Safer arterial roads in Latin America: lessons from Bogotá, Fortaleza and Mexico City

Three Latin American cities provide effective road safety lessons using a holistic management approach to a culture hooked on speed.

Bogotá permanently reduced maximum speed limits from 60 to 50 km/h in May 2020 | Source: Secretaría de Movilidad de Bogotá

Road safety is a growing concern in cities aiming to become more liveable. Where people feel unsafe, policies to promote walking and cycling will be handicapped, and deliver far less than their potential. Reducing crash risks thus not only saves lives, it also unlocks sustainable forms of transport that cut pollution, fight congestion and improve the physical and mental health of citizens. Cities all around the world have committed to deliver safer streets. Many have taken a leadership role in the battle for road safety. Much can be learnt from cities that have achieved large reductions in traffic fatalities, as revealed in this ITF report. The publication details seven case studies of cities implementing data-driven policies that inspire best practices in urban road safety.

In Latin America, the case studies provide insights into how to address high road mortality rates (PDF) in the context of rising motorisation and a culture hooked on speed. Lessons from Bogotá, Fortaleza and Mexico City are the key to delivering safer arterial roads. In all three cities, streets with a mix of vulnerable road users and motor vehicle traffic were limited to 30 km/h in accordance with international guidelines, while arterial roads were limited to 50 km/h. Strategies to improve speed limit enforcement, including introduction of new speed control systems, were also part of the holistic speed management approach taken in these cities.

Safe speed limits on Bogotá’s most dangerous roads

In 2016, the administration in Bogotá adopted a ‘Vision Zero’ approach as the roadmap for their road safety strategy. From the adoption of a speed management programme, the city targeted arterial roads for speed reduction and installation of speed cameras. In 2017, these corridors accounted for three out of four traffic deaths.

The speed reduction programme on arterial roads first targeted the five corridors with the highest casualty rates. It tested the benefits and then disseminated results via social media before the expansion to other roads. Headlines included the number of lives saved since implementation and days without recording a death. The demonstrated reduction in lives lost convinced many of the administration’s strongest critics to accept the speed management programme as effective.

Positive results led to the reduction of speed limits on another set of five corridors at the beginning of 2019. The arterial roads that received treatment under the programme showed a decrease of 21% in traffic fatalities compared to the average for the three years 2015-2018, corresponding to 46 lives saved. Data from speed cameras also indicated improvement in compliance, with lower excess speeds although the proportion of vehicles exceeding limits, old and new, was unchanged at around 20%.

Arterial roads selected for new speed limit of 50km/h in 2018 and 2019 in Bogotá:

Source: Secretaría de Movilidad de BogotáSource: Secretaría de Movilidad de Bogotá

Plans for the programme to cover the entire arterial road network of Bogotá were accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis. The city announced a permanent reduction of the maximum general speed limit for all roads from 60 km/h to 50 km/h in May 2020. Intended to clear hospitals of traffic injury victims during the peak of the pandemic, the measure also aimed to protect the lives of citizens in the long term. 92 speed cameras placed at 40 points in the city will monitor speeding and issue automatic sanctions to offenders.

Disrupting the high-speed culture in Fortaleza

Source: Prefeitura Municipal de Fortaleza

Fortaleza is one of the rare places in the world that achieved the United Nations’ target of cutting traffic fatalities by half during the Decade of Action for road safety. The city went from a rate of 14.9 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants in 2010 to 7.4 in 2019. A successful strategy targeted the culture of speeding in Fortaleza through street transformations. Bike lane and dedicated bus lane networks were both expanded. Traffic calming measures were implemented in specific areas, with the redesign of pedestrian crossings, modernisation of the traffic light system, and speed limit reduction on arterial roads.

The city followed a similar approach to Bogotá in securing public support and winning over opposition. Each intervention was first tested on pilot projects, with positive outcomes publicised extensively. A first experience targeted Fortaleza’s most dangerous arterial road, the Avenida Leste-Oeste. Framed as an infrastructure improvement, this pilot proposed to complement the speed reduction with a redesign of the avenue. The new limit of 50 km/h accompanied new traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, lighting, bike lanes, and bus lanes. Narrower lanes and more frequent stop lights were also used to nudge drivers towards compliance with the new speed limit.

Redesigned Leste-Oeste avenue with safer speed limit of 50km/h:

Source: Prefeitura Municap de Fortaleza

The success on the Avenida Leste-Oeste was measurable: collisions involving motorised vehicles and pedestrians decreased by 63%. Data from the city’s camera enforcement system also revealed a higher rate of compliance. The city applied a tolerance period without penalties to give drivers the time to adapt: the police notified drivers of infractions but gave no sanction to people driving between 50 km/h and 60 km/h during the first six months. Positive results from this pilot project resulted in a decision to expand the same treatment to another four avenues. Fortaleza is now working on a Road Safety Plan for the next 10 years to scale up interventions and consolidate a Safe System approach (PDF) to the whole of the city.

Innovative speed control systems in Mexico City     

Source: SEMOVI Mexico city

In Mexico City, hostility to traffic surveillance and control mechanisms, in particular speed cameras, pushed local authorities to rethink their speed control system. The city shifted from Fotomultas (automatic fines) to Fotocívicas, a new system that replaced monetary fines with civic sanctions. Traffic penalties in Mexico City are now educational and correspond to the number of infractions perpetrated by the driver. They range from online courses, to awareness workshops, and up to 10 hours of community work.

The new system aims at improving driver behaviour and increasing compliance with speed limits. To curb speeding, Fotocívicas considers speed violations of more than 40% above the limit as more serious. Such infractions correspond to five penalty points, in contrast to one-point penalties for other violations registered by red light and speed cameras. The programme also relocated the surveillance technology to road sections and intersections with a higher incidence of traffic collisions and speeding.

An online course is one of civic sanctions from the new Fotocívicas system:

Source: SEMOVI Mexico City

Early results from the new system indicate improvements in the compliance with speed limits. Fotocívicas identified a reduction of almost 60% in the average speed of the vehicles exceeding the limit of 50 km/h on urban roads. The results also reveal a lower repeat offence rate: one out of three sanctioned drivers violated traffic rules on more than one occasion, in contrast with one out of two for the same period under the old system.

A positive repercussion of the awareness workshops among the population incited Mexico City to plan an expansion of this educational programme towards all drivers. As a first step, the administration selected motorcyclists engaged in commercial activities to be the first road user group to attend the workshops. Currently, one out of two crashes in Mexico City involve a motorcyclist.

Bogotá, Fortaleza and Mexico City are members of the ITF’s Safer City Streets network, which includes more than 40 cities across the globe. Together in the network, cities share data and draw lessons from their various approaches to urban road safety policy. To join the network, contact the ITF secretariat: alexandre.santacreu@itf-oecd.org

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