What started as a tweet by President Paul Kagame on August 12 reacting to an article in The New Times became reality a week later when the City of Kigali authorities declared part of CBD (Central Business District) a car-free zone.
Starting yesterday, August 24, the road running from Centenary House to the Ecole Belge junction (KN 4 Street) is being accessible by cars no more.
I’m one of those thrilled by the idea, because one of my most memorable experiences living in western metropolis, from Copenhagen and London, to New York’s Times Square, was family outings and shopping trips in those cities’ pedestrian-only areas.
I thought having such a zone would bring similar memorable moments and something new to Kigali dwellers and visitors.
But I was also puzzled at how quick the decision was taken. I don’t want to think for the President, but I don’t think he meant “declare car-free zone next week”. I believe he meant: “Look at the idea, if it is workable, plan well and then proceed from there”.
Car-free zones or pedestrian areas in the heart of the city can be a nightmare if not well planned, and could lead to such area being deserted and business closures.
My advice to the City of Kigali authorities is to think through this idea very carefully; think about the businesses already operating in the area, how will they be affected?
Pedestrian areas elsewhere have side roads or feeder streets, where people can park their cars, or designated “loading and unloading” times, to allow businesses to bring in merchandise or customers to load what they have purchased. They also allow buses and cabs (taxis) to drive through to drop or pick up passengers.
For a pedestrian zone to give city dwellers and visitors a memorable experience, you need good restaurants, cafes, shopping arcades, public restrooms, as well as designated seating areas (street chairs), where tired walkers – especially the elderly, those with disabilities or with children – can sit down and have some rest.
Some of these zones have gone to the extent of introducing street music and entertainment to make the place more attractive and lively.
I hope the City of Kigali authorities have thought through all these to avoid the idea being a nightmare to all stakeholders.
The writer is a fire safety management and training consultant