The Paradox of the Cities’ Pedestrian Overpasses



The fact that many Kenyans would rather risk their lives crossing a busy highway than use a pedestrian overpass that has been provided for their safety baffles the mind. It is easy to brush it aside as just another one of our peculiar habits and blame the pedestrians for utter negligence and disregard for their own safety. But a closer look at these bridges reveals more problems than just the public’s attitude.

The planning and design for pedestrian circulation in general and overpasses in particular, fail in many respects. If the same interventions were replicated elsewhere in the world, the reaction of the public would be the same: underutilisation or total disuse.  

Human Tendencies

By nature, human beings tend to take the most convenient path from one point to another. The placement and design of most of these bridges fail to respond to this basic human nature. While most have rightly been located around areas with high pedestrian traffic, they fail to dovetail into the existing pedestrian circulation patterns.

Most people will never use a crossing which takes them out of their way or does not deliver them to a point they wish to go to. Hence if a pedestrian overpass is even slightly ahead or behind the most obvious crossing point, people tend to ignore it.

This is exactly what happens at the overpass across mbagathi way at the Junction into Kenyatta market. The bridge is slightly before the junction and is almost never used for that simple reason.

Similarly a crossing that is perceived to be very lengthy and adds a lot of distance and effort to the route of travel is seldom utilized for its intended purpose. Pedestrians will instead opt for a more time saving, direct and easy route regardless of any hazard it potentially presents. The crossing across valley road at the Ralph Bunche road best illustrates this. While the overpass is not at all too long, the stairs are very steep even for an able bodied person.

Comfortable Use

Hence comfortable use is paramount for pedestrian overpasses to work. The structures must be of sufficient width to accommodate all the traffic which can include walkers, cyclists, baby strollers, wheel chairs and other non-motorized means.

The stairs and ramps must not be too steep as to exhaust users. Typically, ramps should stretch over 10m for every one meter rise. Stairs on the other hand must be of the correct dimensions and not more than 10 between intermediate platforms (landings).

The perceived security is also critical. The solid concrete structures are unattractive and have tended to provide hideouts for bandits, street families and uncouth citizens who want to use them for toilets. This drastically reduces their usability in the long run.


Provision for the Disabled

Then there is the matter of the disabled, the elderly, cyclists and mothers with children they have to carry or push on a pram. For this group, some of the overpasses have provided ramps. Whether these ramps can actually be used is another question. But many of the overpasses don’t have ramps at all. In such instances the less able pedestrians typically have to risk crossing the road at ground level.

This has two effects: the obvious effect of exposing them to danger and the less obvious effect of qualifying the able bodied people who wishes to cross at the ground level to do so.


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