October 02, 2018

Which Comes First, Pilot or Policy?

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Kigali, the capital and largest city of Rwanda, has become known as a best practice for urbanism and sustainable transport in Africa. The city of one million, in the mountainous center of the small, landlocked nation, has made major, transformational changes over the past decade. Regulated moto taxis and a city bus system were improved further with the 2016 Smart Kigali initiative, and there are car-free Sundays twice every month. Street improvement measures include everything from beautification to quality footpaths and fully pedestrianized areas of the city center.

Alphonse Nkurunziza at the MOBILIZE summit in Dar es Salaam

Alphonse Nkurunziza, former City of Kigali Chief Engineer, recently took part in a meeting of African City leaders as part of the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative gathering at ITDP’s MOBILIZE Summit in Dar es Salaam. In speaking with city officials from Lagos, Kampala, and Kitwe eager to replicate Kigali’s successes, Nkurunziza advised them to take action and make the needed changes in their cities. “You have to begin. You don’t need to wait for a policy document. You just have to begin, and people will appreciate what you are doing,” he said. “This is how we did the transition of the CBD. We had to close 500 meters, only pedestrian, that was quite tough … but it worked! People are admiring it. People love it.”

Despite having the major benefit of strong political will, both from the city and national governments, Kigali has chosen to rapidly transform areas of the city with demonstration projects, allowing the reality on the ground to dictate policy, rather than the other way around. This approach has major advantages, particularly when it comes to public support.

Community funded footpath in Kitwe

Kitwe, Zambia mayor Christopher Kang’ombe has also found success with a pilot of sorts. Frustrated with the lack of progress on footpaths, Kang’ombe mobilized businesses to pay directly for footpaths, which are added meter by meter as funds are raised. He hopes that by demonstrating how popular these paths are, the national government will integrate them into road planning, and fund pedestrian and cycling infrastructure more comprehensively. “The level of political competition in most countries has led to a bit of change in the way politicians view development. At first, we used think, ‘oh, if I move these vendors from the street, I’ll lose an election’. You’re forgetting that the majority will like what you do. It’s a game of numbers, real numbers. So in terms of political will, the politicians are changing now. We’re now looking at what would be good for the city from the perspective of long term.”

Transforming blocks, neighborhoods, and cities from car-oriented to people-centered is at the core of ITDP’s decades of work in cities around the world. One of the first, most basic challenges to improving cities is that everyone, no matter where they live, is suspicious of change. There is no getting around the fact that transport and development projects are political processes, and public support matters. Pilot projects are an incredibly useful tool, not only to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and improve upon the study design prior to implementation of a full-scale project, but also simply to show residents how much the project will improve their commute, street, block, or neighborhood. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a well-executed pilot is worth 1,000 feasibility studies.

Yet this approach is not without risk. Pilots are, by nature, first tries at something new. Any problems, no matter how minor, can be used to derail the project completely, giving credit to adversaries who are usually ready to pounce. Also, even if the pilot is successful, it sets expectations for a larger project, and cities have to be ready to move forward while the momentum is on their side. Ideally, this would be solved by having a policy framework in place to enable tweaks, and a speedy rollout.

Traffic in Lagos, Nigeria

Olajide Oduyoye, the Head of Transport Safety and Traffic Management for the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), is well aware of the political obstacles standing in the way of much-needed transport improvements to the Nigerian megacity, and sees the value of getting something to happen on the ground. “Political leaders are under extreme pressure to satisfy all these different needs. As political persons, they are more likely to look at things that people would appreciate in the very short term. Most politicians want to leave a mark, to prove that they have not wasted their time in office, and in order to continue in power.”

Oduyoye cautions, however, that an isolated pilot could backfire, using the example of a cycling project in a high-crime area of Lagos. “There may be financial support available that may also influence the decision to install a pilot before other larger changes are made that would make the project viable. However, there is that conflict where you have political support, you have financial support, but you’re coming up with a pilot scheme to make the economics work. If you’re going to an area where there is a safety perception issue for you not to want to ride the bike, then the business will fail. And if it fails as a pilot, how do you make this change?”

Jennifer Musisi speaking at the MOBILIZE summit in Dar es Salaam

Jennifer Musisi, Executive Director of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda, also raised concerns that de-emphasizing the policy process leads to decisions being made based on the needs of the private sector, rather than the majority of the population. “These ‘stakeholders’ as we call them in Uganda, are demanding that the government should do something. And then us as the technical people are saying, ‘we don’t think we should go that way’, but their voices are sometimes so loud, that government then says ‘ok, its causing them a financial problem, so it’s now a policy to accommodate their need.’ Its people really just looking at their own small world and proposing that government come up with a solution to the problems of their small world. But us as the technical policy makers – how does this one group fit into the six other groups that I’m looking at?”

No matter which is first, it’s clear that both policy guidance and on-the-ground demonstrations are necessary for new, transformational projects to flourish. Nkurunziza acknowledges that, particularly when it comes to national replication, more policy guidance is needed. “In Rwanda, we have six secondary cities that also are complementing Kigali. The other cities have to grow, have to understand how do they now come in a more sustainable manner. We need the support of experts in creating policies. Right now we’re doing everything piecemeal, we don’t have an NMT policy, we need to make that.”

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