How to be a lifesaver: Three simple things to do that will make city roads less deadly

by Hans Michael Kloth, Internatinal Transport Forum

Today  is European Day Without A Road Death, or EDWARD for short. Well, it isn’t really. By the end of today, 21 September 2017, the lives of 70 people will have been lost  in traffic crashes, as every day in the European Union.

And Europe is doing well in comparison. Of the almost 1.25 million annual road deaths worldwide, 90% occur in the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and South America. Even in countries that have been highly successful in improving road safety in the past, such as Sweden, the number of traffic fatalities has been rising again recently. In 2015, the 31 member countries of the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) for which data are consistently available registered a 3.3% increase in road fatalities  compared to 2014, and 2016 figures again show an upward trend for 14 of these.

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Memorial for a cyclists killed in a road crash, Manchester 2013 (Photo: Grey World/Flickr cc by)

What can we do as individuals to help turn the tide on road deaths? EDWARD provides an important reminder that being a lifesaver is actually not that difficult. So here are three simple things that you can do to protect yourself and others in traffic – one each for cyclists, one for motorists, and one for mayors.

Giv’em a sign!

The group that experts call “vulnerable road users” is at particular risk on the road. The share of elderly (65+ years) among road fatalities, for instance, outstrips their share of the population by as much as 2:1. Also vulnerable are cyclists, which are a fast growing group of road users as cities try to encourage sustainable forms of transport.

Unlike pedestrians, who are somewhat protected by urban space dedicated to their use (a.k.a. sidewalks), cyclists are usually forced to cohabit with cars. Invariably, crashes between these two unequal parties happen, and, equally invariably, they end with injuries or worse for cyclists while the car barely shows a scratch.

“Wear a helmet”, is one often-heard counsel. Head injuries from cycling crashes are common, usually severe and often deadly, and to reduce your individual risk of severe injury in case you bang into something, there is nothing better than wearing a helmet. On the other hand there’s the problem of compensation (riders taking extra risks and cars being more aggressive as both factor in the protection). There is a huge, emotional debate around helmets that sometimes obscures a simple truth: They are great for preventing the worst when something bad happens, but do nothing for preventing something bad to occur in the first place.

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Signalling a left turn, alternate signals for a right turn, and indicating the intention to stop (Illustration: Shutterstock)

For active safety, therefore, try something truly simple, no matter what your position on helmets is: When you take a turn, make a sign. I started indicating with my stretched-out arm a year ago, after I caught myself cursing at a car that had put me in a tight spot by not indicating, and then realised I was being a little hypocritical. Since, I have made signaling my moves a cycling habit, and the enhanced sense of safety I have felt when biking through the sometimes mad traffic of Paris has been reassuring and a refreshing exprience.

Predictability really is the best friend of safety. Simply doing things in a way that enables others to anticipate your behaviour empowers them to adjust their own ways and avoid dangerous situations based on misreading each other. I’ve heard others say that indicating turns can create dangerous situations because the cyclist has less control when riding with just one hand on the bar. I found the opposite to be as true – one hand off the handle forces you to slow down, and  it becomes impossible to weave through traffic, one of the more dangerous cycling practices.

Reach out the Dutch way

Anyone who has watched this video will appreciate why cyclists live in mortal fear of car doors. It’s an almost daily experience for anyone who rides a bicycle through a city: a driver or passenger opens the car door without checking whether anyone is approaching from behind. At the very least, the cyclist will be forced to veer into traffic and risk being hit; in the worst case, with no time to react they will  slam into the door like into a knife. In June, the case of a Saudi diplomat made headlines when he killed a 55-year old cyclist in Berlin with the door of his Porsche. Statistics are rare, but the UK for instance experienced 1.3 “dooring” incidents on average every single day of  2015.

