I am a Kenyan and just like many other Kenyans, I am always looking for alternatives which might not necessarily be the solutions in fixing our problems. My justification, I do not want to waste my energies on problems that seem to be way beyond my control. The traffic jam in Nairobi is one such situation. It bores and frustrates me.
While in Nairobi, I lived at Langata, which will take me less than 10 minutes to town on a private means after the rush hour, especially at night and over the weekends. On week days by public means, (morning hours and evenings) at times it will take me more than two hours to cover the same distance.
It gets worse on end month-weekends, explanation being, people have money and hence most cars are on the roads for various reasons, be it shopping, visiting friends or just taking a weekend drive.
Nairobi is considered the commercial hub in East Africa and hence an important sector in the Kenyan economy. But with the continued traffic jam, it is not naivety to say that we are losing billions of shillings annually in lost productivity and fuel. In addition to this, we suffer environmental pollution, physical and mental torture as a result of the many hours spent on traffic jams.
Of course this gets worse when schools are on session. Students are required at school before 7am and workers expected to be at work by 8am. Many leave their houses early enough and extend their sleep on the buses. If you are using Langata road, watch out for Ongata Rongai City hoppers, 3/4 of the bus passengers are usually dead asleep on reaching Langata. Still, they have to deal with some loud radios, shouting conductors and hooting vehicles. By the time many of them get to their destination they are tired, mentally and physically, which automatically translates to reduced productivity.
When you get stuck for many days like me, then you start thinking of the available options. Now I think I have a practical alternative that could reduce the jam to some degrees. Biking. Yes, bicycle riding. I have been trying to promote the biking idea on my facebook page and already I can tell it is an idea that many do not believe in, for many reasons. I am going to try to explain why I think biking could work miracles as I plan to do the same on returning to Kenya. Here is a YouTube clip on Nairobi traffic jam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL0nzr80EQA&feature=related
Someone pointed that we do not have well-marked roads in Kenya to allow for people to use bicycles. I agree, but we can start with what we have, most of our roads have pavements, let’s make use of them. Then, when many of us are using bicycles to and from work, we can champion for well-marked roads. I am optimistic that can be done.
Living in Langata, one spends approximately over Kshs. 3500 monthly on public transport. (Ksh.50 in the morning, Ksh.70 to 80 in the evening, then Ksh.120 when it rains). In a year, this translates to Ksh. 42,000. Should I start biking to and from town, then I will save all this cash and do something meaningful with it!
“Everyone in Nairobi seems to be always in a hurry, walking at a brisk pace, late for some appointment, work, whatever. The reason is simple: the eternal traffic congestion makes it shear impossible to keep time.” When I bike, I will be on time for my errands in town plus feeling fit after a morning exercise. This means I can do without gym as I have a morning and an evening physical fitness exercise every other day.
For a while now I have been thinking of the 24-hour economy in Kenya. What happened to the logistics that were set to ensure it is implemented? I imagine this would be so practical since most offices are situated in the city centers and these have security and electrical power supply almost all through the year. If we had half the number of people at work during the day and the rest at night, then that reduces the number of vehicles on the roads during the day, hence making bike riding a hustle free.
A friend commented that men are hesitant to biking since it has an implication on their sexual performance and many will not want to bike on a daily basis. I really do not know what the scientists and researchers say about this, but I imagine there is so little truth in it. Living in Norway for a while now and even touring different countries within Europe, it is evident that biking is one major mode of transport. Many children start riding bikes as young as 2 years and they ride almost all their lifetime. So what is the difference between them and us in Kenya?
Biking viewed as poverty
A lady friend living in London, wrote to me and said, “You know how it is Patience, back at home we view bike riding as poverty, only people who cannot afford to buy cars will buy bicycles, so that mentality has to change if biking riding is to be viewed as an alternative mode of transport” said Emmy.
I agree with her sentiments, no wonder most of us in Kenya are so obsessed with buying expensive cars “on loan” when we can actually afford to buy our own bicycles. Many of us do not know how to ride a bicycle but we have driving licenses of class A,D,E. Yes, it is that serious. Kenyans will sit down and talk about the different cars they are driving or those that they aspire to have, but rarely will you hear any discussion on bicycles. It is all about perception and how we view ourselves.
Take for example in Norway, many people have great cars, and in summer, most cars are parked and many are using their motorcycles and bicycles to and from work, regardless of their job titles. My boss at NRK, has been in the media industry for over 40 years now, and he is always riding his bike every morning and in the afternoon back home. “Norway is such an expensive country, we can afford to buy fuel, but it is obvious when we use our bicycles, we save a lot. You can service it on your own, basically it is not as expensive as owning a car,” said a Norwegian friend.
I must applause my government for the effort in constructing fly-overs in Nairobi and its outskirts, I cannot wait to see what Vision 2030 has in store for us as far as our roads are concerned. As we wait, I am pretty convinced that biking will offer a great alternative to reducing the traffic jam in major cities in Kenya and East Africa as a whole!
Enjoy a traffic jam -free day, won’t you??