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How sustainable transport is saving lives in the developing world

Sustainable transport initiatives have gained traction in recent years in developing-world cities. This trend can be seen in the growth in Bus Rapid Transit and Busway systems across the globe, the new bike-sharing scheme [Spanish] in Mexico City and the investment in cycling networks in Turkish cities, to name just a few examples. However, such initiatives often are developed at the expense of what should be a key component in their planning — traffic safety.

While sustainable transport initiatives are usually proposed and evaluated based on their impact on travel times, local air quality, accessibility or greenhouse gas emissions, their potential traffic safety impacts often are overlooked.

A new publication from EMBARQ highlights this issue, exploring the existing literature on the safety impacts of sustainable transport, primarily from the United States and Europe, and adding examples from Latin America and South Asia. The evidence suggests that projects that reduce traffic — such as congestion charging — and those that improve infrastructure — such as high-quality mass-transport systems — can have a positive impact on traffic safety, in addition to numerous other co-benefits.

Safety impacts of mass transport

Take the TransMilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogota, Colombia. This system is often hailed as an innovative model for mass transport, particularly among cities in the developing world. In addition to its well-documented impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and travel times, the first TransMilenio corridor on the arterial road Avendia Caracas has had an equally significant though under-acknowledged role in improving traffic safety. Findings show that the BRT has contributed to an estimated 50 percent reduction in traffic fatalities on the avenue, helping to avoid more than 200 traffic deaths during its first nine years of operation.

The TransMilenio is not the only BRT system that dramatically has improved traffic safety. BRT and other transit priority projects in Guadalajara, Mexico; Mexico City; Ahmedabad, India; and Melbourne, Australia similarly have curbed traffic crashes and fatalities, while improving the quality of transport in their respective cities. This improved safety record is due mainly to the changes in street infrastructure typically needed to accommodate a BRT, such as creating a central median, making crosswalks shorter and reducing the number of mixed traffic lanes — all of which tend to contribute to fewer crashes.
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