Last week’s debacle in which Nairobians were forced to walk long distances could have been avoided had authorities implemented master plans meant to decongest the city.
Governor Mike Sonko, using a Gazette Notice No. 4479 of May 2017 required public transport vehicles terminate their journeys outside of the central business district. He beat a hasty retreat 24 hours later after a chaotic first day of its implementation.
Now, urban planners say the knee-jerk reactions from city authorities stem from a lack of initiative and ability to mobilise resources to implement key city master plans.
In 2014, the final Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) was published with technical support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
It was meant to address the gaps created by the 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy that expired in 2000.
The plan outlined several thematic areas that required immediate attention including the city’s chronic traffic snarl-ups, control expanding slums, and environmental degradation.
A year earlier, then Lands minister James Orengo had signed a document entitled, Spacial Planning Concept for Nairobi Metropolitan Region, in which six thematic cities were envisioned as part of an ambitious government plan to reorganise economic activities around the city.
The plan proposed the creation of infrastructure led cities that would include an aerotropolis, a health city, a sports city, a cyber city, a transport city and a tourism city. All these, it was hoped, would shift attention from Nairobi that would remain an administrative centre.
One of the key recommendations in the NIUPLAN was how to manage traffic within the city. Interestingly, Sonko’s idea of removing public transport from the city was not among the recommendations.
The NIUPLAN suggested that the city comes up with some type of road transport with enough capacity that will reduce the number of trips made by such vehicles to the key business districts. Though the report talked of a Bus Rapid Transit system, there was to be consensus among all the players in the public transport system.
“For the improvement of the transport network, especially the introduction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), obtaining general consensus among the passengers and operators of buses/matatus is highly recommended,” states the NIUPLAN.
It added: “In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the introduction of a new system for public transport and to obtain the consensus among the citizens, a pilot experiment is an effective way which was introduced in many countries. For the introduction of the BRT system, a pilot experiment shall be implemented for a certain period, and effects will be evaluated after the implementation.”
It is worth noting that the NIUPLAN states that a key contributing factor to the transport problem is poor implementation of strategies proposed in physical plans.
Peter Kibinda, a planner who had a long stint at City Hall says there is no need of reinventing the wheel as far as traffic management is concerned. He says for the plans to work, however, there ought to be the sanctity of the plan itself.
Kibinda says the 1973-2000 Master Plan for Nairobi contained plans for the city ring roads (bypasses) whose construction is ongoing.
He says we should not be talking of building bypasses in 2018 when all energy should go toward the implementation of the five-year-old master plan.
“All these plans took hundreds of millions to conceive yet are gathering dust in some offices. When the county government comes up with an odd way of managing traffic for example, it shows that there is no sanctity of the master plan,” he says.
Mairura Omwenga, an urban planner says implementing some of the recommendations in the plans does not need a lot of money but political will.
He says the plans recommended that a graduated approach be used in implementation. The county, he says, should be guided by these plans in managing traffic.
“The county should have selected what to implement in the short term, midterm to long term. By now, we would have made big planning strides had we taken this route. Sadly, we seem to be engaging the reverse gear by reducing parking fees in the city thus encouraging low capacity vehicles to enter the CBD, subsidising the rich and punishing the poor,” says Omwenga.