Cities and traffic accidents are twins

May 14, 2017

All road users will agree with me traffic accidents and cities are inseparables and as population continues to grow, most of us continue to put ourselves at very high risk. The other day I witnessed a road accident and it was agonising for the victims who sustained serious injuries while others were said to have lost their lives. A lady who happened to be an off duty cop standing next to me as medics were handling the situation told me that going forward its going to become a severe problem and will continue to haunt road users, especially pedestrians. Apparently one of the victim was walking on the sideways. Worldwide, it is estimated that around one and half a million people die on roads every year, mostly occurring in poor countries and is ranked as the ninth leading cause of death. If no action is taken, the experts predicts that road traffic fatalities will become the seventh leading cause of death in the next thirteen years.Traffic fatalities and injuries have costs countries gross domestic product seriously. As i spoke to the off duty cop, it became that traffic safety, which has not received much attention to date like the way Cancer, HIV AIDS, Malaria have, need to be prioritised in the planning and evaluation of transportation related projects.No doubt saving lives with sustainable transport can work where motorisation is used as a strong predictor of traffic crashes, a proxy of traffic safety.The horrifying accident left me wondering what on earth can be done to reduce such on our roads and as a result sought answers from a road transport expert based in Perth. She told me how recently while examining Australian cities, her findings established that that states or cities with high vehicle kilometres traveled per capita experienced higher traffic fatalities rates.Further, it revealed that the share of public transportation influenced Australia’s traffic fatalities, the greater the use of public transportation, the lower fatalities would be.Most cities are experiencing a tremendous increase in motorisation, predominantly private vehicle, hence presenting challenges in traffic safety.The share of commuters using motorcycles and bicycles, for instance, in African countries like Uganda and Kenya increased dramatically by fifty percent just within five years, according to the study done recently. So, as i watched the medics pull out the injured and dead from the vehicle, i wondered deeply what actions should be taken to reduce private vehicle use and road fatalities.One idea that came to my mind was that the share of public transportation must be increased. Several cities have made some improvement on public transportation to encourage its residents to use public transportation.However, the principles of sustainability, meaning the continuation of public transportation services, have not yet been applied to this new system. This can be seen from the lack of private companies managing networks and the lack of incentives available to increase revenue, which can lead to a decreasing quality of public transportation. In addition, fragmented route networks that do not accommodate to the public’s travel needs makes it hard for commuters to reach their destination.

As a result, public transportation is still being marginalised, making cars and motorcycles popular amongst the majority of commuters. In fact, motorcycles themselves provide a reverse impact in terms of safety. A couple of years back while in Uganda, police traffic department released some data which showed that motorcycles represented more than half of the transportation mode share of the city and contributes to 80 percent of road crashes, making motorcycle users the most vulnerable road users. Increasing the share of public transportation and making public transportation the main choice is a key goal in reducing traffic fatalities.How cities can enable this shift from private motorised vehicle to public transportation is a huge undertaking. One thing that can be done to encourage the public to shift from private vehicles to public transportation is by establishing integrated public transportation improvements.For example, well-connected public transportation routes that allow easy transfers and having good pedestrian sidewalks to easily access bus stop needs to be developed like is the case with Melbourne and Helsinki, two cities which i can say they are up to best standards.As for the institutional structure, a commercial company that manages the network and focuses on quality improvement should be established. In parallel, public transportation improvement needs to be synchronised with restrictions on private vehicle use such as by increasing parking fees and restricting parking space, especially in the city center. Also, public transportation should be coupled with infrastructure elements that ensures public safety, such as bus priority lanes, pedestrian crossings and improved intersection geometry.In poor countries like is the case with Africa, public transportation alone would not be able to deliver maximum impact on traffic safety and safer infrastructure elements need to be applied.However, not all is gloom because Tanzania is as an example where a bus rapid transit system has significant benefitted public safety from a combination of improved street geometry and signalisation, dedicated bus lanes, and operator consolidation.In most other countries across Africa, unfortunately, safety design elements are still missing in their improved public transportation system, which exacerbate the number of fatalities and injuries. Safe public transportation infrastructure integrated with safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure design as well as consolidation among operators is worth investing as that would saves thousands of lives in Africa.I can’t tell why authorities and general public have come to tolerate both losing lives and depriving economic benefits due to traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Given the strong relationship between public transportation and traffic safety, there is a need to develop an integrated planning approach between public transportation improvement and traffic safety aspects. Public transportation improvement and traffic safety should be highlighted in policy agenda among decision makers to get a common objective to drastically reduce traffic fatalities and injuries like the one i witnessed the other day.

Contador Harrison