Kenyans oppose plan to have two car-free days in the city

Wednesday January 30 2019

James Macharia, Charles Mwaura, Dickson Mbugua

Transport CS James Macharia (centre), Housing Principal Secretary Charles Mwaura (left) and Chairman Matatu Welfare Association Dickson Mbugua (right) during a press conference at Transcom House in Nairobi on January 28, 2019. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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The Transport ministry’s announcement that no vehicles will be allowed on some city roads for two days a week has drawn sharp reactions, with critics querying the move.

Transport Principal Secretary Paul Maringa said on Monday that on Wednesdays and Saturdays, motorists will not be allowed on Harambee Avenue, City Hall Way and part of Moi Avenue, and that the space will be left to traders, who can make “up to Sh39.5 million a day”.

But whether this happens remains to be seen.

If the project goes past the piloting, Uhuru Highway, Haile Selassie Avenue, Moi Avenue and University Way will also be declared periodically vehicle-free.

Kenyans interviewed feel that clearing roads to create open-air markets is not a good idea.

Some feel that having “vehicle-free” days, especially on Saturdays, means people will be forced to stay at home, which goes against the whole idea of boosting open-air trade.

Others felt that Wednesday should not be included because, as a working day, the move is likely to cause a transport crisis.

EXCEPTION

“Car-free days in Nairobi not a good idea, methinks,” tweeted Narok Senator Ledama olé Kina, who offered four solutions, including a congestion tax for motorists, as happens in London, which levies a “congestion charge”, especially for diesel cars.

Federation of Kenya Employers Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo said the plan has many loose ends.

“The idea is good. However, Nairobi does not have a workable public transport system. Workers can’t cycle in the city. We don’t have that culture,” she said.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya tweeted that the decision was made without public participation. “It’s unnecessary, given that the move doesn’t amount to decongestion of traffic,” said the organisation headed by lobbyist Stephen Mutoro.

Mr Geoffrey Kosgei’s tweet saw no problem with the plan, as long as it is implemented fairly. “(I would say) yes, on condition that no one is an exception. Otherwise, this city will be owned by the rich class,” he posted.

If the plan is implemented, Nairobi will be one of the African cities with the most regular car-free days, and will join the league of many European cities.

Rwandan capital Kigali has, since May 2016, been having a no-vehicle day one Sunday every month, with people encouraged to walk to improve their fitness.

“The move is aimed at encouraging mass sports and exercise along the affected route through introducing the much-anticipated green transport and green city,” said the then Kigali Mayor Monique Mukaruliza.

Photos shared by the City of Kigali management in the initial days showed children playing on empty streets. “Once a month, these kids have where to ride their bikes without any fear of being knocked by cars,” read the caption.

POLLUTION

Elsewhere, Danish capital Copenhagen is one of the most glowing examples when it comes to encouraging clean transport. Business Insider reports that since the 1960s, the city administrators have been determined to have functional pedestrian-only zones.

The capital boasts “more than 200 miles of bike lanes and has one of the lowest percentages of car ownership in Europe,” the publication said last February.

A report in the Irish Medical Journal earlier this month indicated that 77.2 per cent of the routes in Copenhagen are physically segregated from vehicles.

Belgian capital Brussels has also gone big on car-free transport. It began with “mobility weeks” organised for one day every September, when cars were banned from the city centre. Now the city has well-established car-free zones and has been building major pedestrian infrastructure in the past few years.

And in Spain, the country that will sell the 11 commuter trains that the Transport ministry says will help move people faster in Nairobi, Madrid authorities slapped a ban on all polluting vehicles in the city centre last November 30.

Though vehicles were not entirely banned from the city centre, the administrators slammed the doors on petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel ones in use before 2006.

There are also car-free initiatives in some parts of New York and London. “On the first three Saturdays in August between the hours of 7am and 1pm, nearly seven miles of New York City’s streets are open to the public to play, run, walk and bike,” says a message on New York city’s website.