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Here’s why walking on Nairobi streets is a highly risky affair


Who has the right of way? That is the question many pedestrians in Nairobi keep asking themselves even with the recent conversion of several parking lots in the city centre into walkways and cycling paths.

Every day, many pedestrians in Nairobi risk their lives on the roads as a result of inconsiderate boda-boda riders and uncouth motorists.

It’s a risky gamble with their lives following the invasion of pedestrian safety facilities by boda-bodas and other motorists.

From parking on sidewalks to riding on them, boda-boda riders are every pedestrian’s worst nightmare in Nairobi.

About half of city residents walk or cycle, either by choice or for scarcity of resources. The reality, however, is that most pedestrians will continue chancing their lives on the busy roads as they have no other choice.

A matter of life and death

Walking on pavements has become a matter of life and death for many city dwellers, thanks to rogue boda-boda riders who are known to break every traffic rule in the book.

These serial traffic offenders ride dangerously and hoot to force their way through crowded walkways. But when they are in a real hurry, they will simply breeze past pedestrians at break-neck speed.

Data on casualties of motorbike accidents paints a grim picture.

“I’ve attended to many pedestrians injured by boda-boda riders. Some have suffered broken limbs, bone fractures, joint and soft tissue injuries, as well as lacerations and deep abrasions,” Grace Mulinge, a nurse at a city hospital, told the Nation.

But it is not just boda-bodas which are competing with pedestrians for the walkways. Hawkers and street families, too, have made life extremely difficult for pedestrians.

Some hawkers have gone as far as setting up shop on footbridges. Walking in the streets of Nairobi is not just about evading speeding boda-bodas. You still have to hop and skip over an assortment of wares laid on the walkways by hawkers.

Needless to say, the invasion of these crucial pedestrian safety facilities has made nonsense of the multi-million-shilling road investments recently put up by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and those in the pipeline.

That said, the ability to manoeuvre through traffic, especially during peak hours, is the unique selling point for boda-bodas, which are popular with many Nairobians for their promptness.

To beat traffic, many motorcyclists use sidewalks to weave through congested roads that often resemble packed parking lots.

Mwihaki Mwaura, a boda-boda rider who operates at the Globe Cinema Roundabout, wondered why I was even asking why they don’t seem to care about pedestrians who are also their customers.

“How do you expect me to answer that? We also have to earn a living. If you want to use our services you are welcome, if you don’t, I will not bother you,” he said.

For good measure, Mwaura unapologetically said he has no qualms with forcing pedestrians out of his way to get his customers to their destinations in the shortest possible time.