Designing roads for people: making roads safe for everyone

18 May 2020

Africa has the world’s highest road traffic injury rates. As the continent develops and mobilizes, those rates are increasing.

Roads are a cornerstone of economic development, so governments across Africa — supported by development partners — invest heavily in expanding their road networks. Making roads safe is not a controversial idea: no government or lending institution wants people to be injured or killed on the roads they help build. Yet the construction of high-risk roads continues. There are several reasons for this, most of which center on history and habits.

The following is the story of why dangerous roads continue to be built and how a partnership between Amend, the FIA Foundation, the Government of Tanzania, and the World Bank succeeded in altering that course. Together, we were able to reallocate nearly a million dollars of budget on one World Bank-financed project to make roads safer in five cities in Tanzania. These safety improvements are reshaping the cities and their people’s future, providing a literal and figurative road map for how people-safe roads can be achieved around the world.

The process involves untying knots and rethreading relationships. If it seems a little dense at first, please stick with us. You’ll soon also see how the FIA Foundation helped Amend create an opportunity to demonstrate how our community-based research and practical, affordable, and lasting solutions are achieved, at scale — to save lives now and in the future.

The current dynamic

The World Bank finances billions of US dollars for road improvements in Africa each year, and its Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) sets standards to avoid adverse impacts on the communities where roads projects are developed. But on the ground, the ESF safeguards are not always adequately implemented. When the roads are designed and built, they do not sufficiently protect nonmotorized, vulnerable users (adult and child pedestrians, cyclists, and people living with disabilities) from traffic injury, even though vulnerable users are the vast majority on most African roads.

The challenges: Three essentials

While top-down demand for road safety on World Bank–financed roads has increased in recent years, three essential problems remain at the design and construction levels: a lack of local political will, local technical capacity, and the Bank and governments’ ability to procure necessary resources.

Political will

The construction of roads is highly political. African politicians, from the local level to the national and regional levels, use road improvements to win votes. And currently, they measure their success by the number of kilometers of road that have been built during their tenure. They do not talk about the safety standard of those roads or the number of people who have been killed or injured on them.

World Bank teams are constantly performing a balancing act involving politics, timeframes, budgets, and safeguards. They can push to achieve their safeguards only as hard as the local politics — and project timeframes and budgets — will allow, for fear of a project failing. If safe roads are to be built, the demand needs to come from politicians.

Local capacity

The World Bank usually finances roads via loans to governments. The road projects are managed by government roads agencies, which procure consultants and contractors to do the work. The projects’ fulfillment of safety standards depends heavily on the capacity of these roads agencies and their consultants and contractors.

The ways to reduce the risk of road traffic injury are well-known. Yet, these measures are still not effectively included in most new road designs in Africa. Most road engineers trained in Africa were taught to design roads with only one type of road user in mind: the mono-modal motorist, typically cocooned in an air-conditioned bubble. But the vast majority of road users are multi-modal: pedestrians, public minibus passengers, motorcycle taxi users, and cyclists. This majority is rarely considered in the development of road infrastructure, which puts those users, especially pedestrians, at great risk.

Also, the processes of road financing, design, and construction are deeply embedded within governments’ ways of working and suffer from a degree of inflexibility. Roads agency officials and their consultants implement a project following the same procedures as in the previous project, and the one before that. Even if officials try to promote a different approach — a people-centered approach — they often face resistance from consultants. Roads agencies and their consultants need support to change their ways of working.

The creation of safe roads involves consulting with local communities in meaningful ways to understand how they interact with roads and then designing road improvements with these people in mind. It involves changing the philosophy of engineers, roads agencies, and politicians from designing roads for vehicles to designing roads for people.


As noted, the World Bank and some African governments are increasingly alert to the consequences that come from not focusing on communities in road design, and they are eager to address shortcomings. But getting the right help to do the right things can be problematic.

Government procurement rules — which are typically rigid and time-consuming — can frustrate progress. Often, government contracts are not attractive to specialists.

Similarly, World Bank procurement processes are designed primarily to acquire individual international consultants. These processes are not designed to procure on-the-ground specialists with teams of local professionals who can efficiently gather and study local information.

The potential: Ways forward

Amend works in communities to understand exactly how locals use their roads. We assess the physical areas, interview locals, gather data, and recommend the most-effective road design improvements. We especially focus on school areas. Because we know that roads that are safe for children are safe for everyone. The interviews with locals provide especially meaningful input that is usually missing from standard road planning. The people in communities need and want safe roads.

