Walking is the most common means of transport in Africa. In Uganda, there are pedestrians everywhere: schoolchildren walk to school, adults stroll to work, elderly people go for jaunts about town. However, increasing motorisation and urbanisation have led to rising numbers of deaths and injuries among this most vulnerable category of road users.
According to the annual crime report by the Uganda police, pedestrians accounted for 39.1% of traffic-related deaths in 2011 – the most of any category of road users – and 26.4% of those injured in traffic accidents. Similar figures can be found in many other parts of the world.
More than 270,000 pedestrians are killed on the roads each year, which represents 22% of the 1.24million annual road-traffic deaths worldwide,the World Health Organisation says. In low- and middle-income countries, nearly two-thirds of which have no policies to protect pedestrians, this figure is closer to a third of road deaths.
Kampala is no different. The motorisation of Uganda’s capital city has increased the risks for pedestrians, who compete with vehicles and motorcyclists for space on the narrow and congested streets.
The situation is exacerbated by the city’s roads, which have not been expanded to meet growing demand. Even new streets are too narrow, with pedestrian lanes largely nonexistent. Where they do exist, the lanes are abused – many are used to park taxis and motorcycles, or for trade by street and market vendors.
Children often face the greatest risk of injury and death. A 2011 reportanalysing data from Uganda’s National Paediatric Emergency Unit showed that 73.5% of traffic injuries among under-13s in Kampala occurred while the children were on foot. Motorbikes were the most common vehicle involved in those collisions, followed by buses and cars.
Despite the dangers pedestrians face, they have been neglected by transport and planning policy. People travelling on foot require barriers and bollards to separate them from other road users. When constructing roads, the government should include pedestrian lanes and crossings, and the police should enforce speed limits in areas with high pedestrian volume. Policies should also encourage city dwellers to cycle and walk instead of using cars.
Pedestrian needs must be taken into consideration when road policy, transport planning and land-use decisions are being made. In particular, governments should consider how non-motorised forms of transport could be integrated into safer and more sustainable systems
This article was originally posted in The Guardian on 24th October 2013.