From 4 to 12: a biography of Thika road

by Federico Parolotto

A Nairobi typical traffic jam



Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is a fascinating city that has uncharacteristically grown to a population of approximately 4.5 million without having a ring road (although this will not be the situation for long). Any movement from one side of the city to the other requires transit through its very heart.

Typically, after the arrival of the car cities developed a set of ring roads to deal with vehicular traffic, moving away from the traditional historic settlement where the main movement channel was in the centre of the city.

The speed and consequently the space needed by the car require very wide roads, often fed by split level junctions that guarantee high volumes of traffic and high travelling speeds.

Thika road is part of the road upgrade currently underway in Nairobi. Here, too, a system of split level junctions is being implemented in order to ensure a more efficient traffic system. Although the new north bypass will act as a ring road and divert traffic from Thika road, the latter is also undergoing a major upgrade.

Indeed, it will grown from its current 2+2 configuration to an incredible 6+6 lanes, ensuring direct and express car access to the city centre. Looking at the portion that has already been completed, you will be amazed by the size and scope of the work.

Thika road view



As has happened and is happening in numerous cities throughout the world, Thika road will become a major cut through the city, severing pedestrian connections and creating a chasm that will be mitigated by a set of overhead pedestrian walkways.

The incredible number of pedestrians that currently populate the road, walking alongside the construction work to their destination and often using the Matatu system, will not be there in a few years. Thika road will be occupied by a much higher number of cars, reflecting the very steep growth in car ownership in Kenya and the progressive increase in traffic due to the attractor/generator land uses that are due to exploit the greater vehicular accessibility enabled by the Thika upgrade.

The process from a road upgrade to an increase in induced traffic to the intensification of developments around the infrastructure is a consolidated development pattern throughout the world despite more than 30 years of academic battles against car-driven planning.

Looking at Thika road in the direction of Kasasarmi from the bridge, one cannot avoid the thought that something is going very wrong with urban planning…






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