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How planners can improve Nairobi's urban mobility

By Lloyd Thuranira | Jan 20th 2022 | 3 min read
By Lloyd Thuranira | January 20th 2022

An upcoming Bus Rapid Transport System (BRT) Bus Station along Thika Road that has taken over two years to build. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Urban mobility is the movement of people from one point of an urban area to another.

Seamless urban mobility is a key economic driver and a catalyst to improved quality of life.

Nairobi acutely falls short of this basic. Our convenience to move around is quite compromised. Every Nairobi inhabitant is routinely encountering their share of troubles and inconveniences despite the mode they choose to use.

Traffic snarl-ups lead the way in this regard.

Others include recklessness by ‘matatu’ drivers, lack of pedestrian walkways, lack of bicycle lanes, commuting over long distances to work, hiked and inconsistent fares, and so on.

It has been a menace with no end on sight. The lack of proper city planning hasn’t helped the situation.

City residents have had to look for houses wherever they could afford them, with little regard to proximity to their workplaces.

In 2018, my workstation was located along Mombasa Road while my rented house was located along Thika Road. That meant that I was required to get to the city centre first before taking another bus to the workstation.

After a long day’s work, I would again commute to the city centre before proceeding home.

 Very depressing

Those were some of the saddest days of my life. The evening journey was particularly very depressing.

I would endure two long hours in a matatu from the Inland Container Depot to the Central Business District (CBD) and another one and half hours from the CBD to my house.

Rush hours in Nairobi are crazy! I would always get home fatigued from the trip and even more by the thought that I would have to contend with the same demoralising experience the following day.

This is what most Nairobi residents are experiencing today. Comparatively, in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, there exists an integrated public transport system that mainly deploys the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) known as TransMillenio.

Non-motorised transport (NMT) is also adequately provided for and integrated into the system.

There are very well paved walkways and extensive bicycle lanes to complement the BRT.

This has enhanced seamless urban mobility. If you are a regular user of the BRT, it is even more convenient if you pay using a smart card, by swiping, just like you would swipe an ATM.

The same card can be used in regular buses to connect to areas where the BRT doesn’t serve, hence an integrated system.

Prior to its implementation, a 30km trip in Bogota would take two hours 15 minutes. The same trip now by BRT, takes just 55 minutes.

Transmilenio is today the world’s largest BRT. Enrique Penalosa, the Bogota mayor between 1998 and 2001 was visionary and ambitious enough to find workable solutions for his city.

Pedestrian walkways

The public transport system was finally actualised in December 2000 after lengthy planning and implementation processes.

When Antanas Mockus took over, he ensured continuity in implementation. When I watched a documentary themed ‘Bogota Change’, Mockus clarified that he prioritises the maintenance of pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes while giving the motorways meant for private motorists the least consideration.

He was seen amongst other cyclists, cycling on paved bicycle lanes. He encouraged non-motorised transport, which is healthier, cleaner and promotes safety.

Mockus encouraged the inhabitants of the city to ‘carpool’ or use the BRT to minimise congestion and the emission of greenhouse gases.

More people have since then preferred to walk over shorter distances to driving and using the BRT over longer distances to using their private cars.

We must borrow a leaf from Bogota. Nairobi lacks walkable streets, cycling lanes, an efficient public transport system and in some sections, the road designs are safety hazards.

A compact development pattern could address most of these challenges such that workplaces, shopping centres, recreational parks, malls, bus termini, government offices and most other amenities are located near the residential areas.

This would minimise the need to travel long distances and reduce the dependency on motorised transport.

With a population of eight million people, Bogota is more populated than Nairobi but despite this, its city leaders hacked a way to ensure that its inhabitants move around under minimal inconvenience.

- The writer is an urban planner

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