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The death trap that is Nairobi's Outer Ring Road

Friday November 15 2019

Outer Ring Road

A section of the 13km Outer Ring Road at the Donholm flyover in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Outer Ring Road in Nairobi remains one of the most dangerous highways in the capital, according to the latest statistics released by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

With 31 fatalities, only second after Mombasa Road, which has 38, Outer Ring road has retained its signature of a death trap.

This 13-kilometre-long road, constructed at a cost of nearly Sh10 billion, was meant to cut the time spent between Thika Road and Mombasa Road from two hours to about 15 minutes.

The road would also help to significantly offload the city of vehicles connecting to Mombasa Road and Southern Bypass.

DEVASTATING
This has so far been largely achieved, yet with devastating consequences.

Since its construction less than three years ago, the road has claimed hundreds of lives, crippled thousands and led to losses running into millions of shillings.

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So, why has this blessing swiftly turned into a curse? What went wrong?

From its flawed design to haphazard construction, experts argue that the road was doomed right before the excavators had gone to work.

An engineer who was part of the design team claims that several modifications were made to alter the original plan ‘‘to suit certain interests’’, noting that these would massively compromise the safety of the road once it was complete.

Curiously, despite the road incising through populous neighbourhoods of Nairobi’s eastlands, the four-lane route lacked footbridges, walk ways, cycle paths, lighting, signage and landscaping when it was completed in 2017.

The contractor, SinoHydro Tianjin Engineer, would later erect 11 footbridges along the 13-kilometre stretch after protests from road users.

FOOTBRIDGES

Before their construction, tens of people had been knocked down to their death while attempting to cross the busy road.

Even with footbridges in place, pedestrians crossing from undesignated spots are a common feature along killer stretches.

These go over the guardrails before running across the road in a daring manoeuvre that often ends tragically.

Mr John Chege, a frequent user of the road, says it features bumps at Kariobangi, which pose danger to motorists who haven’t used the road before.

‘‘The exits are narrow and poorly marked,’’ Mr Chege laments. ‘‘Unless you know the road well, driving on Outer Ring Road is a trial and error affair,’’ he adds.

Motorists also claim that the road lacks proper service lanes, making it impossible to exit at convenient sections.

From the NTSA report, 3, 053 people have died on the roads so far in 2019, with 10, 147 others injured, 5, 795 seriously.

CARELESS DRIVERS

This is a sharp increase from figures for the same period in 2018, where 2, 689 people died and 8, 569 injured.

In Nairobi, a total of 373 people have been killed on the roads, with the majority of the crashes (109) involving private motorists.

But why? Are private motorists careless on the roads or are they driving faulty vehicles?

Traffic expert George Nyaga argues that drunk driving and lack of experience are the main causes of accidents involving private motorists in Kenya.

‘‘Some of them don’t have licences. Others don’t complete their driving training. They are hardly detected because the police are mostly interested in commercial vehicles,’’ says Nyaga, founder and director of Road Safety and Rescue Volunteers. This local initiative creates awareness on road safety to minimise loss of lives through accidents.

ACCIDENTS

‘‘Private motorists are also vulnerable to accidents because of lack of their experience on the roads,” he says.

“Drivers of PSV and commercial vehicles are more familiar with the roads, including black spots. Private motorists, however, spend fewer hours driving, which exposes them to different challenges.”

According to him, private motorists are ‘‘sometimes arrogant’’ and, therefore, more likely to flout even the ‘‘simplest’’ of traffic rules than drivers of other vehicles.

‘‘We encounter drivers who engage in traffic offences and refuse to cooperate when intercepted by the police, insisting to know their rights,’’ Mr Nyaga adds, saying that this also exposes such drivers.

‘‘By breaking traffic rules, you put your life in danger and that of others,’’ he warns.

‘‘We can minimize accident fatalities if we were all responsible on the roads.’’