EMBAKASI, Kenya—It’s evening rush hour in Embakasi, on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Commuters are busy alighting from buses as cars zoom by into and out of the city.
Occupants of the nearby residential areas of Pipeline and Fedha estates are out shopping for their evening meal, while others walk home from casual work in the area.
What they have in common is a need to cross the busy Outer Ring Road that originates here and cuts through the neighborhood.
As the vehicles speed along the recently expanded road, pedestrians scamper across the roadways, risking their lives on a daily basis. There’s no footbridge that would act as a lifesaver at this point in the road where so many people need to cross.
The reason, explain residents, is that the installation of footbridges has been slow, with some still not erected two years after its opening.
Most Dangerous Road
While the road improvement works have significantly eased congestion—reducing journey times from 2 hours to 10 minutes—there have reportedly been scores of deaths and injuries since the road was expanded into a major four-lane highway in 2017, as pedestrians are hit and killed by fast-moving vehicles.
Simon Mwikali, a resident of Pipeline Estate, is a businessman who sells groundnuts near the road. He said that he watched as two of his friends were hit and killed by speeding vehicles.
“Johnny had gone to get change for his customers as he was selling CDs just right here. A vehicle hit him and just like that he was gone,” Mwikali recalled.
Like many other pedestrians who have lost their lives on the busy road, Johnny’s life would likely have been saved had footbridges been installed before the road was opened for public use.
“Then my other friend Ras, who was a resident of Pipeline, was crossing to access the supermarket in the evening when he was also hit and killed. No one here looks to care about the safety of the pedestrians. All they mind about is for the vehicles to move. Us who don’t have cars don’t count for much,” Mwikali lamented.
Last year, data from National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) showed that the road had the highest number of fatal accidents in the city in the first six months of the year.
“Outer Ring Road was declared the riskiest road having recorded a total of 23 deaths during that period which were highest compared to other roads,” the report stated.
Statistics for 2019 to date reveal a similar picture, with 31 deaths recorded, making the Outer Ring Road the second-most dangerous in the city.
Joyce Mwende, a teacher at one of the academies in Embakasi, has to cross the road each morning to and from her place of work. She says she has witnessed many accidents on the road.
“As we cross in the morning every day, we can’t miss to see a person having been hit by a car. What the government talked about were only deaths. There are so many others who sustain injuries during these accidents,” she said.
In late September, Anthony Kariuki, an aide of the deputy president and a former Nation Media Group online editor, became a victim of a road accident on the Outer Ring Road.
According to the head of the Deputy President’s Press Service David Mugonyi, Kariuki was hit by a tour van as he crossed the road to his residence at about 10 p.m.
In 2014, the Kenyan government awarded the tender to the Chinese state-owned company SinoHydro Tianjin Engineering Co. Ltd to expand the congested 8 mile stretch from the Kenyatta International Airport through to the General Service Unit headquarters at a cost of 8.4 billion Kenyan shillings ($84 million).
According to the African Development Bank that financed the expansion project, the Outer Ring Road passes through the most densely populated area of Nairobi, which houses up to 70 percent of all residents in the city.
In its 2013 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report, the African Development Bank noted that they held a public participation forum during which women living in the area expressed their concerns about the safety of children crossing the road as they headed to school, given the increased traffic speeds expected following the expansion.
One of the proposed solutions was the installation of footbridges.
The upgrade and expansion of the Outer Ring Road began in September 2014 and was scheduled for completion in summer 2017, but construction works ran over into 2019 due to various problems. However, the road has been open to traffic since July 2017.
SinoHydro was expected to have finalized all works, including erecting footbridges, landscaping, and building the remaining service roads within six months of opening. But there were no footbridges almost a year later.
The Kenya Urban Road Authority had contracted SinoHydro to build 11 footbridges at a cost of 880 million Kenyan shillings ($8.7 million).
With increasing pressure from residents, in April 2018, work began on installing the bridges. By May 2019, around five of the contracted footbridges had been installed, but, as some had been built in less-congested areas, only a minimal number of people used them.
“Once we complete these footbridges, pedestrians will have no excuse for carelessly crossing the road while footbridges are available,” Kenya Urban Roads Authority corporate communications officer John Cheboi told the Star in October.