Kigali could soon have more car-free zones, a concept that was introduced in 2015 when a pedestrian-only street was introduced in the capital’s Commercial Business District.
Officials at City Hall are now reviewing feasibility studies with the development likely to be introduced on the debut of the revised Kigali City Master Plan in June this year.
While most agree that it’s a step towards a modern city, some argue that the first and only car-free zone has not been fully utilised yet it affected some businesses operating on the street.
Most argue that the continent failed to take into consideration existing businesses, did not have enough consultation as well as lacked a clearly laid-out strategy on installations on the zone.
For instance, a walk on the car-free zone towards Ecole Belge reveals that a street that was pre-2015 busy now has significantly less foot traffic causing a number of businesses to change address.
Fred Mugisha, the Director of Kigali Urban Planning and Construction One Stop Centre, City of Kigali said that they are finalising studies on other potential car-free zones within the city.
“We mapped out streets and are looking at improvements that can be made to make it friendlier for the aspect. We have done studies on pedestrianizing streets,” he said.
Aware that there are perceptions of the consequences of the development given previous experience, he said that they are working out models that will not hamper business on the targeted streets.
“We are finalising studies; we are now mobilising funds to ensure that it can be pedestrianised without hampering business. We are mapping out dedicated streets. It will not be a closure of the street; it remains open for cycling and other non-motorised uses. All this will be done without affecting business activities,” he said.
The New Timesunderstands that one of the streets that could be dedicated a car-free zone is the stretch at Kisementi, from around Rosty and 514 bars towards Zigama-CSS headquarters.
The street has a chain of bars, fast food outlets, liquor stores and restaurants and is characterised by heavy foot traffic.
Emmanuel Mwiseneza, who runs a liquor store-cum-bar on the busy street, told The New Times such a development calls for consideration and planning for aspects such as availability of convenient parking spaces.
He said that to ensure that the development serves purpose, it would also be important to pave the streets to make it possible to use the streets as sitting space for the clients.
Business, he said should also be allowed to install tents on roadside, especially during rainy season.
Others say that that the inaccessibility of streets by cars should be restricted to a number of hours so as not to inconvenience businesses.
This, they say, would allow for social events on the streets in the night time and normal traffic flow during the day.
Others argue that car-free zoning of city streets should involve more than just stopping vehicles from using the said streets and to a great extent should have installations such as street benches, mobile coffee shops and restaurants that can be rented out to businesses, among others.
Sylvie Rukundo, a city resident, said that the authorities should seek partnership with investors who can set up installations such as modified shipping containers to serve as coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.
“If you benchmark from cities that have successfully implemented this, you notice investment in facilities that are rented out to businesses to serve as fast foods and vending outlets. It should be more than just restricting motorists from using the street.
“Considering that this could be too high of an investment for the City (authorities) it would be a good idea to interest and partner with private investors. The same can also be done for the current car-free street,” she said.
Mugisha said that the plans are in line with having a greener city that is more vibrant.
“Within the CBD we want to have dedicated streets for pedestrians if we are to achieve the green goals. We need to prioritise green trips,” he said.
Admitting that full potential of the city’s single car-free zone has not been achieved yet, he said that there are ongoing efforts to make it more ‘vibrant’ and beneficial to city residents and businesses.
“What we are doing is seeing what we can do to make it more vibrant and effective for everyone and to benefit everyone. We have planned different things to make it vibrant and beneficial for everyone,” Mugisha said.
Social media users have over the recent months been on an advocacy campaign, calling on Kigali City authorities to adequately utilise the car-free zone.
Currently, the zone is occasionally used for exhibitions and concerts.