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Summer sunshine provides an incentive to leave the car at home… But improving safety and security is key

The summer months are here – and with them, the desire to spend more time outdoors. In fact, sunshine and fresh air are ideal incentives for citizens to choose other forms of mobility than their cars. Walking and cycling to work seem so much more appealing; hopping on a tram with the kids during the holidays offers a relaxing antidote to the usual crèche-school-work rush; and ambling to the bus or metro stop becomes a pleasure rather than a cold weather chore…

Many cities across Europe capitalise on this ‘lightness of spirit’ by hosting car-free events that provide a perfect opportunity for giving the general public a taste of the pleasures of pedestrianised and traffic-calmed streets. For example, ‘Paris Respire’ enables pedestrians, roller bladers and cyclists to take full advantage of the capital’s embankment roads all day, every day from mid-July to mid-August, whilst Brussels implements a popular ‘car-free Sunday’ that takes place every September during European Mobility Week. This year, too, the EU capital welcomes the second edition of ‘Cyclovia’, an event that creates, on select Sundays, a 10km cycling path through the city. Inaccessible to cars, the route is dotted with entertaining and awareness-raising activities.  

But whilst the summer season may open people’s minds to leaving the car at home, many still feel vulnerable actually adopting another means of getting from A to B. Alternative modes can be perceived as ‘unsafe’, whether that entails using trains and buses after dark or cycling in cities with inadequate infrastructure. Improving safety and security in all its aspects is therefore essential to help achieve behavioural change..  

Since safety and security is a broad issue, actions and policies should ideally offer an integrated approach, taking into account four key areas: infrastructure, education, technology and promotion. Within CIVITAS, such measures are primary areas of action. Examples include the creation of pedestrian zones, the introduction of traffic-calming devices such as speed cameras and speed reduction signage, campaigns to reduce car use, and activities that target behaviour, from road safety awareness-raising for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, to anti-vandalism initiatives.  

The wider context

Despite improvements registered over the previous decade, around 1.5 million people die every year on the world’s roads, and up to 50 million are injured. Needless to say, issues of safety and security occupy an important place on government agendas at national, European and international level. May 2012 marked the first year anniversary of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, a WHO/UN Road Safety collaboration involving more than 100 countries. The goal? To prevent five million road traffic deaths globally by 2020. The first year saw many of the participating nations introduce measures, whether developing national plans for the decade, introducing new laws or increasing enforcement of existing legislation.

Concerted action is also evident at European level with decision makers, road safety experts and other stakeholders meeting regularly to share ideas, knowledge, data and best-practice examples. Outcomes are key to placing issues of safety higher up the political agenda. For example, last month the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) presented the results of its annual Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) report during its sixth annual conference. The report revealed that, overall in the EU, road deaths in 2011 were cut by just 3%, compared with an 11% reduction the previous year, making it clear that combined efforts at national and EU level need to be stepped up now if Europe is to prevent the situation worsening in the coming years.

Safety and security as an issue of social inclusion

But safety and security issues are not just about reducing traffic accidents; they also have an impact on social inclusion. Whilst urban mobility systems are often presented as harmonious, inclusive environments, the reality can be different. All citizens, but especially marginalised groups like the elderly, people with disabilities, and those more vulnerable to discrimination – such as transgender persons or ethnic minorities – can find public transport modes at best frightening, at worst places where they may fall victim to harassment and aggression.

Technical measures designed to address this issue include the installation of video surveillance systems on public transport. The cities of Brno, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Malmo have all invested in cameras on buses in order to improve safety and attract more customers. Indeed, feedback from passengers in Sweden’s third largest city, where all buses have been equipped with security cameras, testifies to the positive effects of such measures. Prior to installation, 6 percent of passengers surveyed said that they had avoided travelling by bus due to safety concerns. After installation, 17 % confirmed that they travelled more, whilst 60 percent stated that they felt safer on their journeys.

A creative method for getting the message to young people

Another factor affecting passengers’ security perception is vandalism on vehicles. Under CIVITAS ELAN, the Flemish public transport operator De Lign launched in 2008 an innovative project targeting students aged 12 – 18. Called ‘Trammelant’, the project has steadily grown, reaching a total of 75 schools annually across the five provinces of Flanders.

‘The project is all about prevention through participation. It aims to decrease feelings of insecurity amongst passengers and enhance positive contact between drivers and controllers on the one side, and young people on the other, reducing problems on public transport’, explains Project Coordinator, Stephanie De Clercq.

The initiative takes place across three days. On the first day, a representative of De Lign goes to the school to meet with the students. On the second day, the class goes to the public transport operator to participate in a series of interactive modules. Here, they are invited into the specially-designed Trammelantbus (roughly translated as the ‘Making a Fuss’ bus) to guess how much it would cost to repair broken seats and vandalised equipment. The real figures are then compared with the cost of objects they might use every day, such as an iPhone.

