The historic and ornate city of Arequipa is the economic and cultural hub of Southern Peru. But crowded streets, poor air quality and a disordered array of buses characterize mobility in this Andean city, the second largest in the country.
It’s known as “The White City, but it’s not so white because of the pollution,” says Sybil Settlemyre, office and project administrator at EMBARQ Andino. EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, began working in Arequipa a few years ago, recognizing the potential to improve public transit in the city through partnerships with city agencies and large development banks, like the Andean Development Corporation.
Safety by Design
In April, EMBARQ completed a “road safety audit,” funded by the Pan American Health Organization, analyzing the safety implications of the design of the city’s proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor, part of a brand new integrated transport system. The first few kilometers were recently constructed, and the system is slated to launch in its completed form in 2015.
A road safety audit involves a careful examination of a proposed project to ensure that it performs to a high standard from a road safety perspective. Identifying the problems before construction is important, because it is less costly to change design drawings than to modify the project after construction. Road safety experts analyzed the proposed project plans and began identifying road safety issues, such as absent pedestrian crossings, insufficient bicycle signage or poor lighting, and then provided technical recommendations on how to correct them. Preventive measures to improve road safety include things like installing speed humps before all pedestrian crossings to reduce car speeds.
Other major recommendations to improve safety include…
- increasing visibility at pedestrian crossings through lighting;
- reducing some roadways to a single lane;
- and supplying intersections with a signal lighting system at junctions.
The audit is a unique approach in Arequipa because it is being carried out before the BRT system is built. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst to improve safety through the design of sustainable transport, not just in Peru, but globally.
Measuring the Impact
As we’ve written about before, there is a huge need for comprehensive and reliable data in the transport sector. EMBARQ is now working to complete a baseline study of health indicators related to public transport that will compare key indicators before and after the implementation of the city’s planned 23-kilometer BRT system. These types of studies quantify the public health improvements that can result from sustainable transport projects, such as BRT corridors, street pedestrianization or bike paths.
The health baseline study in Arequipa examines three key indicators:
- personal exposure to poor air quality;
- levels of physical activity;
- and road safety (i.e. infrastructure and traffic incident reports.)
A final report is due to be published this spring.
Public transit is disorganized in Arequipa, making travel a chaotic experience for passengers and pedestrians. On one route, says Settlemyre, who lives in Arequipa, there are numerous bus service providers who compete for bus passengers, constantly braking as they attempt to overtake other buses and get riders on and off as quickly as possible. Some passengers hang out of the doors, and although this behavior is not a leading cause of traffic accidents, the road safety audit still found that four passengers fell out of buses between 2007 and 2009. Once exiting the bus, it’s a battle to simply cross the street because of sporadically located traffic signals and pedestrian crossings.
The first stages of EMBARQ’s road safety audit brought together government entities that typically do not coordinate their work, and the collaboration produced helpful results. For example, the regional health organizations and the local police force worked together to catalog accident reports along the future route of the BRT system. The road safety audit showed that “over a three years period from 2007 to 2009 a total of 355 road traffic accidents were reported to the police as occurring on the project corridors.” The crashes caused 321 casualties with 26 percent involving pedestrians.
At last, Settlemyre says, government entities “do agree that there is a problem and now there is a much stronger team of groups who see that road safety is a huge concern for Arequipa.”