Enabling walking and cycling 

Providing pavements and safe crossing points for pedestrians, and reducing vehicle speed limits in built up areas, can prevent injuries and make walking and cycling a more appealing option for the benefit of health and the environment. Yet in some of the world’s cities less than one quarter of streets have sidewalks.

Facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, as here in Nairobi, are often forgotten when roads are built
UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner: “This is a decade for action, a time to lead by example”
Pavements and cycle lanes are designed into a ‘Share the Road’ pilot scheme
UN Coordinator for Rio+20, Brice Lalonde “this concern about road safety is becoming something important”

Pedestrians are most vulnerable when they have to cross busy roads without any crossing facilities, and where they have to mix with motorised traffic as they move along the road because a separate and safe space has not been provided. Cyclists tend to be most at risk in faster moving traffic, when navigating large road junctions and in the blind spot of truck drivers. Yet in many fast developing cities the provision for pedestrians and cyclists is poor. They are forgotten as part of the transport mix. For example, a survey conducted by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) in Nairobi, Kenya, found that there was little segregation of vehicles from pedestrians. 95% of the roads recorded high pedestrian flows yet only 20% had pedestrian footpaths.

This lack of access and space for pedestrians could be addressed effectively and relatively easily through a wide range of engineering countermeasures that are proven to reduce the likelihood of a serious or fatal crash for vulnerable road users. The tools that are available include excluding traffic from areas where there is high pedestrian activity; slowing traffic, with speed limits and physical calming measures, in areas where there are a large of pedestrians; providing separate paths for pedestrians and bicyclists so they do not have to mix with motorised traffic; supplying crossing facilities in the locations where demand is highest and most obvious; and using information and design in ways that help pedestrians understand where safe crossing points can be found.

Raising awareness of these tools amongst planners and policymakers is one of the objectives of the ‘Share the Road’ programme led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and supported by the Road Safety Fund through a grant from the FIA Foundation. The initiative aims to promote walking and cycling by encouraging governments and city authorities to prioritise non-motorised transport in planning hierarchies. Rather than treating pedestrians and the needs of urban communities as an inconvenient afterthought, Share the Road urges planners to make shared, safe, access to streets and highways the central objective of sustainable transport planning.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, says the objective is “…to try and influence those who design, plan and finance roads to think more broadly. The objective is not to put more vehicles on a road or have more tarmac put on the ground. It is about a more effective movement of people and goods in society. In a city context it reflects that many more people would be able to use their own means of transport to get to work – bicycles, by foot, or to better connect to public transport – if they actually had a safe means to get to a taxi stand or to be able to cycle to work”.

UNEP’s first Share the Road pilot project was established close to home, on the busy United Nations Avenue which runs alongside UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi. Following the deaths of two children (one pedestrian, one cyclist) on the road, UNEP began working with the Kenya Urban Road Authority (KURA) to develop UN Avenue into a showcase road, with the project including construction of sidewalks and separate cycle-ways and junction redesigns.

The project has provided impetus for KURA, the National Road Safety Council and the Ministry of Transport to develop new national policy guidelines requiring integration of walking and cycling road infrastructure. The project has also benefited from the involvement of iRAP, which has developed a network plan for Nairobi as part of a wider review of Kenyan highways. iRAP estimates that its Nairobi network plan would cost US $15 million but deliver a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 31, generating $460 million in benefits over 20 years. Over that time an estimated 18,800 lives and serious injuries could be saved through the implementation of the plan. A major feature of the strategy is the creation of more than 200 additional pedestrian crossings.

Now UNEP’s Share the Road is expanding to other East African countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania with policy workshops and coalition building. Partners include UN HABITAT, the injury prevention NGO Amend and national government stakeholders in each of the countries.

As iRAP’s analysis demonstrates, improving facilities for non-motorised transport can play an important role in reducing death and injury and helping to achieve the Goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety. There are other important benefits too. Encouraging non-motorised transport is an effective way to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. It contributes to air quality objectives and helps in the fight against obesity and non-communicable ‘lifestyle’ diseases. With the right investment, this is a policy where everyone wins.

This is a compelling message that the Road Safety Fund will be taking to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012. And proposals for the inclusion of safe and sustainable transportation in the context of Rio+20 have been welcomed by the conference coordinator, Brice Lalonde, who says: “If we could try to address road safety at the same time as we address the environment, the design, the architecture, the land used for the planning of cities, if we can do that in a holistic way it is exactly sustainable development. So I think it is going to make a difference this time, I think it is going to be more central, as much as we can put it in the agenda of Rio+20”.

See here to learn more about UNEP’s ‘Share the Road’ initiative >