Walking and cycling in Nairobi: Celebrating gains and highlighting areas for improvement

Walking and cycling in Nairobi: Celebrating gains and highlighting areas for improvement

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Date: 23rd June 2022
Author: CDKN Africa
Type: Feature

Edna Odhiambo, CDKN's Country Engagement Lead in Kenya, describes why non-motorised transport is a natural choice for the capital city, Nairobi, but still needs support to reach its potential.

Nairobi is one of Africa’s fastest growing megacities, with a population of over four million inhabitants. If car-oriented planning continues to dominate, it will lock the city into unsustainable carbon-intensive infrastructure and worsen the adverse effects of climate change.

In Nairobi, nearly 50% of all daily trips are made by walking and cycling, which is also referred to as non-motorised transport (NMT) or active mobility. NMT plays an important role in increasing people’s access to basic services, decongesting the city, improving air quality and promoting healthier lifestyles.

Why focus on improving walking and cycling infrastructure?

Despite NMT’s being the most popular means of transport in Nairobi, key challenges persist, related to poor infrastructure, safety of users and public awareness about NMT facilities. This makes it necessary to invest in an integrated transport system, including NMT infrastructure, that serves the needs of Nairobi residents, while safeguarding the environment.

The majority of NMT users are low-income earners, who often walk and cycle because they lack affordable alternatives to transport. Efforts to improve NMT facilities that connect dense informal settlements to employment zones will increase access and promote inclusivity.

Efforts to improve walking and cycling

The Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) oversees transport, planning, health and the environment in Nairobi. NMS supports Kenya’s transport sector climate change strategy, which includes investing in a mass transit system, complemented by NMT infrastructure for further, short trips.

NMS is committed to implementing the Nairobi NMT Policy and NMT Masterplan to build an inclusive network of NMT facilities in the city. Since March 2020, the authority has improved NMT infrastructure in the Central Business District and its close environs, including reclaiming footpaths that had become informal parking spaces.

Partnerships to support walking and cycling

NMS partnered with CDKN to carry out a study on NMT, which builds on existing literature to support an evidence-based approach towards NMT improvement. The study highlighted key recommendations for improving infrastructure, enhancing safety and public awareness education. NMS and CDKN organised peer learning forums among Nairobi, Kisumu, and Mombasa city officials in September and October 2021 in an effort to start implementing the recommendations from the study.

Representatives from the National Transport and Safety Authority and the Kenya Urban Roads Authority were also present, as these two agencies are essential in securing NMT safety and improving infrastructure. The peer exchanges were informed by the commendable gains that the three cities have made on NMT and provided the opportunity for city officials to share best practices and plans to advance NMT in their respective cities.

Tracking progress to improve walking and cycling

Several months after the peer learning forums, NMS and CDKN co-hosted an enforcement dialogue to discuss the implementation of the study and the peer learning forums’ recommendations. The dialogue celebrated gains, highlighted areas of improvement and brought together representatives from the departments of transport, compliance, environment, enforcement and communications to jointly commit to addressing areas of NMT improvement. Officials discussed an action plan for undertaking NMT improvements related to safety, infrastructure and public awareness. The key highlight was NMS’ commitment to improve NMT in 10 major corridors in Nairobi, by the end of this year.

Looking ahead

2022 is an election year in Kenya and governance transitions at national and county level will take place. Governance affects all sectors, including the development and maintenance of transport infrastructure. Therefore, it is important that the intersections between politics and NMT are well understood to leverage political support for the improvement of the NMT experience. Politics affects the NMT agenda in several ways, including budgetary allocation, selection of sites for NMT improvement and enforcement measures to ensure NMT users’ rights.  

Safeguarding the sustainability of walking and cycling projects

The following three action areas should be priorities for sustainable transport enthusiasts and champions of environmental and social sustainability in Nairobi. Improved public awareness, anchoring NMT in legislation and building institutional champions will enhance the progress on improving NMT and secure long-term gains beyond changing political cycles.

Public sensitisation and awareness: Political leaders often promise the electorate satisfaction of their needs and enhancement of quality of life. Therefore, an electorate informed on the issues surrounding NMT will know what to demand from their leaders. Similarly, sensitising the political class on NMT as a means of socio-economic empowerment can boost their support to NMT.

Road agencies should collaborate with non-state actors such as Community-Based Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations to support public awareness and sensitisation on NMT programmes. This may encourage leaders to prioritise NMT once in office. An enlightened public that understands and appreciates NMT user rights can productively engage with their leaders to prioritise NMT development and proper maintenance of infrastructure.

Anchoring NMT in legislation: Fortunately, the revised Integrated National Transport Policy, which is the guiding document for all transport sectors in Kenya, adequately provides for NMT. While an informed public may push for political promises which may carry some weight, further anchoring NMT in county and national legislation is also vital. This not only legitimises political promises, but also offers legal redress in case of inaction or violation of NMT users’ rights.

Building champions within relevant agencies: While anchoring NMT in legislation is crucial, officers responsible for implementing NMT-related activities should ideally appreciate and understand the necessity and benefits of NMT over and above the legislative requirements. This development of NMT champions will facilitate NMT being adequately catered for in project budgets and road designs. These champions should include county level officers, as well as the officers in the respective road agencies with mandates covering NMT. 

Related Projects

Promoting non-motorised transport in Nairobi, Kenya

CDKN has been working to promote non-motorised transport (NMT) in Nairobi, one of Africa's fastest growing cities, since November 2019.

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