Taking a walk in the tropics is not an easy task. The skies are clear, sun is burning and temperatures are high. This is even harder in urban centres that experience slightly higher temperatures due to buildings, asphalt, and industrial activities; better known as the ‘urban heat island effect.’

Walking, however, remains a very popular mode for people on the move in the City of Nairobi. Approximately 48 % of Nairobi residents walk to work. Most of these belonging to the lower income segment of the population, and may walk up to 7 to 15 Km a day.

Sadly, up to 47% of road fatalities in Kenya are pedestrian deaths. Pedestrians also suffer injuries and permanent disabilities as a result of road accidents. Stories of innocent pedestrian deaths are not strange in the city.

A Nairobi Citizen crosses the road towards a dusty pavement

Pedestrians in Nairobi appear to lie last in the urban planning priority order. A survey conducted by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) found that in Nairobi there was little segregation of vehicles from pedestrians. It stated that 95% of the roads recorded high pedestrian flows yet only 20% had pedestrian footpaths. Pedestrians fight for space with drivers who at times drive on pavements during traffic jams. Walking routes are also blocked by waste, informal businesses and, at times, parked vehicles. The rainy season brings its own challenges, with these same drivers mercilessly splashing water on pedestrians. Oftentimes when roads are repaired little attention is given to the pavements, leaving them either dusty or muddy.

The highly acclaimed 8-lane Thika Superhighway was completed in 2012 without a single pedestrian crossing. Several pedestrian deaths forced the authorities to take action, first constructing speed bumps as they drew plans for pedestrian bridges. On the equally busy Mombasa Road, it was only last month that construction of a pedestrian footbridge began, in spite of the appalling pedestrian safety record of at least one death a day.

A very Narrow Pavement as cars and stall owners have encroached the wider side in Nairobi

At times the pedestrians also have themselves to blame, with many of them ignoring footbridges to dangerously dodge vehicles as they cross roads. The City Governor was right when he blamed citizens for being lazy and putting their lives at risk. However, the city design still ought to be done in favour of citizens and not vehicles.

On the positive side, some of recent road construction has seen better emphasis on pedestrian walkways with pedestrians protected from motorists by drainage streams. The media have also held road safety campaigns, but there may also be need for emphasis on rules or guidelines for pedestrians.

When will we realize that pedestrians have equal rights as vehicles? What can we do to make our city safer for pedestrians?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.