Share the Road: Putting pedestrians and cyclists first

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Lack of investment is severely impairing the mobility of pedestrians and cyclists, forcing citizens to literally risk their lives just to get to school or work.

Every 30 seconds someone dies in a road crash. That’s over 1.2 million people every year dying on the world’s roads. The World Health Organization’s Global Road Safety Report of 2015 shows that, worst still, half of these deaths are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Tragically, 500 children die every day in road crashes.

What is even scarier is that many of these deaths are preventable and that, without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to be the third most common cause of premature death in the world by 2020 (rising from 10th as of 2015). Millions more people die from the outdoor air pollution (3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012) that road traffic contributes to. If that wasn’t enough, vehicle emissions are also fuelling climate change (the transport sector is responsible for 27 per cent of energy-related CO2 emissions globally).
On the other hand, people walking and cycling made about 37 per cent of urban trips worldwide in 2005. In developing countries, this number can be even higher (e.g. 47 per cent in Nairobi, Kenya). But despite the high proportion of people relying on non-motorized transport (NMT) around the world there is a mismatch between what people need and the allocation of funding for NMT investment. This leaves the mobility of pedestrians and cyclists severely impaired, forcing citizens who are just trying to get to school or work to literally risk their lives to do so.

While transport is an enabler of economic activity, social connectivity and mobility, a bias towards planning for the needs of the car driver, rather than planning for people, has led to a vicious circle: to address congestion, more and more roads and flyovers are constructed to accommodate the increasing number of private motorized vehicles, but the new infrastructure is soon overwhelmed in turn.

Congestion, pollution, road fatalities and all the other problems caused by the rise of the car is something that all transport planners and governments would like to avoid or solve. All cities have visions of quieter, greener spaces and healthier populations. The solutions seem obvious (more public transport, more bikes, more walking, better infrastructure for sustainable mobility). But the question is how do countries get started on that path?

The UN Environment Share the Road Programme was launched in 2008 with co-founder the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society and tries to address this question. It brings together the environment, safety and accessibility agendas in the context of urban transport in the developing world where the majority of people – those moving by foot or bicycle – are disadvantaged on the road.

The initiative supports governments in developing countries to move away from prioritizing building more roads for the car-driving minority, toward investment in infrastructure for those who walk and cycle. The initiative does this through global advocacy, development of tools and guidance, and in-country technical assistance such as developing policies which promote investment in walking and cycling infrastructure.

Investing in infrastructure for walking and cycling leads to massive benefits: in the environment, through less pollution and greenhouse gases; in safety, through the protection of vulnerable road users from high-speed traffic; and in accessibility itself, by providing the majority of global citizens with a more viable, enjoyable and affordable means of travel to reach basic services and connect with other transport options such as buses and trains.

For example, in Kenya, the Share the Road initiative supported the Kenyan Urban Roads Authority in designing and constructing a pilot showcase road with safe walking and cycling infrastructure and also helped the Nairobi City County government in developing and launching a Non Motorized Transport Policy for Nairobi in March 2015. The policy aims to create a transport system in Nairobi that fully integrates walking and cycling by creating a safe, cohesive and comfortable network of footpaths, cycling lanes and tracks and green areas. The Nairobi City County government went a step further and committed 20 per cent of their existing and future road construction budget to NMT and public transport infrastructure and services.

The Share the Road initiative is helping governments change direction; by recognizing the massive benefits of a clean environment, safer roads and better mobility from increased investments in NMT infrastructure.