New Baseline on Walking and Cycling in Africa

Up to a billion people in Africa walk and cycle for 56 minutes every day. More people walk than any other form of transport on the continent. However, only 5% of roads in Africa provide an acceptable standard (three-star or better using the iRAP system) for pedestrians and 7% for cyclists, and approximately 261 pedestrians and 18 cyclists are killed every day.

Yet, walking and cycling are an essential part of strategies available for governments to reduce emissions, improve air quality, and tackle climate change. Unless walking and cycling are safe and comfortable and, as income levels increase across Africa, people will move away from these more sustainable transportation modes to personal motorized transport as soon as they can afford to, increasing congestion and pollution and continuing to reduce safety on the roads. In the past, misconceptions about walking and cycling have damaged their position in transport planning, including the perception that active mobility is a recreational activity instead of an essential part of people’s daily commutes and other activities or that people only walk or cycle because they are poor and perceived as having lower value of time.

Walking and Cycling: Evidence and Good Practice in Action, a new report from the UN Environment Programme, UN Habitat, and Walk21, has gathered and analyzed data and best practices from across Africa to help governments to “retain, enable, and protect those already moving around in the most sustainable way.” The report explores the challenges facing policy makers in Africa, notably lack of good data on walking and cycling, but also notes that significant opportunities exist. “African cities have the opportunity to ‘leapfrog’ investments in private vehicle travel and invest in walking and cycling instead,” it states. Where in many regions “large scale behavioral shifts toward public transport, cycling and walking,” are required to undo years of car-centric transport planning, in Africa, focus can be “instead modal protection and retention.”

The report provides a helpful baseline of walking and cycling conditions in each of the 54 African countries, including country-level pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries and indicators for policy, safety, accessibility, comfort, activity; comfort level, activity/demand, accessibility, and emissions. It is a valuable resource for NGOs in Africa working to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

The report aligns well to the Africa Call to Action, defined by Alliance members earlier in the year, that called for “evidence-based actions that put people, especially pedestrians and vulnerable road users, at the center”. It supports a number of the specific calls made by NGOs, including:

  • “Improv[ing] the data and evidence base to build a road safety and mobility information system in every country”: the report states that “baseline data on walking and cycling in Africa that is consistent and reliable is often difficult to source. Many local and national governments are aware of the high reliance on walking and cycling as well as the benefits but often cite not having the precise data and information available to act on the urgent needs of pedestrians and cyclists.”
  • “Protecting vulnerable road users by … relocating road space and improving land-use planning to promote a modal shift from individual motorized transport to active, sustainable, and safe modes, including walking, and cycling in urban and rural areas;”: The report notes how, even in countries where the walking is not norm, that the needs of motorists have been prioritized. It says, “Infrastructure focused on the comfort of drivers rather than people walking and cycling is a missed opportunity to take advantage of all of the health, environmental and accessibility benefits.“  
  • “Prioritiz[ing] road safety in government spending”: the report points out that “no matter how well a walking and cycling policy is written, without funding and political will, it will be a challenge for the policy to become a reality.” It uses the example of Nairobi City Council, which was the first authority in Africa to agree 20% of its budget for walking and cycling.
  • “Meaningfully includ[ing], engag[ing], and support[ing] civil society organizations that represent road users as strategic partners within all levels of road safety planning and execution”: The report encourages policy makers to involve communities in decision making, noting that “many of the people who walk and cycle in Africa feel that they are overlooked and undervalued by traditional transport decision makers.” It cites Ethiopia, which has implemented online platforms for citizen participation, as inspiration for other countries.

Read Walking and Cycling: Evidence and Good Practice in Action HERE and find the Africa NGO Call to Action HERE.