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Deficits in pedestrian traffic: what are cities, states and the federal government doing?

Walking is healthy and good for the environment. Nevertheless, pedestrian traffic in Germany has been neglected for far too long. What deficits are there? How can more security be provided? What are cities, states and the federal government doing? A glimpse.

There is no way of getting around more popular than walking. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), more than 80 percent of Germans like to walk. What's more, almost every third trip is covered in this way.

Especially women, children and older people often move around in this way. The over-80s have the highest proportion of foot traffic at 34 percent. In addition, the BMVI survey "Mobility in Germany" (MiD) confirms that walking contributes to staying mobile, especially in old age. And: It saves money and at the same time protects the environment if we leave the car at home.

"Last but not least, it's healthy: According to studies from England, walking for 20 minutes a day leads to an average increase in life expectancy of more than eight months. In the end, walking doesn't cost life time, but gives it as a gift," says Roland Stimpel, member of the board of the German Foot Traffic Association (FUSS e. V.).

The downside: Pedestrian traffic can be very dangerous - especially in inner-city areas. Fortunately, the number of pedestrians killed in road traffic has fallen over the past few years, but they are still the most vulnerable group. According to Destatis, 376 pedestrians died in 2020 alone, 275 of them in urban areas. Based on all accidents, human error was the most common cause of accidents. 88.5 percent of accidents involving personal injury were due to driver error, 2.9 percent to pedestrian error, and 8.6 percent to general causes such as the weather or technical defects.

Older people and children affected

A study commissioned by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) has also shown that more than half of the accidents involving pedestrians in urban areas are "crossing accidents" and cyclists after cars are the are the most common conflict partners. Furthermore, the injury statistics show that older people and children are often affected. Just one example: According to Destatis, 1,189 of the 5,130 seriously injured pedestrians in 2020 were aged 75 or older.

If you ask Roland Stimpel about the causes of these accidents, he also sees the problem when crossing lanes: "On the open road, crossing aids are often missing. Old people in particular shy away from long walks to the next traffic light or central island." In addition, the driving speed is often too high for safe crossing and the vehicles are too close together. Also, many turns did not respect the priority of pedestrians.Traffic lights, which simultaneously give green to pedestrians and those turning next to them, are a particular source of danger. But these are precisely the situations that represent a major challenge for drivers.

"Our attitude towards children and senior citizens in particular must change fundamentally: These people cannot physically adapt to today's traffic. So traffic has to adapt to people," continues Stimpel. This doesn't just mean drivers, who should be more considerate of pedestrians. The main aim here is to plan cities in such a way that they allow pedestrians safe freedom of movement with wide sidewalks and space for all road users.

This is exactly what has been neglected in the past. Because whenever it comes to the necessary change in mobility in terms of climate protection, everyone talks about improving local public transport or expanding the cycle path network, but only rarely about pedestrian traffic. As early as 2018, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) published a so-called departmental research plan on this topic, in which it presented proposals for a nationwide pedestrian traffic strategy.

Not enough staff

The emphasis here is on "nationwide". The report also contains a deficit analysis. And one of the sticking points as to why things are not running as smoothly as they should are that responsibilities are spread too far and there is a lack of staff - and that applies to the federal, state and local levels. The states and municipalities are responsible for planning urban traffic.

In addition to the security problems already mentioned, the UBA also criticizes the poor data situation. Pedestrian traffic has so far only been partially recorded and is therefore not adequately taken into account. In the BMVI survey mentioned above, for example, only journeys "according to the principle of the main means of transport used" are recorded. At the same time – and this is more than obvious – paths from the front door to the car or from the office to the bus stop are also footpaths that are not determined in this way. According to the UBA, this would double the proportion of footpaths.

According to the UBA, another deficit is that pedestrian traffic becomes unattractive due to the concentration of planning on car traffic, due to noise, high levels of pollutants, paths that are too narrow and poor lighting. Similarly problematic: accessibility. "Many cities and municipalities are still at the beginning of this process," it says. Barrier-free access is often only implemented selectively at bus stops or public buildings, and is rare across entire chains of paths.

In addition to a lack of research and funding, the UBA also criticizes that pedestrian traffic is neglected compared to car traffic and that decision-makers do not take it seriously. "Pedestrian traffic hardly has an effective lobby," it says.With all the deficits listed, the question naturally arises: What can be done? "A speed of 30 is the most important key to safety. The stopping distance is only half as long as at 50, and the probability of a pedestrian dying in a collision drops by as much as 75 percent," says Stimpel. Helpful are zebra crossings and central islands as well as traffic lights, where pedestrians and those turning in their direction get green one after the other instead of at the same time.

