Finally-Nairobi is Developing a Policy for Cyclists and Pedestrians!

All over the world, cities are trying to get people out of cars by promoting combinations of public transit, cycling and walking to deal with congestion, road safety, obesity, poor air quality and climate change.  Nairobi is a city where only about 14-20% of households in the city own cars and hence the vast majority of people are already using public transit, walking and cycling. This is in some ways a great advantage.Yet the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and Nairobi city, with multi-lateral and foreign lenders following, have so far been mostly focussing on improving roads for cars and trucks. This is not only bad policy-it is grossly inequitable and leads to an unpleasant experience for everyone trying to move around the city. It also means that the efforts as they are currently conceptualized will never be able to solve most of the problems related to transportation in the city and region.

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Who caters for the mass of pedestrians in the city?

Non-motorized transport (NMT)-walking and cycling-have been completely neglected in Kenya’s capital. This is evident to anyone walking around the city on the many poor sidewalks with crater-like potholes. Incomplete connectivity forces you dangerously onto the street with cars and matatus and of course, the lack of proper markings, traffic management and crosswalks makes crossing many streets a gamble with death. Many pedestrians are killed in the city, and it is hard to imagine what walking in the city feels like for a small child. (We should ask children.)

Cyclists-and there are actually many- have to be courageous. Cycling is a relatively cheap, fun form of transport that is also good exercise and an enjoyable sport that Kenya could start to compete in and the tourism industry could exploit. However, cycling is simply not an option for most Nairobi citizens, because it is very dangerous. This comes from the absence of proper infrastructure and any consideration to design.

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There are many cycling groups in the city despite the poor infrastructure.

It should be basic policy that adequate resources be allocated to NMT for every road/rail/bus project. Audits should be done to ensure that this infrastructure is built to certain standards and is linked to existing modes of public transit. Overall, Nairobi needs to embrace the notion of a complete street. A complete street is designed to cater for everyone who uses it in different ways not just a minority of private car users. Note that even those who like to drive too can profit from more people out of cars and using different modes and from better design that allows more harmony between motorised and non-motorised modes. Of course, support should be given to NMT infrastructure that is also not connected to roads like the lovely paths in Karura Forest. More parks could provide them as well. Cyclists in fact feel safer when they are segregated from the road traffic and linking a cycling network through paths in parks can help. In a recent conversation, cyclists said they would love to see some paths in City Park for example.

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No sidewalks, no cycle paths for pedestrians in many parts of the city

Recently, I was surprised to discover that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has no proper urban road standards and guidelines, and in the existing essentially rural-yes rural- road guidelines NMT is nowhere to be found. In a recent discussion with engineers in the Ministry, they asked for these guidelines so no road is built with funny and incomplete sidewalks/cycling paths as an afterthought. Some agencies like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through the Share the Road program have developed helpful NMT guidelines and tools. The National Association of Transportation City Officials in  the United States has developed guidelines for urban street design including NMT  which could be adapted for more local conditions. It would be easy to develop such guidelines for Kenya.

So now the good news. Kudos to the City County of Nairobi for starting a process of developing the first NMT policy in the country with help from UNEP and  the Kenya Alliance of Residents Association. They hosted the first stakeholder meeting and the city hopes to finish the policy by February 2015. It is time for residents who care about these issues to comment, feed into the process and also ensure that the policy reflects citizen concerns and also gets implemented. They might also ask for proper complete street guidelines. Nairobi Planning Innovations will give you up-to-date information on the process. Feel free to send comments. The time for proper walking and cycling facilities was yesterday but Nairobi can make it happen now!

Children as Urban Planners in Nairobi: A View from Mathare

Recently NPI interviewed David Shisya about the “Child’s View of the City” project in Mathare. In this post Simon Kokoyo explains what we learned about planning from the children in Mathare.

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One of the winning drawings: Judges liked the idea of offering simple solutions like improving existing drainages and roads.

