It is not news that there is a planned double decker highway for the City of Nairobi. Many people see the project as progressive and a potential solution to the traffic congestion problems.
Only a few are asking whether it is really a long-term solution to our traffic menace and whether there are other more sustainable alternatives. Other concerns include its effect on security and privacy of those along the road, including the Kenya Parliament, several places of worship and its effect on nearby green spaces.
The Cheonggyecheon Highway demolition in South Korea is one of the most recent radical popular highway stories, where a double-decker highway that had been transporting up to 150,000 cars a day was demolished and replaced with two moving lanes on each side of a restored river. Reasons for the demolition were the high maintenance cost and the resultant devaluation the surrounding land. Investment in an effective transportation system has left most citizens happier.
Enrique Peñalosa, while Mayor of Bogota, was given a plan to construct an 8-story highway to solve Bogota’s traffic congestion problem. Putting that aside, he came up with Bogota’s BRT system, which today reaches over 75 % of the metropolitan area.
New York’s West Side Highway was one of the first elevated highways to be put up as well as the first to collapse. Its closure left many worried of the resultant traffic problems but surprisingly, 53% of the traffic disappeared. Other examples include the demolition of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway.
One challenge is that with the growing urban population and continuous increase in vehicle ownership, greater vehicle infrastructure is necessary. There may be a need for another highway upon the completion of the project. Other concerns are the dangers of poorly managed intersections and the congestion they create as the current highway has several entry and exit points.
Traffic Engineer Walter Kulash, once said that "Widening roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity." It is important that the city is shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions that celebrate our local history, culture and ecology through our urban places.
A look into recent urban planning trends shows a shift from highway construction, to alternate means like mass transportation and mixed land-use. This prioritizes the movement of people and goods over just the movement of vehicles. Thus more sustainable, environmentally friendly, effective and cheaper to construct and maintain. Nairobi already has plans for a Bus Rapid Transit System and a Light Rail System, while smart zoning has slowly began to take place in the former low-density neighborhoods. This helps reduce urban sprawl and travel times.
Is the proposed highway a priority for the City of Nairobi? Why would we try an experiment in transportation when cities around the world are demolishing their elevated highways?
Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.