Safe streets in Delhi key to preventing climate change say scientists

November 30, 2009

Safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists in Indian cities are essential to avoiding worsening climate change say scientists writing in today's Lancet medical journal. Enabling non-motorised modes of transport will be more effective than dependence on cleaner technologies alone. Road danger is forcing more and more people into cars and motorcycles and this will worsen greenhouse gas emissions which are putting the climate in peril. This is the conclusion of a paper published this week in The Lancet written by an international group of transportation experts that included Professors Dinesh Mohan and Geetam Tiwari from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

If Indian cities adopt sustainable transportation policies focused on safe walking and cycling this would help to avert climate change and also save millions of lives by increasing physical activity, reducing urban air pollution and preventing road traffic injuries. The authors estimated the health effects of different transport scenarios for Delhi and London. They compared a business as usual 2030 projection (without policies for reduction of greenhouse gases) with scenarios that had motor vehicles with lower carbon emissions, increases in active travel, and a combination of both.

The authors found that if action was not taken then CO2 emissions from transport could double by 2030 and there would be large increases in deaths from road traffic injuries, air pollution and physical inactivity. However, the team found that if Delhi could make walking and cycling as safe as they in the Netherlands this could prevent 2990 road traffic fatalities in Delhi per year by 2030. Achieving this would require diverting investment from motorists towards provision of infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. The authors said "Rather than active travel being the mode of necessity for those unable to afford motor vehicles it would become the mode of choice."

Pedestrians and cyclists should be given priority on the roads so that walking and cycling are the most pleasant and convenient way to get around. Policies would include restricting where motor vehicles could go and how fast they could go.

Increased physical activity and lower air pollution through less motor traffic and cleaner vehicles could prevent even more premature deaths per year. These include 2490- 7140 premature deaths per years from heart disease, 1270-3650 premature deaths per year from stroke, and 150-460 premature deaths per year diabetes. Physical activity is good for mental health and there could also be less depression.

Professor Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi says: "Streets that are safe from road traffic crashes and crime and that prioritize the needs of pedestrians and cyclists over those of motorists are essential to preventing climate change. Healthy persons will willingly opt for walking and cycling specially for trips of up to 3-5 km if given an option. Policy makers should divert investment from roads for motorists towards provision of infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists"

The authors said "Without strong policies to increase the acceptability, appeal, and safety of walking and cycling, the vicious circle of increased motorisation and road danger will continue in Delhi and other Indian cities, and the large potential health and environmental gains will not be achieved."
Full paper: Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport

Delhi contact:
Professor Dinesh Mohan, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India.
Tel: +91 (11) 2659 1147

London contact:
Dr James Woodcock, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7927 2127

for full paper see:


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