For the 7th UN Global Road Safety Week, YOURS - Youth for Road Safety Advocacy and Campaigns Director Sana’a Khasawneh joined Dr. Etienne Krug from the World Health Organization to talk about how transport and mobility affect global health and sustainable cities. The conversation will focus on why it's crucial for us to #RethinkMobility and make our streets safer for everyone. Check out the full transcript.
Sana’a: Thank you to everyone who is joining. My name is Sana’a Khasawneh, I am a global road safety advocate. I work as an Advocacy and Campaigns Manager at YOURS - Youth for Road Safety and I’m very excited to have a conversation with a superstar of road safety today from the World Health Organization.
Today, we are very excited to kick start the UN Road Safety Week with the theme of #RethinkMobility. We’re going to have an insightful conversation with Dr. Etienne Krug about the active modes of travel and how it contributes to having better health, better well-being for young people.
As you know, when we choose to walk, to cycle, or even to skateboard to do our daily events instead of taking the cars, we are not only doing something good for the planet, we are also benefiting our own mental health and our own well-being because using active modes of travel benefits our muscles, our heart health, and also gives as a boost in our mood and energy.
Today, we are going to learn more about this with Dr. Etienne Krug and many of our viewers today, maybe they don’t know that road crashes are a global health issue - it is the number one killer of young people worldwide, it’s a major concern for everyday mobility in of low-and-middle-income countries, and by shifting into more active and more sustainable modes of transport, we are also preventing injury and saving lives. So please join me in welcoming Dr. Etienne Krug is leading the WHO effort in preventing injury, violence, and disability, and he’s the superstar in road safety and one of the major supporters of young people.
Thank you so much for joining us, Etienne!
Etienne: I’m very happy to be here, Sana’a.
Sana’a: Thank you so much. When we rethink mobility, Dr. Etienne, we are talking about shifting our mindset, how we perceive transportation. We are talking about changing the way that transportation systems are designed. And today, we are marking the 7th UN Global Road Safety Week and we would like to promote more active modes of travel. Maybe you can tell us about how that affects our mental health and our well-being as young people and how does that also contribute to impacting other challenges like producing the carbon footprint and also enhancing the participation, for example, of young people and women in the daily job market because they will have multiple alternatives to mobility.
Etienne: That’s right, Sana’a. If you think about it, we have invented a transportation system that we use every day and which has killed more than 50 million people since we invented it. We use cars for most of what we do; to go to work, to go to school, to go shopping, to go on holidays - more than 50 million people have died since we invented that car.
I’m sure that, retrospectively if we would have said “We want to use this new transportation mode but it’s just gonna kill 50 million people”, we would never have decided to use it. It’s high time to do something about it. Our transportation is the leading killer of young people, not only in rich but also in poor countries. And so what we here want to achieve with this new Global UN Road Safety Week is to put a focus on the need to move away from a system that has been developed for cars to a system that is developed for people - More walking, more cycling, more public transportation.
Sana’a: Exactly, because we cannot trade mobility for safety. Safety always has to come first. Maybe, Etienne, you can tell us about how you usually commute to your office at the WHO. I can see that you are in the bicycle station -
Etienne: I’m actually right next to my bike here. I don’t know if you can see it, but yes - I love to come by bike. I have an electric bike because it’s a 45-minute bike ride but for me, it’s not only a way to commute - which, by the way, takes me 45 minutes by bike and 40 minutes by car, so you know - because of all the traffic jams and all the delays. So, it’s not only physical activity, it’s also clearing my head when I come out of work and I bike for 40 minutes through the vineyards, through the fields, and through the forest - I come home and I feel all good.
Sana’a: This is amazing. In Jordan, we do not have infrastructure that caters well to active modes of travel but today right now, I’m at the bus station of the BRT in North Amman in Sweileh and I can see that many students, many women, many people from different age groups, different backgrounds, using public transportation, using busses instead of driving. And this is promising, the government is doing major investments to enhance the public transportation and to provide alternatives for people. And I hope that in the future, we can see more projects and more investments in collaboration with the private sector and other agents in the society in order to have alternatives for people.
But maybe a lot of young people watching us today are excited about doing initiatives on active travel, maybe they are advocates for rethinking mobility. But I’m sure that they have major safety concerns so, in your opinion, how can we respond to these concerns because as you know, most of the fatalities and serious injuries cause by road crashes are affecting pedestrians and cyclists and vulnerable road users. So, how do we respond to that?
Etienne: You’re right, Sana’a. I have such high hopes for young people, the new generation wants to move away from a car-based system. My own daughter, she’s 28 now, she does not want to get a driver’s license, she wants to do things with public transport. When I was her age, my only dream was to get a driver’s license so, things are changing and it’s necessary.
