nightmare for car users within the CBD which has to be given a long lasting solution. Some have thought of having a CBD without parking spaces but the main question has been how will the Nairobi City County raise its revenues since its one of the key revenue enhancement strategy? Focus should be given on parking strategies in order to shape the framework for the future provision, management and maintenance of parking facilities.

There has to be an understanding of the parking supply and demand position in the city which keeps people in oscillation looking for parking lots. Restriction of on-street parking and hike in parking fees on some of the busy routes such as Tom Mboya and Moi Avenue Streets can relieve the traffic snarl ups along these areas.

The key causes of traffic congestion which cascades to other jurisdictions have to be understood which are not similar along different routes.

Mombasa Road for instance has often faced traffic from the trucks between Syokimau and Salama area.  Would there be a dedicated lane for trucks or routes? Policy makers should think of an alternative such as operationalization of the old Mombasa Road and clear connection with the Eastern and Southern Bypasses.

Freight management should be done with restricted travel times, delivery times and development of freight terminals/warehouses as well as relocation of wholesale markets  and open air markets to the periphery hence limiting mass population movement to the inner CBD areas.

Planners and policy makers have to acknowledge that transport systems should be provided in a socially equitable way through social tariffs by lowering the public transport fares and ensure accessibility to transport systems across all social classes.

Such services provided should be affordable whereby affordability means that it should be relative to money at their disposal or salaries so that at long last they don’t end up spending all their money in transportation.

Transport infrastructure systems should be developed without discriminating the poor people such as the location of bus stations within their residential sites as it is easier to put such infrastructure facilities where the poor people live because they may not have capacity and voice to control or protest against such decisions.

It is difficult to construct transport infrastructure systems where people or organized with gated communities or high income groups.

Non discriminating approach is important and should be emphasized in the implementation of the proposed BRT/MRT/LRT systems and that they should be able to address the needs of the vulnerable groups such as the sick, elderly, women, children, disabled, expectant mothers and the urban poor since they are normally the most disadvantaged where there is no efficient and effective transport systems.

How do we achieve a balance between the social and economic dimension of transport systems? Transportation systems such as development of superhighways, railways and bypasses are long term investments that require huge sunken costs which might be difficult to recuperate.

This is as result of such infrastructure being a public good investment for economic development and prosperity of the town.

As a result, such investments might not be produced for commercial purposes but as public services which no economical rational enterprise will be willing to provide as they might not be paid for.

Economies of Scale

There is a need for economies of scale so that the costs and infrastructure services are used optimally. In most cases, provision of such transport services are characterised by market powers which favor monopolies or large companies by the virtue of the technical nature and therefore have possibilities of discriminating against their competitors.

Managing the transport systems should be done in the most efficient way with minimal wastes and should be tagged on profitability to ensure infrastructure services provided are profitable to develop further services such terminal facilities.

The systems should generate profit to invest in better technologies to better efficiency and effectiveness of the systems. Subsidies received from some of these transport system services such as those from Thika Super-Highway and Standard Gauge Railway should be utilised in a better way.

Transportation systems are often influenced by political decisions as opposed to technical interventions which ought not to be the case.

Technical people should be given full authority to formulate and implement decisions on the transport systems with the political arm integrated in decisions for full support and ownership.

Operation of transport systems is usually across political and legal jurisdictions which pose technical challenges interconnectivity and interoperability in dealing with different political authorities and legal systems.

There has been demand for cost transparency and accountability of transport infrastructure systems in the manner of award of contracts, development and maintenance of roads/railway infrastructure facilities and services within different jurisdictions.

Therefore there is a need for proper coordination with a different organization within the different jurisdiction since transport systems are managed by different institutions and therefore require to be managed well with good coordination system, political good will and governance structures.

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NairobiTraffic jamMatatu BanGovernor Mike Sonko