A Look at the Social impacts of the Outer Ring Road Project

outering rd construction

Artist’s depiction of the Outer Ring Road Improvement Project

By Simon Kokoyo

If you ever want to get a quick overview of what Nairobi looks like, take a drive along the 13 km stretch of Outer Ring Road.

The road runs along the highest number of concentrated commercial banks in Nairobi as well as densely populated poorer neighbourhoods of the city. It gives direct access to the busy Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kariobangi Light Industries and Industrial Area; and acts as link (Thika Highway and Eastern by pass) between two major superhighways coupled with poor road surface. The upgrading of this road is thus likely to have a great number of impacts on its surroundings.

For example, for the last five years at Kairobangi Market, a group of approximately 200 open air traders, mostly women, have been selling vegetables and second clothes close to the road. It is interesting to note that traders operating from Kiamaiko and Kariobangi sides of the road talk to each other easily as the road is very narrow. Weekly Chamas or ‘roundtable banking’ sessions are common since traders get money on a daily basis. Many such traders are scattered along the 13 km stretch that will be upgraded.

In the morning and evening pedestrians will be seen crossing haphazardly and walking close to the road, while matatus stop at undesignated areas and cyclists compete for space with motorists. Accidents are a common occurrence along the road as people rush, in pursuit of reaching work on time.

Communities from both side of the road share many resources such as schools, churches, colleges, markets and even family ties. Observing children and adults crossing at the road junctions can be chilling experience since most motorists drive at high speed, and the city has not put any effort to controlling speeds and designing safe crossings and street design. Currently, there are no footbridges, zebra crossings, bumps or road signs to warn pedestrians and motorists. Workers from Mathare North Area 1 crossing to access Baba Dogo Industries, for example, are left at the mercy of kind motorists who allow them to cross when there should be a proper crossing for these large numbers of people.


Women traders will be affected by the Outer Ring Road Project

Now added to this mix is an African Development Bank financed Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project overseen by the Kenyan Urban Roads Authority (KURA). A notice was issued to businesses operating along the Outer Ring Road corridor to move to pave way for the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project. Issues immediately started emerging among open air and informal traders. The key questions of “where shall we go”. This project has created anxiety and uncertainty.

Along Kagundo Road off Outer Ring Road, new businesses areas are slowly emerging as a result of voluntary relocation by traders who have opted to give way for the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project. Kariobangi North, Kariobangi South, Umoja Nairobi County markets have always been full. It is expected that these markets will absorb some of the traders. Pressure for business rental spaces has increase in Pipeline Estate, Donholm, Umoja and Kariobangi locations, and prices are likely to go up, making the costs of business more expensive and the traders and residents will also have to make longer trips to access footbridges.

The Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project promises to make huge changes. The existing road will be transformed into a wide dual carriage with footbridges, road signs, more trees, underpass, flyovers and improved drainage system. The improved road will see current road crossing patterns disrupted, as pedestrians will be expected to use footbridges and designated places for either for walking and cycling.


The Outer Ring Road Improvement Project Area (KURA website)

The new road will have ten footbridges. This will either limit or increase interaction between different communities and access to resources depending with how strategically they will be positioned. Building of footbridges does not necessarily motivate people to use them, Thika Highway being a clear example where poor design and inadequate positioning have hindered their utility and attractiveness to pedestrians.

New development or technology like an upgraded road makes sense when it saves lives and brings about efficiency but poor design can cause many adverse impacts. Involving affected communities in the design and identification of appropriate locations will thus be essential to avoid the problems of Thika Highway. The Outer Ring Road cuts across areas known for high levels of crime is certain locations which the design should also try to address.

Appropriate safety features such as low speeds in high-density neighborhoods and near schools (in line with the proposed Traffic (Amendment) Act of 2014) as well as massive safety awareness campaigns targeting motorists and the community located along the road will help reduce accidents and save lives. Regular road users have been used to crossing the road at any point and with no access to footbridges. Making the design process participatory and safety awareness continuous while construction is going on will help bring about desired behavior change.

As the for the cyclists, Nairobi County Government needs to create bike lanes and free and safe parking zones in Central Business District and elsewhere to promote the culture cycling in Nairobi while also ensuring small scale traders have enough space and do not invade bicycle and walking paths. (The Outer Ring Road project includes bike lanes).

