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The Nairobi Pedestrian: An Unwanted Species

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 NMT’ . 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’s 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



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