BY BISI KAZEEM
Globally, the spate of development and population growth has no doubt, given room to holistic steps taken by the government of the day to ensure proper alignment with global trends. These steps include improvement in road network, expansion of road lanes, road markings, road signs and other safety measures to guarantee the safety of motorists and other categories of road users such as pedestrians. These measures also lead to the construction of pedestrian bridges at strategic locations of the major cities across the country to reduce the number of avoidable road crashes. The Federal Capital Territory alone account for about 6 pedestrian bridges along Area 1, Finance Junction (Wuye), Nnamdi Azikiwe expressway by Banex junction, NICON junction, VIO junction (Mabushi), Ladi Kwali way by Sheraton Hotel and others along the Kubwa expressway.
Pedestrian bridges are bridges specially designed for pedestrians and in some cases cyclists, animal traffic to further enhance the safety of road users. In the words of the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi “ pedestrian bridges in the FCT are not mere architectural designs but to complement safer road use and further fulfillment of the second pillar of the UN Decade of Action for road safety which spells out the need to enhance the safety of road network for the benefit of all road users especially most vulnerable ones: pedestrians, motorcyclists and other exposed road users. He added “ the pedestrian bridges in the FCT are fallouts from the safe corridor project under the funding the World Bank to further ensure sanity on Nigerian roads but it is worrisome that most residents in the Federal Capital Territory have the penchant for non-compliance with traffic laws regarding pedestrian bridges. Oyeyemi also said that vulnerable road users contribute to avoidable road crashes by ot observing road traffic rules and regulations “ some pedestrians walk or run across a busy road with heavy traffic even when the pedestrian bridges are within trekking distance and this account for the spate of hit and run cases we witness in the FCT and other parts the country ” Empirical studies also indicate that pedestrians account for a quarter of weekly global crash fatalities.
Imagine these scenarios: Mohammed Nuhu(Area 1 FCT) was buried on Wednesday, 3rdOctober, 2018 at the Kubwa Moslem cemetery. A retiree, Nuhu was knocked down at the popular Area 1 junction near the old Secretariat in the Garki district of Abuja by a hit-and-run driver. He had just left his house in the evening to meet his relative who was visiting Abuja for the first time. It was on their way back, that he got knocked down. The person she had gone to receive, being younger, was able to cross faster and so escaped death by a whisker. A few yards from where the accident occurred, was a pedestrian bridge.
Ministers’ Hill (FCT): A reporter from one of the national newspapers also witnessed a gory accident at the Minster’s Hill junction where a young man was knocked down by a fast moving car. The unfortunate victim, who was later identified as a job seeker planning to keep up with a job interview somewhere in Maitama District, died before he could be rushed to the hospital. Such avoidable death is a daily occurrence on Kubwa Expressway, Lugbe road along the airport and other major roads in the FC T. One surviving victim of the speeding/risky dash across the expressway incidents, a plantain chips seller, was hit by a taxi driver at the Wuse market axis. Ibrahim had one of his legs severed after the bitter experience and now lives on crutches. There are numerous recorded and unrecorded incidents of similar nature.
Aba road (Port Harcourt) Solomon Peters was driving home from work on a wet Tuesday night in August this year when he witnessed the crushing of a young man by a lorry after he attempted to cross the expressway, shunning one of the pedestrian bridges within the metropolis..
Giving the gory details of the accident, Solomon, who works with a construction firm said the unpleasant experience shattered his night as the shocking incident haunted him in his sleep. He said death like this was avoidable if the need for pedestrian bridges on the expressway was appreciated.
Ikorodu road (Lagos): Bosede Oladimeji was compelled to pull over like other motorists along Ikorodu road in Lagos under the scorching sun due to the imposing presence of the life-less body of a lady with unknown identity. Eyewitness account had it that she was run over by a speeding Toyota Corrolla as she attempted to dash across the road. The driver just sped off without blinking an eye while other vehicles took turns to further crush the corpse.
A pedestrian, Segun Olabode, whose view was sought, said “climbing the bridge was time-consuming”. He ignorantly added “I have a shop at the Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos and every morning, I travel from Sango to Lagos. Once I get down at the foot of the Ikeja overhead bridge, I quickly cross over to the other side of the road. I don’t see reasons why I should spend valuable minutes climbing the bridge. It is a waste of time. Here in Lagos, time waits for no one. Crossing the main road is much faster if I can avoid the vehicles. It’s a matter of choice if I am certain that I will not be knocked down by a vehicle,” said Olabode.
