A traffic snarl up at Survey of Kenya area along the Thika Superhighway. PHOTO | KANYIRI | WAHITO A traffic snarl up at Survey of Kenya area along the Thika Superhighway. PHOTO | KANYIRI | WAHITO
By MUTUMA MATHIU, [email protected]

How is it that we spent Sh32 billion on Thika Road to make the condition of drivers, which was horrible to start with, even worse? This is the only road in Kenya where there is a jam before 6am.

Living anywhere on this road is the equivalent of living in Kariobangi South, Umoja, Komarock and other parts of deep Eastlands, a decade ago. If you have an 8am meeting, you have to leave your house at 5.45am, to be in the office by 6.30am, whereupon you sleepily stare at the rafters for an hour-and-a-half. If you leave at 6am, with overlappers and underlappers sandwiching you, there is no guarantee you will ever arrive.

The capacity of the superhighway, especially between the Muthaiga under-pass and the Survey of Kenya has been exceeded, barely seven years after the road was built.

It used to be the busiest road in East and Central Africa. Today it’s probably one of the busiest in Africa, with more than 1000 vehicles passing the Pangani junction every 15 minutes during peak hours.

How in hell did we get here?

I have been bothered by this for a while and in my curiosity, I came across a 2015 study by Mr Simon Kiragu Kabui, a civil engineering student at the University of Nairobi.

For his BSc project, he did a performance analysis – an evaluation of the extent to which the road is serving the intended purpose – of Thika Road between Pangani and Junction 6 at the Survey of Kenya, a distance of 2.5km.

He writes very well for an engineer and other than for his addiction to complex math, formulae and charts, his project is good reading for those who want to understand why they are spending the better part of their day drinking fumes and you can find it at http://civil.uonbi.ac.ke.sutes/default/files/cae/KABUIKABUI%20SIMON%20KIRAGU.pdf.

MODE OF TRANSPORT

Five years ago, you could drive at free-flow speeds (a fancy term for a situation where you drive as if you are alone on the road) from Ruiru to Ngara. Today, you can’t move during peak times. So what happened?

First, in Kenya there is only one mode of transport: Road. We move 93 per cent of our goods and people on the road.

Secondly, all roads in Nairobi lead to Thika Road. There are 2.6 million people, or 60 per cent of the city’s population, in eastlands. Rather than fighting the garbage on Juja Road or sitting for hours on Landhies Road, many are heading to Thika Road via the newly but crazily built – pedestrian bridges incomplete, no bus stops – Outer Ring Road.

The result is a locust of cars which invade and choke Thika Road and neighbouring suburbs.

The road is badly built. The person who built the Muthaiga/Kiambu Road junction should be whipped and required to do it again. There should be an inquiry into why the road was narrowed. Whose building was being saved?

The driving on Thika Road is primitive. Some drivers are rude and have no clue how to drive or use the road. It’s lost on them that if you stick to your lane, are polite, considerate, give way and never ever overlap we can achieve higher speeds, shorter journey times and less stress.

Finally, we manage the use of highways as if we are high on muguka – we have accumulated a grenade-sized lump on our cheek, our eyes are bulging out and our brains have crashed.

If our heads were working, the young engineer lists traffic management actions we could take to make things better.

INVESTING IN ROADS

One is what he calls tidal flow action. This involves opening some lanes of the less busy side of the carriageway at peak times to reverse traffic.

Two outbound lanes can be opened to inbound traffic. But if we tried that, the Mwiki matatus will try to move one on top of each, or take the other lanes as well and block the whole thing.

The other is separated lanes where priority is given to busses and vehicles with multiple passengers. Parking restriction would work, too. In this case the county reduces the number of parking bays and hikes the parking fees.

A draconian one is to impose road quotas where those with even number plates and those with odd number plates are allowed into the city on alternate days.

Or we could charge a lot of money for motorists to use certain sections in what is termed cordon pricing. In other words, you pay Sh300 to use Thika Road between 6am and 10am.

We will never have clear roads if more than half of the vehicles are cars with a single occupant. We have to invest in light rail and buses offering a clean, timely and secure mode of transport for city dwellers.

We must stop building infrastructure merely to chase dreams – Vision 2030 says Upper Hill is the new financial hub, so we pour all the money into roads in Upper Hill and Ngong Road –  and start investing in the convenience of our people by rebuilding Jogoo, Juja, Landhies roads and Racecourse Road and other routes that serve those 2.6 million city dwellers.

But remember, investing in roads alone does not solve the problem; it brings us to situation where we spend billions to make our situation worse. Give people cheaper, better, faster and safer alternatives and the roads will open up.

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