So what can you do as a motorist to avoid knocking down someone else with your door? Open it using the “Dutch Reach”. This way of opening car doors has been practiced in the Netherlands for half a century. In fact it is part of  training when you get your driver’s licence there. How does it work? Simply grab the door handle with the far hand, not with the one on the side of the door. This  forces your body to swivel towards the door and your field of vision will  automatically include the rear view mirror as well a the area besides and immediately behind your car. It’s a simple routine that requires minimal change of behaviour but can prevent human tragedies on our streets. (The video above explains how it works).

Degrees of separation

Many cities are investing heavily into more cycling paths and infrastructure that will encourage urbanites to walk and cycle. The “active modes” of transport help citizens stay healthy, reduce pollution, unclog the streets and generally make cities more attractive, inclusive, livable. Yet the urban road system was never designed for mixing well-protected, heavy and high-velocity vehicles with unprotected, lightweight and slower bicycles. It follows logically that they are best separated to avoid conflict, as is the case with cars and pedestrians.

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Cycle lane in London (Photo: Ron Enslin/Flickr cc by)

Yet there are very different ways to do this. Some options can be rolled out quickly and are inexpensive, but ultimately provide only a semblance of separation and thus safety. It’s a step in the right direction to paint a blue or red or green strip with a white bicycle icon along the kerbside of a street. But that won’t keep a car or van or truck  from veering onto the bicycle lane whenever the driver chooses (or is forced to). Some cities learned the hard way what the cost of expanding the cycling network in a rush can be. In London, no less than six cyclists killed in crashes in a space of two weeks in November 2013.

Instead of spending money on paint, mayors might invest in stone and cement, and install physical separators between car and bike lanes. People who have never cycled before will not take to the bicycle unless they feel safe from cars. Bright colours alone will not give them that feeling, a physical barrier between them cars will. When I cycle to work, I use a route that is slightly longer, simply because it has a segregated bicycle lane with a 20 centimetre high concrete barrier – that’s all it needs. At ITF we will be holding a Roundtable to discuss just what works best in January, in the context of Safer City Streets, a global network of cities that work together on improving urban road safety – stay tuned for details.

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Paris bicycle lane with separator (Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr cc by)

A day without a road death in Europe is still some way off. But an encouraging number of European cities have actually achieved the remarkable feat of having not a single road death in a whole year or even longer. There must be something these communities are doing right. It may not necessarily have been a high-profile, high-cost road safety initiative, but perhaps a mixture of little common sense things consistently applied. So let’s not stop taking the small steps that will get us there eventually. Whether you cycle, drive a car, run a city, all three, or nothing of those: think about what you can do to help overcome the scourge of road deaths – every day, not just on EDWARD.

 

Hans Michael Kloth cycles to work and occasionally drives a car on week-ends. He is Head of Communications of the the International Transport Forum

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“The future of transport is electric”

Jochen Eickholt Siemens Mobility CEOJochen Eickholt, the CEO of Siemens Mobility, talks about electric highways and bus networks and creating cities full of sensors that link up cars with their surroundings.


One of your projects at Siemens is electrifying motorways, so electric trucks can be used for long-distance freight, without even requiring batteries. Why are you convinced that the “eHighway”, as you call it, is the future of road freight?

Transport remains the last sector where fossil fuel dependency has not been substantially mitigated, making it a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electric mobility offers a variety of benefits here, including improved local air quality, fuel diversification into renewable sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and increased energy efficiency to lower operating costs. The eHighway combines resource-efficient railway technology with the flexibility of road transport.

How does this work in practice?

The adapted hybrid trucks are supplied with electricity from overhead contact lines. An active pantograph can automatically connect and disconnect with the contact line at speeds up to 90 km/h. The direct transmission of electric energy ensures an outstanding efficiency of 80 to 85 per cent from substation in-feed to the wheel. This is twice as high as that of conventional diesel engines. The eHighway also makes it possible to recover braking energy and store it on-board. It can also feed other trucks operating on the system or even feed the electricity back into the public grid. These energy savings translate into even higher system efficiency, lower emissions, and lower energy consumption. High efficiency is the backbone of future road freight transport as well as decarbonisation.

