City streets play a major function in urban life and economy. Dynamic Streets, like those within Central Business District areas that serve multiple users can at times be said to be the ‘life of a city.’
Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street is a relevant example of this type of multi user street . Located at the southern border of the inner and outer CBD, it is busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Lined by tall buildings comprising of shops, offices, small stalls, fast food stores, hotels/lodgings, nightclubs and major supermarkets, it serves several societal groups both day and night. It is also a major transit street and is always has a congested mix of people, vehicles and hawkers. As matatus (public service vehicles) are not allowed into the inner CBD, over 20 routes have their pick-up and drop off points along this road. This is in spite of it lacking any well designed and designated bus-stops. Several other PSVs use the adjacent streets as their drop-off and pick-up points. For many years it was viewed as a dangerous street with many street kids, pickpockets and other social delinquents.
A street such as Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi can benefit from active user oriented re-design and development aimed at meeting the needs of the people.
Changes can be incorporated on the street to bring about a balance between user experience and service delivery or access. These revolve around the main users of the street prioritizing the citizen who wants to access the various services: shops, PSVs and adjacent streets. Easy exit for fire trucks from the fire station should also be a major consideration.
A variety of changes that can be implemented include widening of pedestrian spaces as well as creating adequate boarding and drop-off points for buses. This will mean reduction of personal vehicle parking spaces and could be contested by taxi drivers who are the biggest users of parking space. The current 5 metre pavements are not wide enough for the thousands of people who use this street daily. Congestion worsens during rush hour when numerous informal traders/hawkers ‘invade ‘the street to sell their wares to impulse buyers on their way home.
Better pedestrian access to bus stops is also important. One interesting feature on the street is the large number of matatu termini on adjacent streets yet there is hardly any safe way of crossing the road. Slightly raised zebra crossings as a means of traffic calming on several parts of the road (see marks in yellow on map) can make crossing the road safer for pedestrians.
Red: Tom Mboya Street, Green: Roads also used as PSV Termini, Yellow: Points where pedestrians tend to cross
Purple – Moi Avenue Black: access roads to Tom Mboya Street
A street as busy as Tom Mboya needs clear demarcation of transit points like bus stops or boarding points. Although many have proposed that Nairobi develops a system where public transit vehicles pass through the city centre rather than load and unload passengers (using the city centre as their parking area) that is outside the ambit of this brief.
Improved pedestrian access routes can work well from the adjacent inner CBD and may also mean increasing pavements, creating walkways and increased lighting along connecting roads plus. Pedestrianization and lighting of the adjacent Tom Mboya statue area has created one of the most open and walkable spaces in Nairobi.
To a large extent a walk along Tom Mboya street constitutes an apt summary of current hustle and bustle of the City of Nairobi. Images from years back depict a quiet street with neat and orderly parking and less activity. However with a city growing from a population of 800,000 in 1979 to 4,000,0000 currently, one would not expect the same dynamics along the city’s streets.
New York City recently carried out some streetscape changes on some of their busiest streets to make them more citizen friendly. These involved dramatic make-overs with an emphasis on protection of pedestrians. Although this may not necessarily be directly compared to Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street, ideas can always be shared from a user-study perspective.
The main users of a city are the citizens. It is therefore important that the citizens enjoy priority in the use of streets and the ability to safely, conveniently and adequately access services along any street in spite of the several roles that a street may play. This is what essentially defines ‘Complete Streets.’ Improved user experience will attract more people to the street and likely moderate those who are already using the street thereby further drawing them to the shops and businesses along the street.
What forms of re-design can be adopted in order to meet the needs of all the users in an equitable manner, without depriving economic or social justice to stakeholders while creating an atmosphere of ownership and belief?
Are you a user of busy multi-use downtown streets? What changes do you think would make such streets user friendly?
Data Linked to Sources. Images by Constant Cap and Web sources