One of the most notable scenes in the city of Nairobi is the large number of people walking. Many of these people walk from the informal settlements to the industrial area and middle income neighbourhoods. It is understood that approximately 47% of residents in Nairobi walk to work. With a troubled and chaotic paratransit system as well as poor traffic management, pedestrian figures in Nairobi tend to be quite high.

In spite of this, the pedestrian in Nairobi is best categorized as an ‘unwanted species’. Not only does the city provide extremely poor facilities for non motorized transit (cyclists are even worse off than pedestrians),but the city also consistently shows little respect for pedestrians.

african city planner pedestrians

Recent road projects have attempted to create some level of NMT facilities and pedestrianized mobility, however, a quick assessment reveals non prioritization of these facilities. The Japanese Funded (JICA) Ring Roads set aside space for pedestrians and cyclists pursuant to the notion of ‘enabling’. Massive gaps are visible in the systems especially at junctions. The Chinese-funded 8 lane Thika superhighway was constructed without a single pedestrian bridge or underpass.¬†Only after several pedestrian deaths were a few constructed.

A large aversion towards pedestrianized traffic is also evident in the development of Business districts and shopping malls. This is evident in both the Nairobi CBD and Upper Hill area, an emerging business district.

Nairobi’s CBD still has huge potential to develop into a people oriented city, especially with the relocation of most major corporates to surrounding zones. Unfortunately, the huge misconception that the priority in the CBD should be ‘parking and roads to eliminate congestion” remains. Nairobi CBD majority populace accesses it through the poorly managed paratransit and the highly undesirable pedestrian walkways. Those who drive there only do so if they have no alternative. This ‘no-alternative’ ought to be viewed as a golden opportunity to transform some of the minimally used roads into complete walkways with open spaces.


Various road repairs and construction activities also continue to deal with pedestrians as non- existent entities. It is common for contractors to pile up heaps of construction material on the pedestrian walkways in order to ‘allow cars to flow’ while subjecting pedestrians to the dangerous task of walking on the road. Alternatively, there are those cases where the pedestrian walkway is ‘removed for road expansion.’

Several cities that have had similar challenges have managed to slowly initiate the pedestrian agenda as part of the planning and public works process. First in line is the city of Bogota which emphasized pedestrian walkways in the city centre and safe access routes for the poor both within and around their settlements. Further focus was later put on ‘car free days’ and on the development of bike infrastructure. Under Jeanette Sadik Khan, the New York Department of Transportation was able to make a paradigm shift through the creation of pedestrian only walkways (like Broadway), wider pavements, safer cross junctions, and introduction of a bike-share programme.

The prioritization of pedestrians and their rights remains a heavy task for many African Cities. Like many western cities in the mid 20th Century, the automobile is still a fascination of economic empowerment. As a result, it receives priority over transit means through social hierarchical structures. With time, however, urban dynamics have proven that the need to prioritize pedestrians and other NMT users cannot be ignored. We look forward to the time when this will be the case in the City of Nairobi.

How do you find it to be a pedestrian in your city? Do you believe that pedestrians should have more priority and rights than drivers? Do other road users show some level of respect for pedestrians in your city?


Images by Constant Cap, Data Linked to Sources, Copyright



6 thoughts on “The Nairobi Pedestrian: An Unwanted Species

  1. Very insightful piece. The health benefits of walking/cycling are significant. The city should prioritise NMT…I hope they listen.

  2. I fully agree with Constant on the mis-prioritisation of space usage, but I also feel that his assertion that on 47% walk to work is understated.

    At some point within the course of the day everyone is a pedestrian, even those who park their cars in the basements of their office buildings will need to cross a road.

    Thus we must first plan for the pedestrian, cyclist, public transportation, motor bikes & finally cars in that order.

  3. Wonderful article, its about time that we took care of low income earners as being an important and essential segment for the growth of our city. We need to cater for them and respect them in our planning.

  4. I think the city’s layout is terrible for pedestrians, if there was an emphasis on connectivity between streets and roads it would make it better to move around on foot.
    I grew up in a grid based neighbourhood (Kilimani) and you didn’t need a car to go everywhere, because of the relatively high intersection density there which is rare for Nairobi, very few places have blocks. At the moment I live in the outskirts, and the layout is very arterial, to the point that I have to drive to get mboga and the like. I just hope that the city creates more links that allow better access by foot all over the city and suburbs.

  5. Cap,

    I agree with you 100% on the need to create more space for NMT. Kenya like many other African countries, needs to prioritize on pedestrians and other non motorists users of the roads. Worst part of this is that, even in residential areas, there are no clear paths for pedestrians, cyclists, inter alia.

    I happen to have lived in Germany, where cyclists, pedestrians have special pathways on major roads that guarantees them freedom of movement without fear of getting knocked over. I think it is high time we had such in Kenya.

    1. Its unfortunate that we look down on NMT users. I have not seen any aspirant talk of how he or she will expand or improve NMT infrastructure!

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