Talking about electric mobility, would you agree that it will play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of  passenger transport?

The future of transport is electric, whether by rail or by road.  For metros, light rail and high-speed trains  electrification has been established for many years as a way to ensure highest energy efficiency while  minimizing local emissions. With the ongoing electrification of railroads all over the world, rail traffic has become increasingly emission free. According to a recent study by the International Railway Union (UIC), rail is the most emissions-efficient major transport mode. Electric trains powered by renewable energy can offer practically carbon-free journeys and transport.

In cities, eBuses will play a role similar to the one I just described for the eHighway and hybrid-driven trucks. They offer the same advantages -energy efficiency, local zero emissions and, thanks to modern control systems, an improved travel experience for passengers. This is why they are in a good position to help satisfy the increasing demand for sustainable transport solutions in cities at a time when growing transport volumes and limited expansion possibilities for transport routes pose ever more serious problems.

What kind of innovations do engineers have in store to make electrified public transport a regular sight?

It is possible for instance to equip buses with a flexible Offboard High Power Charger, which adds considerable flexibility to eBus services. The buses need to stop at the charging station only for a few minutes. The system is ideal for high-frequency operations, since the charging infrastructure can be used by several buses per hour. It would even work if the vehicles were produced by different manufacturers. This is no scenario for the distant future; in fact the system’s practical feasibility in daily operation is already being demonstrated – for instance in Vienna, Gothenburg or Hamburg.

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Offboard High Power Charger in Hamburg (Photo: Siemens)

Everyone is talking about self-driving vehicles. What is your take on autonomous driving?

The next step in the evolution of green, safe and efficient public transport on roads will be self-driving shuttle buses. At present there are several pilot projects under way, in areas such as university campuses and still operating with a driver as a back-up. Over the long run, electric-powered self-driving cars will be the new norm for individual and shared traffic in our cities. They are safe, emission-free and silent. But there is still a long way to go – infrastructures are not ready for that phase yet.

 

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What needs to happen in terms of infrastructure?

 

Today, self-driving cars run well only under certain conditions,-  in a controlled environment and when the weather is right. The sensors fail when it rains or snows; and they also fail when the sun is too bright. And even though they already are quite powerful, sensors can’t see around the corner or through an object that is blocking the sensors sight. Today, the human driver serves as a “redundancy system” that makes up for these defects. But without someone at the wheel, the self-driving car would have only one option: to switch to safe mode in uncertain situations. This is not acceptable, because it means having to reduce speed radically or even stopping. Neither alternative is compatible with traffic regulations and the requirement not to hinder the flow of traffic. And, even worse, passengers wouldn’t accept driving in a slow and stuttering vehicle.

Overcoming these restrictions first of all needs a different perspective. We need to move from a car-centered approach to a systemic approach. There have to be sensors not only in the cars, but on the road as well to monitor and process what’s going on there – and communicate what they see to the cars. Similarly, cars need to communicate with one another and with the infrastructure around them. The combination of  complementary roadside sensor networks, a reliable real-time communication network such as 5G, and autonomous electric-powered cars will form a systemic transport net for future cities. But without the appropriate infrastructure, such a vision will remain  science fiction.


Jochen Eickholt leads the Mobility Division of global engineering giant Siemens AG. He studied electrical engineering at Aachen Technical University in Germany and Imperial College London, UK. He was appointed CEO of the Rail Automation Business Unit in 2009 and became CEO of the Mobility Division in 2012. On 31 May 2017 he will join ministers and other leaders for a discussion of  “The governance of transport in the digital economy” in the opening plenary of  ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”

 

“We must reinvent mobility”

Michael_Cramer square CroppedMichael Cramer of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport talks about the imbalance between transport modes and the lessons from “Dieselgate”.


A lot of innovation is happening in transport right now – headlines about self-driving cars and electric vehicles abound. Are we finally on the path towards sustainable mobility?

