March 28 2014

The Risky Affair of Cycling in Nairobi, Kenya

2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome first started cycling as a boy in Kenya. Cycling is an equitable and low-cost form of mobility, although it can be a dangerous activity in cities like Nairobi.

Many cities around the world have long recognized the importance of cycling as a way of mobility.  The City of Nairobi has been slow to this. None of the roads were originally designed to accommodate cyclists. Most cyclists have to dangerously use the main roads alongside other vehicles, sometimes resulting in fatal accidents. The recent increase in motor vehicles and  the evidently poor road ethic does not make this any better.

A cyclist moves on the middle of the road in Nairobi, Kenya

An early, but poor, attempt at having cycling lanes came with the expansion of Waiyaki Way, in the early 90s, where part of the pavement was marked out for cyclists. Recently, curb separated bicycle lanes have been added on Thika Superhighway and the missing link roads. The new bikeways, however, have poor intersection design for cyclists. Former Bogota Mayor and reknown urbanist Enrique Penalosa once said that “a bicycle way that is not safe for an 8-year old is not a bicycle way.”

The attitude of people is also a challenge. Many believe that cycling is for the working class, reminding us of the quote “I’d rather cry at the back of your BMW than laugh at the back of your bike.” Driving is viewed as a symbol of wealth and cycling a symbol of poverty. The middle class opt to cycle outside the city as sport over weekends avoiding the dangerous urban roads. The draft Nairobi Master Plan says little about the challenges faced by cyclists.

One of the new Bicycle lanes in Nairobi, Kenya

Urbanists have stated that there is a need to emphasize the construction of bikeways rather than planning purely around vehicular mobility. For the cost of 1 km of urban highway one could build 150 km of bicycle paths, 10,000 km of bicycle lanes, or 100 well designed 30 kph zones.

The Bogota Bike Path Network covers over 300km and is safe for people of all ages. In the Netherlands, 7 in 10 trips are taken by bicycle. Large scale bike traffic requires careful urban planning, lest one ends up like Kolkata, India, which recently banned cycling on many city streets in an attempt to reduce urban congestion. In Burgos, Spain, there were riots over plans to have bikeways constructed.

With the majority of people in Nairobi either walking to work or using public transport, safe urban cycling would be positive and sustainable for urban mobility. For this to happen, issues of safety, parking, security, perception and cycle oriented planning will have to be tackled. In some smaller towns, bicycle taxis are popular, but safety is still a major concern.

The junctions are not safe for bicylists in Nairobi, Kenya

Quite clearly a city designed for bike movements is a happier and healthier place.

Why have cyclists been ignored in the planning of African cities? Isn’t it high time that African cities set aside specific plans for cycling as part of urban mobility?

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, March 28th, 2014 at 9:50 am and is filed under Constant Cap, Engineering, Environment, 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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14 Responses to “The Risky Affair of Cycling in Nairobi, Kenya”

  1. Jacinta makau Says:

    This is very impressive.

  2. Kenneth Odero Says:

    Hi Cap,

    On the spot and pretty thought provoking stuff. Here are two links you may find pertinent to the topic of NMT mobility.
    http://www.unep.org/transport/sharetheroad/PDF/SharetheRoadReportweb.pdf
    https://www.facebook.com/movewindhoek

    Kenneth Odero
    DRUP Alumni

  3. Arnold Says:

    Great Article, as a Cyclist, I must admit…there is no thinking around NMT in Nairobi.

  4. Jacinta Says:

    Cap,
    Great Article Cap! As a frequent road user in the city, I totally agree with you n see the need of change in the city. I am glad the integrated urban development master plan is thinking of this integration. A liveable city is what we all want.

  5. Constant Cap Says:

    Thanks a lot. NMT is critical, taking care of the cyclists and pedestrians ought to be a priority.

  6. Constant Cap Says:

    Its as if drivers are ‘more important citizens.’ Pedestrians and cyclists are looked down upon yet they have the solution to our traffic and pollution issues.

  7. Constant Cap Says:

    Thanks!

  8. Constant Cap Says:

    Noted. For sure I’ll have a look at these documents.

  9. Rose Says:

    Our initial planning philosophy is to blame, we focused on moving vehicles not people. Have you noticed that our roads lack not only cycle lanes but also pedestrian walk ways? It is not too late to change though, The nairobi masterplan is underway, could be this is an opportunity to redress this?

  10. Constant Cap Says:

    There is always opportunity for change… all we need is the willingness to do so.

  11. Brett Petzer Says:

    Hi Cap,

    Great article. Although our context down south (I’m at UCT here in Cape Town) is a little different, we face many of the same problems: South Africans associate cycling with not just poverty but also shame. Although we are (finally) starting to build bicycle lanes, there is still a lot of hostility and outright menace from motorists. Keep fighting the good fight. There is some interesting stuff on Cape Town (and also Lagos) over at futurecapetown.com if you’re interested; we are always keen on contact with other young urbanists in Africa. Best regards, Brett

  12. Constant Cap Says:

    Thanks for you comments. I will be in touch with you.

  13. Farjana Rahman Says:

    I think specific lane dedicated for cycling,could provide any city inhabitants a great opportunity of enjoying and enhancing fresh air,healthy life style as well as reduction of sound pollution.
    Though while designing an individual traffic lane we should keep some issues in mind like easy parking,safety and security,avoidance of too much cross trafficking.

    By considering all the issues mentioned above while designing,a city could get the maximum advantage of individual cycling lane.

  14. Constant Cap Says:

    It would make everyone’s life easier if it were prioritized

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