2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome first started cycling as a boy in Kenya. Cycling is an equitable and low-cost form of mobility, although it can be a dangerous activity in cities like Nairobi.

Many cities around the world have long recognized the importance of cycling as a way of mobility.  The City of Nairobi has been slow to this. None of the roads were originally designed to accommodate cyclists. Most cyclists have to dangerously use the main roads alongside other vehicles, sometimes resulting in fatal accidents. The recent increase in motor vehicles and  the evidently poor road ethic does not make this any better.

A cyclist moves on the middle of the road in Nairobi, Kenya

An early, but poor, attempt at having cycling lanes came with the expansion of Waiyaki Way, in the early 90s, where part of the pavement was marked out for cyclists. Recently, curb separated bicycle lanes have been added on Thika Superhighway and the missing link roads. The new bikeways, however, have poor intersection design for cyclists. Former Bogota Mayor and reknown urbanist Enrique Penalosa once said that “a bicycle way that is not safe for an 8-year old is not a bicycle way.”

The attitude of people is also a challenge. Many believe that cycling is for the working class, reminding us of the quote “I’d rather cry at the back of your BMW than laugh at the back of your bike.” Driving is viewed as a symbol of wealth and cycling a symbol of poverty. The middle class opt to cycle outside the city as sport over weekends avoiding the dangerous urban roads. The draft Nairobi Master Plan says little about the challenges faced by cyclists.

One of the new Bicycle lanes in Nairobi, Kenya

Urbanists have stated that there is a need to emphasize the construction of bikeways rather than planning purely around vehicular mobility. For the cost of 1 km of urban highway one could build 150 km of bicycle paths, 10,000 km of bicycle lanes, or 100 well designed 30 kph zones.

The Bogota Bike Path Network covers over 300km and is safe for people of all ages. In the Netherlands, 7 in 10 trips are taken by bicycle. Large scale bike traffic requires careful urban planning, lest one ends up like Kolkata, India, which recently banned cycling on many city streets in an attempt to reduce urban congestion. In Burgos, Spain, there were riots over plans to have bikeways constructed.

With the majority of people in Nairobi either walking to work or using public transport, safe urban cycling would be positive and sustainable for urban mobility. For this to happen, issues of safety, parking, security, perception and cycle oriented planning will have to be tackled. In some smaller towns, bicycle taxis are popular, but safety is still a major concern.

The junctions are not safe for bicylists in Nairobi, Kenya

Quite clearly a city designed for bike movements is a happier and healthier place.

Why have cyclists been ignored in the planning of African cities? Isn’t it high time that African cities set aside specific plans for cycling as part of urban mobility?

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