News Brief

U.N.: Walking and Cycling Infrastructure Is Urgent Health Priority

A report calls for countries to invest 20% of transportation budgets in infrastructure improvements to promote safety and mitigate climate change

Image: UN Environment
Every year, 1.3 million people die in road accidents, and nearly half of the fatalities are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling. Deaths are likely to increase in coming years given that the world’s fleet of private cars is expected to triple by 2050, with most of this growth occurring in developing countries.

UNEP is now calling for countries to create and implement local and national policies for non-motorized transport, and to invest 20% of their transportation budgets into infrastructure improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. Such investments can prevent fatalities and promote sustainable forms of transportation.

For the report, UNEP examined 20 low- to moderate-income countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and found that proportionately twice as many people die in road traffic accidents in these countries compared to rich countries. The existence of safe pedestrian infrastructure is a key factor in reducing pedestrian fatalities and decreasing air pollution.

“People are risking their lives every time they leave their homes,” says Erik Solheim, executive director of UNEP. “But it isn't just about accidents. Designing transport systems around cars puts more vehicles on the road, increasing both greenhouse gas emissions and deadly air pollution. We must put people, not cars, first in transport systems.”

Given that motorized transportation accounts for more than one-quarter of total global carbon dioxide emissions, encouraging non-motorized forms of transportation is essential for mitigating climate change. Walking and cycling also offer economic and social benefits as some of the least expensive and most widely available forms of transportation to low- and moderate-income people.

In many developing countries in particular, however, pedestrians and cyclists are at an extreme disadvantage on the road they must share with high-speed traffic. This makes it harder for such people to safely get to work or school and disproportionately impacts disadvantaged populations.

“Unless we act to make our roads safe, in ten years an estimated 13 million more people will have died on our roads—that is more than the entire population of Belgium,” says Solheim. “The human impact is horrific, but the impact on all of our survival must not be ignored.”

Published November 7, 2016

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