Leveraging on his experience as a career civil servant at the public works who witness the daily road crashes in Lagos associated with hit and run drivers, Governor Akinwumi Ambode has constructed no fewer than 30 pedestrian bridges in addition to plans replicate same across critical flash points in the Lagos metropolis. Feelers from other states in Nigeria show that other state Governors have made construction of pedestrian their priorities as part of measures to reduce the spate of fatalities resulting from hit and run road crashes. It is therefore most worrisome to note that pedestrian-related road crashes still persist across the country.
Feelers from across the country indicate that apart from the people who dash across the express roads at rush hour of each day, those who hawk goods on the expressways freely choose to break the traffic rule. Majority of them still defend this hazardous practice “I can’t be carrying my goods over the pedestrian bridge, it’s stressful. I find it easier crossing the road. I know it’s not safe, but that is what I prefer. I hawk goods here all the time so how will I make money if I have to cross the road, using the pedestrian bridges. No motorist will wait for me if I have to climb the bridge before coming to sell to them. We are used to the system.”
To ensure that the people make use of the bridges, thereby stopping accidents on the roads, the Lagos State Government had since 2013, empowered officers of the Kick Against Indiscipline to arrest anyone who crosses the road. At Ojota, many of the officers, in green uniforms, can be seen patrolling median of the dual carriageways, waiting to arrest pedestrians who break the law. The agency has an office by the foot of the bridge linking motorists with the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Here, offenders are tried before a mobile court and if necessary fined. One of the officers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on behalf of the agency (KAI), said his colleagues were having a difficult time persuading the people to use the bridge, adding that those arrested sometimes attempted to force their way to freedom by fighting them.
He said, “Anyone caught crossing the expressway will be sent to our office at Alausa, Ikeja, after which the person would be taken to the Ikeja High Court. The fellow, if found guilty, would be asked to pay a fine. The guilty offender could be asked to engage in community service.”
On the number of persons caught crossing the expressway daily, the KAI official said about 35 people break the law daily.
Recent studies were carried out in the United Kingdom to study the pedestrian behavior and attitude in the area of a pedestrian bridge. It was concluded that though pedestrian bridges have a positive impact and have great potential of reducing number of pedestrian fatalities. The main factors that affect the use of pedestrian bridges are: the posted speed limit, the overall width of the cross walkway, and the existence of median barrier.
Nevertheless, pedestrian accidents normally involve passenger cars. However, considerable numbers of road crashes involved heavy goods vehicles. Pedestrians walking on the road make up the majority of casualties in pedestrian-related road crashes followed by pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Main cause of pedestrian accidents is error of the driver. That includes not respecting pedestrian priority, lack of attention, driving under influence (DUI), speed violation, and disregard for crosswalks. More than 50% of pedestrian accidents are caused by cars driving at 40 mph and above especially within built-up areas. Pedestrian accidents can also be caused by error of the pedestrians, such as lack of attention, ignoring traffic controls, ignoring crosswalks and pedestrian bridges, lack of awareness or caution.
The same study further recommended the following measures to improve the driver and pedestrian behavior:
a. Increase enforcement
b. Education and awareness for drivers and pedestrians
c. Increase collaboration and synergy among law enforcement agencies
d. Use high technology surveillance of driver behavior such as using stationary and moving radars and cameras.
e. To have a daily news report through the T.V. and Radio stations about the daily traffic crashes, and to show the human losses and the injuries caused by non-compliance with the sue of pedestrian bridges,
f. Improved media advocacy on the social and financial losses that can result from pedestrian-related road crashes.
g. To compel recalcitrant drivers and pedestrians who repeatedly violate traffic laws to attend compulsory training courses concerning traffic laws and regulations.
h. To increase the penalties for violation of traffic laws and rules
i. To strengthen machinery towards educating children and youths about traffic safety rules and regulations. Also, encourage the students at university level to take road traffic safety courses.
j. To encourage drivers to drive defensively and to obey traffic rules and regulations in all circumstances.
k. Improved presence of law enforcement agencies at traffic-crash prone locations and at dangerous streets and intersections.
l. To construct barricades such as wire fencing and medians around pedestrian bridges to prevent pedestrians from running across the highways
Suffice to state at this juncture that these recommendations are not only possible but practicable within the Nigerian context. What we need is improved legislation on traffic laws, robust public awareness on the traffic hazards associated with non-use of pedestrian bridges, enhancing the enforcement capacity of relevant government agencies, construction of more pedestrian bridges nationwide, improved funding on road safety matters, political will and collective responsibility of drivers and pedestrians to comply with related traffic rules and regulations. As we drift towards the ember season with attendant road traffic peculiarities, it is instructive to collectively work towards addressing issues bordering on pedestrian-related road crashes. All hands must certainly be on deck.
Corps Public Education Officer,
FRSC Hq Abuja.