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/


5 thoughts on “A Look at the Social impacts of the Outer Ring Road Project

  1. I’m Jackson I live in mathare en we have a carwash opposite kennol kobil round about plz help me cauz demolishion is near.



    What is the clear definition of a road accident?

    A *road accident*, also known as a *traffic accident*, *motor vehicle collision*, *motor vehicle accident*, *car accident*, *automobile accident*, *Road Traffic Collision*, *car crash*, or *car smash* occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris , or other stationary obstruction, such as a tree or utility pole . Traffic collisions may result in injury, death, vehicle damage and property damage.

    A number of factors contribute to the risk of collision including; vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driver skill and/or impairment and driver behaviour. Worldwide, motor vehicle collisions lead to death and disability as well as financial costs to both society and the individuals involved.

    In Kenya currently the number of people who have died so far this year from road accidents is estimated to be 2000.We have the hospitalized and the incapacitated by the road carnage.

    *Courses of road accidents in Kenya *

    1) Road Conditions.

    A lot of accidents happen as a result of cars unexpectedly running into obstructions and road hazards on the county’s highways. These hazards include potholes, damaged road sections and other objects (e.g. broken down vehicles, abandoned vehicle parts etc) on the roads. Vehicles then tend to somersault as a result of these potholes (which can be pretty deep). Other vehicles somersault or run into other vehicles on the road while trying to avoid these unexpected hazards.

    Another factor is the remarkable absence of road signage on most of Kenyan roads. These make it difficult for non-locals to use any stretch of roads without prior tutoring regarding the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of each stretch.

    2) Vehicle Conditions:

    Most vehicles in Kenya are not serviced regularly nor are they serviced by authorized Manufacturer Service Agents nor by people who have access to the Manufacturer service manuals. A lot of improvisations therefore go into vehicle maintenance. The serviceable parts are also not reliably supplied by the authorized Manufacturer Agents. These fake parts therefore tend to give way in the least expected of situations. Such unexpected part failures do tend to cause accidents on the Kenyan Roads as well.

    The absence of a skilled workforce also makes the workmanship of the maintenance engineers in Kenya operate at standards way below the standards in the advanced countries of the world.

    3) The Human Factor:

    The ease with which Driver’s Licenses’ can be legally or illegally procured in kenya ensures the steady supply of unskilled drivers on her roads.

    The driving habits are so bad people tailgate other drivers at high speeds causing major difficulties for the vehicles when things go wrong with any of the vehicles in the convoy.

    Speed limits are never adhered to on the roads and the vehicles are commonly used well in excess of the design load capacity. This makes it difficult for drivers of such vehicles to control them in a safe and reasonable manner.

    Road Traffic Accidents Bad weather is also one of the biggest causes of road traffic accidents. This is because bad weather such as heavy rain, snow or fog can cause bad visibility and poor friction on road surfaces which in turn lead to vehicles not able to stop and break in time and collide with each other or other objects….

    *Effect of road accidents*

    1. Loss of life’s

    2. People needing medical care.

    3. Cost of police and fire personnel responding to accidents.

    4. Loss of productive work time to those involved.

    5. Loss of productive work time for friends to attend funerals

    6. Cost to clean up the road and replace damaged sections, signs, and guardrails

    *How do we reduce Accidents in Kenya?*

    o Training of drivers should be done by credible institutions to enhance professionalism in that field.

    o Avoid over speeding and reckless drivers should be charged in courts of laws.

    o Avoid over drinking and taking harmful drugs like marijuana because are the serious causes of accidents today.

    o Modernize roads by putting on road signs to follow for example traffic lights.

    o Driving permits and licences should be given to only experienced and well trained drivers.

    o Road users should respect road regulations in order to reduce on accidents.

    o Traffic laws should be put into service and every driver must have his/her own driving licence recommended by traffic laws.

    o Under age drivers should be denied to get driving licences and not allowed to drive.

    o Drivers should be tested first before they start to drive or given licences.

    o Instill good behaviors to our drivers at the training lever and award certificates to that effect

    *What is currently happening in our Driving school and the mode of testing and getting a DL (Driving License)*

    The question of who owns a driving license is no longer relevant in Kenya today. Commonly known as DL, the document has become a basic requirement or an identification document for most Kenyans. I am not against this milestone that the country has achieved. Gone are the days when a village or estate was proud of having a qualified driver. Despite this is current scenario, my experience at a driving school last week left me dumbfounded about the purpose of a driving test.

