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More Urbanites, More Cars: The Challenge of Urban Road Safety and Health

This post originally appeared on TheCityFix.com.

As more and more people move into cities, more cars are also hitting the streets. These vehicles not only spew greenhouse gas emissions, they can cause urban traffic fatalities. We already see 1.2 million traffic-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, Holger Dalkmann, Director of WRI’s EMBARQ Center for Sustainable Transport, and Claudia Adriazola-Steil, EMBARQ Director of the Health & Road Safety Program, highlighted last week in Washington, DC some key findings and actions to reduce urban traffic fatalities. Here are some highlights:

More Cities, More Urbanites, More Cars

Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban environments. The number of urbanites is increasing, with most of the growth in Africa and Asia. By 2050, 70 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 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 Traveled

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 done with private cars and the overall distance traveled regardless of the transportation mode. Cities – dynamic places that concentrate people who need mobility – are where the challenges and opportunities lie.

Structural Changes in Countries and Cities as Part of the Solution

When cities grow horizontally, commuting distances lengthen, subsequently increasing traffic fatalities (among other unfortunate effects like air pollution, loss of physical activity, and congestion). Cities need to stay compact and people-oriented rather than car-oriented. They need to offer ways to walk and bike as integral parts of transportation systems, in addition to cost-effective public transportation alternatives to individual motorized transport.

Successful projects at the local level are important to showcase that we can reduce the number of fatalities. Once the solution has been proven on the ground, we must seek broader commitments from national and local governments. Considering the number of people that will live in cities in the coming years, we have to lead cities to become a main player for creating safer, more human-focused spaces.

When cities are designed for people—not cars—safer mobility options such as integrated mass transportation, biking, walking, and car sharing can be provided.

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. They’ve offered capacity-building workshops, technical guidance, and assistance in 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.

For examples of safe, effective Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), 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 by conducting road safety audits and engineering simulations, providing technical support, and planning five BRT corridors that will 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. To maintain these engines, we need to preserve the flow of people and goods through safe and efficient transportation. Well-planned cities that offer multiple sustainable mobility options will improve urbanites' quality of life and provide access to opportunities.

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