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23.11.2020 Opinion

Pedestrianization Of Communities: The Need For Sidewalks For Safe Mobility

By Michael Osei Owusu || Transport And Road Safety Consultant)
Pedestrianization Of Communities: The Need For Sidewalks For Safe Mobility
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“In terms of mobility the pedestrian mode scores over all others, being able to cover [arguably] almost any terrain and divert at will.” Hugh McClintock

Mobility is not something that we can give up on, it has always been part of human life and the force behind human endeavors. It is evidently a characteristic trait coded to our very DNA, manifesting in all aspects of our lives, hence the saying “Mobility is essential to the survival of the human race”.

People would want to walk to anywhere they can, and a comfortable, inviting, and safe environment should be provided for them. There are many reasons why people walk: to run errands, to visit neighbors, to go to local stores, to take their children to the local park, for exercise, or even for the sheer enjoyment of being a pedestrian.

Children should be able to walk to school or their friends’ houses. It is worth noting that since walking is a basic human activity, every person may be a pedestrian at a point in time, and thus the risk of pedestrian crashes affects all.

Sidewalks are “pedestrian lanes” that provide people with space to travel within the public. Pedestrianization is the construction of a place for use by pedestrians only. Sidewalks or walkways provide places for cycling, skating, and handicapped among others. Sidewalks are associated with significant reductions in pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles. Such facilities also improve mobility for pedestrians and provide access for all types of pedestrian travel: to and from home, work, schools, shopping areas, transit stops, etc.

Due to the lack of safe pedestrian walkways, cycling, and disability-friendly sidewalks, people are forced to use motorized means of transportation which make the implications for road safety even more astonishing. A higher percentage of pedestrian crashes are associated with deficient roadway designs. Pedestrians and motorists often contribute to pedestrian crashes through a disregard or lack of understanding of laws on safe driving and walking behavior by the road. Because most crashes are a result of human error, crashes will not be eliminated as long as pedestrians and vehicles share the same space.

The consequences of these crashes are exacerbated by speeding, failing to yield, or failing to check both directions for traffic and most pedestrians’ inability to appreciate or judge a vehicle’s speed. Education, enforcement, and engineering policies are needed to manage the conflict between pedestrians and drivers.

Roadway improvements reduce the likelihood of pedestrian crashes. Physical improvements are most effective when tailored to a particular location and traffic problem. Factors considered when choosing an improvement include location characteristics, pedestrian and vehicle volume and types, vehicle speed, and design of a given location.

However, a lack of city or community road construction vision and incompetence have often resulted in road infrastructure being completed without the pedestrian in mind, compelling citizens to take the law into their hands to fiercely make unapproved road humps/speed ramps to reduce speeding and pedestrian knockdown drastically. The effect of these unapproved ramps is the enormous inconvenience to vehicles in some places and causing serious accidents at other places.

It is quite unfortunate how Ghanaian communities are planned and designed without pedestrian walkways, overpasses, or underpasses where necessary. I am always burdened, even saddened that the leadership, stakeholders of cities, and road engineers have not fathomed that walking is such a basic human activity, as it has frequently been overlooked in the quest to build motorized transportation systems. It should always be assumed that people will walk, jog, skate, cycle, or even move with loved ones in wheelchairs along public roads and plans should be made to accommodate these pedestrians.

While traditional transport policies have concentrated on the movement of cars, city planners, and road engineers should now turn towards the movement of people as their key aim for designing cities, communities, and especially roads. Cars have historically tended to be given greater priority than non-motorized transport in transportation planning because of their greater size and speed.

Having mentioned that every human being may be a pedestrian at any time, we must with all seriousness as a nation have a deeper sense of thought on pedestrian safety with all urgency by creating safe and guided pedestrian walkways, disability-friendly facilities, and other non-motorized facilities within our communities as well as pedestrian overpasses/underpasses for safe road crossing.

One may ask why a person driving to an out-of-town supermarket should be given any greater priority than a person cycling 2 kilometers to the local shop. Both individuals are gaining the same benefit from their trips, even though the economic and environmental costs of the two journeys are so widely different. There is no concern for safe bicycle usage in our communities, therefore, the lack of safe designated cycling routes for cyclists.

It seems we have lost sight of the vision and the understanding that the link between land use planning and transport planning is so important. We have left everything about transportation to “good luck” and, it is too shallow an assumption and quite myopic in our thinking as Ghanaians and especially of our leadership. The real issue at stake is society’s deep-seated dependence on the car and its associated issues of oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of a lack of a safe common place for persons afoot to use without using the roadway, many drivers have become undisciplined and have no respect and tolerance to accommodate pedestrians.

Research and statistics are very crucial to our planning and development as it especially informs the decisions and choices we make as people. If our leaders of state institutions are serious and responsible as citizens and not spectators, as “spectatorship and lack of vision have always been our case”, we should by now have pedestrianized most of our roads and designed new roads with highly safe walkways and cycling routes to reduce accidents, because crash statistics published consistently over the years by the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), and other stakeholders are quite alarming.

Statistics of pedestrian knockdown from January 2019 to September, 2020 show that a total of 1,196 pedestrians were knocked down, 962 people were injured to various degrees and 234 people were killed, not forgetting the unreported cases. My dismay is that government, as well as state institutions, are supposed to do everything in favor of the citizens especially the ordinary people yet they are the very ones affected the most! This overwhelming statistic is an indication that any effective strategy or policy aimed at ensuring road safety for pedestrians and non-motorized transportation must be aimed at providing safer non-motorized segregated facilities. We must take all road users into account, drivers, as well as pedestrians, the rich as well as the poor.

Unless we could suppose it possible that a bitter fountain could send forth sweet waters, or, that a cause could produce effects dissimilar from itself, our feeble-minded, bad attitudes, lame enforcement of road safety standards is a failure on arrival and it is nowhere near improvement. The overriding obsession with cars has led to a complete decline in the safety and attractiveness of walking and cycling in the cities and even in our communities. A shift in mindset is desperately needed to ensure that roads everywhere serve the needs of and are safe for all who use them, including pedestrians.

Although facilities for pedestrians can, in many cases, reduce the risk of pedestrian collisions, the crash reduction is not the only reason for providing such facilities. Other benefits of pedestrian facilities include improved access to destinations by walking, better air quality due to less dependence on automobiles, and improved public health. Government and state institutions/authorities have the responsibility of providing facilities for all means of travel, including walking.

We shouldn’t turn our blind side to accidents, considering its alarming rates of death, injuries, and maiming which has quite a negative impact on the nation's human capital. Walking and cycling as a means of transportation which would meet many of our needs are the best, but are hardly used.

Communities that support balanced transportation make walking and public transit attractive options. Sidewalks should be part of every new public road construction or road infrastructure development and every effort should be made to retrofit or refurbish public roads and community streets that currently do not have them. I am, therefore, appealing to the authorities in Ghana to take charge of all lands, or liaise with the chiefs and administrators of stool lands to ensure that before any site is due for development, every needful thing for safe transportation is taken into consideration since the planning stage of new development or settlement is the best time to incorporate space for segregated rail tracks, separate busways and pedestrian walkways. With this reasoning, it makes good sense to allow transport to be at least one of the dictates of land use.

References:

McClintock, H. (2002), Planning for Cycling. Woodhead Publishing Limited, UK.

Faulks R. W. (1999), International Transport. Kogan Page Ltd, USA, 5e.

MICHAEL OSEI OWUSU

(Transport and Road Safety Consultant)

ACE TRANSPORT & ROAD SAFETY CONSULT LTD.

Mob: 00233 245 885 225

Email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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