Also available in: Spanish
We all have an intuitive sense that pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to road traffic crashes. After all, there is only so much the human body can take. At 30 km per hour, a pedestrian has a 90% chance to survive an impact. But if a vehicle hits you at 50 km/h while you’re walking down the street, that collision will have the same impact a falling from the fourth floor of a building.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that road crashes do indeed take a serious toll on pedestrians. In 2013, more than 270,000 pedestrians lost their lives globally, representing almost 1/5 of the total number of deaths.
In the United States, numbers from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveal a 46% increase in the number of pedestrians dying on the road, largely due to the expansion of rapid arterial roads in urban and suburban areas.
In Peru, where we’re based traffic crashes data pertaining to pedestrians are just as startling. According to the Ministry of Health, almost half of pedestrians involved in a collision sustain multiple injuries, and 22% of them suffer from trauma to the head. The chances of a fatal outcome or other serious consequences are very high.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,500 islands, is the fourth most populous country in the world, with 261 million inhabitants, and the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product of $933 billion.
Central government spending on transport increased by threefold between 2010-2016. This has enabled the country to extend its transport network capacity and improve access to some of the most remote areas across the archipelago.
The country has a road network of about 538,000 km, of which about 47,000 km are national roads, and 1,000 km are expressways. Heavy congestion and low traffic speeds translate into excessively long journey times. In fact, traveling a mere 100 km can take 2.5 to 4 hours. The country relies heavily on waterborne transport and has about 1,500 ports, with most facilities approaching their capacity limits, especially in Eastern Indonesia. Connectivity between ports and land infrastructure is limited or non-existent. The rail network is limited (6,500 km across the islands of Java and Sumatra) and poorly maintained. The country’s 39 international and 191 domestic airports mainly provide passenger services, and many are also reaching their capacity limits.
Three years ago, Professor Leszek Sibilski embarked on an academic project to explore the role of bicycles in development. Little did he know then that his project would evolve into a massive advocacy effort, backed by the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative, to have the United Nations designate a day to celebrate and promote bicycle use around the world. He succeeded. On April 12th 2018, all 193 UN member states adopted General Assembly Resolution A/Res/72/272, which declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day. The resolution was sponsored by Turkmenistan and co-sponsored by some 56 countries.
I sat down with Professor Sibilski himself to learn more about this inspiring story.
Yohan Senarath: Did you ever expect this project to end up delivering a UN resolution?
Professor Leszek Sibilski: Well Yohan, I strongly believe that it was part of my destiny to help bring this to fruition. Let me explain why. For ten years I was a member of the Polish national cycling team. I obtained my Masters in physical education with a specialty in cycling. After that, I worked as a sports reporter for the Polish equivalent of Sports Illustrated, covering professional cycling around the world. Cycling was my life. Now, combine all this cycling experience with my commitment to social work. I completed my PhD in Applied Sociology specializing in Social Action and Social Movements, and at one time served as a member of the Experts Group that was helping to put together the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In other words, I was a cyclist who wanted to make a difference!