November 08 2013

Let’s Build Roads in Africa!

‘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.

The recently constructed 'Missing Links' Roads in Nairobi

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.

An older road in need of improvement; Africa

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.

Constant Cap

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 was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation, urban resilience and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 8th, 2013 at 9:45 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Constant Cap, Engineering, Environment, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Land Use, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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