But as you say, before we push people on bicycles and walking and in public transport, we have to make sure that it is safe. And that’s where the policymakers come in. It is high time for policymakers to make sure what we call the “vulnerable road users”, those who are outside the cars, are protected. What does that mean? That means; better infrastructure, bicycle lanes, pedestrian walking places, places where children can play at the side of the road that are safe, as well as public transport that is of good quality but where the drivers are not pushed, for example, to drive 12 to14 hours a day just because traffic can be made. So there’s a whole shift that is needed to make these alternatives and much healthier modes of transport safe. And I think young people have a big role in demanding that. Youth want to have transportation that is more sustainable but we need to allow youth to do that.
Sana’a: Yes, absolutely. I can say as a young advocate from the MENA Region and as a global advocate for road safety with a special focus on women’s empowerment, I would also say that, when we talk about rethinking mobility and sustainable mobility, we need to make sure that it is also accessible for different genders and for different age groups. Women especially and young girls have special needs that traditional transportation systems are not accommodating and are not responding to. So it’s very important that when we create safe spaces and sustainable spaces for mobility, they are also inclusive and create a safe space for people regardless of their gender, regardless of their backgrounds.
For example in my region, we have a weak participation of women in the economic sector because they have many challenges in using transportation and if we look also at regions like Africa, we will see that many schools have low attendance rates by young people because they cannot afford transportation or the traditional transportation is not safe so merely going to school or commuting to school is a threat to their safety and we need to make sure that sustainable modes of travel respond to that and accommodate the needs of all young people and the different age groups of people in our community.
Maybe, Etienne, you can tell us something, an inspiring message the young advocates and the viewers that are watching us today. I know that we have many people joining from the Global Youth Coalition for Road Safety and they would love to hear and inspiring message from you. How we as young people can claim our space and lead change in rethinking mobility.
Etienne: Yeah, thank you, Sana’a. Let me first agree on what you just said; It is so important that our transportation system is inclusive. We talked about the safety of women, and as a father of three girls, I can, of course, only agree. But also I’m thinking about people with disabilities, for example, who also need to be able to access it and have the right to safety just like anybody else.
So, yes, in terms of safety, there is much more we can do. And as I said. I have high hopes with the new generation and I am sure encouraged by what I have seen. In 2007, WHO organized the first World Youth Assembly for Road Safety and we have hundreds of young people coming in from all over the world. Since then, this movement has sparked many many spin-off events, spin-off activities, and spin-off networks at the regional and national levels. We see young people take action, we see young people write to their policymakers, organize events, come together as a community to demand more safety. And I think that is going to make a huge difference. So my message to young people today is, “Please continue and not only continue, intensify your efforts. This Global UN Road Safety Week, that the mature and international communities organizing is exactly meant for that, is to give you a platform to make noise, to be demanding, to be in your policymakers’ face, to make sure we don’t sit here for another 50 years seeing people die on the roads, that we take the action needed so that people can walk, cycle, and use public transport which is the only way forward.”
Sana’a: Amazing, this is very inspiring. And I think young people can play a huge role in bridging the gap between the decision-makers and people who are taking the decisions and [the people] responsible for the way the transportation systems are working and they can advocate to have safer space and more inclusive mobility systems that accommodate our own needs and also the needs of the planet. I would say that the young generation is more aware about how our transportation systems are affecting the planet and how they are contributing to global challenges when it comes to the climate. There is a huge importance that we need to make a shift in transportation but I would say maybe this is something that young people cannot do alone so we need to create a collaboration, we need to create meaningful mechanisms where young people can be involved in decision-making spaces.
Maybe, Etienne, you can tell us about leading examples of countries who have succeeded in creating models of sustainable mobility and you can tell us about the role young people played in this so that the young audience can be inspired.
Etienne: You are absolutely right. Young people are coming together to act on climate change. One component of that is make sure that we can walk and cycle and use public transportation safely. This will reduce car-based transportation and therefore will reduce emissions which contribute to global warming. So we definitely need to integrate these two agendas.
As you say, many countries are taking action. We have countries that have implemented 30 km/h speed limits; Wales has done it, Spain has done it, many cities are doing [it], particularly around schools or particularly where traffic mixes. The speed limits contribute greatly to improve safety.
Others like Luxembourg have made public transport totally free for people living in Luxembourg as well as for visitors. Of course that is increasing the use of the public transport and contributing to safety and reduced emissions again.
Countries or cities like Bogota or Fortaleza have put in place traffic bus transportation systems which are much more efficient than sitting in a car in traffic jams and reduced pollution. Pontevedra, a city in Spain, has taken the biggest and boldest step which is ban all cars from the center of the city. And with that, of course, the city is safer but also is much more enjoyable. In fact, the businesses were worried about that move [but] they have benefited from it because more people come to the center of town and they say “our city center is now a giant shopping mall” and business has boomed.
