Spreading global best practices to save lives and avoid traffic fatalities
Every year, about 1.24 million people lose their lives in traffic. In Brazil, there are over 44,000 traffic deaths annually. These fatalities exceed the death toll of many wars, motivating experts to seek effective solutions. From October 6 to 10, 2014, technicians and academics from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Turkey, India, and the United States gathered in Rio de Janeiro to exchange experiences during a road safety training designed to help cities reduce traffic crashes and save lives. The training, called “Road Safety Policy, Accident Analysis and Prevention and Road Safety Audit Procedures,” was organized by EMBARQ Brasil, PTV Group, and Newcastle University.
Some of the key issues experts discussed were road safety audits, monitoring traffic behavior, and data mapping. These actions help organizations and governments around the world pursue the critical objective of eliminating all road traffic deaths. Participants included EMBARQ’s global team of road safety experts, professors from leading universities in Brazil, and technicians from the Companhia de Engenharia de Tráfego (Traffic Engineering Company) of Rio and São Paulo.
The speakers were experienced teachers and consultants, including Neil Thorpe and Roger Bird of Newcastle University and Andre Muench and Paulo Humanes of PTV Group. The EMBARQ Brasil team leading the training was composed of Luis Antonio Lindau, Director; Brenda Medeiros, Transport Projects Manager; Denise Chagas, Road Safety Specialist; Marta Obelheiro, Health and Road Safety Projects Coordinator; and Rafaela Machado and Daniela Cassel of the EMBARQ Brasil Road Safety Team.
The dangers of high vehicle speeds
High vehicle speed is one of the main causes of traffic crashes. In Rio, for example, the speed limit is 70 kmph (43 mph) in some crowded areas such as beachfront avenues in Ipanema and Copacabana. Immediate action to decrease this speed limit can save many lives. Pedestrians struck by cars traveling 70 kmph (43 mph) have almost no chance of survival, but reducing the maximum speed to 30 kmph (18 mph), for example, reduces the chance of death to 10%. Many countries have adopted the "30 Zone," – where the default speed limit is 30 kmph (18 mph) – including Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.
Luis Antonio Lindau describes the dangers of high vehicle speeds for pedestrians. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.
"The problem of high speeds is a reality, especially here in Rio; this has generated problems and accidents throughout the city," Luis Antonio Lindau declared. "This week we had some good news: the BRT speed limit was reduced to 60 kmph (37 mph), but more is needed. We must also work to reduce the speed of cars on the roads. Change must involve everyone," Lindau said. Alongside Denise Chagas, he presented the main results of global urban speed limit research, which shows that Rio has some of the highest speed limits and most traffic deaths in the world.
Sharing global experiences in road safety
One of the highlights of the course was the presentation of technical specifications for an efficient road safety audit. If properly implemented, an effective road safety audit can reduce the number of accidents by 40%.
Marta Obelheiro and Rafaela Machado showed the group an overview of the road safety audits for Rio’s Transoeste bus rapid transit corridor (BRT), including technical analysis and suggestions for addressing challenges on the Avenida das Américas. The audit report also emphasized the street’s disconnected pedestrian crossings, which require redesign to improve pedestrian safety. Initial traffic safety improvements on the corridor include the insertion of traffic lights and signage and the recent speed limit reduction for BRT buses.
EMBARQ India experts Nikhil Chaudhary and Dhawal Ashar, along with EMBARQ Turkey expert Tolga Imamoglu, also shared their experiences during the training. Istanbul and multiple mid-sized Indian cities undergoing public transport station redesigns focused on improving areas with high incidence of road crashes, known as black spots. "These are areas which by nature attract many people every day, so we needed to pay special attention [to them]. And we are very motivated to continue projects like this in our country," explained Ashar.
After intense days of training and discussion, participants were divided into six groups to perform field work. They analyzed three important intersections in Ipanema: the intersections between Avenida Prudente de Morais and Vinicius de Moraes; between Visconde de Pirajá and Gomes Carneiro; and at Vieira Souto, near São Paulo High School. Ben Welle, EMBARQ Health and Road Safety Senior Associate, explained that in addition to the high speed limit, the lack of accessibility was another critical point for improvement. "We noticed that the sidewalks are often not designed for everyone. We must think of people of all ages and levels of agility," he explained.
Participants conduct field work at key intersections in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.
Redesigning roads to save lives
Expert recommendations at the road safety training represent a departure from the traditional education and enforcement efforts that treat the behavior of drivers and pedestrians as the sole cause of crashes. “Rather, solutions should revolve around designing roads that protect pedestrians and cyclists,” explained Marta Obelheiro.
Streets and avenues should be people-oriented, giving priority to more sustainable modes of mobility like active, non-motorized, and mass forms of transport. Repainting pavement to make roadways seem narrower for cars, creating pedestrian refuge islands and medians, and creating more pleasant pedestrian spaces are all ways to reduce speeds and ensure the safety and comfort of people who choose sustainable means of transport. These actions are part of the “complete streets” approach, which focuses on improving comfort and safety for people through modifications to street design.
Complete streets are designed to ensure secure access for all road users – be they pedestrians, cyclists, motorists or transit users of different ages and abilities. Experts suggest that a complete street should include the following attributes, with flexibility for local requirements:
- Speeds limited to 50 kmph (31 mph) in areas of general circulation
- Traffic calming measures
- Universal accessibility
- Clear, pedestrian-oriented signage
- Useful urban infrastructure (bins, benches, lighting, sidewalks, etc.)
- Security monitoring in specific places
- Short crosswalks and refuge islands for pedestrians
- A limited supply of free parking
- Bike paths and/or lanes
- A range of preferred/exclusive bus services
- Easy access to public transport and public transport stops
- No reverse or counterflow lanes
Simple actions like these are transforming streets to create more livable and safer urban environments worldwide. Brazilian cities should implement these best practices to save lives and improve quality of life.
Read more about Rio de Janeiro’s road safety challenges on TheCityFix.