The traffic jam Menace

Traffic jams are a pain we all associate with in one way or another. That endless wait hoping that the roads clear before we run late for whatever errands we are running or places we are going to.

They make us feel helpless and at the same time wasteful of both time and related resources like fuel with a ripple effects we can never put true values on.

In my today’s articles, I focus to shed more light on the ever growing traffic jams in our cities and the subtle short term changes as well as major design approaches we can adapt and work towards to make our future driving lives and those of our children and children’s children much better, efficient and enjoyable.

My focus will be on the main two cities of Nairobi and Mombasa where we have the heaviest traffic jams day in day out.

Nairobi like many cities and counties around the world was designed more than 50 years ago for a population of about of 350,000 in 1963 when Kenya got its independence; The same city plan is currently supporting a population estimated at about 6.54 million people.

Below is map of Nairobi showing the central business district (CBD) and its environs.


Averagely, every driver spends about 3 hours stuck in traffic everyday, which translates to roughly 78 days stuck in traffic in a year, working with the assumption of 6 days of traffic congestion in a week.

The area surrounding the bypass circle is mainly residential, with some little percentage of commercial buildings, the area after that towards the city center is both residential and commercial, the CBD is almost entirely commercial except for a few residential areas, occupied by mainly Asians and the likes of Chris Kirubi living in some high-end pent houses.

Having the economy rise steadily over the years has seen infrastructure grow thin and slim for the ever growing population and booming number of motor vehicles joining the roads every year, put a strain on the structural designs that turns the whole of Nairobi into a series of bottle necks with people in the green areas trying to make way to the orange and red areas every single morning for work and leaving in the evening to head back home, this in itself a traffic flow bottleneck design.

This means that traffic is not a thing we are going to wish away but one we have to work at to keep traffic flowing

With credit to KURA, KENHA, City County council and ministry of roads, there has been a number of solutions implemented that have worked to ease congestions, some patch ups here and there, expansions, construction of slip roads, service lanes and feeder roads adjusted to accommodate and serve the surging population.

Development of multiple lanes, for example, the 12 lane Thika super highway and recently expanded 6 lane Mombasa road, are perfect comparisons to the traffic triumph and failure giant Los Angeles, only perhaps in a much smaller scale where multiple lanes were built as a solution only to lead to multiple challenges and problems. Similar to what Nairobi and many other major cities and counties are experiencing. Both projects exhibiting cases of architectural design limitation meant to serve for an earlier era serving an overly grown population, not to mention blotted economies that have to rely on these same old designs that feed into narrower roads.


Lets go through some series of solutions implemented so far that have assisted in the short term.

Introduction of more lanes; This sorted a number of problems however problems with lanes is that traffic never stopped by vehicles moving but by those stopping, as long as there are thinner junctions, the expanded roads provide only a bigger holding area while traffic slowly feeds through a bottleneck to some smaller road at some point, doesn’t matter how many lanes you build, as long as cars pile at the thinner junctions, you have a problem.

Which brings us to the solution of the round about, basically are a good solution in that they keep traffic moving, problem is they do not prioritize based on numbers, that means the direction that has five cars will exit as the same side that has 100 cars, depending on who has right of way, sometimes running into deadlocks, that doesn’t exactly help does it?

Next, we look at traffic light solution, in more modern cities traffic lights are “Intelligent” and check the traffic pattern to prioritize traffic flow, in both Nairobi and Mombasa, the lights are set on timers, meaning, at each interval, there is a specific set time that they allow traffic to flow, introducing a more absurd problem of time wasting when some lanes aren’t experiencing traffic bearing in mind that traffic patterns change depending on time and day, but the clocks still ride on the same timers for example; light traffic is controlled by the same set time to serve busy days.

Which brings us to the “best” next available Nairobi traffic solution “traffic police” and the “traffic marshals” in Mombasa, am saying this with no hard feelings to the boys and girls in traffic departments, you know I got love for you and what you do! They have by far remained the go to solution provided since timely memorial, they are able to assimilate who needs priority over the other, however, you can’t negate human error that a guy could be in a back mood for some reason, easily irritable, incompetent or lacking experience, which translates to effectiveness of the flow, let alone possibility of more being out there.

