Pedestrians are road users too
On Friday, the mayor of Kigali, Fidel Ndayisaba, presented the achievements made in the city’s performance contracts in the past financial year 2010/11, as well as the plans for 2011/12.
As you can see from the headline to our article on page 4, what struck us at The Rwanda Focus was the announcement that aerial pedestrian crossings are to be constructed. In addition, more than 20 km of sidewalks have been laid, and more are to follow.
Considering the construction of fabulous new buildings, the laying of new tarmac roads and the problem of traffic jams that won’t go away, most readers will probably shrug their shoulders and consider the pedestrians a minor issue. And that, exactly, is why we find it so important.
The sad truth is that for the vast majority of motorists in the capital, pedestrians are not merely second-class citizens; worse, they are non-entities, with no rights whatsoever on the road. And KCC has not been too considerate either.
Nothing illustrates this better than the aforementioned pedestrian crossings – or at least, the zebra-crossings that are currently available. We challenge anybody to go to a random zebra-crossing, and boldly traverse the road, forcing cars to stop and let you pass. Wait, come back! – we were only joking. Try to do that, and you’re going to get yourself killed.
Generally, zebra-crossings are simply ignored – rare is the gentlemanly car-driver who will slow down to let pedestrians cross (and a gentlemanly motor-driver, as in taxi-moto, is an oxymoron). Now that is not such a big problem, since there hardly any zebra-crossings around. Take for example the road form the roundabout near Sopetrad leading all the way to Sonatubes, several kilometers long. There are exactly three (3) places where you will find zebra-crossings: the Sopetrad roundabout, Rwandex, and the Sonatubes roundabout. In between, pedestrians wanting to cross just have to trust their luck, without even the minimal ‘protection’ that a zebra-crossing might offer.
And look at those stretches of sidewalks that have been constructed. We surely applaud KCC for that, but it would be interesting if someone could also notify car-drivers that sidewalks are no parking areas. Time and again, due to lack of parking space or because all available spots have been taken, you will find cars blocking passage to pedestrians who then have to venture onto the road to circumvent the offending vehicle. And when there are traffic jams, our friends the taxi-motos often resort to using the sidewalk, loudly blowing their horn for pedestrians to give way, as if they have no business being there.
We could continue this rant for a long time, but we’ll desist. Suffice it to say, KCC is to be lauded for thinking about the most vulnerable road users by setting up infrastructure, but it is of little use if nobody else does. We would also like to point out that, while aerial pedestrian crossings are a great idea, they still leave our handicapped and less agile co-citizens in the cold.
All of this is not as unimportant as some people might think. KCC also announced that a study is being conducted to come up with a comprehensive transport plan for the city. Whatever that entails, it is clear that part of the solution will be to encourage more and more people to abandon their cars, either going on foot for short distances or using public transport (which inevitably involves walking a bit). That can only succeed if pedestrian infrastructure is respected and, preferably, pedestrians are in some circumstances given priority over motorists.
Yes, pedestrians are road users too, and you should be grateful to them for not causing any pollution or adding to traffic congestion. Think about that, motorists, next time you near a zebra-crossing.