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Let's build the roads but save the parks

Wednesday November 27 2019

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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The public cannot take an afternoon nap! If they do, they will wake up and find that Uhuru Park is either a road or some other infrastructural monster, that the government thinks serves public needs more than green spaces.

The Kenya National Highways Authority announced just such use for park of Uhuru Park as they launched a motor express way in July this year. The motorway, when complete, will connect the JKIA with the city centre at three interchanges and the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway.

It was a great relief to many public-conscious Kenyans to learn that the government had changed the plans for a freeway to minimise the hiving off of Uhuru Park, by assuring the public that only the road reserve around the park will be utilised.

According to its proponents the freeway will decongest the city, provide employment and reduce the cost of doing business by decreasing commute time.

First, decongesting the city may well be a myth because any previous increase in roads seems to have led to a proportionate increase in motor vehicles.

The money collected from motorists will go towards paying for the road through a Public Private Partnership deal with a Chinese firm. There is no guarantee that the jobs created by this road will be held by Kenyans and not Chinese as has happened in other Chinese projects in Kenya.

EXPENSIVE

It is also not clear how it will save commute time besides being expensive – it will cost a saloon car an estimated Sh300. How many Kenyans can afford to pay these amount daily, in addition to parking fees and buying fuel for their cars? Taxi operators also find it expensive paying for airport drop offs in addition to airport parking. This substantially increases the cost of doing business for this category.

Isn't it interesting that the government is thinking of improving road network at a fee to already heavily taxed Kenyans? The very idea of a daily charge means locks out any enthusiasm Kenyans might have for such a motorway. This relegates the people who need government services to the peripheral.

And the government will not try the alternative routes for decongesting cities. Some of the alternatives not only serve a majority of citizens, but are also good for their health and wellbeing. The city must consider increasing the walkable and ‘bikeable’ spaces and intercept the city with greenery, rather than think about taking up any more of the green spaces.

Trees will work wonders for Nairobi’s carbon crediting, providing much-needed clean air and diluting all the traffic fumes. Health experts bombard us every day with data on the increase of lifestyle disease, but the government is not about to help the public change their lifestyle. Green spaces are also good for relaxation, regulation of temperatures and provide a much needed urban ecosystem.

GOOD HABIT

It might also be that more people would bike into the city, if it was not a life threatening activity as it is at the moment. Bicycles needs less space to park, do not have carbon emissions and constitute the good habit of daily exercise.

The expressway will have a dedicated bus Lane, otherwise known as a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). It is not clear how this will work given that similar efforts on the Thika Superhighway have borne no fruit and it is no longer clear if they have been abandoned altogether. The already existing superhighway would have been a good pilot test for BRT.

It will also be difficult to implement this as along as bus services remain entangled, nor are there any real effort to reorganise bus transport independently of the chaotic matatu sector. The need for a well thought out city transit system cannot be overemphasised.

It might also be interesting for the National Environmental Management Authority to integrate an urban ecosystem service with the urban development plans for Nairobi. This way, road expansion plans will not forever meet with resistance from the public.

Whatever plans the city has, it cannot include denying city users one of the two public parks that does not charge an entry fees!

Twitter: @muthonithangwa