Cramer: Billions are still invested in forms of mobility that ruin our climate. And it’s still all about cars. Without reinventing mobility we will not be able to stop climate change. A veteran German politician, former Munich mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel, said it well as early as 1972: “Cars are murdering our cities. Those who sow streets will harvest traffic”. Even if one day all cars will be electric, they will still be murdering our cities. When all cars are self-driving, they will still be murdering our cities. We must reduce emissions, sure. But it’s not only about energy efficiency, we must also reinvent mobility as a whole. 90% of car rides in German cities are shorter than 6 kilometers. These are ideal distances to go by tram, bus, bicycle or to walk. Electric cars are being subsidized with billions of Euros – indiscriminately, regardless of the real effect. By comparison, peanuts are given to support the use of electric bicycles or of cargo bikes, where they could have a real impact – cargo bikes could take over half of inner-city deliveries. Neither is there enough investment into the electrification of rail. The interests of car manufacturing are still dominating policy decisions.

But all car companies are busy rethinking their business models. Most are taking a broader view and branch out into areas like Mobility as a Service. Is your description not outdated?

The car industry must change much faster if it really wants to avoid the fate of the large energy utilities. Those ridiculed renewable energies for decades and now find themselves rather wrong-footed. Edzard Reuter, who was boss of Daimler-Benz from 1987 to 1995, warned thirty years ago that car manufacturers would only survive if by evolving into providers of mobility. In those days, Daimler-Benz not only built cars but

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“It’s still all about cars” (Photo: Oran Viriyincy)

also trucks, busses, trams, light rail trains, high-speed trains and even bicycles. His successor sold all those activities. Today, automotive companies are completely dependent on car sales, while they could have profited from the global boom in trams and light rail, for instance. I don’t see much innovation coming from big players who can hardly budge; it will be small and agile companies that plant the seeds of change.

What about the institutions that set the rules under which innovations either thrive or fail – do governments and regulatory agencies also need to become a little more agile?

Let me be a little cynical: No, they really don’t need additional agility. They need to discover what it means to be agile in the first place. One way of becoming more flexible, reactive and creative is to listen less to lobbyists. Take the “Dieselgate” scandal. We Green members of the European Parliament had to go to enormous lengths to get an inquiry going into the tempering with emissions tests. This inquiry has found EU member states and the European Commission guilty of negligence. The committee of inquiry proposed to set up an independent body with responsibility for controlling vehicle emissions. The Parliament’s transport committee, which I shared at the time, voted for this proposal as well. But it was  subsequently killed in the parliament by organised interests who lobbied deputies with the spectre of job losses in their region.

 

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Cycling freaks (Photo: ITF)

What is the lesson from that for you, as a policy maker?

It is hard to stomach that Diesel is still subsidised in many countries, despite being much more harmful in terms of NOx, NO2 and particular matter than standard petrol. Half a million people die as a result of particular matter, NOx and NO2 emissions every year in the European Union. Imagine our drinking water would be polluted like that – there would be immediate action. Not for the air we breathe. Europe’s political institutions – the Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament – must work harder. If after this criminal fraud we can’t abolish subsidies for Diesel, we shouldn’t even be using the word “sustainability”.

Ultimately, are you an optimist or a skeptic regarding the future of human mobility?

A bit of both. We have all the opportunities in the world. When I started out in politics, I was treated as a freak because I advocated cycling as a mode of transport. But it is now a reality. In Copenhagen more than 50% of all inhabitants cycle to work. In Berlin, the number of cyclists has doubled over the past ten years, and without major policy interventions. People will do what is right, and that is my hope.


 

Michael Cramer is Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party.  He chaired the Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism from 2014-17 and remains on the committee. Cramer also heads the parliamentary platform “Rail Forum Europe” and initiated the 10 000 km-long Iron Curtain Bicycle Trail from the Baltic to the Black Sea. On 2 June he will discuss new business models in transport and  the role for authorities with other experts at ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”. Part of the Summit programme is a bicycle tour led by the mayor of Leipzig.