Next, in the tram garage, pupils are set the task of estimating how long it takes for a tram to stop after braking, drawing a chalk line to mark the distance. The purpose is to drive home the real dangers of walking in front of trams that need far more track to stop than the students think. Finally, the teenagers get back into the bus one-by-one, this time into an environment full of smoke, as if a fire had been started. With zero visibility, it becomes instantly apparent that getting out of such a situation at speed when the bus floor littered with school bags and rucksacks is literally impossible.

‘The project isn’t just about setting pupils a series of interactive tasks to help them take on board safety and security messages’, says Stephanie. ‘It’s about retaining and spreading those messages. And one of the most effective ways is through peer influence’. On the third day, the bus goes to the school. Those who participated in the project describe their experience to the students who did not take part, reinforcing for themselves and their fellow pupils the real-life consequences of their behaviour. As one young woman summed up: ‘From now on, I’ll declare my love for my boyfriend on paper, and not on the back of a bus seat!’

Indeed, data gathered between the first quarter of 2008 and the last quarter of 2010 in a select number of schools that participated in the project reveal a marked decrease in the number of incidents of aggressive or anti-social behaviour amongst minors (those under 18).

Adopting an effective, integrated approach

A 360° approach – combining awareness-raising campaigns, technological solutions, infrastructure measures and educational initiatives – can be a highly effective means of reaching diverse target groups, maximising impact and encouraging ownership of safety and security issues by all citizens. It is also a valuable strategy for getting the public ‘onside’ in support of future policies. 

Under CIVITAS ARCHIMEDES, Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic adopted just such an approach through two measures: Road Safety Measures and the Drive Safely campaign. The two ran in parallel and comprised different activities with clear objectives that worked in complement to each other.

During 2009, the total number of recorded accidents in the city was 1 620, in which 8 people were killed, 39 were seriously injured and 320 were slightly injured. The aims of Road Safety Measures were to further reduce the amount of traffic accidents in the city, increase the safety level on local roads, encourage walking and cycling and improve the urban space.

‘The measure comprised four key tasks’, explains Katerina Oktabcova, dissemination manager and measure leader. ‘A safety audit, traffic speed reduction to analyse the feasibility of traffic calming, a traffic speed reduction publicity campaign and a road safety audit and actions that identified solutions for safety improvements in the city. These are being finalised for presentation to the city authorities in August as part of its Sustainable Urban Transport Plan’.

The safety audit alone broke down into 12 key tasks including on-the-spot inspections of notorious traffic hazard sites, traffic inspection by a ‘floating’ vehicle equipped with specialised software and data collection from local schools and pre-schools. This last activity formed the basis of an awareness-raising campaign to reduce traffic speed, with a focus on families and children vulnerable to danger during the school run. ‘The Traffic Speed Reduction Publicity campaign was very well received’, confirms Katerina. ‘People appreciated the efforts made by the city to publicise the issue and to provide practical, interactive tasks to engage them and their children’.

The publicity campaign, implemented in partnership with the Municipal and State Police, Ministry of Transport, Fire Brigade and other stakeholders, comprised a three-day event in front of the largest shopping complex in the city centre. It was promoted city- and country-wide via social media and other, more ‘traditional’, methods. Activities were designed for maximum impact and learning opportunities and included comprehensive reports from road accidents, crash and rescue simulations, real-time examples of speed reduction prevention involving police motorcycles and radars, and First Aid practice.

‘One of the most popular modules was the Traffic Court’, says Katerina. ‘It was initially a feature of the other Measure – the Drive Safely campaign – and was so successful that it became mobile. The Municipal Police now use it to educate school children in safety issues’.  Through a series of 23 questions, children are tested about basic traffic rules. Those who fail are invited to participate in Traffic Court – a specially-created physical landscape involving road signage, traffic cones, zebra crossings, traffic lights and scooters – that addresses all aspects of the test. During the publicity campaign, CIVITAS gifts were awarded to all successful students, alongside information brochures packed with road safety tips.

Another feature of the Drive Safely campaign is a series of workshops aimed at students and seniors. These were broadcast on the TV news and on a road safety website implemented under road safety measures. The site features advice and recommendations for safe behaviour, as well as an interactive map with city hazard hotspots.

Both measures are now being evaluated according to a set of priority indicators. ‘Full findings and recommendations will be published shortly’, explains Katerina. ‘However, our initial assessments have revealed a definite increase in the percentages of both awareness and acceptance levels – plus, the feedback we received from the public on-site has been positive and encouraging’.

As one participant in the Traffic Court remarked when asked about his parents’ driving habits: ‘Daddy sometimes drives fast in the city’. Hopefully, after participating in Ústí nad Labem’s campaigns, the youngster will have a different response the next time he is asked.

CIVITAS - cleaner and better transport in cities - stands for City-VITAlity-Sustainability. The CIVITAS Initiative helps cities share solutions and transfer urban mobility know-how. Through CIVITAS, the European Commission is supporting and evaluating the implementation of ambitious integrated sustainable urban transport strategies that should make a real difference for the welfare of the European citizen.

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