July 24, 2014

Aligning Road Safety and Transportation Management – Interview in PTV Group White Paper on Road Safety

PTV Group White Paper

The PTV Group’s latest white paper on road safety, How Can You Bring Your Vision Zero to Life?, discusses the profound negative effects of poor road safety around the world and explores many of the challenges facing cities as they seek to address these problems. The White Paper features input from a range of transit experts, including ITDP Co-Founder and Managing Director for Policy Michael Replogle. See the interview below and read the full White Paper here.

Michael, from your point of view, how do we deal with road safety today? Too often, road safety is considered as an afterthought. Where it is addressed in the basic engineering of transportation facilities, the design guidelines often go back 50 years or more to the middle of the last century and fail to take account of the growth of walking and cycling within a multimodal context. The more proactive nations such as Sweden, which has adopted an holistic, Vision Zero-type philosophy, are helping to re-shape our thinking such that safety is implemented at the earliest stages of infrastructure development and does more to protect vulnerable road users in particular.

What has to be done to change the situation globally? The list of factors which need to be considered is large and the interplays are complex. Whether a facility is green-field or existing, rural or urban, the modal mix and traffic densities and speeds all play a part. But even in cultures which have been traditionally car-centric, the Complete Streets concept is starting to take hold. This looks to accommodate all road users safely and the term has gained particular favour in the US, which is having to deal with the legacy of half a century of concentrating on the needs of the motor vehicle. The result of that single-mindedness has been to produce an unsafe environment for many travellers; even bus use has suffered, as for mass transit to be employed effectively access on foot has to be guaranteed.

Are there differences between developed and developing countries regarding the progress? Yes, we’re now several years into the Decade of Action on Road Safety and we’ve seen good progress in the wealthiest of countries. Vehicle design, infrastructure improvements which include better road geometries and safety barrier systems, enforcement against drunk driving and inappropriate use of speed, and higher overall levels of education and awareness have helped to significantly reduce numbers of people Killed or Seriously Injured [KSI]. In low- and middle- income countries, however, the picture is rather different and with forecast casualty rates increases of up to 80 percent the WHO recognizes that it faces a serious problem.

Earlier, you pointed out the Swedish example. What can we learn from it? Sweden’s Vision Zero approach is especially noteworthy because it stresses the importance of developing transport infrastructures in which the protection of human life and health takes precedent over all other transportation infrastructure goals. It recognises that humans are fallible and looks to redesign facilities and their operation to take account of this. Where similar strategies have been adopted in other parts of the world, they have helped to bring about major improvements in safety and there are a number of pillars of success. Design, enforcement, improved incident response and management, and training are all key.

What has to be done to move towards to Vision Zero? Infrastructure designers and operators bear the ultimate responsibility for safety but all stakeholders need to be involved – users, for instance, need to follow the rules set by developers. That can be addressed quite simply in some cases, such as by having adequate levels of signage and enforcement of speed limits. For pedestrians, there’s a 10-20 percent risk of death in a 30km/h collision.

That rises to 80 percent at 40-50km/h. So, we need increased institutional capacity to deal with these issues with the ultimate goal of creating safer, self-managing systems. A major issue is the numbers of young people within KSI figures. There are several reasons for this. The young tend to be more mobile but also more likely to use more vulnerable modes of mobility, such as walking or cycling for example. These people are their countries’ economic futures. Their deaths severely affect the ability of nations and families to prosper while their injuries, if severe, turn them from producers and providers into dependents on long-term care. That raises another important point: that we need to see road safety as a key element of sustainable development.

What should the transport sector do to improve the situation? Most of all, we have to break out of the institutional silos which have developed around transportation. The reality is that in most parts of the world we have several groups of people involved in transportation who all manage to exist separately. We have those who build, those who provide services – and are often from the private sector, we have those who police, and those in the health services. What we don’t have are the integrated institutional structures which are accountable for pulling all of those together. But globally we’ve now passed 50 percent urbanization and the challenge is to bring about that integration and implement the safety assessments which will also guarantee access to mobility, journey times, environmental responsibility, and so on. As well as being enshrined at the policy level, those auditing capabilities are also needed at the project level and we need to educate operators how to achieve good outcomes.

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