Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Insania (Kenyan Roads)

A return to the subject of our roads and drivers:

Overlapping: I believe this is a distinctly Kenyan term. I stand to be corrected but we have taken a word and conferred upon it our own meaning. I do not think that there is any other place on earth where the act of overtaking standing traffic and cutting traffic queues is referred to as I say, I stand to be corrected. Anyway, this phenomenon is really getting out of control. We desperately need to clamp down on it. The overlapping culture is a big contributing factor to the chaos and slow moving traffic we see on our roads.

The build quality of our roads is something that irks me greatly. I believe (again, correct me if I'm wrong) that Muranga Road was resurfaced sometime last year. If not, then I would say that it was definitely done within the last two years. Driving along the road today (on the stretch between Muthaiga roundabout and Pangani roundabout, I noticed that the road is already developing potholes. I keep saying that road building is the probably biggest scam perpetrated in Kenya. Roads should not wear out after 2 years. We have become accustomed to the 1-2 year road maintenance cycle in this country, so much so that we barely seem to notice let alone raise our voices when roads develop potholes so quickly. I believe we desperately need to start getting road building right. Too much money and too many man hours are wasted on road building for it to be an annual or bi-annual occurence.

We need an effective mechanical inspection system for vehicles. Driving into and out of town today, I encountered no fewer than three separate broken down vehicles that were blocking traffic. This is unacceptable in our situation. We have an overburdened road system, with too many cars vying for space. We cannot afford to have lanes of traffic blocked by poorly maintained vehicles breaking down. If we can't get inspection right, then we need to have a system in place that ensures stalled vehicles are moved almost immediately.

Police traffic control needs much better coordination and planning. Yes, the police help sometimes, but the adhoc nature of their operations means that they are as likely to help traffic flow as they are to hinder it. They also only selectively enforce road rules which encourages drivers to be indisciplined.

Traffic lights, zebra crossings and lanes need to be better thought out, better planned and better enforced. This week I noticed that the Uhuru Highway/Kenyatta Avenue roundabout lane designation (coming from Westlands) had been changed. The new designation (left lane for left turns only) makes no sense since the right lane is for right turns only (as far as I remember..unless it too was changed). That means that the expectation is that the three lanes after the roundabout will be fed by two lanes i.e. traffic going straight on Uhuru Highway is only supposed to occupy the two centre lanes into the roundabout. Ofcourse all Kenyans ignore lane designations anyway so what difference does it make right? Well if the lanes are so obviously stupid, it encourages people to act like they don't exist which creates disorder.

Placing Zebra Crossings below pedestrain foot bridges is just ridiculous. Nothing could be stupider than spending millions to construct a foot bridge (with the aim of preventing pedestrains from crossing the road and thereby allowing traffic to flow more freely) then painting a zebra crossing underneath the footbridge (to give pedestrians right of way to cross at the spot)...What is the footbridge for? Shade?!

Soon, if reports are to be believed, we are going to be moving from a roundabout system to a traffic light controlled crossroads system. Sounds brilliant..there is just one problem: The current down time of our traffic lights. I think that the failure rate of our traffic lights is way too high at present. As anyone who has tried crossing Gitanga Road to go from Kingara Road to James Gichuru Road will know, Kenyans do not have the temperament to cope with busy uncontrolled crossroads. They just grind traffic from all directions to a complete halt.

More to come...


  1. I also noticed the compromised quality of road on Argwings-Kodhek Road which is also has some potholes so soon after resurfacing. In fact I think there is still a team there doing the paint jobs.

    As for the Zebra Crossings in our roads in the city center, I am getting increasingly concerned about the Zebra Crossings painted into the section of roads right after the round abouts...its that 'best practice'? I see pedestrians and drivers constantly confused trying to figure out who has the right of way... is it dangerous to cross (pedestrians) or stop (drivers)???

    Guess we just have to be extra cautious on our roads.

  2. I am also wondering the same re: zebra crossings at roundabout exits. I doubt that's best practice. To my admittedly layman eye, it makes no sense whatsoever to have a zebra crossing at the exit of a roundabout. Especially when the roundabout is controlled by lights. It creates an additional stopping point when traffic is supposed to be flowing freely out of the roundabout.

    In my opinion, the most important thing for a roundabout is to have free traffic flow into and out of the roundabout. That's also why adhering to lanes is so important, because when drivers fail to do so, it slows down traffic flow, through the roundabouts, which reduces the efficiency of the system.