African Cities are Walking Cities, but are they Walkable?

A commentary from WALKONOMICS  on some of the hazards of walking in African Cities and efforts to improve the conditions sing BRT systems, which in South Africa are aimed more at reducing mini-bus taxi’s and car traffic than improving on the conditions for walkers

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 and Bogata.  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.

Bus Rapid Transit, like this one in Bogata, can help to create sustainable transport systems in East African 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

11 US cities honored as “walk-friendly”

by Kaid Benfieldon Sustainable Cities Collective: How the “West” lives is long way from us here in the South – and yet we aspire to achieve walkability – but for different reason here – most people don’t have cars and yet our aging city infrastructures are designed for cars, Public urban transport is mainly by mini-bus and the urban poor are stuck out in peri-urban ghettos – with this in mind the advocates of global tourism still spend on structures and infrastructures designed to retain the privileged few.Issues such as this are tops in the current run up for local miunicipal elections in South Africa – interesting times. Still it is instructive to see which American cities are judged to be walker friendly”

walking the High Line in New York City (by: John Weiss, creative commons license)

After evaluating applicant communities in several categories related to walking – including safety, mobility, access and comfort – the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center last week announced the selection of eleven Walk Friendly Communities across the US.  They are ranked in categories of achievement, as follows:   Continue reading

For Saving Energy, Like Real Estate, The Three Most Important Things Are Location, Location and Location : via TreeHugger

Here is an excellent article from treehugger by Lloyd Alter, Toronto that really gives the low down data on why compact city living is the most sustainable with excellent references to information backing up the postulate.

The one downside we all know is that the policies of most cities don’t reward compact living, especially in South African cities, lack of safe reliable public transport is a problem which BRT systems are (slowly) trying to address – developers are stepping into the breach though and building inner city lofts and reviving the CBD of the cities  with urban regeneration projects.


Union Square, New York, Image Credit Lloyd Alter


‘After lecturing on “deep green design”, (I am adjunct Professor at Ryerson School of Interior DesignPassivhaus and the fancy gizmo technologies of green building, one of my students said “but not everyone can afford this! How are normal working people going to live?”

A couple of years ago, that would have been a difficult question to answer. But lately, the answer had become a lot clearer: We don’t all have to drive LEAFS and Volts and live in Passivhauses. In fact, it might even be counterproductive. Now, more and more tools and studies are making it very clear that just like in real estate, when it comes to energy consumption and climate change, the three most important things to consider are location, location and location.

Continue reading