African Cities are Walking Cities, but are they Walkable?

From Walkonomics the real deal in African and other developing cities will be to accomplish the transition from walking because people have to, to walking because its the best way to get around, while in most South african cities its not – public transport is not safe, cheap or reliable hence the drive for private cars and use of mini-bus taxis. Does any young city dweller where not want his own car in order to be cool? 

If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities.  In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport.  For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk.  These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.

Can a growing city keep people walking?

As a result, the current CO2 emissions of these cities are extremely low, with the vast majority of people either walking or using ‘ad-hoc’ public transport such as the small blue and white minibuses of Addis Ababa.  However most Urban Africans aren’t walking out of choice, but simply because they can’t afford to travel in any other way.  The real challenge facing urban governments in Africa is to maintain these high levels of walking as their cities grow at an incredible rate and Urban Africans start to earn enough to be able to afford to travel differently.

So walking is popular in Africa, but this isn’t because urban African streets are walking-friendly.  In fact quite the opposite: 63% of streets in Addis Ababa lack any pavements or sidewalks and crossings are rare.  Africans walk despite the un-walkable urban environment, not because of it.  Walking isn’t only difficult, its also very dangerous with 67% of road accidents involving pedestrians in Ethiopia’s capital.  Sadly this is the case in many developing countries, where road accidents are a growing epidemic and are expected to be the third biggest killer by 2020.

Walkable urban development

Faced with these huge challenges and opportunities the United Nations have recently pumped over $3 million into a project to kick-start sustainable transport in three African capital cities.  ’Sustainable transport in East African Cities‘ will support and fund improvements to walkability, bikeability and public transport in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Kampala.  The project is built around creating Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) in each city, similar to schemes in Johannesburg andBogata.  BRT are low cost and efficient bus systems with dedicated ‘busways’ and high quality enclosed stations.  They provide the usability and capacity of other Mass Rapid Transit (like trams or subways) but at a fraction of the cost, making BRT an ideal option for developing cities.

As well as establishing BRT systems, the project will create more walkable and bikeable streets in each city, which will form a sustainable transport network. These improvements will include building more sidewalks, signalised crossing and improving road safety. It is hoped that by creating a holistic transport system now, each city can provide a sustainable alternative to the car-dependent development that has caused so many problems in western cities. Perhaps this will also mean that while East African cities continue to develop and grow richer, their citizens will still choose to embrace walking as the best way to move in the city.

Images courtesy of sameffron and carlosfpardo on Flickr.

Right-Sizing the Street: Not Just for the DOT Anymore via SustainabelCitiesCollective

There are plenty of places in Cape TOwn that could use this treatment – where the car rules and we could take back the streets! Aurash Khawarzad of PPS Project for Public Spaces Writes:

In Oak Cliff, Texas, community members initiated the process of right-sizing their street by orchestrating a temporary street re-design event. Photo from Go Oak Cliff.

It used to be that only transportation professionals decided how wide a street should be. Not anymore. Communities of all shapes and sizes are beginning to play a larger part in determining the design and network of their street system.

This new, active role helps ensure that transportation projects contribute to broad community outcomes, including local social, economic, and environmental well-being.

One primary way in which communities are playing an active role in the planning process is through grassroots efforts to “right-size” local streets. These right-sizing efforts take the form of low-cost experiments that are intended to demonstrate potential benefits of place-based transportation and informing long-term decision-making.

What is Right-Sizing?

Right-sizing is a technique to re-design streets to make them context sensitive. Through right-sizing, streets can be transformed so they are safer, sustainable, and more functional from a mobility and a community perspective.

For more detail on some examples of right-sizing techniques, read this recent post on Safer, More Livable Streets through Bike Lanes, featuring PPS Transportation Initiatives Director, Gary Toth.

Continue reading