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‘Millions die due to inadequate walking, cycling facilities’

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
24 October 2016   |   2:18 am
A new United Nations Environment report has warned that lack of investment in safe walking and cycling infrastructure is contributing to the deaths of millions of people and overlooking a great opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change.  
National Cycling Policy

National Cycling Policy

UN urges countries to draft policies for non-motorised transport
A new United Nations Environment report has warned that lack of investment in safe walking and cycling infrastructure is contributing to the deaths of millions of people and overlooking a great opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change.  

In Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling, the United Nations (UN) urged countries to invest at least 20 per cent of their transport budgets in walking and cycling infrastructure to save lives, reverse pollution and reduce carbon emissions, which are rising at over 10 per cent a year.

The report surveyed the progress towards safer walking and cycling infrastructure in 20 low- to middle-income countries across Africa including Nigeria, Asia and Latin America, where compared with high-income countries, twice as many more people die in road traffic accidents.

Of the most dangerous countries to walk and cycle from the sample, four African countries topped the table. In Malawi, a total of 66 per cent of all road fatalities were pedestrians and cyclists; in Kenya 61 per cent; South Africa 53 per cent; Zambia 49 per cent; and in Nepal 49 per cent. Nigeria’s 30 per cent road fatalities rate was traced to pedestrians’ deaths.

Some 1.3 million people die each year on the roads, almost half of them pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Motorised transport is responsible for a quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is the fastest growing sector in greenhouse gas emissions – it will be responsible for a third of CO2 emissions by 2050 at current rates.

Poor air quality, in part due to vehicle emissions, is estimated to cause around seven million premature deaths each year and is increasing health problems like bronchitis, asthma, heart disease and brain damage.

The global fleet of private cars is projected to triple by 2050, with most of this new vehicle growth expected to take place in the same developing countries that are already hardest hit by road fatalities and injuries.

The UN report highlighted that about 30 per cent of Lagos’ mobility is on foot or by bicycle, the interaction between pedestrian and motorised vehicles in Lagos is unplanned and dangerous. “There is almost no recognition of this mode, with few segregated traffic facilities for pedestrians (such as walkways, zebra crossings, footbridges, underpasses and signs), and bicycle lanes.

“As a result, pedestrians share the roadway with motorised transport. Where efforts have been made to provide facilities, these are under-used because of poor enforcement; many walkways are used as parking lots, trading and storage areas for abandoned material.”

However, a National Cycling Policy and Strategy and a pedestrian manual do exist in draft form. At the federal or national level, there is no standalone policy on Non-Motorised Transport (NMT). Such a policy will require a paradigm shift from car-oriented to NMT systems. Nigeria has 36 states and a Federal capital; of these, only Lagos State is consciously developing a NMT policy.

The fundamental goal of the new Nigeria’s National Policy on Transportation is to develop an “adequate, safe, environmentally sound, efficient, affordable, preferred and integrated transport system within the framework of a progressive and competitive market economy. The purpose of the policy is to establish a framework that can guide the planning and development of transport activities in a systematic and sustainable manner for the social and economic development of Nigeria.”

The policy commits government to developing and implementing a strategy for public transport, that walking and cycling become a desired choice of travel for residents and reducing reliance on the private car. In addition, the Draft National Policy on Cycling 2014-2017 aims to “make our cities” roads cycle-friendly, and get 20 per cent of Nigerians cycling by choice before the end of 2016.

One of the respondents in the report, the Director, Road Transport and Mass Transit Administration, Federal Ministry of Transport, Dr. Anthonia Ekpa provided a vivid picture of the status of NMT in Nigeria. “The use of cars is based on a colonial legacy of associating motorised transportation with education, affluence and elevated status in society. Thus the attitude towards NMT tends to be negative, and the use of bicycles, walking, and other NMT modes are associated with the poor. As such, it is in rural areas (villages) or semi–urban communities populated by the urban poor where the use of bicycles is predominant. Even in such communities, the proliferation of motorcycles (popularly called okada) and tricycles (keke) has made it increasingly difficult for Nigerians to appreciate and value NMT.

“Many people were born into walking as a matter of necessity rather than choice. Now, bicycle riding and walking are considered symptomatic of poverty in Nigeria. Acquiring a car is a goal for most citizens who believe walking or riding a bicycle is less safe, less convenient, and less attractive, making the forecast decline of NMT a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“And in most instances, they are right about the inconvenience of NMT. In most cities, trees are not planted along the roads to give shade, hence cycling or walking under intense sun becomes burdensome. NMT travel times are long and unproductive, while there is considerable lack of facilities.

“The political attitude toward pedestrians is often neglectful or hostile. Pedestrian space is continually being eroded. The lack of policy on NMT means that motorists drive on pedestrian lanes with impunity, thereby endangering the lives of legitimate users.”