How can Ethiopian cities bounce back from COVID-19 with active mobility at the forefront?
Pedestrianised streets, pop-up cycling lanes and non-motorised transport infrastructure have been critical elements of cities’ pandemic recovery strategies. But in Ethiopian cities, where walking and cycling are dominant modes of urban movement, this shift has not yet happened.
Pop-up urban mobility interventions to overcome the pandemic complement global efforts to abandon car-oriented transport planning and decarbonise transportation systems. In this urban futures piece, we explore the hurdles that must be collectively overcome, and the opportunities that must be amplified, for Ethiopia’s post-pandemic cities to put active mobility at the forefront.
Overcoming the hurdles to mainstreaming active mobility in Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s secondary cities are characterised by active mobility, which in some cases reflects how up to 90% of the population moves. In the capital city, pedestrians dominate the streets, representing more than half of Addis Ababa’s modal share, while another 30% rely on collective and public transit. Despite private vehicle ownership reflecting the minority of urban mobility, Ethiopia’s transport planning has followed a car-centric model, to the detriment of the masses.
There are multiple barriers that have stifled a surge in active mobility in Ethiopia, particularly land-use planning and road safety. A lack of integration between land use and urban transport has given rise to unnecessary trips, high congestion, costly fuel consumption, air pollution and low productivity. Activity centres, market areas and working places are not well connected with residential areas by public transport or well-developed road infrastructure. As a result, major corridors are congested with private cars and commercial vehicles. With basic services not being accessible within walking and cycling distance for the vast majority, non-motorised transport modes of travel are not preferred options. However, the majority continue to walk and cycle in unsafe conditions out of necessity, not by choice. The high reliance on walking, cycling and public transport should be encouraged with human-centred urban planning.
Across Ethiopian cities, the biggest challenge in increasing the cycling modal share, even before the pandemic, has been a lack of safe infrastructure. According to the World Health Organization, road traffic deaths in Ethiopia are estimated at 27,326. Pedestrians account for 37% of all traffic fatalities, and in Addis Ababa, pedestrians represent a staggering 86% of all road traffic deaths. While there have been significant improvements to road design, enforcement, awareness creation and data-driven decisions and policies on road safety, the issue remains a massive concern for the country. This is compounded by a severe lack of adequate and protected pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
Accelerating a transition to cities powered by active mobility
A promising policy framework is in place to accelerate Ethiopia’s transition to proper walking and cycling infrastructure. Ethiopia recently launched its National Non-Motorised Transport Strategy and Addis Ababa has its own Non-Motorised Transport Strategy. These guiding policies set ambitious targets to implement 1000km of pedestrian infrastructure and 500km of cycling lanes by 2030. Addis Ababa launched a Road Safety Strategy in 2015, which aims to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2023 and provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable mobility systems for all by 2030.
To accelerate implementation of safe and accessible infrastructure for walking and cycling, investment needs to be directed and prioritised for active mobility. This can bring multiple benefits to urban communities including employment creation, an economic boost, climate resilience and improved public health outcomes.
It is essential to remove all cost barriers to bicycle ownership to ensure cycling is affordable and accessible to all. Current taxation to the import of bicycles in Ethiopia must be removed, and local manufacturing must be encouraged and incentivised, alongside bicycle sharing systems and rental schemes. Cycling facilities such as bicycle parking should also be considered to make cycling more convenient. Mapping these essential cycling hubs, such as bicycle stores, repair shops, bicycle parking, and protected cycling lanes, is an important visual way to communicate cycling resources.
These important digital tools, financial incentives and infrastructure changes to the built environment must be paired with efforts to build active mobility culture. Training programs could support the formation of bicycle mechanics, while school cycling programs and the expansion of training grounds should be launched as long-term programs to ensure young people are key advocates of cycling culture. Shifting aspirations is a critical element of this culture shift.
Menged Le Sew, Ethiopia’s open streets movement, is fertile ground for people to reclaim the streets. Boosting the city participation, frequency – from monthly to weekly, and connectivity between locations, can further amplify Menged Le Sew’s vision of active mobility, safe streets, ecological sustainability and social connection. Ethiopia’s Non-Motorised Transport Strategy highlights open streets, marketing campaigns, cycle trainings, sustainable commuting days, the use of bicycles by city officials, and participatory planning activities as important approaches for communications, outreach and engagement.
Overcoming the hurdles of land use planning and road safety to mainstream active mobility across urban Ethiopia, and amplifying opportunities by harnessing digital tools, financial incentives, infrastructure changes and meaningful community engagement to promote cycling culture, can help accelerate a transition for active mobility across Ethiopian cities.