 

Why it pays for cities to fight road deaths – and how they can get better at it

By Alexandre Santacreu, International Transport Forum

Every minute of every day, someone loses their life in a traffic crash on a city street. With cities growing rapidly and urban motor traffic also increasing dramatically in many cities, the situation is likely to get worse, not better in years to come.

More and more city authorities are realising that dangerous traffic conditions on their streets have a toll that goes beyond the human tragedy and economic loss caused by road deaths and crash injuries. Dangerous traffic makes people feel unsafe, and people who feel unsafe will refrain from doing normal things – letting their children walk to school or cycling to work, for instance.

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Waiting to cross traffic (Flickr/Serakatie)

Thus,  a high level of urban road safety is more and more seen as a critical component of a liveable city.  It improves citizens’ quality of life, it increases choices, it opens up opportunities. Ultimately, safer city streets are about enhanced personal freedom.

Safer streets equal more liveable cities

This was recognised in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016. There, governments agreed (in goal number 11) to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and as part of that committed to “improving road safety,… with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations”.

The link between the different objectives is easy to spot: improving road safety makes cities not only safer, but also more sustainable because it enables people to walk or cycle without having to fear for their lives. It also makes them more inclusive because those who cannot afford cars can be mobile without running lethal risks.

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But in practical terms, what can mayors and city authorities do to enhance traffic safety in their city? One obvious answer is: Do not reinvent the wheel – learn from what others are already doing. Many good practices for urban road safety exist around the world and only wait to be copied. A second, maybe less obvious answer is: Get your data in shape. Measure what is happening on your streets and how it changes, so you can base policy decisions on evidence, not assumptions.

When cities learn from each other

These two thoughts are the driving ideas behind Safer City Streets, the global traffic safety network for liveable cities. Little more than six months after its launch in October 2016, a total of 38 cities are working together in the Safer City Streets network, ranging  from Astana in Kazakhstan to Zürich in Switzerland and including global metropolises such as New York City, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London,  Berlin, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Montreal and many others.

Safer City Streets brochure cover page w framThe Safer City Streets network, which holds its first meeting in Paris on 20 and 21 April (with more than 50 participants expected to attend),  provides the first global platform for cities and their road safety experts to exchange experiences and discuss ideas. At the heart of Safer City Streets activity will be efforts to improve the collection of data about urban road crashes to enable cities to compare themselves with others and base policy decisions on reliable evidence. A methodology for the database has already been developed and many of the cities have started feed it in their numbers.

The flying start has been helped by the fact that Safer City Streets itself is building on previous experience: It is modeled on the highly successful International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD), the International Transport Forum’s permanent working group on road safety, which brings together countries and national road safety stakeholders. Fittingly, the annual IRTAD meeting is held back-to-back with the inaugural meeting of Safer City Streets – which will also include a joint workshop with POLIS,  a network of European cities and regions, on how to bring cities from both networks together in order to find the best solutions for data collection.

Cities who are interested in finding out more about Safer City Streets are invited to contact the author. They should also know that membership of  Safer City Streets is currently free, thanks to a very generous grant from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

Alexandre Santacreu is a policy analyst for road safety at the International Transport Forum and the project manager of the Safer City Streets network. More information at http://itf-oecd.org/safer-city-streets. This post also appears on OECD Insights.

The Sharing Economy: How shared self-driving cars could change city traffic

by Sharon Masterson, International Transport Forum Corporate Partnership Board

Click to download the report
Click to download

In 2011, TIME Magazine named collaborative consumption (or the sharing economy as it is often called) as one of the top 10 ideas that will change the world.

Four years on, this prediction seems to be holding true. The number of companies operating in the sharing economy is rising rapidly in the transport sector alone, and includes household names such as Uber, BlaBlaCar, Lyft, Zipcar, etc. The public seems to be embracing this phenomenon as we witness users flocking to join these platforms across the globe.

