Master planning Nairobi's way out of the jam

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 8 October 2014

Traffic congestion and transportation bottlenecks in, around, and through Nairobi city are well known to residents, lambasted in the press, and highlighted by politicians. Over the past few years a significant amount of investment in research and infrastructure development has worked to increase the efficiency and fluidity of commuting for Nairobi workers. However, much still needs to be done if the priorities laid out in Kenya's Vision 2030 are to be realized.

Originally founded as a halfway transit point on the Mombasa-Kisumu railway line; Nairobi has rapidly grown into a national and regional hub for business and trade while also serving as a major access point for goods bound to the wider East African Community. Greater Nairobi has a population growth rate of 4 percent and is home to 8 percent of Kenya's 38.6 million residents. Poorly planned infrastructure, lack of accounting for actual population growth, and inadequate public expenditure on transportation continues to have direct impacts on millions of residents daily in their jockeying to get to town.

Kenyans are nothing if not innovative and industrious, a characteristic clearly demonstrated for example by the demand-driven nature of current matatu networks. However, a significant challenge to updating current transportation infrastructure has remained the lack of reliable data and information on these informal networks. User-driven applications and mapping efforts have resulted in a number of options available to Nairobi residents seeking information on these transit routes and transfer points. These action-oriented research projects have been used by policy planners and incorporated into policy planning. These are decidedly positive trends. The Digital Matatus project, Ma3route, and Sonar, highlighted in an early article, are still active and serving the needs of commuters. On the other hand, cashless payment systems such as Bebapay, which were set to launch in July 2014, have met with less success, but are still undergoing adaptation and available for use on a number of bus lines.

The Sustainable Transportation Solutions for East African Cities initiative, or Sustran East Africa, a project launched in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UN-HABITAT, and Nairobi's municipal government in conjunction with a number of private sector partners, will assist the Ministry of Transportation and the Kenya Urban Roads Authority to address congestion issues in the capital in line with Integrated Urban Development Masterplan for the City of Nairobi (NIUPLAN) unveiled in May 2014, the first update to the capital's planning documentation since the 1970s. This comprehensive and strategic report is broken down into six thematic areas covering: (i) Land use and housing; (ii) Governance and institution; (iii) Population and social system/urban economy; (iv) Urban transport (road, railway, airport); (v) Environment; (vi) Infrastructure (water supply, wastewater, power, solid waste and disaster prevention, ICT & telecommunications). The 60-day period of public comment on the NIUPLAN recently closed and based on the tone of political willpower it is hopeful that Governor Evans Kidero and the Nairobi City County Government will follow through on stated commitments.

Plans to implement three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors are still underway for Athi River to Kikuyu town, Thika to Nairobi Central Business District. and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Nairobi Central Business District. These BRT networks are intended to decrease the cost and time associated with commuting for residents who use public transport, which is roughly 30 percent of city residents. In addition, updates to Thika and Outer Ring Road, the Tatu City Development, and the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project (NaMSIP) are ongoing planning projects that intend to address many of the current challenges faced by the city's 3.2 million inhabitants while they attempt to walk, ride, and drive to and from work each day.

Photo: rogiro and Olli Pitkänen

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