Transit concept: 

 Mombasa 

Mombasa is a mid-sized coastal city home to just over 1.3 million people. This densely populated metropolis is the second largest city in Kenya, and one of the most important shipping ports in East Africa.

The urban area is centered on the island of Mombasa, where the original old town of Mombasa exists, as well as the CBD. This island is surrounded by three main groups of suburbs. The North Coast is a mix of different incomes and varied development, and some suburbs (Nyali) have become increasingly wealthy as residents and tourists establish themselves along popular beaches. Larger low-income suburbs (particularly Kongowea, Mtopanga) encompass much of the inland population. The South Coast suburbs (Likoni) are densely populated, but deeply underinvested in and impoverished. The same can be said of communities in the Mombasa Mainland (Mikindani, Bangladesh, Miritini), which are deeply underinvested in. 

All of these factors are important when considering the travel patterns and infrastructure in the divided city today, and who transit should serve to provide the most quality-of-life benefit.

Mobility challenges in Mombasa

A city of river crossings

Upper image: Tuk-tuk and parked matutu in Mombasa (by Ninara, 2022 CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Lower image: Mombasa skyline (by Leo Hempstone, CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed)

The aforementioned suburbs in on the South Coast and Mainland, as well as many of the inland suburbs on the North Coast, are heavily dependent on employment and opportunity on Mombasa Island. A lack of investment in public services and infrastructure on the mainland and South coast force many to travel to the island for services, education, employment and more.

South Coast residents face the greatest disconnect from Mombasa Island and the rest of the urban area; they entirely depend on a single, overcrowded ferry to cross the harbour inlet between Likoni and Mombasa Island. A pedestrian bridge was recently constructed to alleviate this crossing, but its operation is limited to peak hours as it must be raised to allow ship traffic.

Mainland residents are better connected to Mombasa Island by a number of road bridges, which also facilitate connections to the port.

The North Coast is connected by the New Nyali Bridge. While this is more reliable and high-capacity than the ferry to the South Coast, it still remains a single, vulnerable connection point between the North Coast and Mombasa Island.

Currently, there is no formalized public transit in Mombasa, and those without the privilege of an automobile either walk/bike or use privately-operated matutus (minibuses) and tuk-tuks (rickshaws) commonly found in Kenyan urban areas. 

The Kenyan government's response to the disconnected nature of Mombasa is a large circular highway that connects the suburbs and bypasses the island entirely. The Dongo Kundu Bypass Highway can be seen under construction in the satellite imagery above, connecting the South Coast to the Mainland. However, the government's appetite for flashy highway bypass projects mostly exist to serve and establish new, wealthier suburbs and facilitate regional goods movement than provide useful transportation for Mombasa's working class population.

Mass transit is a scaleable option that could work well to connect the urban area in a more equitable fashion, bringing people closer to opportunity and improving the quality of life in Mombasa's suburbs. A rapid transit system also provides a more environmentally-friendly option to urban transport that is isolated from traffic congestion

A rapid transit system for Mombasa

mombasamap.png

I have proposed a Mombasa rapid transit concept for 2040, consisting of a simple metro and bus rapid transit system that aims to solve the aforementioned mobility issues in the urban area. In summary:

You can view the alignment in more detail, and overlayed on satellite imagery by viewing it in Felt, a mapmaking tool:

Metro

The metro system will use light metro technology to allow for cheaper, smaller cut-and-cover station boxes when compared to a conventional metro system. This will allow for more rapid construction and less displacement, which is critical when working with the narrow roads that the metro will be built under through Mombasa's South and North Coast suburbs. The system will use 3-4 car light metro trains, and is modelled after small-scale light metro systems built in mid-sized French cities such as Rennes and Toulouse. As an entirely new-build system, it can feature platform screen doors and full automation. The diagram below shows the areas where the metro system is elevated above ground, or underground.

Line 1

Line 1 will be prioritized as the first line to provide a reliable, high-capacity connection between the South Coast and Mombasa Island. It will also provide better mobility within the dense Mombasa Island, and spur growth in Likoni as a commercial centre on the South Coast. Owing to the narrow and crowded nature of Likoni-Ukunda Road through the South Coast suburbs, and the windy nature of the line through Mombasa Island, the entire line will be underground. Additionally, a fully underground crossing beneath the harbour avoids the conflict of shipping traffic. A bridge crossing would need to have significant height to allow shipping access, and long approaches that would cause more disruption in Likoni and central Mombasa.

Line 2

Line 2 is a lengthier line that aims to provide seamless connection between the Mainland, Mombasa Island and the North Coast - connecting both the dense, growing middle and upper income areas of the North Coast in Nyali, as well as working-class communities further inland. On the mainland, Line 2 is split into two branches, Line 2A and Line 2B. Line 2A serves developing suburbs and other suburbs that currently have poor infrastructure and connectivity to the region, like Mikindani and Bangladesh. Line 2B provides closer access to Mombasa's port industries for workers, and is also extended to the airport. The excess of space allows for the mainland segments to be elevated. To provide seamless connections with Line 1, Line 2 will be built underground on Mombasa Island, including a mined station in Old Town. The river crossing to the North Coast will be tunnelled. The narrow nature of roads in the North Coast will necessitate cut-and-cover construction to reduce displacement.

mombasa alignment map.png

Bus rapid transit

The single bus rapid transit line will provide additional service to the North Coast, closer to the coast than where Metro Line 2 is placed. The BRT line will use the New Nyali Bridge, Nyali Road and Malindi Road to connect Mombasa Island and the metro system to new, developing middle-and-upper income communities on the North Coast, as well as lower-income working class communities and towns along the North Coast like Mtwapa.

BRT will feature high-frequency service, dedicated transit-only lanes, level-boarding platforms, large shelters and electronic information displays.

Interfacing with surface transportation

The establishment of a metro and BRT system can catalyze development of a new public bus system for Mombasa. However, this will take time, and may not be able to cover the entire urban area at once. Informal transportation by the way of tuk-tuk and matutus will continue until then, and metro stations will be designed to accomodate people using informal transportation to access the system. This will mean dedicated sheltered spaces for riders to queue for informal transport, and spaces for matutus and tuk-tuks to let on/off passengers into station entrances.

Concluding thoughts

Opportunities for improving suburban Mombasa

Any exploration of Mombasa will reveal deep inequity between the well-developed Mombasa Island, and many of its surrounding suburbs. While paved roads, developing high-rises and usable walking paths can be found on the island and Nyali on the North Coast, suburbs like Likoni and Bangladesh still lack essential public infrastructure like running water and electricity, or enough public schools. Mombasa is deeply divided, and I believe inadequate transportation plays a major role in keeping the region divided.

Digging up streets for metro construction provides an opportunity to build water pipes, pave sidewalks and streets, and build other public infrastructure to improve the quality of life in suburban Mombasa. Of course, this depends on the willingness to properly fund services. This isn't necessarily a matter of resources, as the government has demonstrated that there are resources to fund highways and infrastructure to newer, wealthier estates.

Metro expansion into the mainland suburbs, Likoni and North Coast suburbs like Kongowea will allow easier access to opportunity on Mombasa Island for areas with generally higher unemployment. At the same time, a more well-connected region incentivizes more investment, businesses and public institutions to be developed in the suburbs.

Overall, this transit crayon attempts to offer a more functional, equitable approach than bypass highways that could meaningfully improve the lives of those who currently live in a divided Mombasa.