By: Dr. David Oginde,
As young architectural students, one of the things we were taught early in the course was that every challenge or constraint provides an opportunity for a unique and creative design. Thus, a difficult client, a rugged terrain, or a tight budget, can all work together to help produce a most innovative architectural masterpiece. Indeed, some of the most brilliant pieces of architecture the world over have been produced around some very demanding circumstances. It thus requires an imaginative architect to turn challenging problems into marvels of art.
I have since come to realise that this principle from the architectural school applies to almost every aspect of life. When life offers you a lemon, you are the wiser to turn it into lemonade. It is in this light that I have pondered over what should be done to sort out three abiding challenges on our two main city highways –Thika Road and Mombasa Road. These two roads are notorious for pedestrian deaths and traffic jams-which results from an uncomfortable mix of human and vehicular traffic, fighting for space in what should otherwise be high-speed superhighways. Added to the mix are hawkers, who similarly mingle dangerously with vehicles, trying to eke out a living.
Undoubtedly, this is a unique challenge to us in the developing world. In developed countries a majority of people use efficient mass transit systems or personal vehicles. A few pedestrian bridges, placed at strategic locations along the highways, serve the few who may occasionally need them. Highways are therefore easily cordoned off for exclusive vehicular use. Hence, vehicles easily move at highway speeds, but with few or no pedestrian accidents. Unfortunately for us, we have a large number of pedestrians that have to cross our roads at almost every point of the road. In the process, flesh and metal are constantly in conflicts, with the former being the fatal victim.
So far, it appears that we have adopted the easy solution of erecting bumps along these highways, resulting in at least two other challenges. First are the huge traffic jams that accrue from some of the bumps. On Thika Road, for example, it is not unusual to find acres of vehicles held up for kilometers simply due to a bump-whether or not there are pedestrians crossing. It totally defeats the very purpose of a highway. Secondly, though bumps slow down vehicles in the day, they bump them off in the night. It is not uncommon to find night accidents at bumps, perhaps because at night many drivers forget they exist, while some simply do not anticipate them. Thus, the pride of a superhighway has turned into a super-challenge. The solution requires creative thinking.
I don’t claim to be greatly creative, but a thought that has lingered in my mind for a while is why we cannot build more pedestrian bridges over our city highways, but design them to be overhead shopping centres- with mini stalls and eating kiosks. The bridges can be joint ventures with private individual or corporate investors who would let them out to small traders. This would hopefully serve several purposes; encourage pedestrians to use them, generate returns for construction costs, provide decent facilities for small traders, and of course eliminate most bumps. The highways can then be closed off to pedestrians.
Interestingly, I was happy to find that others have implemented similar ideas. The City of Calgary in Canada recently commissioned the construction of a $13-million pedestrian bridge at one of its busiest pedestrian intersection. The bridge is partly sponsored by Cadillac Fairview Corp Ltd, which owns CF Chinook Centre, a shopping Mall that will connect to the bridge. In Durban South Africa, the city government in partnership with KwaMnyandu Shopping Centre Management has recently constructed kiosks at a pedestrian bridge next to the shopping centre and invited potential applicants who meet set criteria to run the stalls.
It means that we too can construct such commercial bridges along Thika and Mombasa Roads in partnership with interested investors. Garden City Mall, for example, can sponsor the construction of a bridge at Breweries that can include stalls and other shopping attractions, and thus eliminate the bumps at the spot. TRM, Safaricom, and Safari Park can do another at their spot. Sameer Business Park and Standard Group can do one on Mombasa Road. And so on. Let’s be creative, redeem our time, as we save lives.