However, in order to achieve such goals, the municipalities and states need support from the federal government. FUSS e. V. recently published a brochure together with the Federal Environment Agency, which is intended to make it easier for cities to plan their pedestrian traffic well. Other institutions such as the German Road Safety Council or the Federal Highway Research Institute have also presented long lists of measures intended to improve the situation. In the meantime, the Federal Government and the Ministry of Transport have also become active and are committed to pedestrian traffic, with the BMVI developing a national pedestrian traffic strategy.

Strategy helps municipalities

"A pedestrian traffic strategy can increase the importance of pedestrian traffic and give states and municipalities important guidance in designing their transport systems to be pedestrian-friendly," says the federal government's website. It's about time. If you look around other European countries, we in Germany are lagging behind.

As early as 2002, for example, there was a first draft for a national strategy in Switzerland. Norway started in 2012 with a plan to sustainably improve walking for the population. However, countries in other parts of the world have also been considering walking for some time, such as in Western Australia, where a first walking strategy was presented in 2007.

The Pedestrian Congress (FUKO) was initiated a few years ago so that the topic receives even more attention in Germany and the competencies of the various institutions can be better bundled. The third FUKO in autumn 2020 in Stuttgart was the starting signal for the first German strategy. "I hope that we will use the momentum from today's event to jointly tackle the task of making walking in Germany even safer and more attractive," said Karola Lambeck, Head of the BMVI, at the end of the event.

The strategy should be developed in the first half of 2021. What has become of it remains to be seen. At the time of going to press, there was no answer to a request from auto motor und sport. The good news: the federal states and municipalities are already doing a lot to reduce pedestrian traffic. The city of Leipzig even has its own officer for this.

Interview with a pedestrian traffic officer

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What are your tasks as pedestrian traffic officer of the city of Leipzig?

I actually have the full range of transport projects on my agenda and check whether everything is right with these construction projects for pedestrian traffic. From zebra crossings to bus stops, from complex construction measures for entire street cross-sections to the correct curb height. The second level of my work is strategic pedestrian traffic planning, here it is my responsibility to create the conceptual plans for pedestrian traffic in our city.

What measures should a municipality take to make pedestrian traffic safer?

All people must be able to move safely, comfortably, without fear and without obstacles in public space. For this purpose, many footpaths have to be built or renovated and new crossing aids such as pedestrian traffic lights or zebra crossings have to be planned. Illegal use of sidewalks by parked vehicles must not be tolerated. Likewise, joint tours with cyclists must be avoided if a safety risk can be identified or the quality of stay is impaired.

Does pedestrian traffic get too little attention in urban planning? If so, why is that?

Yes. For a long time we have geared our cities too closely to the needs of car traffic. Pedestrian traffic has literally gotten under the wheels in many places. As a residential location, however, those areas are attractive where you can do everything on foot and where the important destinations are within walking distance. In order to increase the quality of life for the local people, there is no need for city freeways and parking lot deserts, but places to stay, to stroll and to feel good.

For which people is foot traffic particularly dangerous and why?

Many road users are not familiar with paragraph 3 of the StVO, which states that if I drive a vehicle, I must behave towards children, those in need of help and the elderly in such a way that these road users are not endangered. Even if the speed limit is 30, I have to adjust my driving speed significantly and be much more considerate when there are children playing on the side of the road or people who have difficulties crossing the road.

Is foot traffic sufficiently supported and promoted by the federal and state governments?

No. In contrast to the other types of transport, there are currently no comparable federal and state funding programs for pedestrian transport. There is still a lot of room for improvement here.

Do you have a car or do you walk?

Me and my family don't have a private car. We do everything on foot, by bike or tram, sometimes with a rental car.

Conclusion

One thing is clear: pedestrians – including older people and children in particular – are the most vulnerable group of road users, especially in built-up areas.This is shown not least by the accident statistics. It is therefore natural for drivers to be considerate of vulnerable road users. However, the safety of pedestrians is not only the responsibility of drivers, but also of planners and politicians. Because our cities have been designed more for cars for decades, many sidewalks are not wide enough and not consistently barrier-free. Here it is up to the federal states and municipalities to change something, and to politicians to support them - especially now, when a mobility turnaround is unavoidable. It's a pity that Germany is lagging behind here compared to other countries. It is all the better that there will soon be a national pedestrian traffic strategy that will hopefully help to make traffic safer not just for pedestrians but for everyone.

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