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Double Decker Highway: Good or Bad for Nairobi?

Double Decker Highway: Good or Bad for Nairobi?

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

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.

Traffic jams are common along the highway, Nairobi, Kenya

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.

No room for additional lanes along the highway, Nairobi, Kenya

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.

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Constant Cap has a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant ...

  • Emmanuel M’M

    I am informed now. Based on the evidence you present, this is not the solution.

    We should be focusing on mass transport and rail in my view. Maybe even a subway system (after we do the buses at least)

  • Alex

    Mixed land use works well. In Cairo and Buenos Aires I liked how you could find offices and residential areas mixed up which made for reducing a little of the conglomerating of people in certain areas at times of the day – like how in Kenya most people head to the CBD and it’s environs to work and for service delivery. That coupled with a BRT system would do quite a bit to ease our Nairobi traffic hassles.

  • Being unfamiliar with this geography, is there a map showing what this double-decker highway is connecting? Is this connecting an industrial area to the city core, or from the suburbs, etc.? Oftentimes land use policies have a greater positive, long-term, and less expensive impact than transportation infrastructure improvements, especially those that provide preferential incentives for private vehicles.

  • Jon

    Interesting article which outlines what a lot of cities found out the hard way. The question is why do we continue to pursue such “legacy” projects knowing they are doomed to fail? The upgraded Thika Road is a prime example of the failure of top-down transport planning. Perhaps a second article could explore the systemic and endemic fallacies that inform our current urban policies. Personally I feel our MPs should spend less time going to Dubai to gawk at expressways.

  • Arnold

    As usual Mr Cap. A fantastic article. I hold the opinion that mass transit systems are the way to go. Why the government has not spent its huge transport budget on this is besides me.

  • Michael

    Absolutely right, building more roads (double decker or otherwise) is like chasing the wind. You will never catch up. It may help, but only in the very short term. What of safe reliable and clean mass transit systems? Nodal and mixed use development to reduce the need to travel? One big problem with planning in Nairobi is that public land has all been privatised. Using it as a lever to incentivise certain kinds of development is not possible.

  • James

    This is well thought and explained. The case study sited are clear indication that we don need the double decker. The Mayor of Coutiba in Brazil only used simple but very effective ways to deal with the problem. I remember reading that he removed even the big streets and replaced them with pedestrian walk ways and open spaces.

    By providing the double decker highway we are adding more problems to our city by making Nairobi a motorized city not forgetting what has been cited above plus the effects of micro-climates associated with the anthropogenic heat waves.

    Watch the Corutiba documentary here where the people are prioritized before cars. The power of Urban Planning.

    Thank you

  • Great article. I don’t see the government prioritizing the BRT over such ‘legacy’ projects because they would have to rid themselves of the massively inefficient matatu industry (and their associated votes). But then again, we can’t expect sobriety from a government that wants to put laptops in the hands of children before the medical or police force (just saying).

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