It is the responsibility of both the national and municipal governments to assure pedestrian safety, which is a fundamental human right. In this brief article, Louis Kusi Frimpong addresses the relationship between a lack of pedestrian infrastructure and health outcomes, as well as some pedestrian infrastructure required to enhance pedestrian safety on roads in Africa
Walking remains an important form of transport for most people in Africa. In many communities, people interact and engage in daily social and economic activities through walking. Walking and other forms of non-motorised transport such as bicycling are adopted by many households to reduce the expenditure on transportation. Additionally, people combine walking with motorised forms of transport to get to their destinations. For instance, it is common to find people in African cities walking from their homes to bus stations or main roads to board public transport.
Despite the important role of walking for many households in African cities, there has been minimal investment in pedestrian infrastructure. Considerable attention is always given to motorised transport infrastructure with little attention to road users. In many African countries, it is common to find roads without sidewalks, poor road markings, congested roads with motorists, vendors, and pedestrians fighting for space, and a lack of streetlights to enhance safety and security for pedestrians at night. This situation presents considerable risks to pedestrians and often leads to protests by residents for better pedestrian infrastructure. For instance, in 2020 residents of Madina and Adenta in Accra demonstrated over lack of footbridges which led to road fatalities and injuries on the main Madina-Adenta highway.
The Lack of Pedestrian Infrastructure Impacts the Health of Urban Residents
According to WHO research, 40 per cent of fatalities in vehicle accidents in Africa involve pedestrians. In sub-Saharan Africa, pedestrian road accidents are the main cause of fatalities and disabilities. According to predictions, there will be 514,000 pedestrian road fatalities in Africa by 2030, up from 243,000 in 2015. With this increase, the region’s road deaths will surpass those from malaria in terms of number. Inadequate pedestrian facilities and poor road design are among the risk factors for many pedestrian road accidents. According to a report by the International Road Assessment Programme, less than 10 per cent of the roads in sub-Saharan Africa have sidewalks and footbridges. A good example is Ghana’s George W. Bush Highway, which was completed in 2012. Due to the lack of footbridges on this highway, pedestrians had no choice but to cross the highway to residential areas on either side. As a result, there was a significant number of pedestrian road accidents on this highway.
Aside from road fatalities, poor and inadequate pedestrian infrastructure often inconveniences road users leading to a low desire to walk. Thus, it can reduce physical activity and increase the risk of getting diseases such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. Indeed, low physical activity is a rising health concern in most developing countries. Already, many African countries are struggling in dealing with the usual communicable diseases such as malaria, cholera, and diarrhoea. In addition, increased air pollution and concentration of on-road particulate matter as a result of dusty roads also increases the risk of pedestrians’ respiratory infections.
Why Do Poor Communities Bear the Brunt of Poor Pedestrian Infrastructure?
The most vulnerable section of society bears the most brunt when it comes to poor pedestrian infrastructure, especially the health risk that it poses. In many African countries, poor people mostly walk to places where they work or earn a living. Indeed, the high cost of transportation deters many from boarding commercial transport. Thus, they are more likely to be involved in pedestrian road accidents. Moreover, children from poor homes and communities walk to school on daily basis, making them vulnerable to pedestrian road accidents. Further, most poor residential communities in Africa have roads untarred which also exposes members of these communities to respiratory tract infections. According to a South African study, on-road vehicle particulate-matter emissions are mostly concentrated in low-income residential areas, where they contribute between 4 per cent and 16 per cent to ambient pollution and 9 per cent to 55 per cent to interior particulate concentrations.
When they are injured in vehicle accidents, the urban poor does not have easy access to medical care. On the one hand they are unable to pay for medical care since it is expensive and not covered by any comprehensive health insurance, on the other hand, the state of the health infrastructure and service delivery is rather poor. If people are physically disabled as a result of traffic accidents, there are often no welfare packages available for them. This frequently has a crippling effect on the family when they are the sole source of income.
Enhancing Pedestrian Safety Through Pedestrian-friendly Infrastructures
In most African cities, there is an urgent need to invest in pedestrian infrastructure due to the rising number of road incidents involving pedestrians. As a result, it will be necessary to upgrade the current road system and incorporate suitable pedestrian infrastructure into brand-new road projects. Based on their effectiveness in minimising pedestrian road accidents in nations in South America and Asia, three basic types of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure are recommended. These include:
- Pedestrian crossings: These are the places on the road where drivers must give pedestrians the right of way. This consists of a mix of pavement and road markings, signals, and road signage. It must also be emphasised that using pedestrian crossings necessitates some education on the part of both pedestrians and motorists, as they must be aware of the significance of the pavement markings, side-mounted signage, and road signs.
- Road calming measures: These are regulatory and engineering measures used to slow down motorists on specific sections of a road. Some road calming measures include speed limits either indicated as signage or painted on roads, speed rumps, speed cushions, road humps, and narrowing of roads within large or busy human settlements. For road calming measures to be effective, there is the need for education of motorists and enforcement.
- Pedestrian walking facilities: These include sidewalks and walkways, also known as ‘pedestrian lanes’. They are separated from the roadways and allow pedestrians to walk, ride bikes, and skate. Pedestrian safety can be improved through an expanded sidewalk, which is separated from the road by bollards. Other pedestrian walking facilities that are also needed are footbridges and streetlights
Walking or biking are significant parts of everyday life in most cities around the world. There are many possibilities to enhance the safety of pedestrians and in light of rising accidents and growing cities, it is time to react and make walking and biking safe for everybody.