Urgent investment needed in walking and cycling infrastructure to save millions of lives and combat climate change


  • Of the 1.3 million people dying each year from traffic accidents, 49 per cent are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists
  • Malawi, Kenya, and South Africa most dangerous countries to walk and cycle
  • Motorized transport responsible for 23 per cent of global CO2 emissions

In Malawi, a total of 66 per cent of all road fatalities were pedestrians and cyclists; in Kenya 61 per cent; South Africa 53 per cent; Zambia 49 per cent; and in Nepal 49 per cent

Lack of investment in safe walking and cycling infrastructure is contributing to the deaths of millions of people and overlooking a great opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change, a new UN Environment report says today.

In Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling, UN Environment calls on countries to invest at least 20 per cent of their transport budgets in walking and cycling infrastructure to save lives, reverse pollution and reduce carbon emissions, which are rising at over ten per cent a year.

“People are risking their lives every time they leave their homes,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “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.”

The report surveyed the progress towards safer walking and cycling infrastructure in 20 low- to middle-income countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, where compared with high-income countries, twice as many more people die in road traffic accidents.

Of the most dangerous countries to walk and cycle from the sample, four African countries topped the table. In Malawi, a total of 66 per cent of all road fatalities were pedestrians and cyclists; in Kenya 61 per cent; South Africa 53 per cent; Zambia 49 per cent; and in Nepal 49 per cent.

Some 1.3 million people die each year on the roads, almost half of them pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Motorized transport is responsible for a quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is the fastest growing sector in greenhouse gas emissions – it will be responsible for a third of CO2 emissions by 2050 at current rates.

Poor air quality, in part due to vehicle emissions, is estimated to cause around seven million premature deaths each year and is increasing health problems like bronchitis, asthma, heart disease and brain damage.

The global fleet of private cars is projected to triple by 2050, with most of this new vehicle growth expected to take place in the same developing countries that are already hardest hit by road fatalities and injuries.

In line with current trends, not only will this result in a staggering increase in road fatalities globally, but the increase in carbon-polluting cars will severely restrict the world’s ability to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 2°C.

“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. The human impact is horrific, but the impact on all of our survival must not be ignored,” Mr Solheim added.

UN Environment is urging countries to:

·        Draft national and local policies for Non-motorized Transport (NMT), and if they already exist, immediately act to implement them.
·        Increase spending on walking and cycling infrastructure to at least 20 per cent of transport budgets.
·        Ask NMT users where they walk and ride – pay particular focus to vulnerable users, such as women, children, elderly and people with mobility challenges.
·        Actively champion NMT – political will is not only about policies, it is about giving walking and cycling equal status to private cars.

Percentage breakdown for pedestrians and cyclists from the total number of road deaths per country:

·        In Malawi: 49% pedestrian fatality rate | 14-17% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 66%
·        In Kenya: 47% pedestrian | 14% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 61%
·        In South Africa: 50% pedestrian | 3% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 53%
·        In Zambia: 37% pedestrian | 12% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 49%
·        In Nepal: 49% pedestrian | – total walking and cycling deaths 49%
·        In Uganda: 40% pedestrian | 8% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 48%
·        In Chile (Santiago): 39% pedestrian | 8% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 47%
·        In Ghana: 42% pedestrian | 5% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 47%
·        In South Korea: 39% pedestrian | 5% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 44%
·        In Bangladesh: 32% pedestrian | 11% cyclists – total walking and cycling deaths 43%

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


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