So there are many many examples of actions that are being taken and young people are often either a part or sometimes even at the center of it by pushing their policymakers to take action.
Sana’a: Yes, absolutely. I can see a comment from Shahlee Nee, she’s saying “We need to plant more trees and create more green spaces in order to encourage people to cycle and walk more, especially for short distances.” I think this is very important, thank you so much for sharing.
A lot of people are leaving so many comments about climate change and how active mobility can create a huge impact, a positive impact on addressing climate change challenges.
Maybe now, we can talk a little bit about mental health. As you know, when people are driving, when they are stuck in congestion, when they are waiting for late trains, late busses, they are under so much stress. And being always exposed to the pollution; noise pollution, air pollution, is also affecting the well-being of young people and also other age groups in the community. When we read about how we can improve our own mental health, we are always encouraged to be more physically active and to walk more, cycle more, and to breathe fresh air and so, rethinking mobility basically plays a huge role in boosting the mental health of young people.
From the health perspective, what would you tell us about this, Etienne, and how can we encourage young people to shift their mindsets to care about their own mental health needs while also taking better and healthier, and more sustainable modes of travel?
Etienne: You know, I can tell you an anecdote. I used to, like 15 years ago, there was a colleague and friend in my village who was biking to work, and I thought: “This is impossible, I mean when I do it by car it takes me 30 to 40 minutes”, “How can he do it?”, “I can never do that,” etc. And one day I decided to try and I never stopped because I felt much better bicycling through the traffic jams than sitting in a car getting frustrated. So you’re right. Moving from passive transportation to active transportation is built for physical health but it is also good for our mental health. It is really important then for us to get out, to walk, to bicycle, and it helps us clear our minds, it helps us enjoy much better our surroundings, be part of nature, etc.
The only condition is, before you do that, make sure it’s safe. If there are no bicycle lanes, if there are no places to walk safely, if you don’t wear your helmet, if there are no appropriate speed limits, or drink driving legislation are not enforced, then it can be very risky. The same for public transport - it’s the way forward but in some countries, public transport remains overcharged, the drivers drive too fast, they drive many many long hours because they’re obliged to by the company and then it becomes unsafe. So, these things go hand-in-hand; the safety component needs to go together with the push to more active mobility.
But if we do it, everybody wins. We win, society wins, our health wins, and of course, our planet gets much better.
Sana’a: Absolutely, so basically when we make this decision to walk or cycle, we are not only reducing the negative impact on the planet, we are also having better heart health, we are strengthening our muscles, we are boosting our own energy. So, it’s definitely a win-win situation and I can see a lot of positive comments. A lot of people are saying that “spaces where we can walk or cycle will definitely improve our mental health” and Sandeep is saying “I think we need to take more initiative or scheme regarding sustainability and make sure about proper implementation.” This is very important, thank you so much for sharing.
If you have any questions for Etienne, please drop them in the chat. In the meantime, Etienne, now we are kicking off basically the UN Global Road Safety Week with rethinking mobility - what would be the next steps? So after this campaign, after raising the awareness of active modes of travel among young people, among our communities - what would be the next step if we want to push our governments to rethink mobility and to accommodate sustainable modes of travel in the policymaking processes, what would be next?
Etienne: Thank you so much for asking that, Sana’a. I am so happy because, yes, this is one global United Nations Road Safety Week and, of course, in one week, we are not going to change the world. We planted some seeds but we need to follow up and keep up the pressure. We need to also remember that this UN Road Safety Week happens in the context of a Decade of Action which all governments have agreed to. They have decided that by 2030, the deaths on the world’s roads should be reduced by 50 percent. And of course, this is not just going to happen by a magical wand, this is going to happen because deliberate action has been put into place. And usually, policymakers need some pushing. They need some encouragement, they need some guidance sometimes, and so young people keeping up the pressure, keeping up the encouragement, but also leading by example is going to be very important for the months and years ahead.
We all want to see the 50% reduction in road deaths by 2030. It’s not going to happen without young people. On one hand, by them demanding action because they are suffering the most from the lack of road safety but also by adopting safe behaviors and leading by example.
Sana’a: Yes, absolutely. Young people have been recognized for the first time ever in the last action plan for this Decade of Action for Road Safety as one of the main agents. So this is definitely a call to all young people watching us today to be inspired and to take the initiative and to work in collaboration with their governments to make this shift.
I see one comment from Musab, he’s saying “Smart cities and 15-minute cities initiative should be implemented to promote active mobility and electric cars are not the way forward but active mobility is.” What would be your take on this, Etienne?
