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Understanding the Nairobi Traffic Menace

Traffic jams or congestion are a common occurrence in major cities around the world. Kenya’s capital city Nairobi has had its fair share of the traffic problem which has had significant impact in the local economy since over 66% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in the city. Nairobi was ranked as the fourth most congested city, according to International Business Machines Corporation commuter’s pain survey 2011.

Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) policy brief no 2/2015 estimated that traffic jams costs in Nairobi Metropolitan Region amounted to Kenyan shillings 1.9 billion in 2008. Extrapolating this figure with regard to inflation rate and population growth, the estimated cost of traffic jams may amount to Kenya shillings 5 billion per year as of 2016.  To understand implications of traffic jams on current and future productivity of the city, we have to look at the major causes of traffic jams and analyze possible solutions to the problems.

There are several causes of traffic jams in the city of Nairobi but the following are the ones with the most impact according to the KIPPRA policy paper Mitigating Road Traffic Congestions in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region by James Gachanja.

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City planning

Urbanization levels in Kenya are among the highest in the world. Nairobi city is spearheading Kenya urbanization by the ballooning population of the capital. Estimations put city road capacity at one third of population demand.

Due to high population increase and constantly shifting dynamics, fully eradicating congestion is not affordable and possible. That being said, there is a lot the government can do in its planning to reduce traffic snarl-up.

The government has done well by constructing the Southern and Eastern by pass roads that were estimated to ease traffic congestion by 11% in Nairobi. The government may do more by increasing road capacity which would reduce overall congestion in the CBD.

The other alternative is to increase walking and bicycle lanes in the CBD. This would encourage walking and cycling of commuters which would be a double win; saving on costs and taking care of the environment.

Public transport system

The Nairobi public transport system may be the biggest contributor to the traffic jams in the city. The public transport system is riddled with cartels that manipulate prices and break traffic rules. The breakdown in public transport systems has contributed to the increase in use of private cars as alternatives for daily commuting. Traffic police can do little to help the situation as they continue to fight corruption incidences that allow the cartels in the matatu business to thrive.

Regulating and standardizing the public transport system may be a major solution to the Nairobi traffic menace. Reliability and effectiveness of the system may encourage use of public transport system and reduce reliance on private cars.

Road discipline

Road discipline may go a long way in reducing traffic jams in Nairobi. Road discipline not only involves the vehicle drivers but also pedestrians and cyclists.

Road safety, obeying traffic rules and improved driving skills are some of the road disciplines that can be observed. For example, Kenyan’s have no regard for traffic lights hence the need for traffic police to control traffic. This is less effective in comparison to the efficiency of traffic lights.

On the other hand, pedestrians contribute to traffic snarl-up by crossing the road at points with no zebra crossing and failure to use flyovers.  These cause motorists to constantly break and reduce speeds which can cause traffic build up.

The NTSA should be concern with increasing road discipline rather than implementing speed limits that applied to roads that were built during colonial times.

Perspective shift

As Kenyan’s living in Nairobi, we need to shift our perspective in regard to vehicles. Vehicles are perceived to be a symbol of status hence one will tend to use his/her car for status rather than for necessity.

Walking and cycling are more Eco friendly and also beneficial to your health. We should embrace walking and cycling to save on costs and build up a healthy society. This can be encouraged by the government building walking and cycling lanes.

Time stamp

Since Nairobi city is not yet a fully 24 hour city, we tend to flock in the same direction during morning and evening hours. One should not complain of traffic jams when all of us get out of the house at around the same time. Be the early bird and catch the traffic worm and also find errands to do in the evening in town instead of wasting that time on the road.

All in all, traffic jams would continue to haunt cities to the end of times. This is one of the intrinsic problems of urbanization but the government can do more to ease traffic snarl-up through innovation and implementation of urbanization policies.

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Posted by Timothy II Aperit

True believer in numbers. Statistics never lie. Bsc Financial Engineering MBA Finance ACCA