FIA Foundation urges ‘safe streets for all’ at Habitat III Barcelona forum
Designing safe urban streets for all road users was on the agenda at the Habitat III forum on public spaces, held in Barcelona as part of the global process towards agreeing the ‘New Urban Agenda’.
The FIA Foundation hosted a session on policies for encouraging walking and cycling at the international conference, which was opened by the Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau and the UN Habitat director Joan Clos. The Foundation’s side event convened speakers from the World Resources Institute, Greenpeace, Walk21, injury prevention NGO Amend and the Royal Automobile Club of Catalunya (RACC).
The FIA Foundation’s Director, Saul Billingsley, moderated the session and opened by emphasising the opportunity presented by the new Sustainable Development Goals and the Habitat III process to re-imagine the public space in cities and to ensure streets are designed and used equitably and effectively. He highlighted the cross-cutting benefits of investment in urban walking and cycling, for health, reduced road traffic injuries, tackling air pollution, reducing car dependence and encouraging low-carbon trips. The FIA Foundation is supporting a range of programmes, with partners including the UN Environment Programme, World Resources Institute, UNICEF and the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) to support countries and cities in providing safer streets for all road users, and particularly for children.
For the World Resources Institute, Ben Welle, Senior Associate for Health & Road Safety, described the benefits of re-engineering streets and reducing speed limits to encourage and fairly accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and deliver a road safety Safe System in urban areas. He described some of the achievements of urban designers in cities including connected bicycle lanes in Rio, ensuring safe pedestrian access to mass transit in Ahmedabad and traffic calming measures in Medellin. Ben Welle highlighted WRI’s policy guide ‘Cities Safe By Design’. Implementation of recommendations from the guide is now being supported in cities across the world through the Bloomberg Philanthropies road safety programme and also by the FIA Foundation.
The health and societal benefits of walking were stressed by Bronwen Thornton, Development Director of Walk21, who pointed out that the modal share of walking is around 28% of trips and features as a component of most trips made by other modes, such as mass transit. It was important that policymakers recognised this, particularly when planning for accessibility to public transport hubs and connections. Too often the needs and safety of pedestrians were being neglected.
This concern was echoed by Jeffrey Witte, Executive Director of Amend, an injury prevention NGO working in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of children walk to school in Africa yet provision of pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and safe crossings is limited. In schools surveyed by Amend up to 3% of children are being injured by vehicles every year. Jeffrey Witte highlighted the need for scaled-up provision of traffic calming, speed enforcement and street re-design to tackle this growing epidemic.
The connection between street design and the climate change agenda was the focus of a presentation by Mariano Gonzalez Tejada, a climate & energy campaigner for Greenpeace Spain. He argued that emissions from vehicles would need to be significantly reduced if the objectives set at the COP21 climate summit were to be achieved. Urban planning would have an important role to play in reducing car dependence and enabling a shift to low carbon transport.
For the RACC, Executive Director Miquel Nadal agreed that more needed to be done to reduce car use in cities, to improve air quality, reduce road traffic injuries and tackle greenhouse emissions. But citing the example of Barcelona, and plans to reorganise traffic through the introduction of ‘super blocks’, he warned that change brings winners and losers – while some streets would see a reduction in traffic and an improved local environment, others could experience greater traffic flows, congestion and air pollution. Street design needed to be carefully prepared and fairly implemented. He also argued that future improvements in vehicle energy efficiency and – particularly with the impetus generated by the Volkswagen scandal – in air quality should be taken into account when calculating the economic benefits of new mass transit, for example.
Mobility policies were also on the agenda in other sessions of the conference. A plenary session heard from transport officials from cities including Barcelona, Bogota, Paris and Hamburg about the growing emphasis on policies to encourage active mobility, including street design and bike hire programmes. In her opening statement Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau stressed that access to mobility was a human right for all, and one that cities should be in the forefront of promoting.
The Barcelona Habitat meeting concluded with a ‘Barcelona Declaration’ with recommendations which will feed into the Habitat III negotiations on a text for the ‘New Urban Agenda’.