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Nairobi's Failure to Protect Pedestrians

Nairobi's Failure to Protect Pedestrians

Taking a walk in the tropics is not an easy task. The skies are clear, sun is burning and temperatures are high. This is even harder in urban centres that experience slightly higher temperatures due to buildings, asphalt, and industrial activities; better known as the ‘urban heat island effect.’ Walking, however, remains a very popular

Taking a walk in the tropics is not an easy task. The skies are clear, sun is burning and temperatures are high. This is even harder in urban centres that experience slightly higher temperatures due to buildings, asphalt, and industrial activities; better known as the 'urban heat island effect.'

Walking, however, remains a very popular mode for people on the move in the City of Nairobi. Approximately 48 % of Nairobi residents walk to work. Most of these belonging to the lower income segment of the population, and may walk up to 7 to 15 Km a day.

Sadly, up to 47% of road fatalities in Kenya are pedestrian deaths. Pedestrians also suffer injuries and permanent disabilities as a result of road accidents. Stories of innocent pedestrian deaths are not strange in the city.

A Nairobi Citizen crosses the road towards a dusty pavement

Pedestrians in Nairobi appear to lie last in the urban planning priority order. A survey conducted by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) found that in Nairobi there was little segregation of vehicles from pedestrians. It stated that 95% of the roads recorded high pedestrian flows yet only 20% had pedestrian footpaths. Pedestrians fight for space with drivers who at times drive on pavements during traffic jams. Walking routes are also blocked by waste, informal businesses and, at times, parked vehicles. The rainy season brings its own challenges, with these same drivers mercilessly splashing water on pedestrians. Oftentimes when roads are repaired little attention is given to the pavements, leaving them either dusty or muddy.

The highly acclaimed 8-lane Thika Superhighway was completed in 2012 without a single pedestrian crossing. Several pedestrian deaths forced the authorities to take action, first constructing speed bumps as they drew plans for pedestrian bridges. On the equally busy Mombasa Road, it was only last month that construction of a pedestrian footbridge began, in spite of the appalling pedestrian safety record of at least one death a day.

A very Narrow Pavement as cars and stall owners have encroached the wider side in Nairobi

At times the pedestrians also have themselves to blame, with many of them ignoring footbridges to dangerously dodge vehicles as they cross roads. The City Governor was right when he blamed citizens for being lazy and putting their lives at risk. However, the city design still ought to be done in favour of citizens and not vehicles.

On the positive side, some of recent road construction has seen better emphasis on pedestrian walkways with pedestrians protected from motorists by drainage streams. The media have also held road safety campaigns, but there may also be need for emphasis on rules or guidelines for pedestrians.

When will we realize that pedestrians have equal rights as vehicles? What can we do to make our city safer for pedestrians?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.

Intern photo

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 ...

  • Dru

    All that is said is true but I disagree with your second last point. “When will we realize that pedestrians have equal rights as vehicles?” Pedestrians can not be equated to vehicles. Unlike vehicles, pedestrians can not replace some parts of their body and if they do, it will cost a fortune and as you said, “Approximately 48% of Nairobi residents walk to work. Most of these belonging to the lower income segment of the population, and may walk up to 7 to 15 Km a day.” They can afford it.

    • The meaning would come out better if I put it as ‘drivers and pedestrians having equal rights in the city (wrt urban planning).’ None can be said to be more important than the other, and that is basic democracy. In fact as they say, cars found people on the roads and not vice versa.

  • Banduyo

    This is great! I have seen school children losing patience as they wait for a road to clear; they just race across the road, risking their lives. Perhaps there should be more pedestrian crossings at some places.

  • Interesting article. We agree that pedestrians, as the most vulnerable users of roads, require the greatest consideration in urban planning order and thus largest levels of government investment. Walking is the healthiest, most non-polluting, land efficient, cheapest and socially equitable form of movement possible and nobody has ever died when two pedestrians collided. However, investment in grade separation between pedestrians and motorists (footbridges) is the first sign of a failed movement network and road design. Footbridges are rarely in convenient locations or on desire lines for all pedestrians and is only possible for able bodied people. Without sufficient awareness campaigns, people will take life into own hands if crossing road is necessary part of daily routine to work or eat

    The actual key to successful pedestrian safety is not always separation between users but instead slowing cars to a speed where pedestrians and vehicles can co-exist. In urban environments where pedestrians are the majority, it is absolutely fair that car drivers drive at appropriate speed whereby if they were to hit somebody the chance of survival is still high. The speed differences between minor injuries and fatality is not excessive. Drivers are twice as likely to kill someone when travelling at 35mph then they are at 30mph. At 40mph, nine out of ten pedestrians will die, but at 20mph, nine out of ten will survive.

    Slowing cars down to safe speeds to co-exist with pedestrians is easy enough if thought about holistically. Techniques include vertical./horizontal shifts, horizontal alignments, chicanes, pinch points, road textures, on-street parking, driver awareness, speed enforcement, urban form, etc. I wold recommend Nairobi look to Scandinavian countries for inspiration where cars, walkers and cyclists co-exist safely. The principle to Dutch thinking is getting drivers to a slow enough speed so that eye contact with pedestrians is achieved, so that this human interaction will naturally make drivers more aware of their fellow road users and drive at appropriate speeds accordingly

    For information of how we are working with governments in Middle East to calm traffic please contact me on

  • Charles CMK

    Your article is superb. It brings out very pertinent issues on safe pedestrian movement in Nairobi.

    What is surprising in Nairobi is that even where the provided road reserves can accommodate design and construction of walkways, footpaths, under/ and overpasses and other NMT’s facilities, our roads engineers neglect this requirement perhaps to save on cost unfortunately at the expense of lives.

    A case in point is the Thika Highway – the Globe Flyover/Overpass Bridge. The bridge dramatically reduced the distance between Ngala and the CBD. But it failed to incorporate safe ways for the pedestrians and other NMTs. This is a huge investment that does not benefit (low income) pedestrians. Why?

    When it come to roads let us learn to plan for people and not vehicles only.

    • This is one of the sad realities of road designs and town planning in many places. Our priorities seem to be ‘how to reduce jam’ other than ‘how to move people.’

  • The Pedestrian is the Citizen! Pedestrian rights are closely related to citizens’ rights, they are a consequence of citizens’ rights. Unfortunately in developing countries, pedestrians are those who have no other choice than walking and politicians prefer to listen and give priveleges to those who have choice (car drivers) to make sure they support them.
    We need to understand that walking is least costly option for the society, the economy and the environment and therefore we muts deploy the infrastructure accordingly.

  • Bernard

    Excellent perspective. I believe as the author does, focus should be on moving people not cars. Cars are just one way of moving people. Our urban planning departments in all counties should take note and plan from this angle. That way we can then task individuals regardless of where they come from in the country to follow one unified code as far as road use is concerned. Very often, when you travel upcountry, you will here the phrase, “this is not Nairobi”. Meaning that only in Nairobi do certain rules and behavior apply

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