Then and Now: Safe Villages as a regional formula for safer roads
In Ukraine, neglecting the social and safety impact of road development had tragic consequences for communities living and working along the M06 motorway connecting Kiev to the European border when it was reconstructed in the early-2000s. The route, which quite literally cut villages in half, led to thousands of people needing to cross a major highway several times a day just to go about their daily lives – to go to school, visit relatives, tend to farmland etc. For many, the only means of crossing safely was via a footbridge above the road. However, this was impractical for farmers moving livestock between their farms; elderly and disabled people or parents with pushchairs who were unable to use the stairs. In the winter months the bridges were often impassable due to heavy snow and ice.
Recognising the risks to local villagers, in 2013, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and EASST developed a project with the Road Safety Support Foundation (RSSF) in Ukraine to help local people manage this change to their environment and keep themselves safe pending road engineering improvements. Starting from the bottom up, the project took a three-tiered approach: working at the village level, regional/city level and national level. The aim was to give a voice to the local communities and bring stakeholders together to build long-term partnerships that would ensure safer roads for everyone.
Police data was used to first identify the six most high-risk villages along the M06 route, EASST and the RSSF then organised public meetings and events to better understand the challenges the new road was posing, and to help local people and the road police develop strategies to mitigate the risks they faced.
One of the biggest issues being faced was by local farmers who needed to cross the road regularly with their livestock or travel along the road with their horse and carts to access their fields. These journeys were occurring early in the morning and late evening when it was dark, making the farmers’ lack of visibility a serious hazard in the fast moving traffic. To address this problem, EASST established what is now its award-winning donations programme: sourcing disused high-visibility (hi-viz) vests and other PPE (personal protective equipment) from UK companies and authorities and distributing them to local farmers, along with literature and training on the importance of visibility on the road. The project also handed out high visibility neckbands and leg wraps for their horses and reflective bands for agricultural vehicles.
High-viz vests were also distributed to schoolchildren, and road safety awareness workshops were held in partnership with the local police for all levels of society. This included special road safety training for parents, teachers and schoolchildren. Most importantly, speed management strategies were developed with the police and new signage installed to slow traffic at these dangerous points.
“Just before we started this project there was a terrible incident on that road [M06] when a farmer riding with his horse and cart at night was hit by a speeding driver. The driver didn’t notice the farmer in the dark. The horse flew about 100 metres and died. This was a typical situation at the time.” Oksana Romanhuka, Road Safety Support Foundation, Ukraine
As well as working locally, it was essential to involve key stakeholders, authorities and traffic police at the regional/city level to ensure the project’s sustainability. Round table discussions and strategy meetings were organised by the RSSF in three regional cities bringing together the government, police, academia, media and, importantly, civil society to discuss the key issues and the importance of institutional partnerships for maintaining road safety initiatives on a permanent basis. As a result of these meetings, the RSSF and the State Traffic Police of Ukraine signed an official agreement committing them both to working together towards the reduction of road casualties, putting road safety along the M06 corridor in the national spotlight.
The ‘Safe Villages’ formula has been replicated and adapted in Azerbaijan (routes R18 and R42), Georgia (construction of Shuakhevi hydroelectric power plant), Kazakhstan (South West Corridor Road Rehabilitation), Moldova (major Road Rehabilitation scheme) and Tajikistan (A377 and M41 highways) where similar problems have occurred. EASST partners have been working hard to improve local stakeholder engagement and consultation.