Show me how your roads are designed...and i will let you know the death toll of your country


Even though diseases such as ebola, or the asian flu, or cancer, or hiv,or plane crashes, are considered worldwide to be the most major causes of death, reality is quite different according to statistics. During 2016, (which is the last year that we have available data from the World Health Organization), car crashes killed globally 1.35 million people.

Car crashes are underestimated as a cause of death worldwide, but the truth according to numbers, is that car accidents is the number one reason of killing people, between 5 to 29 years old.

What is common among countries with a high-income, is that in order to reduce the number of deaths due to car accidents, or people being injured, they spend lots of money on car safety tests, and they promote stricter drunk-driving laws, as a way of eliminating the problem. But even though, improvements have been done and car safety advances has brought a new era in the streets, still, car accidents remain a major cause of killings, all around the world.

The answer is that instead of describing what the expected, and most anticipated pedestrian behaviour should be, it is better to design the roads we already have, from scratch. The roads we use to walk or drive upon, are dangerous anyway, only because they were from start designed to be so. It is not a joke, that when the motor vehicle was at first, initiated in the streets of the U.S., within a period of 30 years, the deaths have risen from 26 to 29.592, according to statistics. So what engineers, thought it would be the best idea to deal with this problem, was to make the streets, and the highways wider, because that would allow cars, to move with a higher speed. When those streets became congested with traffic as well, engineers responded with even more construction, and this way they ended up in creating the unilateral automotive culture from which we suffer nowadays. 

Traffic lanes became wider and gave even more space to drivers. Due to this highway construction targeted to help drivers, pedestrians were left  without any provision at all. Many sidewalks became completely non-useful, as destinations became so far away between them, that walking them was not an option. 

So this contruction of the streets was car-focused, and not pedestrian-focused. Highways and roads, became wider than necessary, and thus, led to higher speed and also a very big distance between the driver and a potential pedestrian. This isolation of drivers in the streets, focused to promote a driver's ease against a pedestrian's one, deprived from car drivers the interaction they would have with cyclists, and walking people. This interaction, would allow a safer driving behaviour and a limited speed.

So the conclusion we can reach to, is that the only reason why some countries such as Norway for example, tend to be a walking and cycling paradise, is not because they focus uniquely on car-safety and strict laws, which ofcourse brought a higher level of safety worldwide comparing to former decades, but mostly because they focus on re-designing their streets.

We can call this a miracle, but during 2019, there was zero deaths of cyclists and pedestrians in Oslo. And that is mainly because Norwegians, eliminated importantly the roads to which someone could drive. The city center of Oslo is almost a non-car place. There have also been obstacles to car-parking, which means that cycling-streets are totally respected. Bike-lanes, bus-lanes and pedestrian space is clearly spaced, and there is not an "easy-way" for an accident to happen. Still, Norwegians are not triumphing for this great achievement. They insist, that real victory would be to achieve the level of zero street injuries, caused by car accidents.

So if those low-tech solutions, that are mostly targeting on re-designing the streets we already have, had such great results in some countries, then there is no wonder what would happen, if they start to be combined with high-tech solutions, such as driverless-cars (a driving-method firstly anticipated in China). Autonomous vehicles will be programmed anyway, to maintain safe speeds, no matter under which condition driving would be.

The only question we need to ask ourselves, is for how long will we put up with roads made to favour danger against safety, considering the fact we now have all the necessary data, to know how easy it would be for all the countries in the world, to achieve a walking and cycling paradise, when at the same time they would lessen if not made zero, the number of killings by car accidents.

                                                     written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science 


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