Pedestrians First - Turning Lusaka into a livable city

March 11, 2020

Ketty (18 years old) after a road traffic crash.

A quick scrutiny of the newspapers reveals an astounding reality of increasing road traffic crashes from 20,962 to 32, 350 (RTSA, 2016) accidents between 2010 and 2016 respectively. Lusaka, known as one of the fastest developing cities in southern Africa (IPA, 2016) accounts for over 50 percent (RTSA, 2016) of all fatal road traffic crashes in the country with pedestrians and cyclists representing 50.3 percent (RTSA, 2016) of all victims.

What seemed as a normal daily routine for most school-going children and local commuters, left Ketty Nyirenda (19 years old) with indelible facial and bodily scars, when an unlicensed mini-bus driver hurtled off the main road to the scantily provided pedestrian walk-way where Ketty met her life threatening experience.

Vividly recounting her ordeal, which also left her emotionally broken, Ketty explains that most roads do not provide for pedestrians, making their safety impossible, “I am impressed with the current road developments, but they still do not cater for pedestrians and cyclists. Longer and wider walkways for pedestrians can significantly enhance safety by reducing the possibility of pedestrians sharing the roads with motorists. As pupils we practically share the roads with motor vehicles.”

Although walking constitutes for about 62 percent (JICA, 2009) of the total daily urban movement in Zambia, road networks have little or no space for pedestrians and cyclists. This has forced them to be relegated to the margins of the roads, exposed to motorists.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) recognizes these inadequacies of the current road network and the needs by majority of the road users, Local Government Permanent Secretary, Bishop Eddie Chomba states, “the government conceived the Lusaka Decongestion Project, which was launched in 2018 by the Ministry of Local Government and its local authority, Lusaka City Council (LCC). The aim of redesigning the major road network of Lusaka city is to reduce traffic congestion, travel time and distances, and to save on fuel consumption. The project was initially conceived of in 2008 in conjunction with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)”.

Having suffered as a traffic victim, and understandably not wanting to see anyone in her shoes, Ketty wishes that her experience could improve the current approach and design as Lusaka city is currently bursting with modern infrastructures from shopping malls to sprawling modern suburbs and importantly highways that are expected to contribute to decongesting the roads. She, however, believes that the development of new roads, if they are going to be relevant to all including pedestrians and cyclists, should include protective pedestrian barriers, to separate motorized transport from Non-Motorized Transport (NMT).

“I have always asked myself why me. What could have happened differently? Then it occurs to me that authorities also need to take responsibility for the kind of infrastructures they are building. The roads will add beauty to our city but if they don’t design them to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists are protected, these developments will mean nothing. Protective barriers are perfect examples. They separate motor vehicles from pedestrians, making it hard even for a vehicle that has lost control to have direct impact with a pedestrian,” she added.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sees the Lusaka Decongestion Project as a necessary initiative to reduce the levels of traffic congestion and traffic pollution on the streets of Lusaka. This is also a great opportunity for Lusaka to make the roads more inclusive and increase the number of pedestrian walkways and cycle lanes.

UNDP Officer in Charge for Inclusive Growth and SDGs, Jan Willem van den Broek says, “We are pleased to see that the Government of Zambia is recognizing the need to cater for safe pedestrian and bicycle paths, as walking and cycling play a fundamental and unique role in the efficiency of urban transport systems. Walking and cycling lanes can not only make the roads safer, but also contribute towards improved health, cleaner environment and generally save money for the poorer communities, as they save on transport”.

He points out that it is for this reason that together with the GRZ, UNDP has developed the Pedestrian First project. “This project is in line with the 7NDP,  as it recognizes that while transport and communications are critical for economic growth and poverty reduction, if appropriately designed, transport strategies will contribute to reduced inequalities, allow for access to basic services, that adequately meet the needs of all, including people with disabilities, contribute to the reduction in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through exercise, reduction of pollution from city traffic and lower Zambia’s carbon foot-print. Ultimately the project is expected to turn Lusaka into a more livable city” said Jan Willem van den Broek.

In keeping with its role of integrator of Sustainable Development Goals with the United Nations System, UNDP has collaborated with the Ministry of Local Government,  the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Road Development Agency (RDA) and the Road Transport and Safety  Agency (RTSA) to develop the Pedestrians First project, an innovative approach to inclusive growth, which could help see a more user-friendly pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure within Lusaka and other cities. This will contribute towards reducing traffic accidents, enhance the wellbeing of Lusaka city dwellers and lead to improving sustainable mobility in Zambia.

Much to Ketty’s delight, who wants to be a road safety goodwill ambassador and has been collaborating with the RTSA to raise awareness on the need for pedestrian and cycle lanes, Pedestrians First Zambia also seeks to advocate for change of attitudes and priorities toward Non-Motorized Transport users, like pedestrians. Ketty laments that much of the advocacy work does not include community members, “if everyone can get involved in the road safety campaign to promote pedestrian walk-ways, we could save so many lives. Currently, the few officers have not yet managed to penetrate all our communities.”

It is against this backdrop that the UNDP Resident Representative, Lionel Laurens stresses that the project’s advocacy component, which has been spearheaded by the RTSA, requires the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders to be more successful and impactful and see genuine behavior change. To this end, the project will encourage and seek the participation and engagement of the private sector, Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and ultimately all citizens of Zambia.

“The change of mindset and attitudes can contribute to achieving more livable cities. Together we can reduce poverty and attract more investment simply by making Lusaka one of the most pedestrian friendly cities in Africa. The provision of bigger and wider road networks is important, but may not lead to less accidents, if pedestrians and cyclists continue to be relegated to the margins of the roads. Public private partnerships will be pursued to advance the objective of improving wellbeing in Lusaka by converting it into a more livable city that upholds principles of sustainable, safe, comfortable cities to create triple benefits: improve health and safety of its citizens, protect the environment and mitigate climate change and contribute to economic development by facilitating transport and mobility of all including the most vulnerable fringe of the population. Ultimately, this will contribute towards transforming Zambia into a nation of healthy and productive people as outlined in the 2017-2021 7NDP.”