Better cycling infrastructure could save lives and the climate

Investment in safe walking and cycling infrastructure would save millions of lives and contribute to fighting climate change, a new UN report has revealed.

Of the people who die each year from traffic accidents, 49 per cent are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Motorised transport is responsible for 23 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

In a new report, the UN Environment has called on countries to invest at least 20 per cent of their transport budgets in walking and cycling infrastructure to save lives, reverse pollution and reduce carbon emissions, which are rising at over ten per cent a year.

The report urged putting people not cars first in transport systems, highlighting that 1.3 million people die each year on the roads, and that motorised transport is responsible for a quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“People are risking their lives every time they leave their homes,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment (UNEP), in a statement. “But it isn’t just about accidents. Designing transport systems around cars puts more vehicles on the road, increasing both greenhouse gas emissions and deadly air pollution. We must put people, not cars, first in transport systems.”

Four African countries topped the table for the most dangerous countries to walk or cycle in: Malawi, where 66 per cent of all road fatalities were pedestrians and cyclists; Kenya, 61 per cent; South Africa, 53 per cent; and Zambia, 49 per cent.

Poor air quality, in part due to vehicle emissions, is estimated to cause around seven million premature deaths each year and is increasing health problems like bronchitis, asthma, heart disease and brain damage. If the emissions caused by motorised transport continue to grow at current rates, they will be responsible for a third of CO2 emissions by 2050.

The global fleet of private cars is projected to triple by 2050, according to UNEP. Not only will this result in a staggering increase in road fatalities globally, but it will severely restrict the world’s ability to limit the average temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Photo credit: Rod Waddington/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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