Cam­paign Strives To Make Roads Less Deadly

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY JACK LAURENSON [email protected]

Even though Ukraine faces Rus­sia’s war in the east of the coun­try, traf­fic ac­ci­dents still kill many more Ukraini­ans than bombs and bul­lets do, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est of­fi­cial data.

In fact, as is the case in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, in­ci­dents re­lated to poor road safety are now the lead­ing cause of death among young Ukraini­ans, aged be­tween 17 and 25.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est num­bers from the Na­tional Po­lice of Ukraine — although widely re­garded as be­ing un­der­stated due to in­suf­fi­cient data col­lec­tion — there are at least 4,500 road fa­tal­i­ties and over 30,000 se­ri­ous in­juries each year on the coun­try's roads, with pedes­tri­ans or cy­clists ac­count­ing for 50 per­cent of those killed or in­jured.

The Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank, or EIB, is about to launch a new ur­ban road safety ini­tia­tive in Ukraine, val­ued at al­most 180 mil­lion eu­ros — one of the largest sin­gle in­vest­ments of its type through­out the whole re­gion.

“It will be the big­gest project we (the EIB) have fi­nanced with road

safety as a main ob­jec­tive so far — thus demon­strat­ing that there is a need and a de­mand for such in­vest­ments,” said Ist­van Heinczinger, a se­nior sec­tor econ­o­mist with the EIB’s Re­gional Trans­port Di­vi­sion.

“If the city au­thor­i­ties use the fi­nanc­ing ef­fec­tively, then the project can help pre­vent road deaths and se­ri­ous in­juries,” Heinczinger said. “Many of these will be pedes­tri­ans — and some of them prob­a­bly chil­dren,” he added.

EIB ex­perts say that the coun­try's un­safe roads aren't just ex­tract­ing a hu­man price, they're dam­ag­ing the econ­omy also, with Ukraine los­ing at least $4 bil­lion per year in re­la­tion to road traf­fic ac­ci­dents.

Im­prov­ing roads

Un­safe and badly-man­aged streets, es­pe­cially in ur­ban ar­eas, mean that mil­lions of Ukraini­ans are los­ing out on the eco­nomic and so­cial ben­e­fits that come from safe roads, ac­cord­ing to EIB ex­perts.

In ma­jor ur­ban ar­eas through­out Ukraine, it’s not un­com­mon for side­walks to be jam-packed with parked cars and the city’s roads to be con­gested with bumper-to-bumper traf­fic.

And bad city plan­ning and road man­age­ment can also put Ukraini­ans in the hos­pi­tal. On the first day of snow in Kyiv on Nov. 14, lo­cal po­lice re­ceived 15,000 calls to their hot­line, re­port­ing 500 traf­fic ac­ci­dents that in­jured dozens of peo­ple.

But it doesn't have to be this way, ac­cord­ing to EIB road safety spe­cial­ist Per Mathi­asen, a Dan­ish en­gi­neer with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence spe­cial­iz­ing in safe roads and high­ways.

Mathi­asen, formerly with the Dan­ish gov­ern­ment, later an ad­viser to the World Bank and now with the EIB's Re­gional Trans­port Di­vi­sion, says he's be­gin­ning to see the po­lit­i­cal will

in Ukraine to fi­nally im­prove the coun­try's dan­ger­ous roads.

“Ukraine is at the start of a decades-long process of im­prov­ing road safety,” he told the Kyiv Post, adding that de­vel­oped coun­tries such as those in the Euro­pean Union took many years and learned lots of hard les­sons as they made their high­ways less deadly.

“But there are some short-term things that can be done quickly, the low-hang­ing fruit as we would call it, that can have an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on the num­ber of ca­su­al­ties.”

Bet­ter traf­fic polic­ing and the low­er­ing of speed lim­its, cou­pled with proper en­force­ment of the lim­its, are sure-fire ways to quickly re­duce Ukraine's dis­ap­point­ing road ca­su­alty fig­ures.

“Low­er­ing speed lim­its will have an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on these num­bers,” says Mathi­asen.

“But there is a be­hav­ior and men­tal­ity prob­lem too… a lack of re­spect for things like speed lim­its,” the ex­pert added, high­light­ing a longer-term chal­lenge for Ukrainian so­ci­ety, where things like drunk-driv­ing and ex­ces­sive speed aren't yet con­sid­ered so­cially un­ac­cept­able enough.

