Road safety: is it more dangerous to live in a underprivileged neighborhood?

In July 2014, our colleague Sylvanie Godillon (a research amanger at 6t research and a UMR Geography-City associate) participated in the 51th ASRDLF-run congress on the challenges of “Metropolisation, cohesion and performance: what will the future hold for our territories?”. She presented the results of her thesis on socio-spatial inequalities in relation to the risk of accidents, and on reducing these injustices at the level of urban renovation projects.


Is it more dangerous to live in a poor neighborhood?

Public spaces are the scene of multiple uses, which are at once dynamic and static. The dynamic aspects relate to the circulation of vehicles (care, bicycles, motorised two-wheel vehicles), while the static dimensions pertain to a more local rooting for a slow-moving user, such as a pedestrian. These two logics give rise to conflicting situations. The multiplicity of urban functions is manifest at the scale of the street, and these different logics may lead to conflicts, which materialise particularly through accidents. The adaptation of public spaces aims at conciliating these two dimensions. After a strongly pronounced place granted to speed in town, the place of the pedestrian remains an important concern in adaptation choices.

While the safety of pedestrians in urban centres has improved over the past few decades, the challenge remains in underprivileged areas where the risk of being involved in an accident is is more significant for inhabitants of underprivileged areas. The hypotheses explaining this additional risk are thought to be exposure to the risk of an accident owing to major pedestrian mobility, as well as strong appropriation of public spaces near the home and areas being crossed by transit traffic. The pedestrian, then, represents an important challenge for the improvement of proximity travel.

In France, inequalities in relation to the risk of being involved as a pedestrian in an accident are not well known by public authorities, and are not the focus of any particular policy. Meanwhile, the determination of risks as public problems can be explained as the results of public authority arbitration, as civil society confronting public authorities and as results of the means in which multiple actors define and construct problems.

An implicit acknowledgement by urban renovation projects: the British example

In the UK, there is extensive research showing inequality in relation to lack of safety concerning travel, particularly where children are concerned, have led to an experiment on a specific fund for the reduction in accident numbers, the Neighbourhood Road Safety Initiative (NRSI), in disadvantaged neighborhoods, with a strong focus
on pedestrians. The Neighbourhood Road Safety Initiative (NRSI) is an experiment carried out between 2002 and 2008, which puts forward a response to socio-spatial inequalities through space: by re-modelling areas to reduce pedestrian accidents, public authorities seek to reduce risks for inhabitants of these areas. The initiative has allowed for a significant decrease in the number of fatalities and casualties in disadvantaged areas and in the number of persons involved among inhabitants.



The above article includes several excerpts from the article (in French) “Understanding inequalities in the risk of accidents among pedestrians in their daily mobility: looking back on a British experiment

The results of this article are based on Sylvania Godillon’s thesis (2012) in French: “Urban renewal, an opportunity to reduce socio-spatial inequalities of involvement in an accident in public spaces.”


Photo credit: Research 6t-office; Godillon 2010

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