Rio+20 Business Focus: Safer roads and sustainable development

Politicians make the policy. But it’s often left to business to implement it. For this reason RioPlus Business is featuring submissions from the private sector across the globe in the lead up to Rio+20.

The planet’s roads are becoming increasingly congested. This affects our health, the economy and the environment. In this article, Saul Billingsley, Director of the Road Safety Fund, explains how the ‘Share the Road’ initiative will drive an agenda at Rio+20 to make getting around safer, easier and cleaner if you’re on two legs, two wheels or in a car.

By Saul Billingsley

One of the most immediate challenges is the rise in global road traffic deaths and injuries. Together with the environmental concerns of rising emissions levels, this means that a safe and sustainable transport policy has become part of the Rio+20 agenda.

Worldwide, vehicle ownership is projected to double in the next decade, with the increase taking place entirely in developing countries. Yet the majority of people in these countries are unlikely ever to own a car. And it is exactly these people who are overwhelmingly affected by road traffic crashes and other consequences of road traffic, including poor air quality.

Designing safe transportation, urban planning and land use policies around the needs of local communities has to be a sustainable development priority and a pre-requisite for building the ‘green economy’ of the future.

When the UN issued its Resolution proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety from 2011-2020 it acknowledged the linkage between road safety and sustainable development. It described road traffic injuries as a major public health problem which, if unaddressed, “may affect the sustainable development of countries and hinder progress towards the Millennium Development Goals”.

This is the situation: economic growth and the rise of the middle class in developing countries are increasing demand for cars. Meanwhile, population growth and urbanisation are putting more people – especially children – in harm’s way.

In Nairobi or Mumbai, too often children have to negotiate six or eight lane highways to get to school without safe crossings. The result, predictably, is rising numbers of casualties, and a drain on development with families plunged further into poverty.

Leading development experts have also recognised that the failure to address road safety goes beyond the immediate toll of death and injury to undermine key objectives of poverty alleviation, child survival and climate change.

UN Special Advisor on the MDGs, Professor Jeffrey Sachs recently described road safety as a crucial part of the overall effort to combat poverty and keep communities safe in developing countries.

Failing to include road safety in the agenda of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the consequent neglect of the issue in international development which followed, has arguably contributed to the increase in death and disability on the world’s roads. The same mistake must not be repeated at Rio+20.

Share the Road: walking the talk

For a majority of the world’s people the main mode of travel remains their two feet. And bicycles outnumber cars 2:1. Yet motorised transport dominates the road space.

Now, in an initiative for the Decade of Action for Road Safety, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is encouraging greater emphasis on non-motorized transport (NMT), and a safe and fair share of road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

This is a critical part of the Rio+20 sustainable transport agenda. NMT investment can make a vital contribution to reducing the toll of road traffic injuries and achieve wider environmental impacts. It means putting the health and quality of life of communities at the forefront of the planning agenda.

Through a Road Safety Fund grant from the FIA Foundation and resourcing from UNEP for ‘Share the Road’, a policy and technical toolkit will help re-design urban road systems on three principles: accessibility, environment and safety.

As UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says: “The concept of ‘Share the Road’ is to try and influence those who design, plan and finance roads to think more broadly.

“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.”

‘Share the Road’ aims to demonstrate that investing in NMT facilities can benefit policy objectives such as improving air quality, tackling climate change, reducing obesity and preventing road traffic injuries.

A pilot project in Nairobi has already implemented high quality pavements and cycle lanes on a major urban road, and provided safe connections for pedestrians and cyclists to public transport hubs. The next phase will see pilot programmes in other African countries.

Saul Billingsley is the Director of the Road Safety Fund an independent organisation UK charitable law by the World Health Organization and the FIA Foundation

The FIA Foundation is an independent UK registered charity which supports an international programme of activities promoting road safety, the environment and sustainable mobility, as well as funding motor sport safety research


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