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Is There Any Solution to Nairobi's Parking Nightmare?

Is There Any Solution to Nairobi's Parking Nightmare?

“Drivers in New Delhi, Bangalore, Nairobi and Milan argue most over parking spaces [and] more than half of the drivers get frustrated and end up giving up on looking for parking space,” according to IBMs global survey on parking space in major cities. Many have stated that Nairobi, in particular the Central Business District, does not

"Drivers in New Delhi, Bangalore, Nairobi and Milan argue most over parking spaces more than half of the drivers get frustrated and end up giving up on looking for parking space," according to IBMs global survey on parking space in major cities. Many have stated that Nairobi, in particular the Central Business District, does not have enough parking to meet the demand. Nairobi was ranked the 8th most difficult city to find parking in the IBM survey.

The parking debate, however, has taken different angles, with the county government increasing on-street parking fees in order to reduce demand. This resulted to an uproar by stakeholders leading to the courts putting a restraint on the increase in charges. The increase in fees also affected public transporters and a strike by the transportation industry, including matatu and taxi drivers, forced commuters to make their own way into the city. Others, however, argued that the fees should be increased even further. More vehicle use caused by a rising population and increased urban sprawl has caused this increased demand for parking spaces.

Many urban spaces are being converted into car parks, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

Urban planners tend to suggest two ways of solving the parking problem in cities. One is to increase the supply, by providing more parking slots. However, as a city develops with more high-rise buildings, skyscrapers and people, this becomes more unsustainable. Like road construction, it is very difficult for supply to keep up with the demand. The other option is parking management, which involves assessing urban land use, optimally utilizing available space and providing non-motorized and rapid transit alternatives so that parking demand is reduced. This holistic approach has been ignored in most African cities.

The city of Nairobi needs to look at the latter. Though the CBD already has several privately run surface level parking spaces, better parking management is required. Provision of non-motorable means of mobility and an improved rapid public transport system would reduce the demand for parking. With this, it would be possible for parking fees to be increased even to an hourly rate and get optimum returns from use of the space. More automated systems of collecting parking fees are also needed. Parking consumes land and if less parking is required, more land is available for alternative uses like wider pedestrian walkways, spaces for hawkers, loading and drop-off zones, etc. This attempt at shifting transportation behaviour will be key towards reducing the demand for parking, utilizing spaces well and creating a comfortable urban framework for citizens.

Some Parking Spaces in the Central Business District are Reserved, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

The city of Calgary, in Canada, has managed to reduce parking demand by ensuring that all buildings are built next to each other on the street-front while leaving space for parking at the back. This allows people to move from one building to another with no need for on street parking. They also have different parking zones and permit systems to take care of the different stakeholders. These include residential parking zones, parking meters and peak hour restrictions. They help in enabling easy access for people using public transportation and create a more walkable urban environment. 

Many people believe that roadside parking is a basic right. In Bogotá, Colombia, former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa stated that "I was almost impeached for getting cars off sidewalks which car owning upper classes had illegally appropriated for parking." He was able to turn around Bogotá from a car centred City to a people centered city reducing parking spaces, providing alternative mobility means like bicycle lanes, sidewalks and the famous Trans-Milenio Bus Rapid Transit system.

Are there other ways African cities can handle the increased vehicular use and demand for parking? What impact does increased investment in parking have on the cost of development?

Credit: 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 ...

  • LIM Siah Gim

    It is not a good situation but an opportunity to push for a short term and long term public transport system. Reducing or eliminating necessity to drive into the city. And then limiting the no of carparking spaces (which will reduce the demand for roads) and increases the charges. Which can be in incremental value which will ensure spaces for drivers who move around a lot and therefore need to drive and discourages those who spend a long time in a particular place who may not need to drive in.

    Lets face it, no amount of roads or parking spaces will be enough as personal transport gets more affordable. The only way to change that is to change the people’s lifestyle- making using the public transport a cool thing.

    As public transport system is being improved with more people using it and less cars coming in. That will indirectly will free up a lot of land currently used for car parking. These can be sold for more development and pay for the further improving the public transport system. The city will become more compact and walkable, making driving unnecessary and inconvenient and expensive.