Amend has received support and encouragement for our community-based road safety work from representatives in the World Bank’s Washington, DC, headquarters as well as Bank staff based in country offices. We have worked on numerous Bank projects in Tanzania, with planning underway in Mozambique. In both countries, the Bank staff are keen to get assistance in achieving the ESF’s road safety related requirements.

Broadly speaking, World Bank–financed roads and projects that can benefit from community-centric road safety engineering can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Overall roads projects that will improve multiple roads over a number of years, which can benefit from community-centric road safety engineering throughout, via meaningful community engagement and design for vulnerable road users.
  2. Individual roads that are included within ongoing Bank-financed projects and can benefit from having safety incorporated within the design
  3. Roads that have already been constructed, but where road safety risk remains high, and can benefit from retrofitting

Though it is clearly better to build roads safely in the first place, roads that have already been built dangerously can be retrofitted to increase safety.

A community giving their input on a new road proposed for their area
TSCP school area road design before Amend's input
TSCP school area road design after Amend's input

Example: Tanzania Strategic Cities Project

The Tanzania Strategic Cities Project (TSCP) is a $175 million World Bank–financed project that commenced in 2010 and is scheduled for completion this year, 2020. The cities benefiting from this project are Arusha, Dodoma, Ilemela, Kigoma, Mbeya, Mtwara, Mwanza, and Tanga. TSCP’s aim is to help cities keep up with Tanzania’s rapid urbanization, by improving the quality of basic urban services along with the communities access to them. It also covers varied aspects of urban development, including roads, footpaths, and street lighting.

The construction of new roads is a key TSCP component, and the project’s early planning and process were hampered by the challenges we describe above. Amend needed to find a way to intervene.

There are, of course, many schools found in the vicinity of the TSCP’s new roads — which means the project affects many children. Through our links in the World Bank Tanzania office, we contacted the TSCP project team and offered to carry out road safety assessments on preliminary designs and to make recommendations for child-safety improvements.

The FIA Foundation covered our costs while we carried out the community-based assessments. The FIA Foundation did this so that we could do our work and ensure that our child-safety recommendations would be included in the final TSCP project.

The World Bank facilitated introductions, and we established a three-person team and a three-phase method: desktop study, field visits, and recommendations. We carried out this process in five TSCP cities: Arusha, Dodoma, Ilemela, Mwanza, and Tanga.

The results

The original TSCP road designs did not include any road safety provisions specifically designed for children and school areas. Following our field visits and studies, Amend made robust recommendations for the safety of schoolchildren, based on the information we gathered. We meticulously consulted with local government engineers, design engineers, and contractors — to assure full agreement with our final proposals.

Our recommended design improvements included proven-effective infrastructure that reduce injuries, such as speed humps, footpaths, signage, and other measures that separate children from traffic and slow speeds where children and traffic interact.

Our proposed design improvements covered 14 school areas, with 31 schools and a population of 31,450 students across five cities. The World Bank, government stakeholders, and design consultants understood our improvements’ critical importance.

The outcome

The majority of what we proposed was implemented. Approximately $800,000 of the $175 million TSCP budget was reallocated to execute our safe infrastructure recommendations in the final project. The support that the FIA Foundation provided allowed Amend to do our work and to show exactly why and how the safe infrastructure funding was needed to save lives.

The view ahead

Demand from governments, locals, and lending institutions for safe roads in communities across Africa is increasing. Whenever we knock on the door of a World Bank office or a government institution in Africa, we find people eager for our help in making roads safe because they realize the historical and habitual approach to road building results in needless death and suffering. But they don’t have the capacity — specialized training and practices — to progress and make the changes needed.

Amend intends to provide that capacity now to make sure that as many World Bank–funded projects as possible take vulnerable road users into account. There is immense opportunity for the incorporation of proven, life-saving infrastructure measures in World Bank projects in the near term and at considerable scale. Amend’s life-saving studies and recommendations can be scaled up, to suit individual areas, quickly.

At the same time, over the longer term, our goal is to change expectations about how roads projects in Africa are developed and to help build capacity both in and out of government — so that, one day, all roads on the continent are designed and built safely for all road users as a matter of course, and no one will be able to imagine that it was ever any other way. Through tenacity and partnership, we’re making that happen.

For more on Africa’s dangerous roads and the solutions, have a look at Step Change, a report produced by Amend, the FIA Foundation, and the Child Health Initiative.