5 cities that have car free days – why is Nairobi unable?

5 cities that have car free days – why is Nairobi unable?

August 25, 2022 Off By TLK

Let’s make Nairobi work is the slogan by newly inaugurated Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja. Rightly so, many things are not working for the capital city. Is having car free days a priority? Some of the challenges bedeviling the city are:

  1. lack of pedestrian walkways
  2. inefficient garbage collection
  3. inability to tame hawkers from the CBD
  4. lack of proper and efficient bus stations
  5. cartels in every sector
  6. water shortages
  7. general poor transport infrastructure design that makes rapid bus transport impossible

Will Johnson Sakaja indeed make Nairobi work? The dream of his predecessors was to have some car free days in Nairobi.

Car free days in Nairobi impossible?

Kenya first announced that beginning February 1, 2019, the city will have two car free days every week. While many people got this news as a surprise, the policy was mooted six months earlier, and the grace period elapsed.

The proposed days are Wednesday and Saturday. However, by the time of reviewing this article, the policy has been unsuccessful. In fact, it is like a forgotten dream.

The announcement came in the wake of Kampala having its first ever car-free day on Sunday Jan 27 2019. Only non-motorized commuting was allowed.

Some African cities are keen to follow in the footsteps of other major world cities which have car free zones and car free days. Some have imposed total ban on cars from entering the city centres.

It is estimated over 300 cities around the globe have a policy that restricts vehicles entering the city.

Even though many cities are working towards totally car free city squares, only a few have managed to implement the policy successfully. Most cities either have punitive measures that discourage people from driving or have a zoned area where cars are not allowed.

We take a look at 5 cities that have implemented car free days policies with commendable success:


Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda continues to make headlines for all the right reasons in recent times. Apart from being considered the cleanest city in Africa, the hilly capital with a picturesque terrain was the first African city to introduce car free days in 2016. The car free days which happen on a single Sunday every month are motivated by the desire to promote physical wellness and reduce pollution. People walk, ride bicycles or skate and eventually receive free medical check up by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre at the Amahoro Stadium. The car free day starts at 7am – 12 pm.


Copenhagen is the capital city of Denmark and the pioneer of car free city centres. It is estimated that over half of the population in the city rides bicycles to work and the country has the lowest percentage of car owners in the whole of Europe. While other cities are building superhighways to reduce traffic jam, Copenhagen is building superhighways for bicycles. By 2014, the city had opened 28 bike highways with 11 more inaugurated at the end of 2018.


Brussels, the capital city of Belgium has one of the largest car free zones in the world just slightly behind Copenhagen. The main city square is marked only for pedestrian. A day is set aside every September where no car is allowed in the city centre. However, a total ban is yet to be effected. In a bid to dissuade people from using private cars, and as Brussels works towards becoming a car free city, the authorities decided to make public transport free on days considered to be high pollution days.


Chengdu might be a relatively unknown city in China, but it’s popularity will be spurred on by one thing: the decision to design a half of its roads for pedestrian use only. While many Chinese cities grapple with car congestion and pollution, Chengdu will have more than a half of its population using non-motorized means to access different places within 15 minutes. The town has a population of about 80,000 people at the time of writing this article.


Oslo is the capital city of Norway and has worked successfully towards achieving a car free city. As the country works towards becoming the first nation with negligible private car ownership, the Norwegian capital continues to build more bicycle highways while at the same time promoting the use of public transport rather than private cars. The country-wide ban of cars in Norway is expected to begin this year, 2019.

Many other cities are also working towards promoting easier pedestrian movement while applying punitive measures for car users. Jakarta is among cities with successful car free days. Madrid, the capital of Spain, is redesigning 24 busy streets for strict use by pedestrians while also fining nonresident cars that drive through the city centre. Hamburg in Germany wants to have 40% of its space car free and interconnected for pedestrian use by 2035.

Paris, the French capital is moving towards totally banning cars from the city centre after effecting a ban on some types of diesel vehicles in 2014. The city is also building more bicycle lanes and promotes use of electric cars in an effort to boost its car free Sundays initiated in 2015. Other cities such as Berlin and London are fining diesel car users while Mexico City regulates the number of cars that enter the city on given days.

*Photo shows Kigali on a car free day. Photo credit/ The New Times of Rwanda