It was one of those surprise messages that make rounds on social media which often lead to speculation as people wonder if the message is authentic or a hoax.
As speculation and debate started in earnest on social media yesterday morning, a news briefing was quickly organised at City of Kigali (CoK) by Dr Alphonse Nkurunziza, the head of Engineering, Urban Planning and Inspections.
“It’s not a rumour, we will start implementing the car-free zone policy on Monday next week. It is within the established framework of the city’s Master Plan for the urban planning of CoK. So, it’s not an imprompt decision and it is being done to decongest the city as well as create space for green areas,” he said.
The route that starts at Centenary House and goes straight to the traffic lights at the junction that leads to Ecole Belge will be the first exclusively pedestrian route in the city with a second route being constructed where former Ministry of Foreign Affairs and City of Kigali offices were once located to link it to the road that goes to CoK and I&M Bank in later stages.
“Right now people with cars who want to access services within the pedestrian area will pass through the road in front of CoK, then turn down to park downtown in the parking area of the new market or access parking from the back entrances of Peace Plaza or Bank of Kigali,” he said.
He noted that cities are not meant for cars but people, adding that most cars carry one person.
To this, he said it’s better to decongest the city centre by parking the cars out of Central Business District (CBD) and use a shuttle that would drop them close to where they are going.
“The use of shuttles will begin immediately, whereby, if someone parks a car at KCT but works at Kenya Commercial Bank, there’s a shuttle that will drop them on the road that joins the pedestrian road from below KCB to get to work,” he said.
He added that cars which park on roadsides around, Ecole Belge, the new market street and on other streets around will be forced to look for alternative parking in gazetted parking areas.
Other than modernising the city based on the master plan, the pedestrian areas will be turned into green spaces.
“The congestion and pollution of cars harm the environment and green spaces around the city.
So, pedestrian areas will have green spaces like public parks probably in 2-3 months,” he said.
Most people have expressed concerns about businesses in the area being affected but Nkurunziza says that actually shopping thrives when there’s enough space for people to walk without having to rush through to get out of CBD because of the congestion.
“People think that a crowded city is good for business when actually businesses thrive more when a city is less congested. Imagine seated in a restaurant and there’s noise around you, toxic smells that suffocate you, you end up leaving the place yet you would have wanted to stay longer,” he said.
He added that people enjoy shopping when they are relaxed, without looking over their shoulders for a car that might come through.
However, some business people expressed concerns because, they say, their clientele might reduce tremendously.
Introducing shuttles for CBD
“I’m worried, of course. The thought of people leaving their cars and walking just makes them dread coming to town. This will prompt most of our customers to go to places where they don’t want to walk. So, yes, it’s a problem,” said Mustafa Habiyambere, who runs a stationery shop behind Bank of Kigali.
The same view was echoed by Henry Mugisha, a money changer and mobile phones dealer who said they might have to shift to other places if they are to remain in business.
People will continue to pay for space in parking areas as they have been doing but they might also have to part with a few coins for transportation in the shuttle.
“They will have to pay for parking space like they have been doing but as far as shuttles are concerned, it might cost them a few coins but I don’t know since that’s a decision that has to be taken by RURA,” Nkurunziza told journalists.
He said that a “car-free zone means car-free zone” so at no point will any car be allowed inside the area, whether at night or during the day, unless it’s an emergency or no other means of transportation are available for specific things.
He said motorcyclists were also not allowed in the zone
‘‘For cases of people with disabilities or pregnant mothers, we believe that this move will favour them because it will give them more space to walk without fear of getting involved with a car.
Cars can only be allowed in cases of emergencies,” Nkurunziza said.
For vehicles transporting huge sums of money, he said they agreed with banks in the area on the time when they can access the area to deposit the money.
He added that people depositing or withdrawing money from banks shouldn’t be worried because security is not a big concern in the country, adding that they have been working with security organs on how to handle the issue.
On rendering employees of Kigali Veterans Cooperative Society (KVCS) unemployed after sending cars off the streets, Nkurunziza said they have other alternatives to keep them employed.
“We can’t implement such a development while rendering people jobless. These people will be posted to other areas around the town. We have also been looking into how they can form an association that can benefit from these forums. However, that is still being worked out,” he said.
All over social media, people complained on how this was a decision that was probably given little time to weigh the issues involved and to find adequate solutions to them. But Nkurunziza doesn’t believe so.
“We have been working on this project for some time now,” he said. On being pressed to state precisely when the city authorities started considering the decision, he said, since he entered office, “nine months ago.”
He said that the time is ample and that is why they began by posting the decision on social media.
“We started with social media but as we speak, there are teams of local leaders who are going around town explaining to people the importance of this development and how beneficial it is to the city. They will also explain alternative methods that can be used,” he said.
Urban Planning specialist Benon Rukundo said the car-free zone was long over due.
“Considering the development trends of the past 21 years, I think this is timely. We conducted comprehensive studies on this so as to understand how best it’ll work and the challenges it might bring around. So far, there are 5-6 parking spaces for cars in the short term as we continue to prepare for a long term solution,” he said.
He also explained that, usually, people who park on the streets for long are the ones who cause traffic jams but if they no longer parked on streets then there can be less congestion in the city.
“For example, Camp Kigali is one of the places designated as parking space and it can accommodate 300 and more cars. If we get 300 cars out of CBD, that will be a big change. We are also encouraging investors to build more parking spaces,” said Rukundo.
The city engineer also elaborated on the other projects that are aimed at making public transport across the city more affordable, accessible and easy.
“We have plans to expand some roads so that they can include four lanes. The road from Kanogo will be expanded up to Prince House in Remera to a two way four lanes road while the road below the Convention Centre (Kimihurura) will link to Rwandex as well as an access road passing below Lemigo Hotel towards Gishuhu,” he said.
Also in the pipeline is to develop Gahanga and Ndera sectors into Satellite districts with ring roads that people can use to access town without going through the city centre roads.