Can you imagine a population of more than 200,000 people crammed together in an area estimated to be less than 2 square km? What happens when 60 children from five schools in this community think about what should be done as urban planners? Mathare constituency is made up of temporary and permanent housing structures scattered across the area. The most common feature that will strike a visitor is the high number of people, uncollected garbage, poor drainage systems, unplanned houses, dirty river, poor road network and lack of adequate facilities for children. Local private developers make use of any available space to construct houses to meet demand for cheap dwellings without considering the need for open spaces and proper planning including for children.

We decided to ask how the children see their community and what they would change as urban planners through focus group discussions and drawings. During focus group discussions with the children it was evident that most children are very uncomfortable using public transport and the major roads around Mathare namely Juja Road, Outer Ring Road and Thika Super Highway. During rush hours children shared frequent experiences of being bypassed by public transport vehicles in the morning and evening hours. For those who are lucky enough to be offered transport, they are often made to stand despite paying the required amount. Crossing Juja Road and Outer Ring Road which are located near the area can be hectic for most children. For those children seeking to use Outer Ring road, the section between Juja Road/Outer Ring roundabout and Mathare River does not even have a  Zebra crossing and  pedestrians including children are left at the mercy of drivers. From the children’s drawings, it was clear that they see a good road as one that is clearly marked, has road signs, walk paths for pedestrians and is easy to cross.

When it came to expressing how children see their community and what they would like changed, the message came out boldly and clearly through drawing. Interestingly all children expressed the desire to change their neighbourhood as ‘urban planners’, if they had the power. Children viewed their neighbourhoods as places which are not well planned and have inadequate social amenities and are insecure and unfriendly to live in. Most drawings depicted a community that is poorly planned with very dull surroundings and very little vegetation or green. However, the same children expressed a strong desire to see a community with well arranged rental houses and clearly marked roads and road signs. Social amenities are highlighted as lacking but badly needed for improving communities. When drawing the current status of their community, children would express how dull their community is by not using colour. But when re-drawing they would use colours to express their desire to live in a happy place. The general message emphasized in all the drawings included the strong need for schools, playgrounds, clearly marked roads, markets, security, street lights, health facilities, good drainage, well organized and beautiful neighborhoods.

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Mathare Asst. County Commissioner Mr. Gerald Omoke appreciating one of the young ‘Urban Planners’

Children have great ideas about how to improve their community but who will listen to them? One of the judges during the final exhibition liked how children see it as a simple- that their community can be improved with little ‘effort. Another judge a social worker, appreciated children as urban planners who see it fit to re-design their current situation instead of moving to undeveloped areas. The area Assistant County Commission for Mathare Division Mr. Omoke challenged parents to assist the children in expressing themselves through drawing about what they would like to see in their community. From the discussions and drawings presented by the children, it is clear there has been too much ‘Adultization’ of Mathare for the benefit of the adults. Most of the services available do not seek to incorporate children’s ideas. In drawings children as urban planners wish to see wider roads (their communities have small poor roads so even emergency vehicles cannot enter), working public transport, vegetation, security, playgrounds, adequate houses and street lights in their neighborhoods. The next step is for parents and community leaders to work with government urban planners to incorporate into their interventions children’s ideas as ‘owners’ or ‘users’ the present and future city.

Simon Kokoyo grew up in Mathare. He currently works for the Spatial Collective and is a board member of the Reality Tested Youth Programme, a community organization that serves the youth in Huruma, Kaimaiko and Mathare areas which recently worked on the project “A Child’s View of the City” described above. He has a blog about Mathare http://matharevalley.wordpress.com/

Is Nairobi a Child-Friendly City? An Interview with David Shisya, Reality Tested Youth Programme

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Young Nairobian discusses his plan for his neighborhood

One of Bogota’s most successful mayors, Enrique Penalosa, once said “The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere.”   “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”

On November 8, 2014 Reality Tested Youth Program (RYP) exhibited some of the urban planning ideas of children from some of the poor informal schools in  Mathare. This is part of a project to explore the city from children’s eyes. NPI asked David Shisya, a program officer at RYP about the work and its implications.

NPI: Can you describe the work you do for RYP?

