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Follow the Data Podcast: Driving Down Road Traffic Injuries

Without action, road traffic crashes will become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.

That’s why the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety has dedicated $259 million over 12 years to implement interventions that have been proven to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income countries.

In 2015 we began implementing evidence-based interventions in our global network of ten cities, strengthening road safety legislation in five targeted countries, and crash testing new vehicles in four world regions.

One of the cities included in the initiative is Fortaleza, Brazil. Efforts include a comprehensive pedestrian safety program with redesigns and improvements in three large neighborhoods. Cycling infrastructure now has 215 km of safe bike lanes, compared to only 114 in April 2015. The city inaugurated its first slow-speed zone (Area de Transito Calmo) in the Rodolfo Teofilo neighborhood.

Kelly Larson of Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team spoke to two partners about their efforts in Fortaleza and in other cities.

Luis Sabóia is the Executive Secretary for the Department of Public Services in Fortaleza – where road traffic deaths dropped 32 percent from 2014 to 2017.

Skye Duncan is the Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, known as NACTO. She has been leading a multi-year program to develop the new Global Street Design Guide and to provide technical assistance to cities around the world on safe and sustainable street design, including São Paulo and Fortaleza in Brazil, Bogotá in Colombia, Mumbai in India, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

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We hope you enjoy this episode. Follow us on Twitter @BloombergDotOrg for information about our next episode. Until then, keep following the data!



KATHERINE OLIVER: Welcome to Follow the Data, I’m your host, Katherine Oliver. To put today’s episode into context – take a moment to consider how often you cross a street, ride a bike, or drive a vehicle. Many of these activities are part of our daily lives, accounting for a large part of how we move through the world.

Shockingly, road traffic injuries are the 8th leading cause of death globally, killing more than 1.3 million people each year. Nearly 85 percent of the world’s countries lack adequate laws to counter the number of traffic deaths and injuries and 90 percent of these fatalities occur in low- and middle- income countries. Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety is dedicated to shifting gears.

Working with leading road safety organizations, the initiative focuses on proven interventions in five areas: behavioral interventions, like helmet and seat-belt use, speed limits, and drinking and driving, infrastructure improvements, sustainable urban transport, vehicle standards, and strengthening policies.

Kelly Larson of Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team spoke to two partners about their efforts to make streets safer for everyone.

Skye Duncan is the Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, known as NACTO, where she has been leading a multi-year program to develop the new Global Street Design Guide and to provide technical assistance to cities around the world on safe and sustainable street design, including São Paulo and Fortaleza in Brazil, Bogotá in Columbia, Mumbai in India, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Luis Sabóia is the Executive Secretary for the Department of Public Services in Fortaleza, Brazil. As one of the cities participating in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, Fortaleza has seen success – road traffic deaths dropped 32 percent from 2014 to 2017.

Listen to their conversation about how the partners work together, hear about solutions that work, and hear about goals for the future.

KELLY LARSON: Skye and Luis, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I’d like to start with Skye. Can you describe the challenges of road safety globally?

SKYE DUNCAN: Sure thing, Kelly. Thanks again for having us here today. Sadly, road traffic injuries are currently at eighth leading cause of death when we look around the world, and each year, we have over 1.3 million people who are dying and another 50 million who are seriously injured so their entire lifestyles are drastically affected.

When we look where this is happening, we know that 90 percent of these fatalities are in our low and middle income countries and who is affected most, it’s actually more than 50 percent of the road traffic fatalities are our vulnerable users, so our pedestrians, our people on motorcycles and our cyclists because they don’t have that protective armor around them when they move through our streets.

LARSON: We know there are ways to reduce these fatalities. Can you talk a bit about what is being done to reduce crashes, injuries and deaths around the world?

DUNCAN: Yeah, sure. I think to start with it’s important to acknowledge that we need a huge group of people working together to do this, so we know that starts with the political will, the need address these deaths and know that they don’t need to happen, and we know what works, so that high level political will has already seen us start to move that needle. We know we have to strengthen legislation on safety issues, so things around helmet use, seat-belt use, speeding and of course drunk driving and making sure that these laws are communicated to the public properly and enforced by police.

Our team in particular, focus on the safer streets and safer mobility, so we really look at the infrastructure or the built-in environment aspect of it and what we’ve been doing is designing our streets essentially like highways, and we have to think more about safety and not speed to make sure that we’re saving lives so by putting people first, that can allow us to shift decades of a kind of auto-centric approach of designing urban streets and instead to put people first. We know that how we design our streets essentially tells us how to behave, so if we have bad street design, we’re going to behave badly on that street, just as good street design can allow us to behave safely, both as pedestrians and cyclists and drivers and transit users.

LARSON: Unfortunately, most streets are designed for vehicles. Can you talk about what your organization, the Global Designing Cities Initiative is working on around the world?

DUNCAN: Sure. We’re trying to essentially help, as I mentioned shift that paradigm of decades of having the car at the top of that hierarchical period and instead putting people first and prioritizing safe and sustainable mobility options and with particular focus on our kids, our people with disabilities and our elderly, again our vulnerable users, so for us a big part was producing a global street design guide, which was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and really looked to inspire leaders and inform practitioners and empower communities to know what’s possible of their streets, so we’re thrilled to have that as a free download.