Informal and small-scale traders play an important role given the limited number of job opportunities available in Kenya. It is well known that these businesses in the so-called ‘informal sector” produce the bulk of new employment in the city. The Nairobi City County Council should have addressed their worries earlier before the road project, through prior investment in expanding existing markets while also constructing new ones in strategic locations. Currently, anxiety remains among the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) of the Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement Project.

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. He has a blog about Mathare http://matharevalley.wordpress.com/


Kenya Can Lead in the Open Transit Data Movement for Africa


Collecting Transit Data Nairobi: Courtesy Digital Matatus

Collecting Transit Data Nairobi: Courtesy Digital Matatus

Posted by Jacqueline M. Klopp 

Transportation has become a major focus of concern in Kenya. Congestion, air pollution, traffic crashes, poor air quality and insecure public transit are major problems that undermine the economic growth and well being of cities. This includes the Nairobi Metropolitan Region which some estimate produces 45% of Kenya’s GDP. The government has been responding to these concerns with attempts to regulate the public transit sector and by upgrading road infrastructure and services like rail and introducing bus rapid transit. However, creating systems that manage transit and inform these proposed changes is critical to the success of these efforts. In turn this requires good data, which needs to be shared.

Why open transport data?

  • To be effective policy, projects and planning should be driven by inclusive dialogue, technical expertise and data.

There is a global movement to make transit data open. Most often consultants collect data to input into analysis that informs transportation decisions. Yet they often do not share this data more widely with different government agencies and even across projects by the same ministry. This makes planning more expensive as each project usually has to collect data from scratch or take a lot of time to access data. This reduces efficiency as well as any possibility of independent research and analysis from the universities and think tanks that could help lead to improvements in the project. Further, it is hard for the government to benchmark changes made by the projects if good quality data is not consolidated and shared.

  • Collecting more transport data and opening it up also enables technology innovation that supports better operations and passenger experiences.

Open data allows the creation of phone and web-based applications for passengers and operators. For example, two entrepreneurs in Nairobi have developed trip planner applications- Ma3route and Flashcast Sonar- that give people better information for planning their trips and also provides other key information and a way for passengers to share information among themselves including about traffic conditions. This is also important for people from outside the city who wish to visit and do not know how to get around. Those involved in the tourism sector have been trying to create better information for visitors as well.

  • By creating data and putting it in a standard format like GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification), this allows the use of open source software to develop planning tools. These tools help planners to see how the city operates and plan better as well as gather public input more efficiently through “crowdsourcing” (gathering feedback through text messaging, websites or email).

Besides building infrastructure the government needs to create local systems to manage traffic flows, reduce congestion and make safer conditions for drivers and pedestrians. To do this they need to work with drivers, pedestrians and the rail and matatu sector to manage public transit in a more regularized way. All this requires data and visualization tools that are easy to use.  Rather than spend large sums on hiring foreign consultants the government can encourage and work with local software designers and technologists to develop systems and tools more appropriate to the local context. The universities can help cultivate local experts who can provide technical support for these systems.

How to create open transport data?

The good news is that with cellphone and GPS technology, new, lower cost methods are available to collect critical data on transport. For example, “big data” collected by telecommunications companies can help analyze traffic flows and other dynamics of cities. When the telecommunications company Orange recently released its data for Abidjan in Ivory Coast, IBM researchers were able to develop ways to better plan bus routes for the city. However, sometimes this data is not released for analysis by wider groups of people stifling the prospects of innovation.

Fortunately, teams of people with cellphones can also create useful data by using certain tools or applications. For example, in the Digital Matatu Project, the University of Nairobi with its students mapped out the matatu routes in the city of Nairobi, creating valuable information for citizens, planners and technologists. The map Kibera project created a map of Kibera that is also useful for planning for that community and the Spatial Collective has done the same for Mathare. Before these efforts Kibera and Mathare were not well represented on city maps before.

Who can create data?

 While specialized consultants will continue to collect specific data for various transport projects, their task will be simplified when good quality base data is available. Such basic data can include routes, stops, frequencies of service etc. As we have seen and the Digital Matatu project and other mapping projects prove, data creators do not need to be private consultants who work for the government. They can include government, universities, think tanks, businesses, transport operators, community groups and through crowdsourcing, citizens. Ideally, many of these groups will work together to create and share data.

