Spending taxpayer money for transport and quality of life

On Wednesday of this week Gabrielle Herman, a researcher with ITDP-Europe posted a call for help to the Global South/Sustran working group asking for statistical information on “what current road infrastructure budget allocations look like in terms of road safety”. World Streets Sentinel Morten Lange responded from Reykjavik, challenging the project team to rethinking their approach. (And your comments on this are warmly welcome here.)

Some additional quick background to set the stage for Morten’s comments. Gabriel Hermann has been asked to prepare a section for the forthcoming UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme ) paper, “Share the Road: Minimum 10% for Safety, Sustainability, and Accessibility”, funded by the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society. The FIA site is at http://www.fiafoundation.org/. The UNEP site at www.unep.org . That of the ITDP Europe – http://www.itdp-europe.org/


Reykjavik Iceland, 3 September 2009

Hi Gabrielle Hermann,

I am sorry that I cannot answer your question on specific examples of 10% spending on infrastructure for NMT. (Hmm, wait ,I have heard that Copenhagen spends a large portion of the road budget on cycling, and the same must hold true in many Dutch settings. No concrete figures or references though )

But your request did spark the following suggestion for a wholly different approach on the matter.

I think the first item on the agenda should be to do some investigation and critical thinking into different approaches to achieving improved road safety for Healthy Transport (HT), or Human Powered Transport (HPT).

It is paramount that the Global South does not copy the mistakes of the North, although some of statistics suggest that segregation and expensive infrastructure is working. At what price have they been working? Materials, huge costs, enormous land-use, and land degradation, pollution, at times long detours for cyclists and pedestrians, improved access for cars, bad health problems because of lack of exercise as part of the daily routine, blame the (HT) victims if they are run over, overdependence on very expensive and very unsustainable cars etc, etc.

Furthermore the situation in the Global South is completely different from the countries with the lowest figures for the number of deaths yearly per 100.000 inhabitants. The modal split is an ocean apart from what Sweden or the UK has, and thinking that modals splits should change in the Global South to mimic the North would be a big mistake.

Healthy Transport (HT) and Human Powered Transport (HPT) are not generally used as concepts, I think, but I suggest these concepts or something of the sort be taken up as alternatives to the term non-motorized transport NMT, or vulnerable road users, mainly because they define cycling, walking et al positively, not as something “other” than cars etc.

In evaluating the different approaches I suggest that the potential for win-win situations figure very prominently. Does the approach

– improve accessibility and efficiency for HT/HPT
– improve the competitiveness of HT/HPT
– reduce greenhouse gas emissions
– reduce other pollution to air, water, soil + noise pollution
– improve the psychological / aesthetic environment
– increase the livability and / or attractiveness
– entail flexibility and cooperation or rigid rules, with sharp edges
– use resources in a close to optimal way
– help the car, oil and tire lobby

Road safety “activists” (Is it fitting to call FIA an activist?) often overfocus on just that, and “forget” to see the whole picture. The road safety problem is one in a big set of problems that have to do with the overuse of the car, and in part the overuse or wrong use of roadgoing motorized transport.

The largest public health problem connected with transport is probably sedentary lifestyles and the resulting obesity, and a long range of life-threatening diseases. Some are associated with obesity, others not. It is estimated that in the US 40.000 die in road accidents, and 400.000 from obesity. It has been suggested that half of the 400.000 stems from sedentary lifestyles, not getting the daily gentle exercise that cyclists and walkers get. WHO has publishes a large study showing that in many major Europeans cities fumes and suspended particulate matter ( mainly from cars exhaust pipes ) kill substantially more people than road accidents.

I and many others are looking to solutions that slow down cars, and change the aesthetics of places so that they are more similar to cozy streets than the tracks for racing in computer games.

Bring down the speeds of cars. Plant trees and bushes along roads. Bring life to the streets. Some experiments in urban settings with taking the infrastructure, including signs and traffic lights away, have been successful. Motorists and HT / HPT start to interact. Accidents have been reduced.

Another approach in roughly the same vein, and then regarding cyclists specifically, is to paint bike-and-chevron markings in the streets. The markings remind both cyclists and motorists that cyclists are welcome on the streets. Very cheap, and effective in improving interactions between drivers and cyclists as well as safety. And a small piece of bicycle advocacy that is a constant reminder to all. Used in Paris, San-Francisco, recently in Reykjavik, and in many other cities. (e.g. in Australia and North America )

Rural settings and some major roads in cities can demand different solutions. There higher speeds of cars can have its merits and separation will increase the accessibility and competitiveness HT / HPT. But the lessons from urban areas should still be kept in mind. Big detours or bad designs or lousy maintenance should be avoided.

I am sorry if my style conveys that I purport some great authority on the subject. That was not my intention. I wish the proponents of segregation and expensive infrastructure would also include similar disclaimers :-)

If anyone wants references to studies that support my claims, I guess many on the list will be able to help, including myself.

Best Regards,

Morten Lange,
Reykjavik Iceland (and a former resident of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania)

Some background:
Original note of Gabrielle Hermann to the Global South/Sustran group under the title ” Road Safety Infrastructure Spending devoted NMT–project examples and figures needed!” – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sustran-discuss/message/5535

The author:
Morten Lange describes himself as “as advocate for cycling and other health transport (in my spare time and then some)”. He lives, works and pedals in Reykjavik Iceland

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