World Car Free Day Summit: Opening Keynote by H.E. Dagmawit Moges

21 Sep 2020

Inspiration from Ethiopia’s Open Streets Leadership

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We are living in an urban age. By 2030 over 60% of the global population will live in cities. Africa is at the heart of this accelerating global trend. During the next 15 years, the United Nations predicts the world’s 10 fastest-growing cities will be in Africa.

By 2050, Africa is likely to have an additional 1 billion new urban residents and the population of many African cities is expected to more than double by 2030. Fast-growing, young cities are a global phenomenon but Africa stands apart for the speed of this growth.

Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa. The rate of urban growth in Ethiopia is 3.7% and the total number of urban residents is 23 million (22%). It is proposed that after ten years the total urban population will reach more than 35 million (28%). Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa is now the largest city in the country with a total population of more than 5 million. As Ethiopia’s economy has been increasing in the past years, the desire to settle in urban areas has shown tremendous growth, and the need to own vehicles has increased. As Ethiopian cities such as Addis Ababa are vibrant economic hubs, it attracts a heavy influx of people coming in search of better livelihoods and job opportunities.

Young people want opportunities and they look for these in our urban centres and cities. Growing cities provide an opportunity to improve people’s lives, educational outcomes, and build more equitable societies.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown the world the vital role of public policy in shaping our lives and enhancing health outcomes in cities. Cities with better infrastructure have coped with the challenges of the pandemic better than their peers. Here in Ethiopia, the pandemic has given the opportunity to check our transport infrastructures and learn that much focus should be diverted to provide streets for people than for vehicles. And the provision of a safe, healthy, and reliable public transport mode is very critical. To realize these vibrant concepts, we have already ratified and implemented a vibrant transport policy as well as a non-motorized transport strategy with fascinating interventions.

Besides, in the last two years, the reformist current government of Ethiopia, led by our visionary Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has initiated and implemented several projects that aim to bring decent and healthy livelihoods in our urban centres. The Entoto Hills Recreation Center, The Sheger innercity park, the riverside park development endeavours, the renovation of the city’s largest open space “Meskel Square” are all some of the ongoing projects that clearly show this commitment.

መንገድ ለሰው (Menged Le Sew)

 Ethiopia’s vision for more equitable, accessible cities for all is outlined in our Non-Motorized Transport Strategy that sets targets for the next decade. As part of this vision, work to make streets safer in Addis and other cities has been led by Menged Le Sew, Ethiopia’s Open Streets movement. For Ethiopia, Menged Le Sew and the introduction of regular car-free days can be a model for African countries and others around the world to take bold action.

The way we manage our streets matter.

Beyond Addis Ababa, as the world recovers from the pandemic, we are at a crossroads for cities. We can choose the status quo, or we can show leadership to create land use and mobility systems that support people to build healthier, more prosperous communities.

The way we choose to design and build our cities is also fundamental to the transition to net-zero emissions and more equitable cities. The way our cities are structured and powered shapes our health, happiness, and prosperity.

Globally, the WHO attributes 4.2 million deaths every year by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Road deaths from traffic accidents – most pedestrians – are responsible for 1.3 million deaths each year. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults. As leaders, we owe it to children and families around the world to make our most abundant shared public space – the streets – safer by reducing and removing car traffic.

We know that most urban air pollution comes from motor vehicles. We are fortunate to understand the source of the problem. At the global scale, emissions from the transport sector are a major driver of climate change. Accelerating the transition to traffic-free city centres and zero emissions transport systems is a great opportunity to drive economic growth and improve environmental health outcomes for all citizens.

Investing in clean public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure is a huge global opportunity that produces immediate results. Estimates indicate that the total investment needed to realise the renewable energy transition in the transport sector is huge. And these investments pay off for investors and the public.

New public transport systems, from electric buses, subway, and urban rail systems, and improvements in cycling and walking infrastructure all boost local businesses and enable the human connections required to build more resilient prosperous cities.

In Ethiopia, the first private-owned electric vehicle assembly unit has already started producing EV vehicles, we have incorporated in our plans to start utilizing electric buses in a very immediate future, we already implemented a 34 kilometers long electric driven light railways system in our capital city,  we have amended our investment proclamation that brought varieties of investment opportunities in the transport sector, we have started a project to bring Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lane here in Addis Ababa, and several cycleways have started operations in Addis Ababa and several regional capitals.

Car Free Days as an important policy tool for accelerating progress

In the context of a global recovery from Covid-19, calls for more equitable urban design, Car Free Days and Open Streets are an important tool to influence policy and channel investments into transport and land use options that help create healthier cities for people. In Addis Ababa, running regular car-free days has helped showcase what is possible when streets for people become a priority. As is the case in many cities, most residents do not own a car, so Car Free Day is an important reminder of the importance of re-shaping cities to suit the needs of people and businesses.

Launching a programme of regular Car Free Days is just the beginning of a larger, globally important shift towards financing, building, and redesigning cities for people.

Investing in infrastructure for people

In the Paris Agreement, city and national governments from around the world committed to investing in a climate and the transition to net-zero emissions. As part of this transition, cities can be designed so that people can access core services by walking or cycling. African cities that already have a large walking mode share can expand on this success by celebrating active travel and investing in the infrastructure and public realm required to make their cities even more walkable and pedestrian-friendly. This is what we are doing in Ethiopia with our Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Strategy 2020-2029 improve active mobility infrastructure and facilitate more inclusive urbanization.

Covid-19 has shown us that poorly planned, inaccessible, and car-centric cities we have. One lesson we can all take from the pandemic is that large-scale investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure are needed to provide growing urban populations with the first line of defence against future disasters and pandemics. This is true across Africa, Europe, and the other continents.

That is why it is so important to see leaders from Addis Ababa, London, Paris come together to reconsider the future form of cities on World Car Free Day. Changing the way our cities are designed is vitally necessary for the prosperity and health of all human societies and our shared environment. Like all great transitions, the transition to safer, more accessible, traffic-free city centres starts from the ground up, with residents coming together to celebrate the streets.

That is why we are here today. To celebrate and debate the ambitious actions required to build healthier and, more prosperous cities around the world.

I wish you all an inspiring and successful World Car Free Day Summit.


About This Webinar

What can other cities learn from Addis Ababa’s leadership on regular Open Streets? How can open streets shift attitudes towards walking, cycling, and the use of our most abundant public space – the streets? Join us for this inspirational keynote from H.E. Dagmawit Moges Bekele, the Minister of Transport of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Background: World Car Free Day Summit 2020

Global leaders have committed to a future of zero-emissions mobility and more efficient, equitable, and productive urban land use. Action on these commitments cannot be delayed. As momentum towards cleaner air and traffic-free town centres continues to build around the world, this year’s all digital World Car Free Day Summit on 21-22 September will bring together international civic leaders, architects, planners, data scientists, community organisations, and land and property owners to celebrate the transition to traffic-free city centres.

This year’s Summit is co-hosted by London Car Free Day and Menged Le Sew – Ethiopia’s Open Streets movement.

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