Kenya is well poised to lead an open transit data movement for Africa.

digitalMatatus launches Nairobi Public Transit Map

By Jacqueline M. Klopp

Yesterday, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Association and the digitalMatatu consortium launched a comprehensive public (matatu) transit map and data base of routes and stops for Nairobi.The government in Nairobi has conducted little planning of public transit, leaving operators and drivers of matatus to shape the system. This means that many routes and stops are not officially designated and, while this allows matatus to be demand responsive and flexible, it also makes them vulnerable to police harassment and violent cartels. These dynamics contribute to the congestion problems in the city, poor conditions for matatu drivers, and inadequate and insecure public transit for this city of 3.5 million people. Collecting data needed for starting to better plan and improve this system is also challenging.

The digitalMatatu consortium consisting of  the Civic Data Design Lab MIT, C4D lab at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University and Groupshot set out to leverage low cost technology to create one of the first comprehensive data sets for Nairobi’s “paratransit” system. Students with handheld devices sought out and road in matatus mapping out stops and routes. What is particularly signifiant about this work is that it demonstrates that transit systems commonly considered too “chaotic” to capture can be amenable to data collection efforts.

Another key  feature of the digitalMatatu work is that the data collected is open and  in a basic standard (GTFS) which allows use of open source software to develop trip planner and other applications for passengers and planners from the data. With the rapid changes in transit in Nairobi it will be critical to develop systems to update and gather more data and host it on an open transport data portal.

The data which contains 130 routes and stops, both designated and non-designated, has already proved its usefulness. Two entrepreneurs Laban Okune and Jeremy Gordon developed useful apps Ma3route and Sonar respectively. In turn, these apps can now help gather other useful data on accidents, congestion and driving via crowdsourcing. Planners have also been asking for the digitalMatatu data.  At the launch of the map developed from the data Permanent Secretary of Transport Muli noted that “mapping of the current transit data provides a basis for proper planning and the Nairobi County government will come up with new PSV routes to help decongest the city and which will be used as a measure for issuing the new operating licences.” County Cabinet Secretary Mr. Ondieki announced that the county would adopt and use the map and data.

More information and the data is all available at digitalmatatus.com.

UN-Habitat’s New Report on Sustainable Mobility: Lessons for Nairobi


Published on October 10, 2013 by Jacqueline M. Klopp

This year’s UN-Habitat Global Human Settlement Report is on a topic of much debate and interest to Nairobi’s inhabitants: Planning and Design for Sustainable Mobility. The report argues strongly for cities where crucial services are available for all. Accessibility is key. This is in contrast to the idea of mobility or simply increasing ability to move, which often tends to create a narrow focus on congestion and traffic. Accessibility captures the reality that many people would rather not be forced to move to access services and employment. By better planning that puts more important services like good schools and clinics as well as small, non polluting businesses in high density and improved neighborhoods, you can reduce the need to travel and sit in traffic. This not only saves time: with thoughtful design and planning, a focus on access can lead to cities that are more livable and safe.

Overall, the UN-Habitat report provides many ideas for solid interventions that cities and their citizens can make to move in the direction of accessibility. Part of the solution lies in integrated land-use and transport planning, a strong focus on well designed public transport systems and promotion of mixed use developments and a better distribution of services. UN-Habitat happens to be headquartered in Nairobi which very much needs this paradigm shift, and it will be critical to have a real debate and discussion in policy and civic circles about these ideas. Nairobi itself is bubbling with creative local initiatives like Nai ni Who?, the Naipolitans,  Map Kibera Map Mathare and new urban thinking among cutting edge professionals that fit with the new report and its ideas.

These more democratic and progressive ideals of the accessible city fit nicely into the aspirations of Kenya’s new constitution. Sadly, they also go against the grain of over a hundred years of urban history. For example, good quality and affordable public transportation and safe streets for people who walk has never been a key part of Nairobi’s history. Nairobi began as a kind of “apartheid”, colonial “garden city” with leafy suburbs for wealthy settlers and colonial officials and poor housing or informal settlements for Africans. The colonial elite at the time were very concerned with roads for their cars to go into the city center for work and back to their exclusive homes at the end of the day. The poor were left to walk. Function in the city was as segregated as the races were supposed to be at the time with clear administrative, business, industrial and residential areas. These planning concepts still have a grip on the city with the central business district sadly devoid of residents that might keep it lively and safe at night. Instead, many residential areas including sprawling gated suburbs for the middle and upper classes are going up without basic services like shops which then forces people into unnecessary travel.

