High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

Investing in active mobility in Africa with Carly Gilbert-Patrick

In this episode we speak with Carly Gilbert-Patrick from UNEP about the current state of walking and cycling (often referred to as ‘active mobility’) across Africa. We touch on the differences and similarities between regions and countries, the impact of motorisation on active mobility infrastructure as well as changing hearts and minds to see pedestrians and cyclists as priorities in transport planning.

Below is an excerpt of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Holger Dalkmann
So what is it exactly you would like to see when it comes to improvement of infrastructure to better enable walking and then also cycling?

Carly Gilbert-Patrick
So I think interestingly, to get better infrastructure, you have to start with many things that are not infrastructure. So one has to be the hearts and minds shift, that put pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy as far as transport, planning and investment is made. And I still see it too often and this isn’t just a government issue, it’s a conversation with the government, but also with development banks and other stakeholders that you have the conversation.

And it’s still always, you know, should we, how can we tag on a sidewalk or bike lane to this road that we’ve designed for cars. But if we really put pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy, it’s a complete shift in thinking, right? Saying where do people need to and want to walk and cycle? Let’s start there. It’s saying, let’s switch out this on street parking for public space because actually a parked car is probably the most inefficient use of space in the world ever. You know, it’s sitting in that parking space doing nothing for hours and hours a day where that space could be used by people 24 hours a day.

So it’s really that sort of hearts and minds shift that very much is led by advocacy that needs to be there if we want to see that trickle through to infrastructure decision making. And then I think once we have that, we need to talk to the money people. That’s the money people within the national government use to feed their cities. It’s helping cities look at revenue generating schemes that they can put into walking and cycling.

And it’s also looking at the global foundation and development world. And there’s a really big partnership called the Partnership for Active Travel and Health, PATH, which is really trying to work in this sort of global advocacy space, and that’s founded by the FIA Foundation and Walk21 and the European Cyclist Federation and UNEP. And we’re trying to convene a sort of global community and say you have to put walking and cycling at the top of the transport agenda.

But, do you see progress? Are we shifting or are we just repeating ourselves and running against the same walls? And also is there a need for a different narrative, a different entry point? What makes the change?

Yeah, we’re definitely shifting. I mean, it’s not a fast enough shift for my liking, but we have like I said, I talked about Ethiopia, I talked about Rwanda. I can talk about good examples in South Africa, in Kenya, in Nigeria. Lagos now has a state active mobility policy. You know, that would have been unheard of ten years ago. 

So we are seeing shifts in the right direction, not just in policy, but also on the ground in infrastructure. Going back to Nairobi where I live, there is now a policy in place in Nairobi City that every new road will have walking and cycling infrastructure. 20% of the city budget is ring fenced for walking and cycling investment. So we’re seeing best practice. We’re seeing change in the right direction. 

But as we’re seeing change, we’re also seeing huge increases in motorization. We’re also seeing a big focus in the transport world on shifting to electric vehicles for motorbikes, for private vehicles, for buses, for fleets, for logistics. It’s hugely important that we make our vehicles cleaner and we know that 50 billion tonnes of CO2 will be emitted by urban transport in the next 30 years if current trends are not reversed. 

 So of course we need electric, but we’re now all of the steps we’re taking in walking and cycling are, I feel, being overshadowed by huge motorization. And this almost feeling that, if we make vehicles clean, we’re good. Of course we need to do that. But that doesn’t stop us needing to ramp up investment for walking and cycling because we need choice and we need environmentally friendly choices and we need walking and cycling to be safe and comfortable. And we know that the cost of inaction is huge.