Kigali car-free zone: Situation a month later

Today, marks exactly one month and three days since we first saw people freely walk “in the middle of the road” from Centenary house all the way to KN 78 Street at the junction leading to Ecole Belge.
An artist drawing the street. There are many artists along the street. (Timothy Kisambira)
An artist drawing the street. There are many artists along the street. (Timothy Kisambira)

Monday, August 24, brought a whole new face in Kigali city—the first car-free zone was introduced in the Central Business District (CBD) along KN 4 Avenue.

Today, marks exactly one month and three days since we first saw people freely walk “in the middle of the road” from Centenary house all the way to KN 78 Street at the junction leading to Ecole Belge.

Dr. Alphonse Nkurunziza, the City of Kigali Engineer, says the street won’t be dormant and gives an example of the “silent disco” party that took place on Friday as one of the many events to be hosted in the pedestrian route.

“It's a matter of time, you will get to know that our reasons to introduce car-free zone in the Central Business District was a move to make Kigali one of the best cities on the continent,” Nkurunziza said.

Although the street is a car-free zone, most people still walk on the side ways. (Timothy Kisambira)

Sunday Times’ Athan Tashobya went to the car-free zone and talked to different people including pedestrians, business owners on what they make of the car-free zone a month after. 

Uncertain pedestrians

Many people are still hesitant to walk in the middle of the road preferring to use the pavements. Others could be seen looking left and right before crossing the road.

Gerald Nsabimana, a student at Kigali Independent University (ULK), said he has walked a few times on the street but sometimes forgets and uses the pavements.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet that this is a car-free zone. That is why sometimes I walk on the pavement,” a seemingly embarrassed Nsabimana said.

Boutiques to showrooms

The introduction of car-free zone saw businesses along KN4 Avenue suffer a hiccup due to unusual flow of traffic.

One business owner along the street only identified as Olivier said his clients had reduced, however Nkurunziza said that business along car-free zone should now embrace the changes and turn to on-line shopping while making their shops show-rooms.

A man selling Bibles on the car-free zone. Although this is not allowed, many vendors still sneak around to sell their merchandise. (Timothy Kisambira)

“Soon, businesses along car-free zone will get more clients than before. They simply need to think of how best they can reach their clients.   

Maybe they should turn their shops into showrooms, where a client would come to make orders and then business owners can start to deliver to clients in their homes; that is the kind of transactions we are encouraging in the modern world,” Nkurunziza said.

A place to party and paint

Last Friday saw the first street party in Kigali, needless to say it was perhaps the rare kind of party we have seen in the land of a thousand hills-the silent disco party.

Preparations kicked off at 2pm and by 7pm, a few party goers had their headphones and heavy music was playing in their ears.

To passers-by, you would simply see crazy-like-people dancing in the middle of the road, drinking and others having a laugh.

Eric Soul Kirenga Karengera, the organiser of the Silent Disco Party in the Car-Free zone said that the idea was a creative solution to avoid noise pollution, while partying in unique way.

On the other hand, painters have begun to enjoy the freedom that comes with such a rare green space through art and exhibition.

This path connects the car-free zone to the Ministry of Finance. (Timothy Kisambira)

“To a painter like me, Car-free was long overdue; we never used to have a place where we could do our street painting and showcase our art and then came this place.

“We hope this area will grow to become an art gallery, with loads of other events and street parties being held in the car-free zone,” said Strong Karake, one of the many painters that have been seen on the street ever since the car-free zone was introduced. 

Vendors eyeing business opportunities?

Laurent Twagiramungu, a street vendor says the city authority should allow them to sell clothes as the city plans to put up designated businesses along the street.

“Since there are no cars, yet many people pass here in the car-free zone, we ask city authority to allow us sell our clothes as they think of what do with the area,” Twagiramungu said.

City of Kigali’s plans for the car-free zone

A team of seven people has been constituted to focus on how best car-free zone can become rather a pride to every Kigalian and its visitors, according to Nkurunziza.

“Many activities are in the pipeline; the team is working on the new framework that will incorporate all structural guidelines to be implemented in the car-free zone. We want to make the first pedestrian route a model so that when time comes to implement other pedestrian routes, we won’t get any challenges that we had while implementing the first one,” said Nkurunziza.

The City engineer added that by mid October, street furniture will be up, security booths will be constructed as well as a public washroom.

“We want to make this avenue is a history-telling place, with lots of paintings that reflect Rwandan history. We encourage restaurants and coffee shops to open up along the car-free zone,” added Nkurunziza.

Another young man making a drawing. (Timothy Kisambira)

About 15 applications have been sent to City authority with different groups intending to host different entertainment events in the car-free zone, however the city of Kigali authorities have been hesitant waiting to first put up the necessary infrastructure”.

Other works in progress include the expansion of KN3 (Along I&M bank-former BCR all the way to Serena Hotel).

The expansion will also provide a bicycle and pedestrian lanes, According to Nkurunziza.

“We will allocate a place where people will park their bicycles, lock them up and go to do their businesses. We want to reduce carbon emissions and car traffic in the city centre.

“Walking and riding bicycles will also help people to keep healthy rather than spending much time in offices and then drive cars home; practically that is not a healthy lifestyle,” Nkurunziza added.


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