Campaign Strives To Make Roads Less Deadly
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.
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)