Letter from Nairobi: city tackles roads and roundabouts.
Nairobi's numerous “islands-on-the-highway” will soon be history thanks to a modernization programme.
The roundabouts are left over from the former British colony, having been set up to slow traffic and help drivers cross intersections in an orderly manner.
I was amused during a recent trip to Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, to see armed police man such islands made up of a pile of stones on the earth road. Several motorists were stopped and fined on the spot for ignoring the “roundabout”.
In Nairobi, traffic lights have been set up to assist, but they are mostly out of order.
So it is fun to drive around the city and see road engineers and workers working round the clock to reduce the size of the roundabouts to accommodate more lanes for motorists who are frustrated by the daily gridlock.
The latest “island” to be reduced in size is at the junction of Ngong Road and Mbagathi Way, between Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya’s biggest state hospital, and Nairobi Hospital, one of the oldest and best private hospitals in the country.
The busy road is also popular with tourists and city residents heading to or from some of the city's popular restaurants and shopping malls such as Prestige, Junction and Uchumi.
It is also fun driving along Nairobi roads thanks to the multi-million Shilling resurfacing project to seal all potholes, which were a nightmare for motorists and other road users.
The timing so far is spot on as the rainy season is just round the corner; in the past due to poor road maintenance a shower of rain would end up turning the potholes into gullys, some of which would be so big that critics would describe them as '”graveyards'”.
One of the best roads in the city is the one connecting the central business district to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), some 15 km away, thanks to a multi-million Shilling road expansion and resurfacing project.
The highway now has three lanes on either side and is a favourite for motorists, especially matatu (mini bus) drivers.
Meanwhile, city residents are waiting to see the launch of the much hyped historic private helicopter service to ferry foreign dignitaries and the who is who in the country to and from JKIA, as announced by Nairobi metropolitan development minister Mutula KIlonzo a couple of months ago.
The choppers are to use the helipad at the 27-storey prestigious Kenyatta International Conference Centre, which is the second tallest building in Nairobi, to land and take off with the VIP passengers.