Reality Tested Youth Programme is a Community Based Organization (CBO) with a vision of having a society in which members participate in community development to address poverty. Currently the organization operates from the Ongoza Njia Community Development Centre (OCDC) at Kiamaiko- Huruma. RYP is non-governmental, non-partisan and not for profit, legally registered, by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services.

RYP works in collaboration with 150 partner community associations/Self Help groups bringing together directly approximately 3,000 families in Mathare, Nairobi North District, Nairobi County, Kenya. The centre also serves as an “open forum” where people from the local communities drop-in to discuss, explain or express social, economic, or judicial issues and then receive guidance on how and where they can address their concerns.

Children and teachers as Furaha Community Center discuss their nighbourhood

Children and teachers as Furaha Community Center discuss their neighbourhood

In order to achieve its objectives, RYP offers direct services through the OCDC to partner CBOs. These services include provision of information, CBO leadership and management training, popular civic education, community based asset mapping and resource mobilization, computer and Internet skills training, environmental conservation, access to venues to hold meetings, assisting youth to acquire education and skills training sponsorships, support towards Community Economic Development (CED) activities and entrepreneurship training, support for youth in accessing national identity cards and other vital documents such as birth certificates, linkages to health care services (HIV/AIDS care giving), counseling, and supporting target partners to access legal assistance and justice (domestic violence, rape and general domestic issues.

Residents learning from their children

Residents learning from their children

NPI: Recently, you ran a competition focussed on children as urban planners. Can you describe this work?

Reality Tested in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University conducted an idea competition among informal school pupils from Mathare whose main purpose was to gain insight into how children see their neighbourhoods and city and what they would like to change. The five participating schools provided 12 pupils each aged between 9- 16 years for the competition. These schools were Codman academy, Destiny educational centre, Undugu Society of Kenya-Mathare UBEP, Reality Tested youth and Furaha Community Centre.

The idea competition was in two forms. First, there was the Focused Group Discussions (FGD) with the pupils in their respective schools. During the FGD the facilitators used structured questions to stimulate the participants into discussion.

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After the FGD, they moved to the next stage of drawing their neighbourhood as it is and if given an opportunity what they would like to change.

On 8th November 2014, 180 people attended an exhibition of their work at NCCK-Huruma. Participants, parents/guardians, representatives from the Mathare community, Nairobi County government representatives, other invited guests and the Assistant County Commissioner graced the occasion. The picture walk gallery begun as from 9.30 to 1.00 pm. All the participants were given book vouchers of 800 shilling each as a sign of appreciation for taking part in the competition.

NPI: What did you learn about poor children’s concerns and priorities for their neighbourhoods?

During the exercise, it’s clear from the FGD and the drawings that children’s concerns and priorities areas to be looked into are as follows;

  • Unplanned structures/dwelling in their neighbourhoods
  • Poor garbage /sewage disposal systems
  • Poorly constructed roads with potholes
  • Insecurity
  • Congested/crowded structures- in case of fire all structures burn down
  • No playing space/grounds for children
  • Lack/Poor infrastructures e.g. no electricity/ dangerous hanging wires
  • Lack of toilets
  • Lack of road signs such as Zebra crossing , speed limits near schools
  • Traffic jam
Children playing in Austin's playground. Austin, a Mathare footballer, organized the kids to clean up a dumping ground to make a place to play.

Children playing in Austin’s playground. Austin, a Mathare footballer, organized the kids to clean up a dumping ground to make a place to play. Such playgrounds are very rare for most children in the city.

NPI Do you think planners in Nairobi think about creating a “child-friendly city” for the large numbers of children who need to move around-to get to school, visit friends and family or get exercise?

The planners so far have not considered ‘child friendly city’ as most roads lack the basic signs such as Zebra crossing and speed limits, for example  on Juja road which serves the schools in this area.

No space has been set aside as a children’s play ground. Those that the former city Council of Nairobi set aside have all been grabbed by influential people who have put up illegal structures. A part from the public schools grounds, the only one available used by non formal schools in the area is the Austin ground near Kiboro primary which if not protect might end up being grabbed.

Also, the footbridges constructed on Thika super highway are unfriendly to young children. At times they have to be carried by guardian to pass. The footbridges at the same time are far apart from one another causing more inconvenience to road users.

NPI: What are some of the safety concerns for children in the neighbourhoods where Reality Tested Youth Program works?

  • No road signs that makes children crossing roads very dangerous. Near Kiamaiko where our office is located many school going children have been knocked down by speeding vehicles.
  • There are no speed limits signs for vehicle along Juja road.
  • No playing grounds for schools making them use any space available such as the potholed roads thus endangering their lives.
  • Poorly constructed Iron sheets schools with as many as 100 children sharing a single toilet making spreading of disease inventible.
  • Pupils’ mistreatment in Matatus as they are ignored by the matatu crews, made to stand for long distances despite having paid the normal fares
Hillary of Mathare shows a well-marked nicely paved road with a clear zebra crossing and stop sign.

Hillary of Mathare shows a well-marked nicely paved road with a clear zebra crossing and stop sign. The child is conscious of safety and would make a fine engineer or planner!

NPI: The Outer Ring Road project will impact a lot of poor communities and children used to a much smaller, almost rural road. Do you have concerns about an upgraded road in your neighbourhood?

Yes, as an organization we have concerns namely that the wide road will lead to an increase in number of accidents as most residents will still attempt to cross the road avoiding the footbridges just as it happens on Thika superhighway. A long the 13 km stretch the footbridges to be constructed are few and way apart which may result in inconveniencing the residents especially the school children.

The traders along the road who will be displaced and not relocated might attempt to occupy the sideways also leading to accidents.

NPI: The proposed Traffic (Amendment)  Bill 2014 has provisions dealing with safety for school children including reduced speeds especially in school zones. Do you have any thoughts on this?

 Traffic Act (Amendment) Bill 2014 Section 3A (1) limits speed to 30km per hour on any road within schools boundaries and (b) on any section ordinarily used by children. This is currently not observed by both private and public vehicle drivers. Vehicle speeding near schools has led to an increase number of death and injurious to school going children.

Section 3B (1) (b) requires construction and maintenance of traffic signs such as speed limiting designs features such as speed bumps, rumble strips and traffic circles. Rigjht now all these are non existence on the Kenya roads.

Sub section (d) calls for ensuring that no man made or natural obstructions including stationary vehicles on roads or parking areas are near schools  blocking children’s view of the road.

The rules are good and should be implemented but to make all of this work, there is need for public awareness  to the drivers, school children and administrators and the general public at large.

NPI Can you share with us, the most striking urban planning ideas you saw coming from the children’s drawing competition?

The most striking idea from the drawing competition is the disorderly planning of the current neighbourhood children stay in. All the participants drew enhanced pictures of how they would like their neighbourhood and city to be from what it is now. Most were dissatisfied with the state of things as per now.

The Top-Bottom Approach currently used by planners with minimal participation from the consumers is undesirable. As end users of the projects the general public intentionally ignore the correct use of the project such as use of footbridges on Thika Highway and prefer to cross the road by running across to the other end.

In future there is need, before any project is undertaken, for local participation of those to be affected so as to feel part and parcel of the decision making process.

DSCF9073NPI: And planners need to think about how children experience their city and how planning can involve them and also make the city a safer and friendlier place for them! 

Nairobi’s Urban Enthusiasts: An Interview with Njeri Cerere of Naipolitans

Nairobi Planning Innovations is noting the growth of urban enthusiasts and civic patriots in Nairobi, people who care about their city and want to see it become a better, more livable place to call home.  We interviewed one such Nairobi enthusiast, urban planner Njeri Cerere who founded Naipolitans with Sheila Kamunyori in 2012. Njeri kindly took some time to talk us about Naipolitans.

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Naipolitans having fun in the city

NPI: How did Naipolitans get started and what does the group aim to do?

