Sunday, May 8, 2011

A little planning goes a long way

If there is a city that is less pedestrian friendly than Kigali I’m yet to find it. Maybe it’s because I am the daughter of not one, but two, town planners that I pay attention to such things, but I’m pretty sure that any visitor to the capital of Rwanda would find the situation a little frustrating.

Firstly, in large swathes of the city the roads only have a pavement on one side. This would perhaps be more acceptable if it was easy to cross the road. However crossing the road in Kigali is like taking your own life in your hands. There are some zebra crossings but they are not observed in the typical way, i.e. no one stops at them to allow you to cross. It’s only once you’ve started the death defying journey that cars, motorbikes and mini buses even consider slowing down for you. Then it’s only really a token effort and dawdling can in no way be encouraged.

Even in shopping centres, surely the prime place for pedestrians, there’s no real thought for those walking. Leaving involves either sidling around or limboing under barriers whilst rich Rwandans rev their engines impatiently with their scowls carefully hidden behind mirrored sunglasses.

One of the most ridiculous things I saw, unless of course I was faced with modern art and failed to recognise it (always a possibility), was a stairway that was near impossible to climb. It wasn’t that it was painted onto the side of a wall or the steps were too high. No, it was a normal staircase that led up to a door in the side of building but in front of the steps was a locked gate that without a lot of effort clambering over it, the steps were simply not surmountable.

However, for me, the prime example of poor planning in Kigali is the roundabout at Place de l’Unite Nationale. They have built a rather nice area in the centre of this large roundabout with nicely kept lawns (who knows who is risking life and limb for that job, but surely they must be getting paid danger money), gravel paths, benches, there may even be a fountain. However, there are two immediate problems with the roundabout. Firstly I can’t be the only one who fails to see the appeal of sitting in the middle of a heavily congested road, breathing in exhaust fumes and having my ears assaulted by the blaring of horns. If however, I was the kind of person who found all that enjoyable, I still face a challenge: reaching the roundabout. To reach it you’d have to cross three lanes of traffic with no pedestrian crossing to assist you.

I can only hope that as Kigali continues to spread itself amongst Rwanda’s ‘thousand hills’ that they invest in a decent town planner. That, or at least someone with a modicum of sense!

Fountain-check, trimmed grass-check, shit loads of traffic-check

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