As cities in the developing world continue to grow, so do their traffic safety concerns. Latin America, for instance, now sees three times as many deaths from traffic crashes as Europe, the vast majority of which occur in cities. Vulnerable road users are particularly at risk: Older pedestrians and cyclists can account for up to 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities and up to 70 percent of cyclist fatalities globally.
Improving developing cities’ traffic safety is a critical task for ensuring that these growing urban centers become safe, equitable places to live. A key part of achieving this safety? Sustainable urban design.
In Rio de Janeiro, proximity to transport is key to ensuring that residents have access to jobs and opportunities within the city. Photo Credit: EMBARQ-BrazilIn Rio de Janeiro, proximity to transport is key to ensuring that residents have access to jobs and opportunities within the city. Photo Credit: EMBARQ-Brazil
The connection between safety and justice is a major theme of the upcoming World Urban Forum (WUF7), organized by UN-HABITAT, which this year focuses on “urban equity in development—cities for life.” At the event, EMBARQ experts will host a Cities Safer by Design for All networking session. The event will convene key experts and explore ways that urban design can improve safety—and in turn, justice—in developing cities around the world.
At the Intersection of Safety, Justice and Urban Design
Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted by shortsighted urban design choices, whether it’s the poor—who are forced to live on the city’s periphery—or the disabled, who face mobility obstacles every day. Smart urban design principles can improve these citizens’ quality of life while also boosting a city’s overall safety.
For example, implementing urban design principles like transit-oriented development (TOD), which encourage mixed commercial and residential land use, compact layout, access to high-quality mass transport, and pedestrian-friendly streets, is an important step towards creating livable cities for all communities. Cities built in this way provide opportunities for walking, bicycling, and using transport instead of relying on a car—an expense many cannot afford. Furthermore, promoting sustainable urban design components like bike lanes and pedestrian walkways can have significant traffic safety benefits through reducing exposure—such as by preventing the need for vehicle travel altogether—and risk—by limiting vehicle speeds and prioritizing pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Connecting urban design to safety is a concept that’s still under-utilized by most local officials and even urban planners. But some cities are beginning to emerge as leaders in this space:
Mexico City, Mexico
In order to combat its history of urban sprawl, Mexico City is enhancing its sustainable transport systems and revitalizing public spaces. The newest corridor of the Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system took a complete streets approach, which aims to design streets that account for all road users, providing safe infrastructure for transport, cars, cyclists and pedestrians. One shining example of the transformation along Avenida Eduardo Molina is the city’s decision to change a dangerous and confusing intersection design that forced cars and buses to switch from the right side of the road to the left at the stoplight. EMBARQ research finds that streets with such confusing designs, called counter-flow intersections, have 82 percent more severe and fatal crashes than other streets.
Mexico City has also introduced new “pocket parks” or “parklets,” which repurpose street space previously allotted to cars to create new public spaces for socialization and interaction. These spaces help to calm traffic, reduce street-crossing distances for pedestrians, and provide protected areas for recreation. The city has built five in the last year, and expects to build as many as 150 in the coming years.
read about additional cities and what they're doing via How Sustainable Design Makes Our Cities Safer | EcoWatch.