Nairobi Journal: City government strives to unclog daily traffic jams.

by Ron Bernthal

One of the consequences of the rapid urbanization in African cities is the increase of urban traffic. People who relocate to Nairobi, or arrive as leisure and business visitors, are met with some of the most brutal traffic jams on the continent. Part of the problem is due to outdated and poorly maintained roads: potholes, crumbling asphalt, and, ironically, road construction projects, can make many streets and majort highways almost unusable.

Traffic in Nairobi is also made worse by the number of cars on the road, which has grown exponentially since Uber and other ride-sharing apps became part of Nairobi’s urban culture, like in dozens of other heavily populated cities. With close to 15% of Nairobi’s population of 4.7 million residents spending an average of four hours in traffic to commute to work, the gridlock is unsustainable.

Traffic in Nairobi (photo Din Haitao/Xinhua/Landov)

The traffic problem in Nairobi, especially during morning and evening commutes, is even more striking compared to those in other high-density urban areas. A six mile commute in Seoul takes 21 minutes. In New York, a commuter can cover the same distance in 32 minutes, and in London in 40. In Nairobi, a commute of six miles takes 1 hour and 18 minutes, nearly double the London figure. In recent years Nairobi has been ranked within the top five most traffic congested cities in the world.

To be fair, over the past decades the Nairobi city government has made many efforts to combat the city’s traffic problems, especially during the rough morning and evening commutes from the hundreds of surburban communities. These include car-free days, periodic bans on buses (matatus) and cars in the city center, and the construction of bicycle routes and pedestrian paths.

View of Nairobi streetscape (photo Tom Kemp on flickr)

In addition to the extraordinary number vehicles on city streets, other causes of traffic jams include include the ubiquitous double parked cars, illegal bus stops, and many thousands personal cars being used as public service vehicles.

In recent years the Nairobi County Government periodically banned boda boda (motorcycle) drivers who accept paying riders from operating within the city’s Central Business District. While buses, cars and taxis can sit in gridlock for hours, boda bodas can weave between lanes and travel more easily on narrow or unpaved roads, sometimes endangering their passengers and other vehicles. Despite the on-again-off again bans, boda boda drivers continue to operate within the city center.

Boda Boda parked on Nairobi street (photo Lambert Coleman)

The Kenyan government has set aside 200 million Kenyan Shillings (about US$ 1 billion) toward reducing traffic congestion in the Nairobi area. The money was allocated to create a a new Rapid Bus Transport System, new railway trucks, bypasses and highways. These projects are aimed at reducing traffic congestion in Nairobi by half.

Especially notable is that the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority is planning to create exclusive lanes for scheduled commuter transport in order to reduce travel time to and from the Central Business District (CBD) of Nairobi.

In an attempt to ease this gridlock, the government has begun to embrace the city’s matatus, Kenya’s privately owned bus lines, by funding and building a dedicated transit hub for these colourful vehicles close to the CBD. The newly completed Green Park Terminal has the capacity to handle 350 buses, while also controlling their movement by assigning routes and boarding times.

The new Green Park Bus Terminal in Nairobi is expected to open completely in mid-2021.

It’s a significant move for a somewhat informal service that has long filled gaps in a transport market where public investment was negligible. The new approach is a reminder that when private options step up, there’s a chance for public organizations to step in and support them too. For Nairobi, such an arrangement could be a win-win for the city, its commuters, and for visitors as well.

Construction of the Green Park Terminal in Nairobi, Kenya is currently 98% complete, only final touches are currently ongoing. Green Park is among six other bus terminals that are currently being constructed by NMS that will officially be pick up and drop off points once matatus are barred from the CBD. Once complete, Green Park will host matatus plying the Ngong road route.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM party leader Raila Odinga inspect Nairobi’s new Green Park Bus Terminal in April, 2021. (film still credit The Star newspaper)