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Ensure Road Safety For Children With Tactical Intervention And Save Young Lives

Tactical urbanism can be a promising solution to reduce and prevent child road fatalities, which costs India 3 percent of its GDP. A safe commute to school is every child’s right. So save young lives and help prosper the nation, suggests Aishwarya Agarwal on the occasion of Children’s Day.

India has done a commendable job in scaling up immunisation through intensive vaccination drives to protect children’s lives from diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, polio, measles, etc., and most recently Covid-19. But what remains unaddressed is the man-made epidemic — road traffic fatalities! Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents worldwide. Therefore, road safety for 128 million children residing in urban India deserves urgent attention.

Parents are frequently concerned about their children walking or cycling alone to school. This is justified because the National Crime Records Bureau 2021 statistics show that 14,875 children under the age of 18 died in road accidents in India. This translates to 40 children dying every day. Road fatalities involving children under the age of 18 accounted for 9.5 percent of all road fatalities in 2021, an increase from 6.4 percent in 2017. According to a 2019 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), and Underwriters Laboratories in Bengaluru, approximately 2 percent of children injured in a road accident are likely to develop a lifelong disability. These figures leave little doubt that the need to make commutes safer for millions of school-going children has become even more pressing.

The problem is that policymakers rarely consider children as key users of mobility infrastructure. When planning and designing mobility systems, children are often under-prioritised or even overlooked. They are typically not visible in mobility datasets and are taken for granted as pedestrians or cyclists. As a result, uniform legal guidelines to ensure every child’s safety during their school commute are currently lacking. Traffic congestion, poor road infrastructure, speeding vehicles, disrespectful behaviour from other road users, and lax enforcement of laws, all contribute to the everyday risks that children face on their way to and from school. Addressing these challenges may necessitate behavioural changes, but a closer look reveals that the underlying problem is a lack of infrastructure. Good quality footpaths and cycle lanes with clear distinctions from roads, dedicated waiting spaces near bus stops, demarcated parking for auto-rickshaws, safe and frequent crossings, traffic calming measures such as speed bumps, installation of traffic signals and signages, and so on are just a few of the infrastructure interventions required to make school-surrounding areas safe.

Traditional street infrastructure projects are time-consuming and capital-intensive. Furthermore, not all solutions have the desired impact; thus, tactical urbanism. It is the temporary nature of tactical urbanism that allows for experimentation, with failures discarded and successes made more permanent. Tactical interventions make use of simple changes, visual connections, and temporary installations like cones, barricades, and ropes and the use of colours.

Several tactical intervention initiatives have been carried out in cities such as Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Rohtak, Gurugram, Delhi, etc. to create safe school zones for children. One such tactical intervention, the Christ Church School zone, as a pilot project was implemented in Mumbai by WRI India. The post-intervention survey revealed that 93 percent of children felt the street was more accessible while 41 percent of vehicle drivers stopped at the vibrant pedestrian crossing compared to 10 percent pre-intervention. The success of the tactical intervention received due backing from the city authorities in the form of the allocation of a dedicated budget for more such trials. Thus, quick and inexpensive alterations allow people to first-hand experience the desired changes, while also allowing the collection of data and feedback to make a stronger case for long-term implementation.

Aside from infrastructure shortcomings, children frequently engage in unsafe street behaviour, such as crossing against the traffic light or failing to cross at a pedestrian crosswalk. The use of colourful pedestrian crossings helps children identify safe crossing areas while also alerting motorists that they must stop and yield to them. Furthermore, tactical interventions engage children and the community throughout the planning and designing process. Thus, tactical urbanism serves as a tool for both equity and social and behavioural change.

With initial steps undertaken to implement tactical interventions for road safety in Indian cities, there is still a long way to go. To improve road safety for children in India, a concerted and systematic effort is required. Children’s journeys whether travelling to school, home, park or any other community facilities should become a recognised part of sustainable mobility and road safety policies. The multi-level, multi-sectoral, and multi-stakeholder collaboration will result in long-term progress in road safety. This should be supplemented with data collection to make the invisible children visible, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes to assess impacts, city-level budget allocation for road safety, and increased public awareness.

Road accidents claim the lives of many of the next generation of leaders – today’s children. This may cost India 3 percent of its GDP by removing prime-age adults from the workforce. As a developing country, India should essentially focus on its future generation, while both fostering each other’s growth. Additionally, safe school journeys contribute to the larger goals of the walking and cycling revolution, improving the local environment and health. As we celebrate Children’s Day today, let us all work together to fight against this public health crisis of gargantuan proportions and create safer streets for safer lives.

—Aishwarya Agarwal, an urban designer and architect, is a research associate at the Accessibility and Inclusion vertical, OMI Foundation.

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