The recent announcement of the proposed launch of the Likoni Cable Line Express comes at a critical time when mobility at the coast is in dire need of a transformation as well as an upgrade. Continuous urban sprawl at the coast coupled with increased population and a projected busier port has created further demand for mobility and access between the island and south coast mainland.

Many will initially be skeptical about the possibility and feasibility of installing a cable line over what seem to be other “obvious” solutions such as a bridge or tunnel construction. To the modern city dweller, it does indeed likely appear as common sense that the building of a bridge is the best way of linking the two.

Mombasa Ferry

A key element in mobility and access that is easily overlooked, however, is the first principle of  “what are you moving?” In this case, as is the case in urban transportation projects, the key objective is the movement of people first (and goods). The movement of people from one place to another precedes the movement of vehicles in importance. This is because, similar to ferries, cable cars and bicycles, vehicles are but a different means for the mobility of persons and goods .

The 1950s and 60s saw many North American Cities (and in recent times African cities as well) create more road space as a solution to increased mobility and congestion needs. This development was fueled by the increased use of automobile by individuals and families. At the time there was little analysis of land use management as regards congestion; in addition the correlation between “increased road space and concurrent increased vehicular use” was not well understood. The more they tried to build their way out of it the more many of these cities continued to experience escalating congestion. Recent experience on Thika and Mombasa roads provides a good local assessment of the same.

A good case study was the construction of the Triborough Bridge in New York. It was expected to ease congestion on four other bridges that linked Long Island to New York City over the East River. As soon as the bridge was completed it not only surpassed its projected targets as per vehicular numbers, but it also soon started experiencing congestion itself.

It was estimated that 8 million vehicles would use the bridge in the first year. This estimate rose to 9 million within the first 4 months and later to 10 million as the amount of traffic kept increasing. Meanwhile, traffic on the four other East River bridges was not decreasing. The initial assumption that the 8 million vehicles that would use the Triborough Bridge would be vehicles diverting from using the other bridges only held for the first two months and within two years all four bridges were in full use. Eventually there was a realization that the facility that was to solve a traffic problem had actually contributed towards making it worse! The rate of traffic increase had now grown beyond any prior experience. In its first year, the bridge had generated 6,000,000 new on and off island motor trips. A $17 million project to solve congestion found itself even more congested in slightly over a year. (Adapted from ‘The Power Broker, Robert Moses and The Fall of New York – Robert A Caro)

Through such experiences many cities have been able to distinguish between human mobility needs (moving people from one point to another) and vehicular mobility needs. Unfortunately, many times we tend to confuse the two and prioritise the latter.

While analyzing the Likoni scenario, we ought to first ask ourselves whether Mombasa Island needs more cars on it. Its is said that Nyali Bridge (north coast) is already working beyond capacity and the Government is looking into the possibility of building another bridge in a bid to ‘decongest’ the island (add to the fact that another bridge will mean more vehicles coming ONTO the island). Is the island be able to handle a similar number of vehicles from the south coast?

The cable cars also offer us a variety of other options in line with the new urban agenda under the recently launched sustainable development goals (SDGs). By adopting the cable system, the island can also develop an adjacent mass rapid transport system that would reduce the need for personalized transportation on the island as well as in the south coast areas. Potential also exists for park and ride services in the south coast area as well as improved public spaces and pedestrianization opportunities, all of which are key for better retail services.

Other prospective advantages include controlled and better planned development in the south coast area which takes into consideration the need for protection of the sensitive coastal biodiversity. In like manner, the environmental impact that increased vehicles would have on the already poor air quality on the island could be taken into account.

Embracing disruptive technology as well as creative methods are crucial elements we must examine to solve urban challenges. Copy-pasting or trying out methods that have failed in other urban areas will not benefit our cities. If South Americans were able to think “above the box” and come up with BRT and CPT, what about Africans?

What other innovative ways can we recommend to make our urban areas more inclusive, sustainable and livable?

2 thoughts on “Likoni Cable Express Line: Transforming Coastal Mobility

  1. Why are we going so exotic? How will pedestrians and business people carry their loads across the cable cars? There’s a handcart full of fruit and foods on every other ferry. Build a bridge for mass transit

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