Authors: Janene Tuniz (UNEP), Mónica Castañeda (EIT Urban Mobility)
Celebrating action for walking. From 16 to 19 October 2023, the 23rd Walk21 Conference took place in Kigali, “the city of a thousand hills” in Rwanda. The first edition of the conference on the African continent was hosted by TRANS-SAFE partners, The Walk21 Foundation, The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the University of Rwanda together with the City of Kigali. During the four days participants from across Africa and the world discussed the necessary and affordable steps to improve walkability.
Peer learning activity on road safety best practices
As part of the conference activities, the TRANS-SAFE peer learning network hosted a walkshop to illustrate the impact of low-cost interventions on road safety. The session, titled “Participatory analysis of low-coast road safety interventions in the Biryogo car-free Zone” took place on Wednesday 18 October and was organized by UNEP, EIT Urban Mobility and other TRANS-SAFE project partners supporting the road safety peer learning network activities. Biryogo car-free zone, is in the bustling neighborhood of Biryogo in the Nyamirambo suburb.
The objective of the session was to meet the network members, in-country partners and other stakeholders attending the conference and collaboratively assess and experience a case study on low-cost road safety interventions. The session began with a presentation by architect Emmanuel Rukundo from the City of Kigali. Architect Rukundo explained the project “streets for people” and the process undertaken by the city to transform the Biryogo area from a car dominant street to a car-free zone.
Tactical urbanism to transform road safety
Architect Rukundo, framed the problems experienced in the area and explained that infrastructural investments across Kigali neglect the majority of street users (pedestrians) contributing to a scenario where cars compete for space with pedestrians and cyclists, putting them at a high risk and adding to the deterioration of the quality of life for city dwellers. To improve quality of life, redistribute the urban space and promote the use of walking, the city of Kigali deployed several pedestrian zones including the Biryogo car-free zone.
A core component of Biryogo, is the use of asphalt art, to improve street safety and revitalize public space. The Biryogo car-free zone is characterized by a green, blue and white wavy pattern painted on the street – once occupied by cars, it is now a thriving public space filled with restaurants, people gathering and children playing. Asphalt art is the integration of art and visual interventions on roadways, pedestrian spaces, and vertical infrastructure. According to recent studies, asphalt art projects boost community engagement, enhance public spaces and can have significant road safety benefits. In Biryogo, the City of Kigali contracted graduates of the Nyundo School of Arts to design and paint the street.
Walking to Biryogo car-free zone
After the presentation by the city, more than 50 participants walked to the Biryogo Car-free Zone to assess the interventions that have had an impact on the space. The city architect and city planner, Solange Muhirwa joined the walkshop, answering questions and sharing experiences along the way. Participants were also guided to a nearby children’s street which has been designed to create a safe space for children to play.
When the project was first introduced, many were skeptical. Most people thought taking away cars meant taking away business. However, Biryogo car-free zone has proved that businesses can benefit while environmental quality, health, and safety are ensured at the same time.
Lessons learned from Biryogo car-free zone
The walkshop activity gave participants an opportunity to learn from the experience of the city of Kigali and to see firsthand the impact of low coast interventions and pedestrian zones in improving road safety. As a result of the activity, four main takeaways can be highlighted:
There are multiple agendas that can be achieved through the development of pedestrian zones including improved road safety and enhanced quality of life.
Public consultation for the redevelopment of roadways is essential, to ensure that stakeholders understand the benefits.
Pedestrian free zones have multiplier effects. In the case of Birygogo, stakeholders on neighbouring streets requested similar interventions.
A street that is safe for children, is safe for everyone.