    If you look around in the estates and on the streets today, you would agree with me that there are countless driving schools with all kinds of sweet names, pampered with missions and visions for road users in Kenya and East Africa. By the fact “Hospital Ceilings are boring”, I fully commend these schools for being on the frontline in promoting road sanity and safety.

    Depending on your ability and the organization of the school among other factors, a driving student can “move” a vehicle within a few driving lessons but not drive. As such, schools strive to ensure that they produce professional drivers who understand basic and fundamental driving principles. With simplified curriculum and modern vehicle Class E and BCE training takes an average of four weeks after which students are tested for competence before being given an interim Driving license by the KRA.

    After my 4 weeks of training, the day and hour for testing came. Nevertheless, I never knew that a journey that had started at seven in the morning was to end at seven in the evening. With a total of over 150 students against four test officers, it was clear that that was to be a tiresome day for entire team. Although the exercise went on as scheduled, my concern narrowed down to testing approach and credibility of the test.

    Like many other Kenyans you are not informed, you will be surprised to learn that Driving tests are always conducted by traffic police inspectors. After the test, we interacted with “former” classmates and shared experiences in the test room. At this point, I learnt that some of the students had passed the test by only being asked one question, whereas others had been exposed to almost ten questions. I am not lamenting about this disparity in questions. What shocked me was how other students were disqualified for failing to answer only one question correctly out of ten.

    From my simple understanding of the test, it is meant to determine the competence of students. How can competence be measured by one question like “What does red traffic lights mean? Or “What is a vehicle?” Who doesn’t know that “Red lights” mean STOP! Such questions form part of theory, which students get exposed to during their four weeks of learning.

    I have no idea if this training resembles in all training centers, but my call to the Traffic Commandant of Kenya Police is to revise the Driving Test carried out by officers weekly in the country. The entire process does not allow one to ascertain the competence level of students, therefore manufacturing incompetent drivers who significantly contribute to road carnage in the country. But before the Traffic commandant reads this article and parliament forms a tribunal to investigate the same, Driving Schools and other learning institutions which cover Road Safety in their curricula should include “Poor Driving Test, as cause of road accidents in Kenya today.”

    Research done by

    Samuel Kiarie


    • Thank you for this very comprehensive and excellent comment. All the factors you identify come into play to explain high levels of road crashes and deaths in Kenya. However, it is less well understood in Kenya that how you design a road in the first place also makes a difference-does it have proper pedestrian pathways, good visibility for drivers, properly placed overpasses, well designed intersections and matatu/bus stations? See more on design here: http://nacto.org/usdg/. Poor design is why Kenyans talk about “black spots”. Black spots can be avoided and also fixed but Kenyan engineers, at least those in the government, appear to be unaware or uninterested in proper design. It is now time for civil society to demand that quality and safety be part of how roads are initially designed. Engineers also need to take responsibility along with other sectors of society (as you correctly note, the traffic regulation and driving testing system needs a complete overhaul). You might also be interested on the comment in the Daily Nation by Maina Muchara on the design of Thika Highway http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/Thika-superhighway-design-a-threat-to-lives/-/440808/2405632/-/hdy2ccz/-/index.html. Speed limits also matter a lot. In New York, some of the main streets now have speeds as low as 25 miles/hr in more populated areas to reduce deaths by accident. Hopefully, the engineers working on Outer Ring Road and the City County that need to regulate the new road are listening to these critiques of Thika Highway and paying attention to them.


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