Time to Humanize Streets and Roads?
According to statistics shared by the Transport Research Wing, a staggering 150,785 people were killed and 494,624 injured in road traffic crashes in India in 2016.
But because not all injuries are reported to the police, this is probably an underestimate of the real figures. Also, India loses 3% of its GDP due to the socio-economic costs resulting from road crashes and fatalities.
After China, India is the second country with the largest population of pedestrians. The capital Delhi leads in the number of road crash deaths in India. In 2018, a total of 6,515 road accidents occurred on the roads of Delhi in which 1,690 people lost their lives. And, it was the pedestrians who were the worst hit.
It’s almost the same story in tech city Bengaluru, where more than 50% of all road fatalities involve pedestrians; that is, one pedestrian is killed every day, while four are injured.
But the situation is no better in cities across the globe. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) global status report on road safety concluded that the number of annual road traffic deaths has reached 1.35 million.
Yes, prompt action and drastic measures are needed to save lives and make roads and streets safer for all road users.
Traffic on a busy road can be calmed and controlled by adopting several speed reduction methods. Though there is no single best solution available, the following can be tried: speed humps, bumps, speed cameras, radar speed signs, or simply stationing an enforcement officer. All these methods can play a significant role in reducing speeds.
Deploying an officer on the road is an effective and guaranteed way of getting motorists to slow down. An officer holding a speed gun can hardly be ignored by a speeding driver. But not every busy road can have an officer monitoring it.
In the absence of an officer, another tool that can be used is the speed hump. The sight of a speed hump is enough to make a driver slow down, but humps cannot be used on every road and street.
In such a scenario, speed enforcement cameras are being used widely by traffic enforcement authorities in almost all the major cities. They prevent drivers from speeding and are an effective road safety tool too. Although such cameras are not a hit among drivers, their use has led to reduced road crashes. And due to their installation costs, they can be used only in a few select, usually accident-prone areas.
Another tool that traffic authorities are resorting to is radar speed signs. These radar speed displays not only slow fast-moving vehicles, but also make the drivers more attentive. Most of these signs are portable and can be easily placed anywhere. Not as expensive as the other tools, radar speed signs also collect data that can be further analyzed by traffic officials. This data is then used by the traffic department to prioritize where these radar signs most need to be put up.
Several studies have concluded that speed is not the only reason that causes a road crash. There are several factors at play — road type, driver’s age, alcohol, design of the road, etc. But irrespective of all these reasons, speed does have a major impact when crashes take place.
According to the WHO, a 5% cut in average traffic speed can reduce the number of fatal crashes by 30%. And, high speeds are the most devastating for pedestrians, due to them having no protection during a collision.
Low driving speeds not only save lives, but also reduce the likelihood of a road crash. But does lower vehicle speed only benefit road users? Not really. There are several important additional benefits of driving slowly, including decreased air pollution, reduced traffic noise, less fuel consumption, etc. These positive effects can also encourage road users to resort to healthy habits such as cycling and walking.
Even though looking into public health and road safety must be top priority, all that countries continue to do is build faster and wider roadways and highways, a tacit invitation to speed driving, in a way. Unfortunately, the pedestrians are not a priority at all. Roads and streets need to be treated as spaces and places meant for human beings and not dehumanized. Progress on road safety is lagging, especially in developing countries, where road fatalities continue to increase every passing year.
Roads and streets need to be treated like human places, not just spaces. They are places of public activity where work, commerce, recreation, and interactions take place. There is a connection between roads and human beings. And that is why safe roads and streets should be considered a basic human right.
It is important that road users travel at safe and legally permissible speeds. Businesses will succeed in attracting customers only if they can offer the latter, a quality street space in which they feel comfortable and safe moving about. People who walk or cycle spend more money than those moving in cars. And the more ‘relaxed’ and safe buyers feel, the more they purchase. Most ‘walkable’ cities have better customer retention figures.
For now, it’s the slowing down of fast-moving traffic that is a prerequisite re pedestrian safety and safer roads. But, pedestrians and cyclists too need to be a part of the entire ‘responsibility ring’ along with motorists to make their roads and streets safe and easy to navigate. And drivers are not only supposed to pay attention to road conditions, but also be less distracted by phone calls, spilled beverages, dropped food, or even disruptive children and pets.
Let’s strive to make roads and streets safe for all — children, able-bodied adults, older adults, those with physical or cognitive impairments, teens, and our pets too.