Speed bumps on the way to car-free days in Nairobi

Bold proposal

Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia, recently announced plans for two car-free days a week in the Nairobi CBD in order to encourage the use of public transport and decrease traffic in the inner city.

According to the proposal, private vehicles would not be allowed to drive in certain streets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Those streets would be devoted instead to open-air markets, thereby boosting trade and limiting congestion.

Bus Rapid Transit system

Transport to and from the area would take place via a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. 64 buses are in the process of being imported from South Africa, where the BRT project has seen mixed success.

Negotiations with Spain are also underway to import 11 trains to bolster the public-transport offering. The Transport and Infrastructure Ministry estimates that 900 buses and 30 trains would eventually be necessary to provide sufficient public transport in the city.

Pilot programme

Nairobi’s car-free days are being proposed as a pilot, which, if successful, would be rolled out to other streets in the city, and eventually other towns. The initial phase will affect Moi Avenue, Harambee Avenue, Taifa Road, City Hall and Mama Ngina Street. The full rollout would cover Kenyatta Avenue, University Way, Moi Avenue, Haile Selassie, and finally Westlands.

Widespread opposition

Opposition to the car-free days has been widespread, with the strongest argument being that the process was rushed and failed to include the views of many affected stakeholders. Some questioned whether launching the pilot before any of the BRT buses had arrived in the country was an effective way of doing things, while others have contested the legality of the plan.

International precedent

If the project is successful, Nairobi will join other cities around the world that have made areas car-free. Madrid recently banned all cars from the city centre, joining many other European cities in enforcing pedestrian-only zones. For example, 77% of roads in Copenhagen are free of cars. Belgian capital Brussels is another example of how limited pilot programmes such as the one being conducted in Nairobi led quickly to well-established car-free zones.

Keeping them safe, wherever they are

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