Follow up grand proclamations with an efficient, dependable city system

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2016 has seen Kenya play host to a number of foreign dignitaries and high profile conventions. However, any joy we may derive from our status as a burgeoning regional hub comes juxtaposed with the sad reality of heavy traffic snarl-ups, particularly whenever these guests are around.

For a city that looses millions daily due to congestion, such times can only mean double or even triple up of these losses. Does the economic benefit of hosting these personalities (or events) outweigh the daily losses in revenue we suffer then?

Successive governments have been elected to office on the promise of addressing this problem, but no solution has been forthcoming. The current regime is no different.

For starters, Nairobians were promised a tram system two years ago, which has never come to be. Equally promised was a rapid transit bus system whose construction is yet to commence, six months after the said date of commencement. Talk has now shifted to the construction of a double-decker road from the JKIA turn-off to Rironi, along Waiyaki Way.

But Wanjiku is left to ponder why, for instance, construction from ABC towards Limuru takes priority over one from Ole Sereni to ABC, which is where some of the worst traffic is experienced!

For the past 30 years, nothing major has happened for infrastructure. The city’s road network is actually very old; initially developed for a city capacity of 350,000 inhabitants, it now has to serve close to 3.5 million people.

We need a solution – a simple one to start with ‒ before we can revisit the ambitious road expansion plans (an expansion is oftentimes rendered nugatory with an equal increase in road users). Consider how many man-minutes we lose in traffic vis-à-vis international benchmarks: Assuming a bus from Embakasi, ferrying 50 passengers, takes about 90 minutes to get to town, in a journey that ought to take 30, we are bound to lose 3000 precious minutes for a single bus. Multiply this by, say, 100 buses on the Embakasi-Town route alone, and figure comes to 300,000 minutes. Multiply this by Ngong, Waiyaki, Thika, Lang’ata and Jogoo Roads and the matatus there; multiply this by the number of times this is going to happen in a day…

It should not come as a surprise that Malaysia, which copied Kenya’s blueprint for development in the ‘80s; is now on the verge of First World status while we are still struggling to make sense of our own document!

One has to wonder, is it that our planners don’t know these things, or that the people we have put in power are too daft to realise just how much we are losing? More likely is the fact that since big political players and their cronies own most of our matatus, they are bound to steer clear of the obvious alternatives that could cripple their business.

As regards maintenance, while there is quite a lot of work going on in installing proper drainage and waterways, what is quite surprising is the army of NYS recruits and the time it takes to clear a small stretch (hundreds of recruits taking almost a week to clear a stretch of 100 meters). A sadder fact is that, once cleared, most of these drainages are left open, only to be covered up with dirt in another short while. The county government must surely cover them up or find a way of ensuring that, once liberated, they do not become clogged with refuse again.

Not only so. Some streets and avenues look like scenes from forgotten cities – potholes, open manholes and garbage mounds that cover entire roads seven ways from Sunday! Those not affected by dirt are colonised by hawkers. Whatever little space that remains is left to be shared between private motorists and their often-rogue matatu counterparts.

While one is stuck up in a traffic jam, s/he’s probably also suffering the effects of a potent dose of very toxic gases which define the city’s air. Yet they’d rather bear the ride because, with the madness of matatus and bodaboda gangs, walking carries the risk of an even quicker ticket towards temporary bankruptcy or untimely death.

City residents deserve more than this, and it is time the two governments delivered.

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