What Kenya can learn from cities that have tamed traffic congestion

Wednesday March 18 2020

A traffic jam on University Way in Nairobi on March 3, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Traffic congestion is easily the most conspicuous yet distressing feature of life in Nairobi. Kenya’s capital may be enjoying rapid growth, but inability to move its people with ease is the fly in the ointment of Nairobi’s status as the regional hub. 

From lack of a smooth public transport system to poor infrastructure and insecurity, moving in the “city under the sun” is a treacherous affair. 

To get to your destination, you have to count on luck. And if you have hard luck, a fight will suffice. But you are certain to sit in traffic for hours every day.

Her is a look at how bustling global cities that have tamed traffic congestion while also minimising pollution:

Stockholm, Sweden: Electronic road pricing

  • In what is perhaps the most ingenious way to control traffic in the world, motorists pay a tariff to drive into this Swedish city between 6:30am and 18:30pm.
  • Only buses, eco-fuel cars, taxis and emergency vehicles are exempt from this toll.
  • This strategy has seen millions of vehicles off Stockholm roads, dramatically reducing traffic congestion.
  • Additionally, the city authority collects more than Sh30 million daily from toll revenues.
  • The revenue is used to develop the city’s transport infrastructure for more efficiency.  
  • In Nairobi, everyone is welcome into the city centre. Emergency vehicles, motorists on leisurely jaunts, people driving to work and matatus all compete for the minimal road space.  

Hong Kong, China: Public Light Bus (PLB)

  • This is the equivalent of matatus on Kenyan roads.
  • These buses, with a capacity of 16 passengers, supplement the normal bus lines in the city.
  • They transport people into the remotest part of the city where large buses cannot access in what is referred to as the “last mile”.
  • These buses are express, and do not stop along the way to pick up or drop off passengers.
  • PLBs have helped to drastically reduce illegal transport in Hong Kong.
  • In Nairobi, estate buses and minibuses pick up and drop off passengers at any point, and are the cause of traffic jams in the city and in the estates they serve.
  • Illegal transport is rife in Nairobi, with unlicensed drivers (what is commonly known as squads) in charge of the buses.
  • Battered vessels move people in and out of the city.

Copenhagen, Denmark: Cycling

  • This Scandinavian city is built for cyclists and is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, thanks to its many cycling tracks.
  • The city and its municipalities have 350km of cycle paths and lanes which are elevated from the main highways, complete with their own road signage. 
  • Sixty-three percent of Danes cycle to work and to school every day, covering 1.1 million kilometres.
  • This has seen an 80 percent drop in CO2 emission levels (equivalent of 90000 tonnes) annually.
  • Cycling to work in Nairobi is as risky as it is frustrating, as cyclists compete for space with road hogs who have absolutely no regard for road users on two wheels. 
  • Nairobi roads have no marked cycle lanes and cyclists often get knocked down by motorists.

Hangzhou, China: Public Cycling System

  • You don’t need to own a bike to cycle through this Chinese city.
  • Hangzhou has nearly 70,000 public bikes for hire in the elaborate bike-sharing programme.
  • There are also about 3,000 service points where you can hire or leave a bike.
  • Cycling is convenient and cheap, and has been infused into the city’s tourism sector. 
  • The few cyclists in Nairobi have their own bicycles.

London, United Kingdom: Online Integrated journey planner

  • Londoners have multiple choices for transport within the city: Underground trains ("The Tube"), over-ground trains, bus, river transport and cycling are the main options.
  • Using GPS technology to capture real-time traffic in the city streets, the journey planner suggests to users what mode and route to use at any given time, and the estimated time to that destination.
  • The absence of a schedule for bicycle arrivals at various docking stations inconveniences people who wish to hire them to cycle round the city.
  • To curb this, London has integrated a bicycle-sharing scheme with the other modes of transport to reduce wait times at docking stations through bicycle availability prediction.
  • No such plan exists in Nairobi.
  • Motorists and cyclists operate entirely autonomously.
  • Besides updates on radio, there is no other way to know the state of traffic in Kenya’s capital, which often leads to the wrong choice of mode of transport.  


Guangzhou, China

  • With seven million people, the city has the largest walking population in the world.
  • To promote walking, authorities in Guangzhou redeveloped the banks of the Pearl River to create an ecological corridor for pedestrians.
  • This also resulted in more than 90 kilometres of greenways that connect with paths leading to tourist attraction sites.

Melbourne, Australia

  • Melbourne converted grim alleyways previously used for dumping garbage into laneways with coffee shops and resting gardens.

Medellin, Colombia

  • Medellin has widened pavements and put up library parks in the city to encourage walking.
  • Freeways and streets in Madrid are lined with beautiful fountains for pedestrians to cool off.
  • Experts say that for walking to appeal to city populations around the world, it has to meet the three tenets of safety, beauty and comfort.
  • While many people living in the environs of Nairobi would love to walk to work, lack of the support infrastructure forces them to use buses instead.
  • Until recently, roads in the city had few walkways, and pedestrians had to jostle for space with motorists, making walking dangerous.