By MWAURA SAMORA
The new Thika Superhighway has more than six footbridges between the city centre and Githurai but that has not stopped pedestrians getting killed or injured by speeding vehicles.
According to a senior engineer with the Kenya Urban Road Authority (Kura), “Footbridges are erected in busy markets or residential areas where people have to cross a busy highway.”
These overhead structures, adds the engineer, are expensive undertakings that can cost up to Sh100 million depending on the length and size of the road, type of soil, material and the type of the bridge.
“This is why they are usually considered as a measure of last resort in places where peoples’ lives are at risk,” the Kura engineers says. “Otherwise in most places, we prefer bumps and rumble strips which are far much cheaper but still effective in saving people’s lives.”
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Although the magnificent footbridges along Thika Superhighway are still new and in good condition, older ones across the city are in bad shape, with several now reduced to open air toilets and dens for muggers.
One of the saddest examples is the Kenya Railways (KR) bridge that connects the city centre to Industrial Area and South B estate.
Built by the colonial government in 1945 to convey African workers from the city through Workshop Road (by then called Whitehouse Road) to industries and workstations across the tracks, the 128 feet long bridge’s current state would make Chief Engineer AK Atkinson, the brain behind the project according to KR records, turn in his grave.
Although the concrete stairs are still intact, the wooden floor boards along the bridge’s walkway are worn and broken in many places, leaving gaping spaces big enough to trap a child’s foot.
Although some attempts at repair have been made, whoever did the work seems to have used discarded pieces of timber, probably from the KR workshops nearby. These are of irregular sizes and quality, with some haphazardly joined with nails.
According to construction maps drawn by the colonial engineers that The Nairobian accessed, timber for the floorboard is supposed to be hardwood, about four inches thick. This is no longer the case since the floorboard has been worn thin by the elements and the more than 10,000 pairs of feet that pound on it daily.
The traffic along this busy bridge is usually high in the morning and evening rash hour where people fight and squeeze to get through the eight-foot crossing point. The situation is even worse during rainy days when the crowd of pedestrians is so huge that others have to crawl along the guard rails to across.
“The responsibility of ensuring that the bridge remains safe lies squarely with the Kenya Railways who are the custodians in this case,” explains Eng Maina Thangata. “The problem with timber is that when it rains, the wood soaks water and when it’s sunny, it dries up which eventually weakens the whole structure, putting pedestrians at risk”.
“To ensure that they dont keep repairing it now and then or put people’s lives at risk, the custodians of the railway bridge should consider replacing the timber with concrete or steel, adopting the styles of the footbridges in Thika Raod and along University Way,” the structural engineer explains. “If they still want to retain wood, they should replace the worn timber with strong and oil-painted hardwood.”
But whether this will be done before a disaster strikes remains to be seen. Although a Ms Kawira of Kenya Railways PR department requested The Nairobian to send her questions, she neither responded to the emails nor answered our calls, texting instead that she was in meetings.
Other footbridges that are no-go zones for pedestrians are the ones located at Wakulima Market, Lang’ata- Mombasa Road junction and Jogoo Road next to Burma Market.
Although built to help pedestrians cross busy roads, people along these bridges prefer risking life and limb dashing across busy motorways rather than encounter street urchins, thugs or human waste that litter nearly every city footbridge.
When contacted by The Nairobian, the Nairobi County authorities, the custodian of the bridges along Muthurwa market according to Kura, said theirs was only to ensure cleanliness.
“As a county government, ours is only to ensure the bridges are clean and in good condition, which we have done so far,” claimed Fidelis Mwanza, the Nairobi County Public Relations Officer. “The security function belongs to the national government through the police. So they are the ones that are supposed to ensure the bridges are cleared of urchins and other criminals”.
A regional National Highways Authority (KENHA) senior engineer who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media slammed Nairobians for not using the bridges yet they cost the taxpayer millions of shillings.
“Footbridges are very expensive,” the senior engineer said. “For instance the one that will be constructed along Mombasa Road near General Motors will cost Sh183 million while the one at Bellevue will be around Sh177 million and it is a shame when citizens don’t use them.”