Mahmoud used to tell his family and friends that he would stay up studying as he was dreaming to join the Faculty of Economics and Political Science when he finishes high school to go into representing his country as a diplomat. His dream evaporated when he was hit by a car and died instantly.
Four million inhabitants live in east Cairo out of the total ten million inhabitants of the Egyptian capital. Mahmoud is only one victim of many like him who perish in road accidents daily, especially that his area of Cairo has the largest share of roads expansion works. According to figures from the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development published in December 2019, east Cairo is going through 200 kilometers of developments out of the total 221 kilometers projects for the whole of the capital Cairo. That is estimated to be about a quarter of the total overall road renovations across Egypt.
This investigation documents the increase in the numbers of pedestrians’ injuries and fatalities recorded on east Cairo roads undergoing renovation or expansion works due the failure of health and safety measures applied by the Ministry of Local Development that could prevent deaths. This could be through the erection of speed bumps, pedestrian crossings lanes, traffic lights or providing pedestrian bridges.
The statement by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics issued on July 5, 2021 did not clarify the reasons for the 31% increase in fatalities recorded for the first half of 2021 compared to the first half of 2019. The investigator managed to obtain unpublished statistics for the last two years from the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development related to road accident fatalities recorded in Cairo between 2018 and May 2021 which indicate a clear rise in the number of road accidents related deaths in Cairo.
According to the World Health Organization, the death rate among pedestrians is 27%, that is slightly higher than a quarter of the deaths caused by road accidents in Egypt. This number has increased year on year by an estimated 4.70% between 2018 and 2019 according to official data, and this trend is likely to continue up until 2030.
Updated government databases and statistics on traffic deaths in Egypt are not available, and since the most recent data is from 2019, the investigator has built a database with a sample of 90 accidents that took place in East Cairo. He used newspaper archives and social media groups of the area residents between May 2019 and June 2021. This area includes the neighborhoods of Heliopolis, El-Nozha, West Nasr City, East Nasr City, Ain Shams, El-Salam Awel, El-Salam Thani, El-Mataria, and Al-Marj District. According to the Cairo Governorate official website, the inhabited area of East Cairo is 89 square kilometers out of its total area of 1,472 square kilometers.
The results of the database analysis evealed that more than half of victims were pedestrians hit by cars while crossing streets under renovation in eastern Cairo. Two-thirds of the injuries and fatalities of car accident victims are males, and private cars are the biggest cause of these accidents.
Data analysis showed that the accidents are more frequent among older men and women than among young people, the elderly and children, and that the peak of those accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians occur mostly between seven in the morning and two in the afternoon. Additionally, accidents frequency increases on Sundays and Wednesdays. The analysis shows also that the largest number of car accidents hitting pedestrians occurred in East Cairo on El-Hijaz, El-Salam, Gesr Al-Suez, Al-Sibaq and Farid Simaika streets.
Mahmoud El-Shathily had been a resident of El-Hijaz Street in the Heliopolis area for sixteen years when he decided to move to another neighborhood. He tells the investigator that he regrets the move because that place was really “special” for him. But the multiple and almost daily accidents that took place in front of his building after the expansion of El-Hijaz Street distressed him psychologically after witnessing many pedestrians run over by cars.
The road used to have four lanes and was expanded into seven on both sides. El-Shathily placed a camera on his balcony to monitor the street and recorded horrific accidents of pedestrians run over by vehicles.
El-Shathily provided us with two clips from the surveillance camera showing two scenes of pedestrians run over by cars in November 2020 and February 2021. One of the pedestrians died according to data cross checked by the investigator.
Suhaila Sabrin narrates, “My family and I live near the Military College and are trapped between two major roads: El-Hijaz and Farid Simaika. Both have been expanded and each has been turned into a twelve lanes road. Crossing them is tantamount to committing suicide since there are no traffic lights, or crossing lanes or speed bumps. If one car chooses to stop, the one after it would not. You will either suffer an injury or die from the frequent accidents.”
Sabrin is a doctor in her sixties who previously worked as environment and community health specialist. She is a long-term resident of Heliopolis.
Doctor Suhaila recounts the moments of horror she lived through “during the last senate elections. I parked my car on the right side of the road and crossed the street because my electoral committee was inside the Tabary School in El-Hijaz Square. I waited until the road seemed safe enough to cross. When I got to the fourth lane, I was surprised by a speeding private car heading in my direction, so I froze in the middle of the street. It was a terrifying moment as I stood there waiting for death, but due only to God’s intervention I managed to cross safely.”
Doctor Suhaila points out that most of the residents in Heliopolis and East Cairo have lived there since the forties and are used to having shops near by. This means that they walk to get their shopping whenever. Nowadays, they must cross the expanded roads, which is a death trap. She explains that her children resort to taking taxis so they don’t have to cross El-Hijaz Street on foot.
