Democratising Design: getting streets for people

EthiopiaAcross the world, but worst in the poorest nations, road infrastructure does not provide for the needs of people on foot and bicycles. There is global recognition that the highest priority is to address lack of infrastructure for routes used daily by children on their school journey, subsequently benefiting everyone. Infrastructure for people on foot and bicycles includes: 

  • segregated pavements and cycleways - separated from the road by raised areas 
  • safe crossings where people need to cross
  • 30km/h speed limits 
  • measures that control speed - speed humps, road narrowings, speed enforcement (cameras)

In the poorest nations, for example in sub-Saharan Africa, there is often no infrastructure. In some instances, action starts with very simple measures due to entire lack of funding. For example, in Ethiopia the NGO Save the Nation Association gives schools collapsible road signs that can be placed in the middle of the road during times when children are crossing, with the effect that the road is narrowed and in the hope that the traffic slows down. The charity trains older children to help stop the traffic and help younger children to cross. This is not an adequate solution, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

In Ethiopia, Save the Nation Association has highlighted the danger of roads such as the Wendo to Negele highway (pictured above) and taken part in surveying the roads and casualties incurred. They found children and elderly pedestrians were the largest victim group and lack of pavements was the biggest problem. 

In some places, "show case" infrastructure has been fitted around a few schools thanks to efforts by NGOs, in the hope that the country's government will take notice and "scale up" such infrastructure everywhere. The NGO Amend, which works in sub-Saharan nations, seeks international funding and then works with road engineers to survey and make recommendations to local community leaders and officials about what "needs to be done". Jeffrey Witte, Executive Director, says: "It's important to have road engineers on your side - they speak the right language to get the results we need. It can take some time when starting, but after having done something, things become smoother."

In Vietnam, the AIP Foundation is working with local officials to improve infrastructure around 37 schools with the hope of the infrastructure then being "scaled up" to other schools. Around schools in Vietnam there is existing infrastructure but it isn't always working. For example, there may be a road crossing on a busy, fast road and vehicles are not stopping for pedestrians. Road crossings need improvement alongside other measures.  "Hopefully we will get more commitment from governments to expand what is happening and it can happen in other places as well," says chief executive Mirjam Sidik.

Even in the richest nations, battles are still continuing for road improvements. For example in the UK, the 20's Plenty movement works with many communities fighting for speed limits to be reduced; from 50km/h (30mph) to 30km/h (20mph). 

10-step guide on getting streets for people 

  1. Set up a group of people committed to safer roads.
  2. Involve local schools; children as well as teachers. 
  3. Involve community groups and representatives; particularly those representing the most deprived, ethnic minorities, the elderly and the disabled. 
  4. Use a supportive road engineer who can survey your roads and advise on infrastructure measures.
  5. Do your own surveys of people's levels of fear, and why and how they use roads. People may not be cycling less because they are scared, for example.
  6. Do your own speed surveys. Use a radar gun in collaboration with the police if possible, or, if a gun is not available, you can calculate speed of travel of traffic using stop watches. Make sure you are standing somewhere safe and are clearly visible. There is plenty of open access information available about how to carry out a speed survey. For example, Spot Speed by the Institute for Transportation Safety at Iowa State University.  
  7. Collect case studies; for example, children who have been hurt or killed, or near-misses. Sometimes, officials may say a road is safe because no-one has died yet; no child should be sacrificed before change happens.
  8. Get quotes: what children say. Explain their vulnerability through qualitative understanding. For example, if, due to economic circumstance, there is lack of available adults to help accompany children on their journey.
  9. Involve community "stars"; sporting celebrities, or a mayor, for example. Get your story in the media.
  10. Talk to local officials who can make decisions early. Involve them in your thinking. They may have valid contributions, but don't be put off by any negativity. 
  11. Keep going until you get change. Be wary of offers of compromise. For example, education of children is not an adequate alternative to infrastructure improvements that protect them. 

 Copyright Brake 2017