More urbanites, more cars: the challenge of urban road safety and health
Pleasant cities can be natural places for physical activity, witnessed in Istanbul’s lively streets. Photo by HBarrison.

Pleasant cities can be natural places for physical activity, witnessed in Istanbul’s lively streets. Photo by HBarrison.

As more and more people move into cities, more cars are also hitting the streets. That, unfortunately, is not all they will be hitting if we do not organize against urban traffic fatalities. We already see 1.2 million traffic crash-related deaths per year worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, with increased urbanization and motorization, road fatalities are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.

What are some of the key drivers of urban traffic fatalities? What can be done to reduce fatalities through sustainable urban development and sustainable urban mobility? What are successful examples of projects to reduce road fatalities in cities?

At the invitation of The Brookings Institution and the FIA Foundation, EMBARQ Director Holger Dalkmann and EMBARQ Director of the Health & Road Safety Program, Claudia Adriazola-Steil, highlighted today in Washington, DC some key findings and key actions for EMBARQ in the campaign to reduce urban traffic fatalities and other negative impacts. Here are some highlights:

More cities, more urbanites, more cars

Today more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban environments. The number of urbanites is growing – with most of the growth in Africa and Asia – and by 2050 75 percent of people are expected to live in cities. At the same time, the number of cars – too often a symbol of individual success – is set to hit the astonishing number of 2 billion worldwide by 2020 if we stay on a business-as-usual track. The collision of these two trends—urbanization and personal motorization—will make for a very different traffic safety challenge in the future.

The threat of more vehicles and longer distance travelled

A key driver of the increase in traffic fatalities is the increased distance traveled in individual motorized vehicles: the more cars on the road and the farther they travel, the more deaths. To save lives we need to both reduce the share of travel that is done with private cars, and reduce the overall distance travelled regardless of the transportation mode. Cities – dynamic places that concentrate people that need mobility – are where the challenges and opportunities lie.

Structural changes in countries and cities as part of the solution

Successful projects at the local level are important to showcase that we can reduce the number of fatalities. However, once the solution has been proven on the ground – which it has been – broader commitment from national and local governments should be sought. Considering the number of people that will live in cities in the coming years, we have to lead cities to become a main player to create safer and more human spaces.

When cities grow horizontally the distances to go to work and to go back home increase, subsequently increasing traffic fatalities (among other unfortunate effects like air pollution, loss of physical activity, congestion). Cities need to stay compact and people-oriented (as opposed to car-oriented), offering ways to walk and bike as integral parts of transportation systems, in addition to cost-effective public transportation alternatives to individual motorized transport.

Developing a suite of mobility options

Within cities designed for people, mobility options safer than the car can be provided such as integrated mass transportation, biking, walking, and car sharing.

What are some successful examples?

EMBARQ Turkey is working with cities like Sakarya, Antalya, and Eskisehir to recapture the bicycle as a mode of transport. Their work has included capacity-building workshops, technical guidance, and assistance implementing high quality bicycling lanes and infrastructure. Striving to make these cities more walkable and vibrant, EMBARQ Turkey has also played a role in the pedestrianization of Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula, a United Nations World Heritage site home to thousands of residents, workers, and tourists. EMBARQ is now helping to plan and program the areas to ensure their sustained vibrancy.

For examples of safe and high quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in major cities, we can look to Brazil. With auto and motorcycle ownership tripling over the last decade in Brazil, and traffic crashes on the rise, providing high quality mass transit and a safe environment for walking has come to the forefront of transportation policy. Though they are huge metropolises, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte have very few high capacity transit lines. In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, EMBARQ Brazil is working to help these cities through road safety auditing, engineering simulations, and technical support and planning on five Bus Rapid Transit corridors set to cover 138 kilometers and safely carry more than 2 million passengers per day.

Cities are engines of growth, accounting for 80 percent of the world’s GDP. We need to preserve the flow of people and goods through safe and efficient transportation to keep them these engines of growth. Well-planned cities that offer multiple sustainable mobility options will improve the quality of life of urbanites and their equitable access to opportunities.


To learn more about successful approaches to health and road safety in cities worldwide you can read the EMBARQ report “Our approach to health and road safety, Re-thinking the way we move in cities.” or contact Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Director, Health & Road Safety Program at EMBARQ.


Benoit Colin also contributed to this piece.

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