Mathi­asen says that while Ukrainian law­mak­ers have talked a good talk, the will to act firmly on road safety has been lack­ing un­til now.

Ac­cord­ing to him, 2019 could be the year when im­prove­ments fi­nally be­gin to pick up pace thanks to a healthy in­jec­tion of Euro­pean fi­nanc­ing and ex­per­tise.

Road safety stan­dards

With over 170,000 kilo­me­ters of in­ter­con­nected roads and high­ways weav­ing around the coun­try, and most of the net­work in need of up­grade or re­pair, Ukraine's Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture has a chal­leng­ing port­fo­lio and ex­pects to spend bil­lions of dol­lars on im­prove­ments in the com­ing years.

In 2018 alone, the min­istry has promised to have spent $1.8 bil­lion on up­grad­ing Ukraine’s roads.

The EIB, es­sen­tially the Euro­pean Union's in­vest­ment bank, that often co-fi­nances projects with the Euro­pean Bank for Re­con­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment, or EBRD, is pay­ing close at­ten­tion to Ukrainian roads.

And, more im­por­tantly, it’s will­ing to in­vest — but only if the roads reach Euro­pean safety stan­dards.

“Be­yond polic­ing, we're look­ing to help Ukraine mit­i­gate road safety prob­lems in the plan­ning stage,” says Mathi­asen, who says EIB safety ex­perts pay close at­ten­tion to fac­tors such as the road shape, place­ment of signs and sig­nals.

Un­til now, this has been chal­leng­ing be­cause for­eign ex­perts have only been able to do so much when it comes to in­flu­enc­ing Ukrainian leg­is­la­tion, on speed for ex­am­ple.

“We give rec­om­men­da­tions… and are even help­ing to draft [road safety] laws, but it has been a chal­lenge be­cause of the bu­reau­cracy,” says Mathi­asen.

While en­ti­ties like the EIB, EBRD and World Bank can make cer­tain safety stan­dards a con­di­tion dur­ing the plan­ning and build­ing, if they fi­nanced it, they don't own the road, so can­not con­tra­dict the na­tional laws of Ukraine once it's op­er­a­tional.

“We have to help them leg­is­late,” says Mathi­asen.

Ur­ban road safety

The EIB and EBRD now plan a new, 177-mil­lion-euro project to over­haul ur­ban road safety, im­ple­mented over three to four years from 2019, in Ukraine's ma­jor cities: Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Odesa.

Al­lo­cat­ing roughly 30 mil­lion eu­ros per city in co-fi­nanced EIB and EBRD loans, ex­perts say the ini­tia­tive will fund hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent sub-projects that will im­prove ur­ban road safety, sav­ing lives and money.

Ac­ci­dent blackspots will be in­spected and im­proved, cy­cle-paths and side-walks up­graded while roads, in­ter­sec­tions and cross­ings will all be over­hauled across the par­tic­i­pat­ing cities.

For the EIB, which is still a bank, as op­posed to an NGO, it makes sound busi­ness sense to in­vest in safe roads that prop­erly bal­ance the de­mand of all users: driv­ers, pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists alike.

The re­sult, ac­cord­ing to their pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, is a more live­able city in which it’s eas­ier to do busi­ness.

“We know from stud­ies in other cities world­wide that safer roads in ur­ban ar­eas — with less ve­hi­cle traf­fic — can gen­er­ate ben­e­fits for the lo­cal busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment,” said Heinczinger.

“The re­turn on in­vest­ment (for the EIB) is firstly ben­e­fit­ing the Ukrainian peo­ple, in terms of saved lives and in­juries and all the (fi­nan­cial) costs that's as­so­ci­ated with that,” Heinczinger added.

“They might also be able to live in health­ier cities with more at­trac­tive ur­ban streets, which in turn can be mon­e­tized. Our over­all cost-ben­e­fit as­sess­ment came out pos­i­tively — it is ex­pected to be a good in­vest­ment,” the EIB econ­o­mist said.

A po­lice of­fi­cer works at the site of a road ac­ci­dent af­ter a mo­bile crane crashed onto pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles on Oct. 22, 2018 in Kyiv. Ac­ci­dents on the roads cost Ukraine an es­ti­mated $4 bil­lion per year, ac­cord­ing to the Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

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