How can we make cities safer for pedestrians? Some insights from Ethiopia

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Young Ethiopian children run on the street in their neighborhood
Transport insights from Ethiopia | Image: © World Bank

Walking is by far the most common way of getting around, especially in developing countries. Yet sidewalks and other types of walking infrastructure are arguably the one component of urban transport systems that receives the least amount of attention.  As a result, for those of us who rely on our own two feet to get around, walking to work, to school, or to the nearest market can often be uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous.

This is certainly the case in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city, where more than half of daily trips are made on foot. Despite the popularity of walking, sidewalks across the city are often lacking accessibility and safety. The consequences can be devastating of the 500 people who lose their lives on the city’s roads each year, 76% are pedestrians.

To help address the issue, our team took a closer look at walking conditions in the Ethiopian capital and recently completed a pilot study with the support of the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) and UK Aid. The objective was to assess the walkability and the state of sidewalks in selected areas, propose strategies and formulate near-term actions to redress sidewalk deficiencies, and to understand how sidewalk condition and urban design impact the experience and safety of pedestrians.

Safety of pedestrians

We focused our analysis on a 5.4-km road corridor along Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line A, which features mixed land use and facilities, and generates significant pedestrian traffic.

In this corridor, most pedestrians are young and middle-aged adults (18 to 35 years, representing 67%) and 40% are women. Students (under 18) also have a considerable presence (10%).  The demographic makeup of pedestrians was an important consideration when selecting a corridor for our study, as students, youth, and females are particularly vulnerable to road crashes.


Who uses sidewalks in Ethiopia?

Using an innovative mobile app, our team conducted an urban inventory and a user survey to evaluate walking conditions against five criteria: Urban Life, Sidewalk Condition, Urban Elements, Pedestrian Crossings, and Safety.  Some of our key findings include the following:  

  • A large majority of pedestrians consider that sidewalks along the corridor are inaccessible (75%), lack crossing points (63%), are unsafe in terms of infrastructure quality (66%) and exposure to traffic (63%), are obstructed (70%), and are not fit for purpose, particularly for children and people with mobility constraints.
  • The condition assessment revealed that 79% of the road network doesn’t have adequate crossings, 54% lacks tactile pavement for visually impaired users, 50% of the sidewalk pavement ranks poor to very poor, 52 % of the street sections we assessed do not have street lighting, and 55% of sidewalks are not connected with building facades or activities, making walking unsafe or uncomfortable to reach, especially at night and particularly to women. The sidewalks also have few bus stops, making it hard for bus riders to reach their final destination.
  • The study’s Urban Inventory indicates that 67% of the network falls under Levels C and D of the Global Walkability Index, which further demonstrates the deficient and unsafe conditions experienced by pedestrians.         

Based on this diagnostic, the study proposes strategic recommendations to improve urban life, sidewalk conditions, and pedestrian safety.

Some of these are relatively straightforward and could produce tangible results quickly:

  • Focusing on “low-hanging fruit” actions at LRT stations along the corridor
  • Redesigning crossings that have been identified as unsafe for pedestrians, building ramps, and placing tactile pavement in the crossings
  • Enhancing urban design around major commercial hubs and public spaces
  • Improving maintenance practice

The study also identifies important actions to be implemented over the medium term:

  • Improving multimodal facilities: bus stops, car and bicycle parking, taxi stands
  • Deploying adequate street furniture, installing street lighting, and regulating vendors
  • Increasing the number of pedestrian crossings
  • Implementing traffic calming measures and organizing road safety awareness campaigns, such as low speed zones around schools, curb extensions to narrow a local street with heavy pedestrian traffic, and midblock crosswalks when street blocks are too long and do not suite in pedestrians’ desired path.

More broadly, the study establishes a range of design specifications and guidelines to help practitioners develop high quality, safe, inclusive, sustainable, and accessible infrastructure for all road users. The following graphic illustrates the main recommendations.

Addis Ababa pedestrian recommendations

Implementing these recommendations will go a long way in enhancing road safety and improving access to the many facilities located along the corridor, such as schools and hospitals. Safer, dependable walking infrastructure will benefit everyone, including wheelchair users, women, the elderly, and others with special mobility needs. Importantly, the tools, analytical methodology, and measures presented in the study can be easily applied to other neighborhoods, with the potential to make even more of a difference and save more lives across the city.


This study consists of two reports:



Wenyu Jia

Senior Urban Transport Specialist, World Bank

Bezawit Tesfaye

Bezawit Tesfaye (Beza) is Transport Specialist of the World Bank

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