Kileleshwa Ring Road, West of Nairobi, is second to the expanded Nairobi-Thika Highway in pioneering a protected bicycle path for Nairobi. Unlike the wider bike lanes along Thika Road, those on Kileleshwa Ring Road will see cyclists pedal one behind the other with little room to overtake if you are on a bike that is faster than the fixed gear, slower “Blackie”, that is common in Nairobi. The protected bike path has been heralded as the best design as it recognizes the “wheeled-pedestrian” and helps avoid situations like this in New York where Casey Neistat received a court sermons for not keeping to the bike path, despite pointing out the obvious reasons.
I tried the left bike lane on the way home one evening, nervously. The pedestrians were having a field day spread out over both the pedestrian walk-way and the cycling lane, a quick, polite tweak of my dinky bell let them know they were in my way, and they politely obliged. Some glanced briefly over their shoulder, and obstinately continued to walk on the bike path.
Riding on the motorway has its dangers, but after having travelled that way for almost two years now, I know that motorists simply want to get along and avoid the cyclists as much as they can – they are going somewhere. The Nairobi pedestrian, however, has many faces besides that of one that is actually going somewhere; the idler, the lay about, the heckler, the bully, the occasional mad man/woman… I could go on. The new cycle path puts me too close to pedestrians. Uncomfortably close. I am now placed closer to the jeers, cat-calls and cheers alike.
I had an altercation with a group of men, who were spread five deep across both the pedestrian and cycle paths, after I tweaked my dinky bell to let them know I was coming up behind them. One of the men shot me an angry look and gestured to the main road, “Si upite huko!” (“Just use the motorway!”). On the inclines cycling down, it gets worse, with some wearing their earphones on so loud they cannot hear the dinky bell ringing as they walk along the cycle path.
The softer inclines on the new Kileleshwa Ring Road will still give you a great workout without causing too much pain, with fewer trees and foliage – unfortunately – and extreme alternates of fast-moving motor traffic, slow traffic in the mornings and traffic-free late afternoons and Sundays.
The rather narrow cycle path is not the only design flaw I noticed. Some of the lanes narrow out in sections to give way to a bus stop or disappear entirely where road reserve appears to run out. In the latter case the pedestrian cabro paved section is given priority forcing the cyclists to find his/her way back onto the main road or negotiate with pedestrians for room on the foot path. This, in my opinion, would land the cyclist in hot soup as he/she would be forced to break the one cyclist city by-law that prohibits “propelling on foot paths”.
Failure to mark the cycle lanes with the characteristic “cyclist” symbol that would quickly serve as pedestrian education on the new infrastructure, is likely to cause cyclist-pedestrian conflict in the beginning, especially since the pedestrian traffic is higher than cyclist traffic on this road, at the time of writing this post. Currently pedestrians think that the extra paved path is also for the “walking nation”. Someday the city of Nairobi will look like this with complete cycle streets.
Until protected cycling infrastructure is set up continuously across Nairobi to allow “normal cycling”, and we put our roads on a diet your intuition, not your helmet will save you when cycling, and every day on your bike could be your last as Velma, one of our bloggers, can attest on page 43, Edition 6 of Kenya Yetu and on Smart Monkey TV:
Pedestrians: Every pedestrian is a potential crash; they ruin your precious momentum at every opportunity – crossing between cars, hesitating in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, crossing at a leisurely pace as you approach on a climb, stepping onto the road at a moment’s notice without looking, and walking along the tarmac road along the curb to avoid the dusty, unpaved foot paths. They respond surprisingly well to the bicycle bell, my thumb is always half-on it.
DEAR PEDESTRIAN: If you wear your ear phones at high volume and walk on the road along the curb, you put both you and I in danger.
Motorists: All Nairobi drivers looking at you from the safety of their metal chariots either think you are a maniac or brave cycling in this city. They are probably right on both counts. Hopefully, you have been a driver and know that Nairobi drivers like to multi-task – mobile phone while negotiating a junction or a roundabout with one hand, newspaper on the steering wheel – who is crazier now?
The matatu driver is not a motorist: You may not have been a matatu driver but have ridden in one several times, enough to know that they hoot unnecessarily using altered car horns and other noisy devices (I am pretty sure the latter are illegal). I thought they would be a major challenge to me as a cyclist; believe it or not, they are surprisingly pleasant if you make eye contact and indicate in good time. Their brakes are accessories though. You have been warned.
To a Nairobi cyclist the road signs, pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, even the traffic cop are merely advisory, pedestrian beware. The cyclist in Nairobi has to stay ahead of traffic to stay alive.
I am “half-a-pedestrian”, so, I will use the side-walk when the two-lane, two-way road turns into a three-lane road at rush hour as motorists overlap and a special matatu lane is created. I am however grateful when “the walking nation” politely part and give me path while the County Council of Nairobi demonizes me with that by-law prohibiting “propelling on footpaths” instead of putting up cycling infrastructure. Thankfully the Chinese road contractors – though the design is questionable – recognize this as evidenced by the protected cycle lanes along Kileleshwa Ring Road.
Learner driver should be overtaken on the right over the yellow line, remember to signal the cars coming up behind you about to do the same or end up as road kill. Cyclists who choose to overtake along the curb are rushing to a date with death.
Speaking of which. You will feel empathy for road kill, just don’t dwell on it too long or you will be next.
Kileleshwa Ring Road cycle path in pictures: