Walking is universally considered as healthy and is a prerequisite of mobility: moving from one place to another often starts and finishes with a walk. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), walking is the most popular means of transport across the world; however, data on walkability worldwide are scarce since in the past “walking has not been seriously considered as a means of transport and, consequently, has not been measured” according to a research by Sauter & Wedderburn in 2008. This is currently changing but the difficulties in data collection and analysis make measuring walkability in a standardized way extremely difficult.
In Ghana, walking is one of the most important forms of transport, yet it is not prioritized by urban planners when putting transport policies in place. Most people in the Accra Metropolitan Area (AMA) walk to school or work, to trade, access health, visit friends and relatives, for leisure, shopping or other socio-economic activities. For some, walking is the only option since they cannot afford to pay for a bus or a taxi.
According to the Second National Household Transport Survey carried out by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in 2012, 12% of all travels within the AMA are walk-only. This indicates that over 70% of the AMA’s residents walk for at least some part of their daily travel: about 64% of the working population travel on foot to work and 74% of children of school-going age walk to school.
With about 28% of AMA’s population of school-going age (5-19 years), many children are likely to walk to school over long distances. Even though walking is the most affordable mode of transport and can reduce health problems, it is not safe in most of the neighborhoods in Accra. The 2016 Global Road Safety study found that 90% of children in Accra walk to school unsupervised by adults. According to the 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety by WHO “child pedestrians are among the most vulnerable road users in sub-Saharan Africa because they are more likely to walk to school over long distances on roads that put them in dangerous proximity to traffic.” Footpaths are inadequate, safe road crossings are limited and no efforts are being made by authorities to enforce speed regulations.
Barriers to walking
Although pedestrian walkways are available in certain areas in Accra, some are highly congested with hawkers, badly maintained, unclean, and sometimes full of garbage, conditions that make walking dangerous and inconvenient.
Pictures: hawkers competing with pedestrians for space (left); pavement for walking taken over by hawkers and garbage (right).
In some areas, the lack of pavements and sidewalks forces people to share the road with vehicles which pose a danger to their lives. An analysis of traffic deaths and serious injuries in the AMA’s Road Safety Report in 2018 found that on average, pedestrians made up 60% of traffic-related deaths and 37% of serious injuries. According to the 2016 report ‘Step Change: An Action Agenda on Safe Walking for Africa’s Children’ by Amend and FIA Foundation, traffic fatalities are among the top five causes of death for children over five years in many African countries.
Pictures: pedestrians sharing the road with moving vehicles (left); community road without a sidewalk (centre and right).
Safety is an important component of walkability. Pedestrians should feel safe when walking and this can be achieved with well designed streets, wide enough for two people to walk alongside, with trees to provide shade, speed tables, speed humps and with pedestrian crossing and streetlights, which provide a form of safety in congested or dangerous areas.
Well designed sidewalks, together with greenery and trees along the streets, bring benefits to the community since a pedestrian-friendly environment can discourage the use of private cars, thus reducing traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and air and noise pollution. Also, a pedestrian-friendly environment encourages residents to walk to local shops, fostering the economic growth of local districts as well as promoting social connection in the community.
Policymakers must ensure that, when designing and constructing urban roads and street networks, footpaths, walkways and sidewalks are made available and safe. People should be encouraged to walk not only for socio-economic reasons but also for leisure. Although the AMA has a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan in place, its implementation has not been very successful and pedestrian fatalities are still very high. Measures must be put in place by AMA authorities to improve traffic management and to reduce accidents with pedestrians. This will go a long way to address some aspects of the pedestrian safety challenges that the city of Accra faces and will enhance the quality of life of the residents and promote healthier communities.