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.
At 5am, when the sun has still not gone up, the streets of Port-au-Prince are already busy. But they are not busy with cars, since income levels in Haiti are still too low – Haiti ranks 200 among 216 countries on 2015 Gross National Income rankings published by the World Bank – and the colorful tap-taps remain unaffordable to most of the population. At this time of the day, streets are filled with people walking to work or school, starting their long journeys early so they can arrive on time. In fact, only 26% of Haitians use any motorized vehicle on a regular basis. The remaining 74% either walk everywhere or do not travel at all.
The discussion on climate change often tends to ignore one critical factor: people’s own habits and preferences. In urban transport, the issue of behavior change is particularly important, as the transition to low-carbon mobility relies in large part on commuters’ willingness to leave their cars at home and turn to greener modes such as public transit, cycling, or walking.
Getting people to make the switch is easier said than done: decades of car-centric development, combined with the persistence of the private car as a status symbol, have made it hard for policymakers to take residents out of their vehicles.
Against this backdrop, I was inspired to learn about the example of Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, a city of 1.2 million some 45km south of Seoul I visited on my last trip to the Republic of Korea.
Officials in Suwon have realized that, although awareness of climate change is becoming widespread, behavioral engagement hasn’t quite caught up. To overcome this challenge, the city decided to make sure residents could be directly involved in the design and implementation of its urban transport strategy.
Paraisópolis, a nationally famous slum area in São Paulo, Brazil, is one of those bustling communities where everything happens. Despite being located in the middle of the city, it managed, unlike other poor slum areas, not to be reallocated to make room for more expensive housing or public infrastructure. The area boasts vibrant community life, with more than 40 active NGOs covering issues that range from waste management and health to ballet and cooking. Recently, the area also benefited from several community upgrading programs. In particular, investments in local roads have facilitated truck access to the community, bringing in large and small retailers, and generating lively economic activity along with job opportunities for local residents.
As we continue our efforts to increase awareness around on-foot mobility (see previous blog), today, I would like to highlight a project we developed for Paraisópolis.
While most of the community has access to basic services and there are opportunities for professional enhancement and cultural activities, mobility and access to jobs remains a challenge. The current inequitable distribution of public space in the community prioritizes private cars versus transit and non-motorized transport. This contributes to severe congestion and reduced transit travel speed; buses had to be reallocated to neighboring streets because they were always stuck in traffic. Pedestrians are always at danger of being hit by a vehicle or falling on the barely-existent sidewalks, and emergency vehicles have no chance of getting into the community if needed. For example, in the last year there were three fire events—a common hazard in such communities—affecting hundreds of homes, yet the emergency trucks could not come in to respond on time because of cars blocking the passage.
Walking is the cheapest, most non-polluting, and possibly healthiest mode of transport. And dense cities seem to be a pre-existing condition for enabling us to meet our daily walking needs, along with diversified land uses, typically called “mixed-use development”. Densification and “mixed-use development” are currently seen as a strategy for designing sustainable cities, and many high-quality mobility plans, which consider the interactions between land use and transport, also pursue this type of urban development.
But densification and “mixed-use development” present (at least) two challenges. The first is how to provide quality pedestrian infrastructure that encourages non-motorized mode choices. The second is how to efficiently deliver the large quantities of goods required in these dense cities. These were the themes of successful seminars recently held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, thanks to a World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility grant.
The “mobility by foot” seminar was a four-day learning event on pedestrian mobility organized by Brazil’s Associação Nacional de Transportes Públicos. In Brazil, as in most cities in Latin America, around 35% of people’s daily trips are on foot, and there is evidence that this number is underestimated given the limitations of current data collection methods. Given the priority in reducing the impact of our carbon “footprint” (or “carprint”), governments need more evidence and incentives to move the sustainability agenda forward.
A few years ago on a busy Kampala intersection, cars zoomed by while pedestrians braced themselves to cross a road. They lurched back and forth, like a fence being blown hither and tither by heavy winds. In frustration, a voice of a woman with a baby tucked on her back cried out: senga no wabawo atusasira. “I wish someone would be kind to us.”
What would blogs be good for if it were not for their intent on steering a bit of controversy? So here it is… I do not believe that behavior change interventions can effect lasting change in people’s travel patterns unless real choices are available to them within the local context.
It doesn’t happen very often. Thank goodness. But there are times, very rare times, when in our work, we experience a kind of mid-life crisis, when some external event sparks the realization that we have been traveling down a decision-path for so long, we’ve lost sight of something very important – when we stop and say, how did we get here?
It happened last month -- in Weihai, China’s Shandong Province, where we are working with the municipal government on the development of the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines.