How car free zones in Rwanda’s Kigali are helping the city

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IMG_1930August 2015, Rwanda’s City of Kigali gave a four-day’ notice to the general public to prepare for the implementation of the car free zones.

Only emergency (ambulance), banks that have to transport large sums of money and shops that have to replenish their stock vehicles would be let into these area of the city. According to city officials this was partly in recognition of the fact that a city belongs to the people not cars.

The first car free zone is the area that stretches from KN 4 Ave which has mainly banks, uptown boutiques, furniture shops and forex bureaus. The road touches KN 78 St. (Ecole Belge Street) and KN 84 St. (below the car-free zone street) which were also affected by the No Parking policy. People can be seen freely walking “in the middle of the road” all the way.

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Dr. Alphonse Nkurunziza, the City of Kigali Engineer, has insisted that the street won’t be dormant and gives an example of the “silent disco” party that took place few weeks after the implementation of the order 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.

Of course anything that comes as a new thing to what people are used to having will always have some resistance. At first people did not appreciate its significance. Business owners across the street complained of reduced number of clients. With time though, Kigali city dwellers have seen the need.

The space has become a preferred place for organizers of events like get-togethers, entertainment concerts, art exhibitions and fitness clinics among others.

During the World Economic Forum (WEF) which was hosted in the city in May, many companies used the opportunity to host a series of events to entertain not only the WEF delegates, but also the local people.

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PIC COURTESY: NEW TIMES RWANDA

A rare kind of party Rwanda has ever seen was also held at the car free zone-the silent disco party. Revellers had their headphones and heavy music was playing in their ears. To passers-by, they were seen as 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.

Kigali is a rapidly growing city of 1.1 million residents. The city planners are aggressively establishing new roads through suburbs to get rid of traffic jams but also make the city safe for pedestrians.

More roads were closed ahead of the 27th AU Summit and according to Rwanda National Police the affected area will become a car-free zone even after the summit.

Most cities in the world and in particular, Africa are grappling with congestion thanks to the daily increase of cars and people. Rwanda’s decision to have car free zones can obviously be a lesson as city authorities seek liberation from the narrow perception of streets as ‘conduits for vehicles’ towards a new way of thinking of ‘street as social space’ in the city where the pedestrian is the priority.

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