In Nairobi’s early history, municipal politics was dominated by settler and colonial officials who also were able to access land through political connections encouraging sprawl. Public transport within Nairobi was unsurprisingly not much of a focus for the car driving colonial political class, and this is why Africans developed their own systems in the form of the matatu transit system that continues to serve as the backbone of transport for the majority (although it is often too expensive for the very poor). No one can seriously imagine that today’s Nairobi would function without the matatu system and in fact, matatu drivers and owners, much maligned and rarely appreciated, do the bulk of planning for transportation at the micro-level in the city to this day, creatively redesigning routes to meet demand and figuring out where stops for passengers need to be. The city appears to be  happy to simply extract fees from matatus at terminals rather than figure out how to improve public transportation in the city.  The responsible ministries for transport simply build roads and projects as if the matatu system does not exist which explains why Thika Highway has inadequate provision for transit stops. Further, following old patterns, the ideal of a living in a suburb and driving into work in the city center still has a grip on today’s upper classes who then find themselves fighting for space on the road with matatus who carry the bulk of people around. Yet it is the matatu not the car carrying one person that is constantly banned from the city center.

So the key question will be whether with the devolved Nairobi City County, Nairobians will be able to dismantle the outdated and colonial planning system and reshape their city and its transport system to reflect their pressing needs and a more inclusive vision? Currently, the county is engaged in a new master planning process funded by the Japanese  International Cooperation Agency. A draft report was just released and a number of public meetings have taken place in accordance with the law but little information appears to be circulating, and it is unclear whether there is a strategy for community engagement. If this new planning process connects with the push for change from below and the integrated county development planning and budgeting process required by law, it could help move Nairobi in a better direction.

However, this requires the cooperation of the national government which currently has no national urban policy. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, for example, should not continue to push on with large-scale transportation projects that will reshape Nairobi dramatically with few knowing about the details and design and few to no public meetings in the city and the neighborhoods impacted. How many people, for example, know about the proposed elevated highway along Uhuru Highway that is bound to have a huge impact on the city? If these kind of opaque dynamics in planning for land-use and transportation do not change, then, following its history, Nairobians will not be the master of their own planning process and their ideas and needs will not be reflected in the projects and plans that get implemented. The UN-Habitat report is thus very timely and can be very helpful- but only if it is picked up and read and  triggers more needed public conversations and policy and planning changes.

Architecture exhibitions in Nairobi: an interview with Dr. Anna Rubbo

Three architecture exhibitions were on display at the Nairobi Alliance Francaise on Loita Street from 05 June until 07 July. The exhibition opening on 05 June also saw the launch of Dr Lydia Muthuma’s book, ‘Nairobi in Pictures (1899-2000)’  which was accompanied by photographs of 100 Nairobi buildings and a number of historic settlement photos.  The book and photographs, seek to establish a link between Nairobi’s buildings and its people by cataloging the city’s transformation, and identifying elements of culture that make the city what it is. The second exhibition, ‘Architecture=Durable’ showed 10 recent projects by 10 French architects over time.

The third exhibition was titled ‘People Building Better Cities: Participation and Inclusive Urbanization‘ (PBBC). PBBC is an exhibition that is traveling around the world highlighting participatory approaches to solving contemporary urban planning challenges.  To date it has been shown in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Johannesburg and Nairobi. Over the next few months it will be shown in India, China and the USA. The driving force behind the PBBC traveling exhibition is Dr. Anna Rubbo, (Senior Scholar at the Earth Institute Center for Sustainable Urban Development and Global Studio founder). We had a chance to speak with Dr. Rubbo directly, asking her a few questions about her experience of working on the exhibition.


Nairobi Planning Innovations: How was the exhibition organized in Nairobi and what was the highlight of the Nairobi PBBC exhibition? Continue reading