    A long term Vision that need to start now. It will be a big mistake to just increase the parking space and roads. Your city will turn into a city with individual buildings surrounded by large parking spaces and huge roads- unsustainable socially and economically.

    African Cities should not blindly follow the American model- car city (except may be for Manhattan) cause it is an un-sustainable model and you do not have the resources to pay for it. They should look back at their own culture and lifestyle and develop a model/s that is more suitable for themselves and sustainable. A city that belongs to them. Vision of your very own city.

    • One of the biggest challenges would be to get the political goodwill to get this done. Fortunately a recent document of de-congestion may be taken positively and lead to some action.

  • O’Brien Makore

    The situation in Nairobi is just the same as the situation in Harare (Zimbabwe)due to increased number of ex-Japanese private vehicles hitting the roads on daily basis at an alarming rate.

    It should be acknowledged that the problem of parking or congestion can never and will never be solved by increasing supply of roads or parking bays as this will only attract more vehicular traffic. It is just like solving obesity problem by lessening the belt…guess the outcome.

    What is needed is to employ Traffic Demand Management(TDM) strategies to influence demand rather than reacting to demand. In my undergraduate project in Rural and Urban Planning I proposed an Integrated Public Transport System (IPTS) concept as the solution for Harare and can be applied in almost every city.

    IPTS seeks to coordinate all public transport systems such that they operate as an entity complementing each other, thus plugging all ‘transportation gaps’, hence providing a “seamless” travel for commuters.

    To me what is needed is to improve the image of public transport in African cities such that it operates efficiently and according to schedules. This can go a long way in attracting those using private vehicles to use public transport, thus solving the challenges of parking and congestion.

    • African Cities ought to come up with innovative ways to reduce car demand and improve mobility in a comfortable, reliable and efficient manner. Harare, Nairobi, Kampala…. they all seem to have similar problems.

  • An IPTS system is very attactive but it requres a very efficient management system which is wanting in most African cities. One of the best examples of an IPTS is in Medellin, Colombia. It itegrates the Bus Rapid Transit, Metro and Cabble Car, all owned and managed by one public company. It is efficient and makes profit, even though there are concerns that it does not attract those who are better off, economically.

  • LIM Siah Gim

    Hi John,
    You mentioned Medellin in Colombia. I had the pleasure of meeting a group of municipality staffs, Bank employees from Medellin recently and they mentioned that they do have huge traffic problems in the city. Especially with the rate of people coming into the city looking for jobs. They are doing well economically.

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  • Andrew, Batte-Kakembo

    Nairobi’s problems are similar to those bedeviling many developing cities. We have to employ strict Urban Traffic Management techniques applied in a multi-dimensional measure. The key to controlling demand is a development of an efficient public transport service/system. Unless people have a reliable alternative to connecting to their various origins and destinations, they will continue using private cars and hence the increasing demand on limited supply. With such developments, a park and ride system should be encouraged for people to leave their cars on the outskirts of cities. Construct storied parking lots and impose both congestion and fitting parking charges

  • The question should be framed as follows: Is there an integrated design solution to Nairobi’s parking nightmare?
    Yes indeed by focusing on where it matters most, human beings. Vehicle parking challenge in cities cannot be viewed in isolation as it is impacted by various factors such as adequacy of affordable public transport, availability of enough land in good locations to develop the facilities, affordable credit, availability of parking needs data etc
    Hopy our comments are not too late!

  • Paul Kamau-a mechanical engineering student

    The most important approach to this problem is looking for a permanent solution rather than having temporal solutions. People are still buying vehicles which is very helpful for the growth of the economy-people are able to respond with ease to their daily activities. It might be a bit tricky to have the situation fully advanced especially within CBD but still the situation can be improved. Permanent automated parking(s) can be built underground. This will make it possible to make use of the ground as normal and have vehicles parked at the underground. This can be done through so many approaches which are so lengthy to explain here. Asked I can demonstrate and explain.

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