Improving pedestrian safety in the historic city of Gyumri, Armenia

Active Travel and Healthy Streets, Armenia, News, Road Safety Governance and Capacity Building

The city of Gyumri has a history going back more than 3,000 years, and is the second largest city in Armenia. With support from the EBRD Shareholder Special Fund, the National Road Safety Council of Armenia (NRSC) has been working with EASST experts to build capacity in road engineering and improve safety for non-motorised road users in the city, focussing on the most hazardous and problematic locations.

Gyumri is located close to the borders with Turkey and Georgia in the Shirak Province, and has long been a stopping point for travellers as well as a cultural centre loved equally by locals and visitors. The unique and beautiful 19th century buildings of the Kumayri Historic district in the old town of Gyumri are a treasure of global importance. In 1988, an earthquake struck Gyumri, killing around 17,000 people and leaving many thousands homeless. Today there are still some 2,700 residents in temporary accommodation and household poverty remains an issue of concern.

The construction of a new North-South Corridor Road in Armenia, connecting Georgia with Yerevan via Gyumri, should help improve the city’s prospects when completed and will bring renewed tourism and trade. In anticipation of this, the EBRD is helping Gyumri rehabilitate its main urban roads and tastefully modernise its street lighting via a loan of €14 million from the Shareholder Special Fund.

Like all cities, Gyumri faces challenges in adapting its urban road environment to changing circumstances. The anticipated influx of visitors – in particular tourists – makes it vital to ensure roads are welcoming and pedestrian friendly. The project, ‘Safer Cities: Roads and Pedestrian Safety Support for Gyumri,’ will help the city tackle this issue.

Working closely with the Road Police in Gyumri and nationally, Tatevik Hovhannisyan of the NRSC has been able to draw out data on pedestrian risk in the city. In recent years the number of road crashes, injuries and fatalities has increased, leaving 12 dead and 135 injured in 2018 alone, including 11 child casualties. Moreover, the NRSC carried out a survey of pedestrians in Gyumri which found that men were three times more likely than women to ‘feel safe’ while crossing the roads. Tatevik identified the most hazardous locations in Gyumri for pedestrian incidents, and this has been communicated to local engineers as a focus for improvements.

In early July Paul Disney – EASST expert in road engineering and audits – accompanied by EASST’s Emma MacLennan, went to Gyumri to conduct an intensive training workshop to improve the local roads. Participants included the head of the urban construction department of Shirak Municipality, senior engineers from the Road Design Institute, and road engineers working with the municipality in Gyumri. The aim of the workshop was to address the specific road design challenges in Gyumri and offer training and assistance to local experts.

The workshop was introduced by Governor Petrosyan of Shirak Province, who welcomed the initiative and expressed his personal interest in making Gyumri more pedestrian friendly. Rudik Tadevosyan of the EBRD Resident Office in Armenia and Stanislav Suprunenko, Principal Environmental Advisor for the Bank, presented the Bank’s projects and priorities in Armenia and the priority they have given to road safety.

The rest of the workshop focussed on practical solutions to the specific problem areas identified in Gyumri. During very interactive sessions with the local engineers including site visits, issues were raised and examined by both trainers and trainees.

A site of particular concern to the municipality was junction at the entrance to Gyumri where a roundabout had been partially installed and then removed due to an increase in road crashes. This became a learning example for the trainees, who along with the EASST and EBRD teams worked together to develop options for securing the safety of the junction.

Speaking on behalf of the EBRD, Stanislav Suprunenko expressed his satisfaction with the approach. “What I liked most about this training was the emphasis on finding practical solutions as part of the training. This was invaluable.”

Trainees were equally enthusiastic. Mr Khachatur Khdzrtsyan, Head of the Road Construction Department at Shirak Municipality, commented that “This has been a very good exchange of international experience.” Lilit Tadevosyan of the Road Design Institute who is an Engineer/Controller working with the municipality, observed that “We have been discussing important issues, and during the discussion new ideas were coming to us.”

The NRSC/EASST/EBRD project will continue until late April 2020, and will include further training and assistance with road design, as well as campaigns to improve driver behaviour and highlight the importance of visibility, educational programmes and training in fleet road safety and eco-driving.