Jan. 29 2020

Best Urban Design for Reducing Road Injuries

City design combining more public transport and rail networks with smaller, low-speed blocks are the best wat to reduce road transport injuries, according to a new global study co-authored by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The findings are published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

The research identified the best- and worst-performing city designs with respect to road injuries. Researchers from Australia, Spain, in addition to the United States, compared maps of almost 1,700 cities across the world with injury data to understand urban design factors that contribute to the most road injuries.

Cities were categorized into nine unique design types ranging from locations with highly organized road and rail network (“High Transit,” “Motor City,” and “Intense” types) to areas with almost no public transport and sparse urban design (“Sparse” and “Informal” types).

Lead researcher Jason Thompson of the Melbourne School of Design said the research aims to highlight the importance of urban design and planning as a key factor in reducing transport-related injuries across the world.

“The floor plans of our cities matter enormously for the health of residents. Designs that prioritize motor vehicles have huge costs, including more injuries and deaths due to crashes, whereas intelligent designs that promote public transportation can substantially reduce this burden,” said Christopher N. Morrison, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and senior author.

The study found High Transit cities with strong rail networks like Barcelona, Durban, Jerusalem, and Toronto had the lowest rates of road injuries compared to Informal type cities across India, China and Africa where poor urban design contributed to twice the injury rates.  

“If reducing the road toll is your ultimate goal, it is better to invest in safer alternative transport options rather than continuing to focus on car-based safety interventions,” Thompson said.

Australian cities like Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle, and Melbourne fell under the Motor City’category with extensive road networks and suburbs designed around the needs of drivers that create car dependency.

Australia has successfully reduced road injuries through enforcement and public safety education in the past but a shift away from motor vehicles toward more compact city design and investment in safe, efficient public transport is key to reducing future road injury rates, Thompson noted.

The study also found that the income of a country did not necessarily relate to road injury rates. High-income countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, and United Arab Emirates were still experiencing high road injury rates due to city designs that encourage motor vehicle use.

The research was conducted at the University of Melbourne's Transport, Health and Urban Design Research Hub in collaboration with Barcelona Institute of Global Health, and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The study was funded through grants from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and support from the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.