It’s being translated in different languages and endorsed by cities and organizations around the world, and so that, that information doesn’t sit on a shelf, we support that with technical assistance, and that involves looking at the policy and updating design guidance, doing a lot of capacity building for local engineers and transportation planners, and then of course getting projects on the ground, so we’ll physical go paint the streets and then collect metrics to show that a certain strategy can reduce speeds or make it safer for pedestrians.

LARSON: You mention paint. How are you using paint on these streets?

DUNCAN:  It’s interesting because our urban streets are our most critical network of public space and we’ve really been wasting that space in many cases and so to rethink where we literally paint the lines and how much space we give to different users, that dictates the speed that a car will drive at when it’s turning around. A shorter crossing distance means that a pedestrian has less exposure to a moving vehicle as they cross the street or as a child tries to get to school, so these very simple strategies, actually, which we outline in the global street design guide allow engineers and practitioners to literally go out and paint the streets, see what’s possible and to see a new reality of safer streets.

LARSON: Thanks for that. The Global Designing Cities Initiative is a part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety. Can you talk about the support that you have been providing cities as part of that initiative, and in particular, how have you been working with the city of Fortaleza to re-design its city streets?

DUNCAN: We feel incredibly honored to be working with Luis and the team in Fortaleza. They’ve set an incredibly high bar and have proven what’s possible when you get great partnerships together and you think holistically about embedding road safety into all aspects of how our cities and neighborhoods are designed and maintained.

We love that they are willing to think outside the box a little bit, that they’re really open to learning from the successes and mistakes from other contexts and have been willing to invest both the time and the resources required to start demonstrating a new possibility on the ground, so you know, everything from reducing speeds on dangerous corridors, improving the quality of the cycle infrastructure that they’re implementing to adding new safe and sustainable modes of transportation like the bike share or the bike share for kids, which I adore, the new transit options and the electric car share to physically transforming the streets and the recent work in Cidade 2000 and Dragão do Mar to use that paint to rethink the geometry has been phenomenal and we’re incredibly grateful to be a part of that team and to help Luis and the team.

LARSON: Sounds like a really great collaboration. I’d like to turn to Luis. Thanks for being with us today. Can you talk a bit more about the road safety situation in Fortaleza and then your role and the city’s role in addressing this issue?

LUIS SABOIA: Yes. Deaths and traffic is a big problem in Fortaleza, but we have actually a lot of good outcomes in the past years. The road traffic deaths have dropped 32 percent in 2017 compared to 2014. Just three years ago, it was the fifth leading cause of death in Fortaleza and now is maybe the 10th, we are getting better, but my role is just to maintain my team engaged and get inspiration, inspiration from other cities and from the support, technical support that you have given us.

DUNCAN: That’s really great. Can you talk about specifically how Fortaleza reduced road traffic fatalities by 32 percent.

SABOIA: Yes. First of all, I have to say that we have a very strong political support and commitment from our mayor and it’s a key factor to do this and the second is that we have our mind open to, learn from the best experience from all over the world and also from the bad. And I have to thank Bloomberg and all the partners for the technical support and the financial support, but we made a lot of interventions, urban design actions, enforcement actions, we have a lot of challenges. We still have a lot of challenges to face, but we are succeeding.

LARSON: Recently, Fortaleza reduced the speed limit on some of your very high fatality corridors to 50 kilometers per hour. Was that difficult to change the speed limit or was the city and its citizens ready for that change?

SABOIA: Well, I think it was easier than I supposed it but I think in the past three years, we’ve made a very good work. I mean, with the press, with the media, getting support from them it’s not so difficult to implement these changes on that avenue. I have to highlight that 107 people died in this avenue in the past 10 years, and after the interventions, we have a reduction of 64 percent in the number of crashes in that avenue.

LARSON: You had mentioned that you had very high level political support. We know that Mayor Robert Cláudio is a real champion for road safety. Can you talk about what it means in the agencies and the city of Fortaleza to have that kind of support from the mayor?

SABOIA: Yes, in fact, we have a very, very strong support from the mayor and every month, we have meeting with the mayor to discuss with him about the main problems in the city about road safety and we were able to have all the municipal agencies working coordinated so it was, it was only possible because of the strong political commitment of the mayor, so I think it’s a key factor to our success is to having all the agencies working together with the same vision

LARSON: Just one last question for you, Luis. What is your hope for road safety in Fortaleza. We’ve seen a 32 percent reduction in fatalities. Do you have a goal in mind for what you hope to achieve in the next couple years?

SABOIA: Yes, I think we can have less than 100 deaths in Fortaleza. I think we can have this in the next two or three years. I think it’s possible, so we are working in our road safety plan and I think that in the next years, we can have less than 100 deaths per years, but in the long-term we have zero deaths. It’s a dream, but I think it’s possible.

LARSON: Luis and Skye, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it and we wish you the best in your work in the future.

OLIVER: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow the Data. Many thanks to Skye Duncan and Luis Sabóia for joining us.

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Follow the Data podcast. This episode was produced by Electra Colevas, Ivy Li, Jean Weinberg, and Kelly Larson, music by Mark Piro – special thanks to David Sucherman.

As our founder Mike Bloomberg says, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So until next time, keep following the data. I’m Katherine Oliver, thanks for listening.