Published in the Architecture Kenya Magazine.
The daily traffic menace in Nairobi results in massive losses in fuel, time and even productivity. If all these were quantified in monetary terms, the figures would be unimaginable. Salvos have always been fired at PSV operators, especially matatus. Whereas they could be guilty of rampant flouting of traffic regulations, they are not the cause of the traffic menace. If anything, they reduce it as we recently experienced during their strike. With their absence, we spent more hours on the roads.
Dealing with traffic congestion has numerous entry points that have been discussed in ‘first class’ theses and research reports before. These documents have clearly detailed systems of infrastructure that could solve this menace. Road designs which cater for the pedestrian and cyclist have been proposed.
Proposals to change transport systems are not new either. Many attempts have also been made at the same, including the Nyayo Bus Service, Kenya Bus Service, City Hoppa, Double M and even the RVR commuter train service.
Architects and planners have also suggested a widened context from which attempts are made to solve the transport issue. They have proposed concepts that cater for satellite urban centers like Burburu, Westlands, Karen, Ngong or even further to Thika, Naivasha and Athi River. They argue that if expansion energies are focused in such centres, people will be afforded an opportunity to work closer to their homes where they could even walk.
The Nairobi City Council has not been left behind. Increases in parking fees have been done in recent times to discourage use of private cars. Several other attempts have been made at organizing the public transport system in the CBD.
The Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry also mentioned a new Nairobi Masterplan a few years back. This was meant to arrest the current erratic and perilous developments sprouting all over the city, contributing to the disorganization that causes traffic congestion. Although the ministry is quiet now, the mention could also be noted as an attempt to provide a solution.
I have also thought of traffic congestion before, and with the suggestions, proposals and attempts at solving the traffic menace in mind, I have asked myself, does Nairobi really have traffic problems? Is a shift in mass transit system really justifiable? Isn’t it ironic that some cities are routing for the removal of mega scale flyovers while we are busy putting them up?
The aspirations of Nairobians, their leaders and the relevant professionals in the sector are guided by the successes of western cities yet our capacities, resources, infrastructure and way of life underlie the realities we must face. Nairobi is simply a young, small, third-world micro city with ‘third world’ problems compounded by our state that has abandoned all questions of critical infrastructure like housing, transport and communication to the hands of private entrepreneurs.
A shift in mass transportation system could be desirable but not justifiable. Let’s face it; we only have congestion issues in the city at 8am and 5pm, and who doesn’t know why? Let me explain, we all head to and leave our places of work at the same time. Such a problem can surely be solved by a shifted work culture, say a change to 24 hour economy. The recent failure of the City Market as a 24hr market and the successes of Nakumatt Supermarket’s 24hr shopping concept have lessons we can learn if we are to stimulate this 24hr concept. Perhaps we need a change in the billing/waging laws, so that people get paid weekly wages at hourly rates, so that it’s possible to have people work round the clock, thus creating the necessary demand and supply lines that will naturally compose a tertiary economy thriving around the core economy.
With this in mind, we can then look at our capacity to build differentiated traffic flow systems that will accommodate the many ideas proposed to solve our congestion issues. Many other possibilities can then be examined for instance, what possibilities are presented by formation of satellite centers? Is there a possibility that the CBD can be bypassed in the daily quest to commute from home to the office? Or thinking the other way, can the home be brought to the office? Can we have a total re-examination of the zoning policies to allow dwellings in the CBD proper