Road safety audits matter

Men walk down the street in India

A road safety audit can help make sure that the most vulnerable users of the road, such as pedestrians, are kept safe. Photo by Mira on the wall.

When people think “road” they think “automobile.” Roads are most usually designed with cars in mind, and the most vulnerable users of the road – pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists – are often neglected. Currently, 70% of traffic fatalities world-wide involve vulnerable users of the road. When the needs of these vulnerable users are addressed, it is often in an ad-hoc manner. Sometimes crosswalks or bike lanes are added after a road is built, which leads to crosswalks that are too long, or bike lanes that disappear every few blocks. In other instances, streets heavily crossed by pedestrians may still have a barrier in the median of the road, with no pedestrian crossings for several blocks. This forces pedestrians to jump over the divider as they cross, which can be extremely risky.

Road safety audits – inspections of road design with safety in mind – are an important tool for improving road safety, since they examine a project from the point of view of the road’s most vulnerable users. In developing countries like India, where the volume of pedestrian traffic is very high, it is even more important to perform these audits.

“Pedestrian fatalities account for the largest share of traffic fatalities in most Indian cities.”

A road safety audit is a systematic assessment of a road design project from the point of view of safety. It looks for possible safety risks in the design, and suggests recommendations on how to address them.

Since pedestrian fatalities account for the largest share of traffic fatalities in most Indian cities, an audit gives high priority to pedestrian safety. Audits ask questions such as: Are there complete sidewalks free of obstacles? Are there adequate and appropriately located pedestrian crossings? What’s the distance to the closest pedestrian crossing?

Audits in India

In a developing country, the issues are often more complex than merely checking if road design standards are met. A high volume of pedestrian traffic and mixed modes of transport, with vehicles of different sizes and speeds, make it difficult to design roads which cater to everyone’s needs. Poor traffic enforcement and poor street conditions at the edge of the street, where the sidewalk would normally be located, make road safety audits even more necessary. Sometimes the pedestrian area is left unpaved or dirty, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street, with the traffic. A road safety audit helps to prevent such problems by identifying the issues in the early stages of the project, when it possible to make inexpensive changes to a problematic design.

“A high volume of pedestrian traffic and mixed modes of transport, with vehicles of different size and speed capacity, make it difficult to design a road which caters to everyone’s needs.”

Mumbai, India, which has a metro-area population of over 20 million people, is in the process of redesigning the roads along a prominent metro rail corridor which runs east to west through the northern part of the city, as well as a monorail corridor, located in the western part of the city.

As part of this redesign, EMBARQ India is spearheading a Road Safety Audit of the plans, in hopes of improving safety and accessibility for all modes of transport, especially for commuters to and from the metro rail stations. One proposed recommendation is to include a wide sidewalk free of all obstacles, which will run the length of the corridor. Another recommendation involves extending the curbs at several intersections, which will force vehicles to slow down when making a turn, as well as reduce the distance a pedestrian must cross. The audit has also led to a recommendation to add high quality pedestrian crossings, at least every 80 meters (87 yards) and at every intersection. These specific changes will help to make pedestrians and drivers safer, in the most efficient way possible.

An early audit saves money and lives

A road safety audit is an essential part of the road design process, since it helps to make sure the road designer’s goals are aligned with safety needs. Without such an audit, the road designer has two main goals: keeping costs as low as possible and ensuring that the design meets government standards. Often, the legal standards are not specific or robust enough to keep pedestrians and other vulnerable users safe. An audit goes beyond the standards and looks at specific issues which may need treatment, regardless of whether those changes are required by law.

“Often, the legal standards are not specific or robust enough to keep pedestrians and other vulnerable users safe.”

When these issues are pointed out at the design stage, it is easy to make changes. The curb can be extended, the sidewalk widened, or a pedestrian island inserted. Altering a design after the road has been constructed can be extremely expensive, often prohibitively so, not to mention dangerous for road users in the meantime.

Conducting an audit at the design stage saves money and lives. EMBARQ India’s preemptive work auditing the plans for the metro rail corridor will help ensure that the project meets the needs of all road users- drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

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