•The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) said by October last year, 1,413 pedestrians had been killed on roads in Kenya.
•Many commuters who would prefer to walk or cycle because instead take matatus or private cars and spend hours on the road going for short distances, because walking or cycling is not safe.
A few minutes after you leave Kiambu town, on the way toward Nairobi, is a steep descent and a smaller road that branches to the left, leading to Kirigiti estate, where Robert Mwaniki lives.
The weather was drizzly When Mwaniki alighted a Nairobi-bound matatu at this junction at dusk in early October last year.
Before he could cross the road, the driver of a matatu incoming from Kirigiti flashed the headlights twice, perhaps signalling him to get out of the way.
It almost hit him. He jumped onto the slabs that cover the drainage, as there is no footpath along this road.
Some slabs were missing and he landed hard in the trench. There was no injury, or so he thought.
“A week later I was on a matatu to Nairobi City, I was shocked on arrival to see that I had peed on myself. I also realised I couldn’t feel my legs anymore,” he said.
WHO’s Global Status Report On Road Safety 2018.
“Despite the presence of vulnerable road users in many parts of the world, many of whom cannot afford or do not have access to the safest vehicles, they are still largely ignored in the planning, design and operation of roads."
Mwaniki was taken to a hospital in the city where scans showed the sacral part of his spinal cord was injured. This section, situated at the lower back area, is responsible for bladder contractions.
“Recovery with physiotherapy took three months. It was agonising. I moved from a wheelchair, to walking with a crutch and then limping unaided. There is still considerable pain today. It was also expensive I took a Sh500,000 Sacco loan to pay for therapy,” he says.
Mwaniki, who turned 37 early this year, was lucky. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) said by October last year, 1,413 pedestrians had been killed on roads in Kenya.
Former NTSA board chair Agnes Odhiambo, who retired from the authority last month, said most people killed on Nairobi roads are actually pedestrians.
"We lost 1,413 pedestrians, 1,085 bodaboda riders, 721 passengers, 378 drivers, 377 pillion passengers, and 56 cyclists. Unfortunately, these numbers will keep increasing if we don't adopt road user behaviour and adhere to basic safety practices, " Odhiambo said.
Walking is the main means of transport in Nairobi. Out of every 10 trips to school or work, eight involve walking as the primary means of transport, according to the Nairobi Non-Motorized Transport Policy, developed by the Nairobi City County in 2015.
Private vehicles only accounted for about 15 per cent of all trips, but they dominate in numbers on Nairobi roads and streets.
Isaac Mutashi is a road safety activist who heads SafeDrive Africa, a non-profit based in Nairobi.
“Although more than 80 per cent of Nairobi residents walk to move around their estates and the city, walking and cycling are perhaps the least considered modes of transport in planning,” he told The Star. “We are only building more roads for vehicles without any bicycle tracks or walk paths.”
The World Health Organization also notes that nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
“Despite the presence of vulnerable road users in many parts of the world, many of whom cannot afford or do not have access to the safest vehicles, they are still largely ignored in the planning, design and operation of roads,” says the WHO’s Global Status Report On Road Safety 2018.
“In many countries, roads still lack separate lanes for cyclists or adequate crossings for pedestrians and allow motor vehicle speeds that are too high.”
The Star carried out a three-day survey to find out which roads have clear walking or cycling paths in the eight divisions that make up Nairobi. These are Mathare, Westlands, Starehe, Dagoretti, Lang’ata, Makadara, Kamukunji and Embakasi.
Only about 20 per cent of roads had walkable pathways. Most of the other roads had narrow sidewalks that were not paved at all. Those that were paved have been encroached on by hawkers, mechanics and dirty food kiosks.
This is at Fedha Stage along the most dangerous #OuteringRoad as #pedestrians risk their lives to cross the road to board Town-bound matatus.The #footbridge is nearby but it will end you at Stage Mpya area thanks to poor design.@Ma3Route @KenyanTraffic @KURAroads @ntsa_kenya pic.twitter.com/GX29zQ7hU0— Safe Pavements in Kenya (@PavementsSafe) January 23, 2023
The 2015 Nairobi Non-Motorized Transport Policy also noted walking or cycling is not conducive even along roads with proper tracks.
“Factors making walking unpleasant were noted as motorist and human traffic congestion (21.3 per cent), insecurity (22.9 per cent), air and noise pollution from vehicles (15.4 per cent), insecurity (13.6 per cent), poorly maintained roads (11.8 per cent) and obstruction of walkways (7.1 per cent).
Thus many commuters who would prefer to walk or cycle because it is cheaper and faster, do not.
They instead take matatus or private cars and spend hours on the road going for short distances.
The World Bank, in its report Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World, says that Nairobi has “one of the world’s longest average journey-to-work times” with commuting speeds of just 14 kilometers per hour.
The World Health Organization, which champions well-planned systems for both motorised and non-motorised transport, says urban transport has a direct effect on health.
For instance, poorly designed transport systems are a root cause of physical inactivity, noise pollution, and issues related to psycho-social well-being.
The WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety shows that road designs that do not factor in non-motorised transport mean people are less likely to walk, cycle, or use public transportation when conditions are unsafe and this has a bearing on other leading causes of death.
“These include ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes while increasing motorisation has been linked with respiratory illnesses,” the report says.
Its scorecard on Kenya says there country only has “partial design standards” for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Mwaniki still hopes he can walk again unaided. But he still carries trauma from his last year’s accident.
“The situation has not changed. If I walk, I will probably be walking on the road or a narrow walk path. I always fear I might be hit again. Sometimes it feels like a death sentence.”