With car production capacities gone higher, more banks giving loans and high number of graduate entrants into employment gullible to taking car loans, more and more cars are expected on our roads.

As uber choppers get into play both in the States and in Nairobi for the wealthy 21st century man to escape traffic, it is apparent that those who cannot afford have to struggle to get alternative solutions, some of which require long term redesign of major roads and eradication of round a bouts, the likes of Outering road and new bypass constructions like the eastern bypass which already shows signs of limitations whenever there are events that disrupt traffic flow.

While policy makers in the city have in the past spent a lot of their efforts on discussions focused on ‘de-congesting’ the central business district, there has been little or no talk related to the transit challenges facing the rest of the city.

Although the central business district has evolved over the years with  major corporates, embassies and hotels relocating to the ‘first concentric zone’ (UpperHill, Kilimani and Westlands), the CBD still remains a transit zone for those using public transport between various parts of town.

Coming to the most recent decentralization, the idea of finding separate cities out of the main capital city through which the government provides its services coordinated in a replica of offices offering the same service initially offered by the main office, in theory this could work over time bearing in mind the investments involved and the bustles around making everything work, ability of businesses to move with the services. This changes the traffic patterns to have people move not only towards the CBD but also away from them changing it from not just one direction but to two.

This has worked to ease strain on available resources but requires other solutions employed to work hand in hand with it. One of which requires a major service and resource distribution design to fill in on the areas in the outskirts of the city currently acting as residential to have a mix of both residential and commercial structure.

To some extent Nairobi is solving this problem by itself by the sprouting malls and centers areas like Ngong, Rongai, Matasia, Kikuyu, Kayole, Daystar area on mombasa road, Kiambu, kinoo to mention but a few around Nairobi.

This however needs to be designed intelligently to redistribute services and traffic effortlessly, creation of commercial centers to serve communities, similar to the so called “High streets” of London within the administrative “Barrows”, similar to our administrative constituency divisions.

In what would stand as in the diagram below.



This gives opportunity for businesses to sprout and grow as well as have satellite branches taking the required services nearest to the people. Health institutions, financial, education centers, libraries, IT firms all available to the communities

These would be served by light overground trains to offer timely services, these trains would operate at regular intervals unlike the current Nairobi morning and evening trains that operate as though they go work similar to the people they transport.

In fact, Cities like Nairobi and Mombasa can take advantage of this immediately and stop treating the trains as though they tire and require a whole day to rest from a morning trip awaiting another in the evening before they go to sleep.

Introduce commuter trains into Mombasa using the current existing old rail from Mariakani, Mazeras, Port reitz, Changamwe and into the mainland while developing a standard gauge railway to serve better, factoring in another between the CBD and the residential areas of north coast serving all the way to Mtwapa, Bamburi, Nyali, Tudor into town.

The overland train in Mombasa can be used to ferry passengers to the new S.G.R Miritini station and back, as well as goods from the port to be transported by overground train to Nairobi to ease the constant and almost assured traffic pileup at Changamwe.

The major Nairobi Mombasa highway can easily come to play by introduction of a cargo train and save the roads from the occasional cut offs and strain on the roads.

Congestion adds time to the trip not forgetting fuel consumption, making it more expensive and damaging to both the economy and environment.

People tend to use vehicles more to mean who they are, more of a statement to make rather than contributing to solve the problem.

Our own personal contribution to work towards this would be

-Car pooling

-Working from home for those who can

-Planning our trips

-Cycling or walking to work for those who can

-Working towards building a 24hour economy

-Factor in continence in place of stay getting you to work efficiently

The county authorities can demand building owners to provide for parking within buildings

Introducing tolls for road usage maintenance to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

Work towards building a 24 hr economy redistributing resource utilization.

The government should strive to outrun “Matatus” and private vehicles by offering better alternatives.

Provide 21st century solutions for 21st century congestion problems by use of technology solutions to provide more transportation choices and a reliable commute

Borrowing what we can from developed countries and work with indigenous solutions to our problems.

Strive to reduce congestion and pioneer new ways to move traffic.



Frank Odhiambo

Mind Grid Perspectives

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