I’m determined to clear Nairobi’s traffic nightmare

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BY DR EVANS KIDERO

Nairobi’s traffic has been a disaster for decades – today it is close to breaking point. A road network designed for a city of just 300,000 people now has to cope with the movements of 4 million residents.

For over 30 years, when Nairobi was run directly by central government, there was little or no investment in the city’s transport infrastructure. The situation has now reached a crisis point and is costing the city billions of shillings a year and suffocating economic activity. It cannot be allowed to continue.

That is why working with the Ministry of Transport I have introduced a series of short-term emergency measures to redirect the flow of traffic on Nairobi’s key roads by removing right-turns on selected roundabouts in the city centre.

These changes were just the first stage of dramatic improvements I have set in train to modernize Nairobi’s transport system. They were the result of months of detailed planning by world-class professional traffic management consultants. Thorough studies with real time simulation were carried out before a final decision was reached. For five months we examined the specific roundabouts and junctions that have been earmarked for upgrading.

And the changes are working – although there have been some teething problems, especially on Mombasa Road, overall traffic jams in the city has have been reduced. We are now regularly seeing clear roads, especially on Wayaki Way and and Thika Road. Nonetheless, we are monitoring the impact of the changes and moving rapidly to respond if there are issues. That’s why as Governor I worked with the Ministry of Transport to bring forward the opening of the Southern by-pass by over six months, ordering seven days of round-the-clock emergency works to upgrades the carriage way.

The newly opened by-pass has eased the pressure on Mombasa Road by up to 30 percent. I also banned the large freight trucks and non-stop intercity buses which clogg our roads – instead diverting them out of the city. Now we have moved on to the next stage of the new traffic management strategy, by gradually removing the outdated network of roundabouts in the city centre and replacing them with a series of signal junctions.

The roundabouts on the Mombasa Road and Uhuru Highway will have fully signalized intersections that will unblock a vital artery to our city. The roundabouts on University Way, Kenyatta and Haile Selassie avenues, and Bunyala and Lusaka road intersections with Uhuru Highway will be resigned to history. These problem intersections are where 70 percent of traffic builds up during rush hour.

I understand citizens’ frustrations that the changes haven’t been instantly visible in all areas. I am delighted to see the improvements in Westlands, but share commuters frustrations that the Mombasa and Langata Roads continues to be the city’s Achilles heel. Traffic management requires evolving and reactive strategies, and Mombasa Road is an example of this. We are working hard on how we can alleviate this clog in the system.

The continuing problem of buses flooding Landhies Road also needs to be addressed. Barring buses from the Central Business District to decongest the city is a move I stand by – but we must find alternative sites or we are simply moving a problem elsewhere. I will continue to reach out to the Matatu Welfare Association and other stakeholders to make sure this problem does not fester.

But these measures are just the first step in ambitious new proposals to solve Nairobi’s transport problems. Earlier this year I introduced a new Transport Plan that will help provide a modern, integrated transport system. It outlines schemes for expanded and upgraded city roads, effective traffic management, a commuter rail network, and a properly regulated matatu sector.

And from Kangemi to Imara, Bomas to Ruiru and Njiru to the showground, we have been working tirelessly with Kenya’s international partners to secure funding for a comprehensive new set of roads that will form part of a Bus Rapid Transit System.

However, delivering this scale of new investment cannot be done overnight. First we have to raise the money and develop the detailed plans. Then will come a period of inconvenience as construction starts and traffic is diverted during the process. It is that phase of short-term pain for long-term gain that we are currently witnessing.

Nonetheless, despite the short-term inconvenience these works are vital to improve traffic circulation and to eliminate the bottlenecks to key centres across the city, such as the industrial zone and Eastlands. Apart from the six lanes on the Outer Ring Road, there will be four new interchanges at GSU, Juja Road, Donholm and at Taj Mall for easy services and access to areas such as the Wakulima Market, which is being moved to a new 45 acre site in Eastlands.

In the future the next stages of the our transport plan will only follow after extensive consultation that reach out to local communities, neighbourhood associations, business groups, matatu owners, traders and other affected stakeholders. Indeed, I have already met with leaders from all these groups at County Hall to discuss the further roll-out of my transport proposals.

The current changes are just the initial phase of measures to ease congestion and enable the County and National Governments to make the long-term investments needed to modernise the city’s creaking transport infrastructure. I understand motorists’ frustrations at the current disruption. But there is no alternative if we are to make good the decades of lack of investment in our capital city. Our changes must be comprehensive and not piecemeal. It will require foresight and determination to see the job to the end, but we will get Nairobi moving again.

(Dr Evans Kidero is the Governor, Nairobi City County)

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