Empowering young people in East Kazakhstan to demand safer routes to school

Active Travel and Healthy Streets, Children's Road Safety, Kazakhstan, News

Our newest EASST partner, Urban Forum Kazakhstan (UFK), have been working with young people in the East Kazakhstan city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (Oskemen) to its make streets more pedestrian-friendly and ensure safe routes to school.

Roads in Kazakhstan are not designed for children or young people, they are designed primarily to facilitate fast moving traffic. The prevailing approach is to remove young people from the streets rather than to design streets that enable them to travel safely. Urban Forum Kazakhstan are challenging this approach and giving young people a seat at the table in designing and developing an urban environment that is safe and meets their needs.

In March, prior to COVID-19 lockdown measures being enforced, UFK’s resident urban planner and transport specialist, Roman Barabanov, travelled to Ust-Kamenogorsk to work directly with students of a local high school, helping them analyse their local environment in terms of safety and accessibility, and advocate city authorities to make improvements.

Roman first conducted a preliminary study, to better understand the main road safety issues in the surrounding areas. He appraised a number of sites at various times of day and spoke to local residents, students and the district police to identify main risks. Through this study, a number of specific concerns were raised, including issues of accessibility for elderly people – many of whom face difficulties in crossing the road near the bus stop and underpass.

He then went on to work directly with students of the school, discussing local issues of infrastructure design and safety, and engaging them in developing practical solutions. The students were encouraged to think about their own journeys to school and identify dangerous areas and risks. They were given maps of the local area and were asked to draw their routes to school, highlighting areas where they feel more or less safe and why. The students’ work was then translated into an online map to better identify key problem areas.

The exercise revealed several important results, including the fact that most young people travel to school on foot. 22 per cent of students identified a lack of street lighting as a main reason for feeling unsafe, 18 per cent mentioned a lack of sidewalks, and 9 per cent mentioned high traffic speeds. The weather was also a significant factor with 92 per cent of students reporting that their route to school is not cleared of ice and snow well enough in the winter, with large snowdrifts near pedestrian crossings often blocking the way. A third of students therefore are forced to alter their route, taking more dangerous roads in the winter.

Road traffic injury is the leading cause of death of young people globally. Involving young people in the development of solutions to prevent these tragedies is essential. Once the pandemic has passed, UFK plan to do further work, involving students, parents, and teachers in making the roads around their school safer. UFK will host a tactical urbanism even, actively engaging students in making small safety improvements through activities such as road painting.

These results and activities, along with the findings of the preliminary observational study, will be compiled into a report, with UFK and local students co-creating recommendations and solutions, which will be presented to the Ust-Kamenogorsk City Authority with the aim of encouraging them to take a broader look at road risk around schools in the city and make any necessary infrastructure improvements.