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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.
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.
Happy Earth Month from the Sustainable Cities team! While Earth Day isn’t until April 22nd, we must spend some time this month to think about what this celebration of the natural environment means for us, staunch urbanites.
Like many environmental initiatives, Earth Day was actually proclaimed by a city – San Francisco, California - and the occasion was celebrated with other US cities in 1970. Earth Day went international in 1990, and now it’s celebrated in more than 175 countries every year.