During a recent visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, I was intrigued to learn that top company executives and senior government officers cycle or walk to work.
It is not because they don’t own cars or can’t afford to have one if they want’. No. For them and million others in Copenhagen and other Denmark cities, cycling and walking are a way of life. They find cycling convenient and safe. They also cycle and walk as a way of keeping fit and keeping the environment clean.
In Copenhagen – and indeed many other Scandinavian cities – residents take pride in getting around on their two-wheelers as the main means of transport. It is what has earned Copenhagen the moniker “the city of the bicycle”. It is estimated that Copenhagen city, with a population of approximately 600,000, has 675,000 bicycles.
The cities have invested heavily on non-motorised transport infrastructure to ensure that the cyclists and pedestrians are comfortable using the road. All roads in the city are designed to cater for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The pedestrian and cyclists lanes are complete, meaning lanes don’t come to an abrupt end, forcing riders or pedestrians to go back to the motorists lanes.
For the cyclists who wish to use public transport to complete their journey, the trains and buses have dedicated spaces where they can place their bicycles while onboard. There are also dedicated parking spaces for bicycles at train stations and on the streets.
There is very high level of discipline by road users. Everyone obeys traffic rules and the pedestrians and cyclists are respected by motorists and given right of way most of the times.
But what makes cycling popular in Copenhagen? Can Copenhagen’s success with non-motorised transport like cycling and walking be replicated in a global south city like Nairobi? Copenhageners find it easy to move around on bicycles because the city is designed and built to enable cycling. The network of paths and innovative bridges that form cycling superhighways across the city have made cycling popular in Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular. This makes Copenhagen one of the safest places to be a cyclist.
Research has shown that for a city to be cyclists-friendly, it must have a network of protected bike lanes. In Denmark, for instance, unidirectional bike lanes are separated from both the pavements and the road by a kerb. This has made cycling in Denmark safe even for women and children.
Back home, Nairobi has been trying to improve its non-motorised transport facilities and infrastructures by putting in place cycling and walking lanes on some roads. Most Kenyan roads, including those in Nairobi, were built for vehicles only, and not with non-motorised transport users in mind.
Pedestrians and cyclists are forced to struggle for the same space with vehicles, sometimes leading to fatal road accidents. Indeed, authorities say that most of the deadly road crashes in Nairobi involve pedestrians.
Nairobi City County Government’s recent attempts to fix pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes on existing roads should be commended. But the piecemeal way it is being done makes the whole plan unsustainable. Most of the cycling and walkways are not continuous to the end. You find a very nice cycling lane, but then it ends abruptly, forcing you to go back to the main road and fight it out with motorists. It is the same case with pedestrian walkways. This doesn’t bode well for a city where approximately 48 per cent of the population walk to work and trips to school and work account for over 85 per cent of all walking trips.
The attempts to construct pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes in Nairobi are in line with the Non-Motorised Transport Policy of 2017. To realise that goal, the policy, whose overall objective is to “put people before cars”, requires Nairobi City County Government to spend at least 20 per cent of its transport budget every year on non-motorised transport and public transport infrastructure and services.
Mr Ochieng’ is the CEO of The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations