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Friday, August 08, 2008

Intense Vehicle Congestion snarls Nairobi traffic

Can mass transit and clean fuels solve Kenya's crisis in the capitol?

Hordes of cars, trucks plague Kenya capital

Once-gleaming city 'will come to a standstill in a decade,' warns Nairobi traffic official

Aug 04, 2008 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (1)
Malkhadir M. Muhumed
Associated Press

NAIROBI, KENYA–Vitalis Odhiambo walks 10 kilometres to work every day, wearing away the soles of his shoes along Nairobi's potholed, crumbling streets.

He doesn't do it to save the bus fare, or even the environment. He does it to save time. "If you look at the traffic jams in Nairobi, you have no option but to walk," Odhiambo said as a mass of gridlocked cars and trucks inched forward, spewing black exhaust while drivers pounded their horns. "Walking to work is faster and less stressful."

Once known as East Africa's gleaming "City in the Sun," Nairobi has become so snarled with traffic that the government estimates Kenya forfeits $460 million a year to lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution. The congestion is threatening the economy, scaring away investors and preventing Nairobi from becoming a world-class African capital, experts say.

"We can't pretend that things are okay here," said Mutula Kilonzo, head of the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry, an office created this year to solve the city's growing traffic and infrastructure problems. "If we don't do anything to decongest Nairobi soon, I have no doubt it will come to a standstill in a decade."

Big cities across Africa suffer maddening congestion, in most cases because they failed to update road networks built decades ago to serve colonial administrations. Lagos, Nigeria was built in the 1950s to accommodate about 60,000 people. Its current population is 14 million.

In Nairobi, the population has reached 4.7 million, up from 350,000 at independence in 1963. Private cars in Kenya have ballooned to nearly 935,000, with more than half of them in Nairobi alone, said Simon Ole Kirgotty, registrar of motor vehicles.

The roads have not grown with the times, however. A combination of bad drivers, overloaded trucks and corrupt traffic police exacerbate the problem, transforming one of Africa's biggest cities into a smoggy, gridlocked sea of cars.

There are no subways, elevated trains or bus lanes to help speed commuters to work. The roads are generally two lanes – although aggressive drivers often squeeze four lanes of cars into the narrow roads.

Minibuses known as "matatus," the main form of public transport in Nairobi, are notorious for their drivers' disregard for the law. They regularly career down the wrong side of the street to overtake cars idling in traffic, zip through red lights and screech to a stop – often in the middle of the road – to let passengers on and off. Fatal crashes are common. The punishment for such lawlessness is usually just the ire of other drivers – the poorly paid police are easily paid off.

Full article continues at

Urban traffic nightmare in Kenya's capital city Nairobi

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