Caleb Omwoyo, a cyclist was reportedly killed by a matatu (public bus transport) along Thika Road, Nairobi in September 2020.According to eye witnesses, a driver suddenly swerved onto the outer lane where he was cycling with friends.
This led to a demonstration by fellow cyclists who protested what they termed as harassment by vehicle drivers.
The riders petitioned the National Assembly to formulate legislative measures to safeguard cyclists against rogue motorists and ensure that they have designated lanes.
“Last year, one of us was knocked down by a motorist. The motorist was identified and taken to the police but the vehicle was later released and the case has just died,” Carol Mutura said. She is a member of a group of female cyclists club called Dada Rides Cycling Club.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), majority of people who lose their lives on road accidents in Kenya are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists. In addition, nearly one-third of fatalities occur to passengers. Many of whom are killed by using unsafe forms of public transportation including motor bikes taxis (boda boda).
Boda boda riders cause many accidents on the roads and are also victims. Many hospitals in Kenya have wards that are either full of boda boda accidents victims or are specifically for them.
A good example is the Orthopedic Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital which is always streaming with boda boda accident victims.
Hope for safer roads
On December 3, 2020, Naisula Lesuuda, Member of Parliament for the Samburu West constituency, made an announcement that brought hope for road users. Lesuuda said that Kenya is set to have the first Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) law once a bill seeking for amendment is approved by the National Assembly.
The legislator added that she hopes that parliament will pass the much needed NMT legislation and the president will assent to it.
“I am happy to inform Kenyans that the bill has been approved by the Speaker of the National Assembly. It is undergoing drafting and review process before publication and introduction in the House,” said Lesuuda.
If passed into law, the amendment bill will ensure cycling, walking lanes and all other road infrastructure that aid in attaining sustainable road transport systems are prioritized.
“Unfortunately, the blatant discrimination on our roads against some road users like pedestrians and cyclists is anchored and supported 100 percent by our laws. Why build roads for cars only while the majority of Kenyans do not own vehicles or afford public transport costs?” said Lesuuda.
The bill focuses on amending the Kenya Roads Act to:
(i) “Speed up and prioritize NMT through the exploration of holistic national legislation which can be domesticated, adopted in part or wholly across Kenya.”
(ii) “Ensure all the road infrastructure agencies, government entities as well as experts from the conservation and private sector come together to develop a long-term solution.”
(iii) “Boost Kenya’s climate change mitigation and adaptation measures and commitments, under the National Climate Change Action Plan and Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan, towards a low carbon pathway.”
Kenya’s commitments to the Paris agreement as outlined in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the National Climate Change Action Plan and the Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan 2016-2030, identifies the transport sector as a key sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For many years, Kenyans have suffered the impact of poor road plans. The population in cities, especially Nairobi has been increasing everyday due to rural-urban migration in search of better life opportunities.
According to the 2019 census, Nairobi city, which covers an area of 696 km² has a population of 4,397,073, while the metropolitan area has a population of 9,354,580.
As the number of vehicles increased in Kenya, city planners did not take keen interest in Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) facilities.
Most streets in and out of Nairobi are designed without NMT in mind. This has led to accidents that could have been avoided.
“Investing in non-motorized transport, like walking and cycling, helps improve air quality and road safety,” said Rob de Jong, head of sustainable mobility at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
He said that prioritizing active mobility contributes not only to human health but can also create less polluted, more livable and resilient cities in the future. De Jong added that “streets should be designed for pedestrians to ensure clean air, safety and accessibility.”
A study conducted by UNEP and other partners in Nairobi reveals that walking accounts for 40 percent of daily trips in the city.
The study further indicates that even 41 percent of trips by matatus start and end with a walking journey.
Despite being the dominant mode of transport in Nairobi, NMT receives little budgetary allocation as the majority of funding for the road network goes to building roads and expressways.
Pedestrians avoid footbridges
Initially new roads lacked walkways and flyovers but with the construction of the Thika highway and Outer Ring roads, Nairobi is slowly changing its face.
Peter Mundinia, Director General of Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) said that the two footbridges along Thika Road were built at a cost of KSh 392 million.
However, those who use the roads frequently are not satisfied. They claim that the foot bridges are so far apart and that is why they cross the roads at illegal spots.
Some also fear using foot bridges at night because of insecurity. Some of them have become hideouts for criminals.
Kenyatta Avenue, Muindi Mbingu Street, parts of Ngong road and Kimathi streets have pedestrian walks, thanks to the newly formed Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).
However, now NMS has to deal with rogue drivers and motor bike riders who misuse the sidewalks. They drive on walkways and at times park on them when NMS officers are not working, especially in the evening.
The NMS warned that they would arrest offenders or fine them not less than Ksh30,000 for obstructing human traffic.
According to Mohamed Badi, Director General of the NMS, such drivers will be forced to cater for the repair of damaged pedestrian walkways and cycle lanes.
“Drivers or riders found in contravention will be prosecuted, their driving license suspended, where damage is occasioned to the infrastructure pay for its restoration,” said Badi.
Support from development partners
In 2015, the UNEP helped Nairobi City County to develop an NMT policy to improve transport system performance within the city.
The policy calls for safe, coherent and comfortable network of foot paths, cycle tracks, green areas and other supporting amenities.
In the policy, Nairobi City County commits to prioritize street space, grade crossings and limiting the speed of vehicles to 30 km/h in areas pedestrian use.
The authority plans to increase parking fees to discourage motorists from coming to the city. They also plan to allocate at least 20 percent of the county budget to NMT and public transport facilities.
The Nairobi city roads authority is in the process of constructing additional walkways after completing Kenyatta Avenue, Muindi Mbingu and Kimathi Streets.
The Institute for Transportation and Development (ITDP), in collaboration with the World Bank and with support from the International Climate Initiative is developing a street design manual for urban areas in Kenya, including Nairobi. The project is aimed at improving the walking and cycling environment in urban areas when completed.
A program known as share the road program, by UNEP is currently supporting developing countries to move towards investing in infrastructure for those who walk and cycle.
The overall goal of the program is to introduce policies which act as catalysts for investments in walking and cycling to create benefits for road safety.
According to the World Bank, new infrastructure projects often do not account for pedestrians since sidewalks are missing from around 65 percent of the road network in Africa.
What journalists should do;
- Follow up on the progress of the amendment bill and inform your audience about its importance.
- Document the experiences of pedestrians and Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) facilities users. This will help national and county governments to construct sidewalks and laws that protect them.
- Interview experts to explain the importance of having walkways in Kenya.
- Report on ruthless drivers who veer off into the walkways to cause obstruction and accidents.
- Inform your audience on their rights as pedestrians.
- Follow up on the ongoing construction of pathways that are happening in Kenya. Find out how much has been allocated for the projects and if it is properly used.
- Follow up with development partners to find out what plans they have for Nairobi city.