Give walking and cycling ‘equal status to private cars’, says UN agency

The United Nations Environment Programme says making walking and cycling safer is vital for reducing pollution and climate-changing emissions. A new UNEP report notes the contribution of road transport to global warming and air pollution, yet almost half the 1.3 million people who die each year in traffic accidents are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists – transport users who generate fewest emissions.

With motorised transport already responsible for a quarter of global CO2 emissions, and likely to be a third by 2050 on current trends, road transport could hinder the world’s ability to limit global temperatures to 2°C by 2100. So with virtually no emissions from walking and cycling and very low emissions from most motorcycles, UNEP looked at 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to find out why non-motorised transport struggles for popularity.

Its finding that almost half the 1.3 million people killed in road accidents are walking or cycling has to be seen in the context of another finding: that twice as many people from low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America die in road accidents compared with richer states. This links with an observation that motorised transport is associated in the developing world with ‘education, affluence and elevated status in society’, and therefore walking and cycling are associated with poverty.

The 97-page report, produced with funding from the international motorsport federation’s (FIA) Foundation for the Automobile and Society, calls for all cities and countries to have a policy to promote non-motorised transport, such as committing to more pedestrian crossings, greater traffic calming, bicycle-sharing schemes in cities, and adding bike lanes to roads. But it also urges governments to devote at least 20% of a national transport budget to non-motorised transport, and ‘to actively champion non-motorised transport as a mode of equal status to private cars’.

‘We must put people, not cars, first in transport systems,’ said Erik Solheim, UNEP’s executive director.

Air pollution is estimated to cause around 7 million premature deaths each year in the world as well as causing heart, bronchial and asthmatic disease.