Naipolitans started as a result of regular chats over coffee between me and my co-founder Sheila Kamunyori about the goings on in and around Nairobi. Sharing information on upcoming events and interesting urban initiatives made for lively and thought provoking conversation. As urbanists we knew that it was possible to have livable, vibrant urban spaces and wanted to bring this aspiration to bear on the Kenyan situation. We just were not sure where to begin. It then occurred to us that there were probably other “Urban Enthusiasts” who were interested in exploring practical ways in which urban areas in Kenya could become more livable.

The first such meeting of the minds was held in September 2012. It established that there was critical mass of people in Kenya who were interested in discourse on the urban experience and were willing to engage on a regular basis to share ideas on ongoing or possible urban-shaping initiatives.

Naipolitans in conjunction with various partners has since featured over twenty urban shaping initiatives through a combination of forums and tours. The Naipolitans platform provides that neutral space necessary to host conversations about urban-shaping initiatives taking place across our city.

 NPI: Who is a typical member? Can anyone join?

We are urban professionals, residents and enthusiasts, trying to figure out how, when, where, and what we can do to make Nairobi and Kenya a better place to live. Naipolitans is an open forum and all one has to do to get involved is attend a forum or tour and stay posted for future events through our mailing list or interact with other members via the Facebook group.

 NPi: What are some of the highlights of recent Naipolitan events?

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Naipolitans visiting Jasho Letu Bio Center

Recently, we participated in a Mapping Party for Cyclists hosted at the C4D Lab at the University of Nairobi. The event brought together cyclists, alternative transportation advocates and mapping techies in a studio setting to work on a cycle route map. The aim of the exercise was to visualize the existing bike routes in the city and imagine what a proper system of bike paths for Nairobi would look like. Information on previous activities can be found on our blog at http://www.naipolitans.org

NPI: What is the aspect of Nairobi you would personally like to see changed the most in the next few years?

I would like to see a city that realizes its full potential and makes it to the global list of most livable cities.

 NPI: If people wished to join Naipolitans, who should they contact?

They can get involved by: emailing us at naipolitans@gmail.com to be included on our notification list; visiting our blog at www.naipolitans.org; joining the discussion online by asking to join our Facebook group – Naipolitans: Urban Enthusiasts Getting Together; or following us on Twitter @Naipolitans.

Being a Matatu Driver In Nairobi: An Interview with James Kariuki

Nairobi Planning innovations had a chance to interview the experienced matatu driver James Kariuki who is also an avid blogger on matatu industry issues and the need for reform (See his blog at  http://wambururu.wordpress.com/). James is also a writer, an actor and a father who has been profiled as ‘the reluctant outlaw” by Al Jazeera. We asked him a few questions to get his views from inside the matatu industry.

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NPI: How did you start in the matatu industry?

After dropping out of school in form 2 in the year 1992, I stayed at home for about two years. I later joined my mum at her food kiosk in Nairobi’s industry-area. This is how I interacted with matatus on a daily basis and I fell in love with the way the business was conducted. Around 1993, I became a conductor for a family van that used to ply between my village and a town in the outskirts of Nairobi called Dagoretti; a lot of people in the village worked at the slaughter house in that center and the demand for transport was very high. I got my license in 1997. By that time, I was already the driver of the family van as the cops did not insist on age or things like a PSV license. I moved to Ongata Rongai when my driver’s license attained the recommended 4 years; I became a fulltime matatu driver plying a city route in 2001.

NPI: What are the biggest difficulties you face in the industry?

Bad driving is the most difficult thing that every matatu driver must learn to deal with. Although people are quick to blame matatus for all the bad things that happen on our roads, most of us have been behind the wheels for many years and have no accident record. Most of the times; and again because we are always present on the roads, we have to contend with very bad driving habits by other motorists. Many drivers carry permanent injuries as a result of accidents where they were not to blame. The second thing is working in a corruption zone where you can be victimized anytime. The absence of some form of employment contract for majority of workers in this industry exposes us to exploitation by different authorities including politicians. This opens the door to cartels including police officers and matatu owners who are harsh on matatu workers and who set very high targets making the job very difficult.

NPI:  What are the biggest pleasures? Is it sometimes fun?

