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Nairobi, Kenya Heading Wrong Way to Solve Traffic Congestion

Nairobi Traffic in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

Urban areas experience a lot of vehicular congestion and traffic jams cost us millions of dollars every day through wasted time, environmental pollution, and increased stress. The City of Nairobi is no exception and due to this a "Transport and Urban Decongestion Committee" was set up by Governor Evans Kidero to look into the best solutions to deal with Nairobi's congestion.

The Committee released their interim Report in June 2014. It acknowledges the two approaches of reducing traffic flow: Increasing road capacity (supply) or reducing traffic (demand). During a forum with the public, the Chairperson of the committee, Prof. Marion Mutungi, reminded attendants that "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt."

The report lists of health and environmental effects of traffic pollutants, explains the detrimental health effects of being stuck in traffic, as well as economic losses.

It recognizes various ways of reducing vehicular traffic like road space rationing – possibly controlling the number of vehicles into the city by the last digit of the plate number during week days, investment in mass transit systems like high occupancy buses, trams, light rail and metro, road pricing policy, congestion pricing and urban planning and design.

Traffic Jams and Road Repairs in the City of Nairobi, Kenya

Though it notes that traffic congestion challenges are a result of poor planning in the past it's surprising that there was no urban planner sitting on the committee. In addition to that, several professional and government bodies were consulted, but absent, including the Kenya Institute of Planners and the Architectural Association of Kenya. Others consulted included health sector practitioners, environmental experts, transport sector organizations, and emergency services, traffic police and engineering experts.

The methodology carried out involved public hearings with citizens, use of electronic media like TV and radio shows and the use of ward representatives. Opinions could also be submitted electronically through email, a facebook page, and a twitter handle. The views from the public are partly directed towards asking them for solutions by analyzing the problems they face and deducing solutions to key problems.

The results of the study are almost similar to those done by previous studies including the Nairobi Integrated Master Plan. The master plan has deeper analysis with traffic counts, peak hour analysis and hourly variation by trip purpose. None of the master plan information has been adapted as secondary data in the report. Its views on pedestrians mostly focus on use of pedestrian crossings and use of foot bridges.

The report could have further developed the case studies as it looks at cities like Sao Paulo, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Singapore and London which are very different socially, economically and demographically to Nairobi. No analysis of successful cities like Bogota, Curitiba, and Ahmadabad were considered or even mentioned. These cities have closer demographic, economic and political trends to the City of Nairobi and have had successful attempts at decongestion.

Nairobi, Kenya, Africa traffic

The recommendations of the report start with the need for road infrastructure, expanding feeder roads, dualing of major roads and constructing lay-byes. It covers a lot on the subject of inadequate parking, proposes ways to increase parking in the Central Business District, and the need for separate routes for transit vehicles.

While the study mentions the need for dedicated lanes, it surprisingly recommends that public transport vehicles should not be allowed access to the Central Business District, thus encouraging the use of private cars. The breadth of recommendations is wide, covering more than forty different points with a bias towards supply factors over demand.

The report tends to be oriented towards vehicles over human mobility: thus the direction towards more road and parking construction. The relationship between land use management and traffic congestion is not brought out clearly and as a result it does not look into how to reduce urban sprawl and have well planned densification. There is also no mention on pedestrianization of the city, placemaking, and any directives towards urban resilience.

The cover of the report shows an artist's impression of the proposed double decker highway in Nairobi, which summarizes the direction of most of the recommendations.

What are other cities doing to reduce the growing trend of urban congestion? What are the key elements to consider when studying urban decongestion?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.