Are you comfortable walking in your city? After parking your car or getting off a bus, do you agonize at the fact that you must take a walk through crowded streets to your destination?
‘Walkability’ is not discussed frequently in African cities. However, the ever rising urban population and increased human traffic is raising questions amongst urban planners.
In the City of Nairobi, the existing pavement and walkways can hardly contain the current human traffic. Not only is it common for people to dodge each other while walking on sidewalks, some people opt to walk on the road to avoid the crowded walkways. Nairobi’s walkways have been the same size for over sixty years, when the city population was less than a third of what it is now.
This crowded environment is attractive to pickpockets and downtown muggers. Some pavements also serve as bus stops and haggling touts make it worse. Should the hawkers or street vendors be in town, there may be no space to walk at all.
One functional disorder in the city is the dedication of more space to roadside parking than pedestrian walkways. With hundreds of pedestrians on the walkways, the combination of angled parking and narrow pavements appear to be a contradiction to the basic principles of democracy.
The City has only two distinct walkways: Aga Khan Walk is Nairobi’s only fulltime pedestrian street while Mama Ngina Street was re-designed as a ‘traffic calming street’ with no roadside parking and a wider pedestrian walkway. The popularity of these streets tells one of their importance.
A lot can be learned on walkability from other cities in the world. The recent metamorphosis of New York Streets and Paris’ plans to have more walkable streets by 2017 serve as good examples. The City of Bogota is a leader in this. Mayor Enrique Penalosa radically removed city parking to increase the pedestrian walking space. Nearly impeached in the process, the results proved his critics wrong.
Wider pavements, better lighting, clear signs, shaping of public spaces and creation of more walkable links help make the city a more human environment. Removal of parking from some roads, planting trees and having well-designed building facades aid in creating a more attractive city.
Besides the health benefits of walking, such cities have human interaction, improved security, better accessibility and sustainability. These benefits help all members of society regardless of age or physical ability. The city thus becomes more livable without dark, run down alleys.
Pedestrian schemes, however, should not create traffic problems on other roads, otherwise we end up shifting problems. A good walkable environment works better with efficient mass public transportation systems like bus rapid transit, urban rail and aerial cable transportation.
Should African city authorities start thinking of how walkable their cities are? Is it possible to turn parts of the Central Business District from car-choked areas to havens for those on foot?
Credits: Images by Constant Cap, data linked to sources.