The biggest pleasure is being able to pay the bills and raise a family and the opportunity to work and earn a living in a job where you are at different places at different times and interacting with different people every day. There is pleasure in serving and taking care of hundreds of peoples travel needs. It is fun to drive a brand new vehicle- especially a souped-up “Manyanga”. Of late we have seen very many new minibuses hitting the road; it is a mix of business and pleasure for those lucky drivers. Passengers love new vehicles and are willing to pay more and it is easy to meet the target and earn a good commission.

NPI: In your view, what are the three or four most important things we can do to fix congestion?

First we need to find a way of improving public transport services. We can do this if we make transport sustainable and dependable and build roads that will accommodate public service vehicle needs like bus stops, separate lanes/special lines and easy access to bus stations. The other thing would be to build enough parking spaces. Compare the cost of these interventions to the amount of time and fuel we waste every rush hour stuck in traffic The county governments can sure save taxpayers millions of shillings if they can afford to transform some of the spaces and buildings into parking. For instance, Kenya Railways occupies all the Land from Muthurwa all the way to Nairobi Railways Club on Ngong Road. The land extends to Mombasa Road near Nyayo stadium round about. On the Jogoo road side, there is Muthurwa bus park- but the access roads are poorly designed. If somehow the railways land would provide link roads for PSVs to get to the city and to bus stations, we can absorb all matatus coming from Mombasa road- Langata Road- Ngong Road- Enterprise Road and Jogoo Road. Come up with new training programs for drivers to educate them on driving skills and traffic regulations. Failure to observe traffic laws – over lapping- blocking exits/ entrances contribute to the congestion.

NPI: How about to improve safety?

Build infrastructures for all road users- bicycle lanes- pedestrians walks- secure bus stops-crossing bridges. At the current limited speed, we have seen fewer accidents injuries in matatu passengers but the number increased for non motorized road users. The way drivers are trained and how licenses are obtained is also a major contributor to road accidents. Seal all loopholes in the licensing departments and let every driver qualify for his/ her license.

NPI: You are a father-what do your children think of your work?

My kids’ think it’s the best job in the world;  They know that dad gets money everyday. They have known me doing what I do for all their lives. They don’t see me as a driver bimages-1ut rather a businessman, an actor and a writer. They have never had another lifestyle to compare with. They tell me to buy more matatus and employ drivers so that we can make more money.

NPI: How easy is it in your view for children to take a matatu by themselves? Do your children use a matatu regularly?

Matatus are probably the only affordable means/option for majority of people in Kenya to travel long and short distances. For the school going children who need to board matatus to and fro school, it’s not an easy task. Drivers ignore them because they rarely pay or pay little. Very small children forget their bus stops and end up lost or the crew taking them to police stations. Many matatu touts avoid carrying them and they end up spending hours at bus stops. My firstborn son is in a boarding school. He is dropped home whenever there is a reason to come home and we always escort him to school. I let him use matatus for short distance to supermarkets within Rongai when he is on holiday. My other kids go to a neighboring school and don’t need transport. They have an adult to drop and pick them from school.

NPI: How can we make the matatu system friendlier to children?

By having fixed cost for a certain distance and charging fares per head/per seat. If the operators saw them as customers they would be treated better. The way it stands today, they are considered as non fare paying passengers. Parents and guardians must be willing to pay the same way we pay taxi/ cabs the full amount regardless of the passenger’s age. As long as they are forced to give seats and stand between seats and on strangers’ laps, they will continue to be ignored.

NPI: Some cyclists would like to see racks on matatus so they can transport their bikes. Do you think the matatu sector would be open to the idea?

It can be brought about by demand; i.e, if there were more cyclists requiring transport and it makes business sense to install the racks. We have very large baggage space in buses. I don’t think it would be a problem if the cyclists paid for their bikes space.

NPI: I think you saw the map created by Digital Matatus? Do you think it is helpful in any way to the matatu industry? If so, how?

To passengers we can assume it is very helpful in knowing your position, and the route to use to get to the next destination. For matatu operators, the TLB regulations do not allow matatus to ply different routes. Most drivers operate like a tethered animal only going as far as the rope permits. They get used to the same roads every day.