Etienne: I can only agree. It’s one of these good examples that we have to talk about which is these 15-minute cities. I don’t know if everybody knows what it is but basically, it’s conceiving the city so that almost all trips taken will be shorter than 15 minutes and can be done ideally [through] walking, cycling, or in public transport. That means that you need to think of how far people live from their workplace, from the school, from the store, and from the main places they have to go to. So, it’s a bit reconceptualizing our cities which is definitely possible for newer cities, a little bit harder for older cities, but possible.
Paris is one of those 15-minute cities, which of course, is centuries old. It is, I think, the way forward. But, again, we all have a role in demanding it and also applying it.
Sana’a: Yes, absolutely. I think we need a strong political will, we need a strong commitment from governments, from policymakers in order to address this and to make sure that there is a positive shift and a will to change the traditional transportation systems and have other alternatives and be inspired by the leading examples of other cities.
Let’s talk about the existing state of cities right now, especially in low-and-middle-income countries like the existing road networks do not accommodate the active travel modes. So this can be a main obstacle, especially for countries that do not have investment to invest in active trouble modes. How can we convince, as young people and as young advocates for road safety and sustainable mobility, how can we push for more investments in active travel?
Etienne: You know, we’ve seen particularly during COVID, cities have taken the opportunity to build more bike lanes, to build safer space, to reduce the presence of cars in their centers - and it worked, it has really made the difference. It is possible even in other existing cities.
We’ve seen in New York how since Mike Bloomberg, so many bicycle lanes have been created. We’ve seen Paris, which we’ve just mentioned, London - a number of cities are taking action. Even the oldest cities of the world. Milan, I think, is creating hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths among the many other examples. So, it is possible. It’s just a question of political will at the top level of the city.
Sana’a: And we can always bring the evidence, we can always bring the experiences of countries who did it and we can always accommodate these changes based on the existing state that we have.
We have a comment saying “We need to promote active mobilization in countries that are contributing in global gas emissions where, unfortunately, everywhere in the world is affected by climate change, not only the polluting countries. So, if we are talking about rethinking mobility, we need to do it on a global level, not only at the polluting countries.”
We also have other questions. We have a question from RoadSmartNijas; “How best can governments engage young people to meaningfully contribute to cities, towns, municipalities, that do not have the existing road networks for active mobility?”
Etienne: That’s another great question. It is so important to listen to young people who experience travel along the road, on their bicycles who live to play, and who often are ignored in terms of the voices they can bring and the experience they have. So if we are to redesign our cities, it is very important to involve, at least consult, groups of young people going to schools, going to NGOs, and ask them their opinion on what needs to change, on what their concerns are, on what their worries are when they go to school, when they play on the side of the street, etc. It is something that is very possible that we have seen happen now in more and more countries. That should become institutionalized; young people should be part of the solution in their ideas, in their worries, and in bringing up solutions to the problem.
By the way, Sana’a, another way for young people to be really involved is to run for positions on the city council, on the village council, or even at national level. We’ve seen prime ministers who are in their 30s now in several countries and you can be even younger on the city council. So, I would run for offices and use those positions to make a change.
Sana’a: Yes, I think in most countries, decision-makers are not young people. They do not belong to the age group that identify as youth and for this reason, they do not know what young people want, they do not know what young people need. So we cannot just expect our governments to make this transformation for us, we need to advocate for having a seat at the table and sharing our needs and voice our needs in the policymaking spaces.
Maybe we can take one last question. Someone is asking “Active modes of travel do not accommodate older age groups”. How would you respond to this, Etienne?
Etienne: Well, I don’t know. I’m in my early 60s, I bike so I would say it is possible. Older people can and should be active. They often have more time also and are less in a rush so I would say older people can use public transport very well, can walk, can bicycle, so I don’t see that as an obstacle at all. And in many countries, public transport is even made free for older people so I would encourage them to do the same and participate in active modes of transport.
Of course, at the oldest ages, sometimes the disability occurs so we need to make sure our transportation systems are inclusive and allow for even older people with disabilities.
Sana’a: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with you and I think that driving has been promoted for decades as being ‘more convenient, ‘easier’, ‘more accessible’ but we have seen that this is not the truth so we need to make a shift in our mindset as youth, as everyone in society, and to make this decision that is better for our own mental health, for our own well-being, and its also better for the planet. So, it’s very important that we promote active modes of travel among different age groups.
I think we don’t have any more questions. Thank you so much, Etienne, for your time and your continued commitment to support young people.
I would like to invite the young viewers to join our global movement at the Global Youth Coalition for Road Safety bu going to claimingourspace.org. We have released a Policy Brief on Rethinking Mobility that talks about how road safety is interlinked with SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. You can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories, we would love to hear from you.
We love for our members to be inspired by the initiatives you are taking at the grassroots level so let’s all embrace active travel, let’s make the change that we want to see, and let’s start promoting rethinking mobility.
Thank you Etienne and thank you to everyone that joined the chat today.