EDITORIAL: Creating new car-free zones needs more than a decree, it calls for proper planning

There has been an ongoing hot debate on a plan by city authorities to create new car-free zones in Kigali neighbourhoods.

The loudest argument is that while there are ecological dividends to be gained, they come with economic sacrifices. It is an argument that someone can poke many holes into.

Some not so long time ago there had been talk of partnering with a Singaporean firm to exploit the car-free zone in the city centre to make it vibrant and productive, but nothing has been heard since then.

Once in a while, the area is turned into an open-air art market or concert venue, but it is very occasional. New ideas need to be generated, not only by city engineers but including stakeholders as well, especially those with property in the area that might be affected by the changes.

One popular idea has been opening roadside cafes and refreshment centres; some kind of street food culture that is very popular in many cities. Small stalls could be installed conforming to city standards and regulations selling an assortment of services. But car-free zones need to retain their vibrancy.

The idea floating around is turning a street near Kisimenti in Remera, an area that teems with many bars, entertainment spots and lodgings, into a no-go area for cars. The stretch is longer than the current car-free zone in town.

The logic behind it is lacking. For one, the area is semi-deserted during the day and only comes alive in the evenings. Secondly, there is a lack of secure parking anywhere in the proximity and, definitely, people who earn a living along the street will see a drop in their clientele and might ship out. And that is not factoring in the drop in property prices due to a drop in income.

Decongesting our streets is a smart move but thorough planning is needed in order to satisfy the anticipation and needs of everyone.