‘I will build new roads’ is a promise all politicians in Africa make to their people. This happens in spite of their constituents being well aware that the main means of travel they use may be non-motorized. In cities, however, many see roads as critical for inter and intra-urban mobility.
The last decade has seen increased road construction in Africa with investment from the African Development Bank and manpower from the Far East, mainly China and Japan.
In Kenya, these projects form part of the country’s Vision 2030. In Nairobi the ‘missing links’ project, which connected several districts has changed people’s daily routine with more intra-urban vehicular mobility options. The circular by-passes have attempted to reduce strain on the centre of town, while the recent eight lane superhighway opened up the northern suburbs of the city.
Urban planners prepared some of these projects in the 1970s, but a decades poor governance that involved the culture of cowboy contractors’ saw infrastructure built on paper but not on the ground.
Engineers have constructed the new roads with better drainage features that place gutters between the road and the pedestrian paths. This ensures faster drainage during heavy rains and also protects pedestrians from drivers who habitually overlap on pedestrian pathways during heavy traffic. Better lighting increases the sense of security while bumps at critical areas bring some control to driver’s speeds.
The projects do have some planning challenges:
- Poorly designed bicycle lanes - many cases simply a marked line next to the road;
- Safe pedestrian crossings were not considered leading to several pedestrian deaths;
- Bus stops lack shelters; and
- One project involved the cutting of 100 year old trees.
Sadly, there has been minimal improvement of pre-existing infrastructure, especially concerning walkability, as pedestrian paths on older and more used roads remain narrow and dusty and roads are poorly drained.
There has also been no change to the chaotic public transport system as the increased urban population brings more traffic congestion. Many have no option but to drive individual cars to and from work and spend several hours on the road, polluting the city day by day.
What is really needed? More emphasis on mass transit modes like bus rapid transit and light rail that can move as many people as possible comfortably without putting strain on the roads and sticking to timely schedules. Many think that the current projects only benefit the middle and upper classes, how can we also help the lower classes of society?
Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.