Given that a typical car lies idle some 23 hours a day, car owners are investing in something that they barely use, so this untapped potential is at the heart of the sharing economy in personal transportation. With automated, self-driving cars only around the corner (and some precursor components already in the market in the form of adaptive cruise control, lane assist and self-parking), we decided to look at how combining the shared economy aspect (shared vehicles) with developing technology (automated vehicles) can be applied today, by asking “What if all conventional cars in a city were replaced by a fleet of shared self-driving vehicles”?

The results of this exercise were very interesting.

We carried out a simulation on a representation of the street network of the city of Lisbon, using origin and destination data derived from a fine-grained database of trips on the basis of a detailed travel survey. Trips were allocated to different modes: walking, shared self-driving vehicles or high-capacity public transport. We set a constraint that all trips should take at most 5 minutes longer than today’s car trips take for all scenarios, and assumed all trips are done by shared vehicles and none by buses or private cars. We also modelled a scenario which included high-capacity public transport (Metro in the case of Lisbon).

We modelled two different car-sharing concepts, “TaxiBots”, a term we coined for self-driving vehicles shared simultaneously by several passengers (i.e. ride sharing), and “AutoVots”, cars which pick-up and drop-off single passengers sequentially (car sharing).

For the different scenarios we measured the number of cars, kilometres travelled, impacts on congestion and impacts on parking space.

The results indicate that shared self-driving fleets can deliver the same mobility as today with significantly fewer cars. In a city serviced by ride-sharing TaxiBots and a good underground system, 90% of cars could be removed from the city.

Even in the scenario that least reduces the number of cars (AutoVots without underground), nearly half of all cars could be removed without impacting the level of service. Note: TaxiBots replace more cars than AutoVots since the latter require more vehicles and much more re-positioning travel to deliver the same level of service.

Even at peak hours, only about one third (35%) of today’s cars would be on the roads (TaxiBots with underground), without reducing overall mobility.

No matter what the scenario, on-street parking spots could be totally removed with a fleet of shared self-driving cars, allowing in a medium-sized European city such as Lisbon, reallocating 1.5 million square metres to other public uses. This equates to almost 20% of the surface of kerb-to-kerb street area (or 210 football pitches!)

These findings suggest that shared self-driving fleets could significantly reduce congestion. In terms of environmental impact, only 2% more vehicles would be needed for a fleet of cleaner, electric, shared self-driving vehicles, to compensate for reduced range and battery charging time.

So what are the policy insights from this study?

  • The impact of self-driving shared fleets is significant but is sensitive to policy choices and deployment scenarios. Transport policies can influence the type and size of the fleet, the mix between traditional public transport and shared vehicles and, ultimately, the amount of car travel, congestion and emissions in the city. For small and medium-sized cities it is conceivable that a shared fleet of self-driving vehicles could completely obviate the need for traditional public transport.
  • Actively managing freed capacity and space is still necessary to lock in benefits. Shared vehicle fleets free up a significant amount of space in the city. However prior experience indicates that this space must be pro-actively managed in order to lock in benefits. Management strategies could include restricting access to this space by allocating it to bicycle tracks or enlarging sidewalks, or also to commercial or recreational uses, as well as to delivery bays. For example, freed-up space in off-street parking could be used for logistics distribution centres.
  • Road safety will likely improve; environmental benefits will depend on vehicle technology. Despite increases in overall levels of car travel, the deployment of large-scale self-driving vehicle fleets will likely reduce crashes and crash severity. At the same time, environmental impacts are still tied to per-kilometre emissions and thus will be dependent on the penetration of more fuel efficient and less polluting technologies.
  • Public transport, taxi operations and urban transport governance will have to adapt. The deployment of self-driving and shared fleets in an urban context will directly compete with the way in which taxi and public transport services are currently organised. These fleets might effectively become a new form of low capacity/high quality public transport. Labour issues will be significant but there is no reason why public transport operators or taxi companies could not take an active role in delivering these services.

Useful links

As well as this study, the ITF Corporate Partnership Board has released additional studies looking at Autonomous Driving: Regulatory Issues and Mobility Data: Changes and Opportunities

This article first appeared in the OECD Insights blog