The investigator conducted a poll amongst residents of East Cairo to find out whether the death or injury cases were recorded among the area’s inhabitants or visitors and to know the impact of the road expansions on their livelihood, safety and mobility.
Fifty-two individuals took part in the poll, 96% of them said that they could not cross the renovated roads in East Cairo because they are not safe. 96% of them were also inconvenienced by the renovated roads while 73%, confirmed the lack of any safety measures for pedestrians on those new roads.
96% of them said that they could not cross the renovated roads in East Cairo because they are not safe.
Most of the respondents feel greater risks for their safety as a result of roads expansions to more than four lanes in their vicinity, which makes any journey in whichever directions treacherous. 73% of those residents of East Cairo who participated in the poll, have witnessed and/or heard about accidents involving pedestrians crossing the road after the expansion. Around two-thirds of the participants confirmed that the roads improvements have become a source of deadly danger for pedestrians.
The investigator has built a database for 15 out of the 50 roads which were developed and expanded that also match with the database showing these specific roads to be the ones that witness the largest number of accidents. He obtained satellite images of these roads before and after the development works and they showed near total disregard to safety means and a lack of obvious pedestrians crossings.
The six or seven lanes added to these roads replaced the previous 3-4 lanes after the removal of central reservation areas consisting of trees and vegetation used by locals as recreation space along the 70 kilometers hit by the redevelopment project as shown by the database.
The removal of these green reservation areas along the roads led a law firm specialized in environmental and climate change to file case No. 33167 /74 Q before the State’s Council Administrative Court in April 2020. This was filed against the President of the Republic and others to prevent the removal of public parks and green spaces until after an Environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted.
The appellants argued that the changes in the roads claimed the lives of more than forty people due to the “absence of pedestrian crossing signs”. In December 2020, the case was transferred from the Administrative Court to the office of experts at the Ministry of Justice.
The investigator toured four of the expanded roads in the Heliopolis area to accurately note the changes and safety means. El-Hijaz Street, which starts from Roxy Square to Gesr Al-Suez Street for five kilometers does not have any speed bumps or pedestrian bridges. Farid Simaika Street that stretches for six kilometers and is connected to El-Hijaz Street has no safe crossings whatsoever.
Similarly, Abd El-Hameed Badawi Street that stretches over six kilometers does not have any bridges or safe crossing points for pedestrians crossing, and the same is true for Othman Bin Affan Street.
Gesr Al-Suez Street that is five kilometers in length and extends from El’asher Bus Stop to Emtedad Ramses (or the Ramses extension) is completely devoid of any pedestrian bridges. There is only one traffic light in front of the “House for the Blinds” in the Abu Ghazaleh Buildings.
Click to view the data
From Midan Heliopolis to Hejaz
The investigator secured a copy of a research paper published by “Solutions for Alternative Policies” at the American University in Cairo. According to this paper, the government aims to facilitate the movement of vehicles at the expense of all other road users. There are too few traffic lights and pedestrian crossing points on the internal arterial roads of most of the Heliopolis area.
A report issued by the World Bank in 2019 estimates that 97% of all roads in Egypt lack traffic lights, and 78% of them lack pedestrian crossing lanes, endangering people as they go about their activities. The issue is complicated further by the setting of the speed limits on inner city roads at 60 km per hour, which is too high for most roads.
While this speed is rarely attained during peak hours, it becomes extremely dangerous from the evening until the morning hours when both traffic and visibility are low. Countries such as Germany have stricter road safety measures and impose speed limits of 50 km per hour on main roads in cities, 30 km per hour on side roads and on main streets at night. On some local residential area roads known as “level three” roads, the right of way prioritizes pedestrians over vehicles.
According to the study of the American University in Cairo, planning for transport in the city is unfair to the majority of pedestrians and puts them at risk. Egypt is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These have called on signatories to reduce road traffic injuries and deaths by half by 2030 (as per Goal 3 on Good Health and Well-being) and the access for all to a safe, affordable and sustainable transportations systems for everyone (as per Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities)
The official code on road design standards stipulates that roads must be constructed in a way that addresses increased demands, anticipate congestion and support urban development and national security (as per the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities, 1998). This code does not seek to improve the quality of life in any of its sections, nor does it call for reducing road accidents and deaths. The study shows that experts make decisions on the initial plans that are submitted to the concerned authorities. The participation of citizens during the detailed design stage is merely recommended and not required (Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities, 1998, 68-69). According to the study entitled The New Roads in Cairo: An Assault on Pedestrians and Mass Transportation published by “Solutions for Alternative Policies”,
the design, implementation and management of roads are a fragmented processes led by a large group of central executive government entities working independently from the population they are supposed to serve.
Doctor Suhaila Sabrin continued her conversation with us and said, “None of the officials met with us in community sessions, and they never asked for our opinion about the amendments to begin with. We denounced the decisions and complained about them, but no one is responding.”
In January 2020, the Heliopolis Heritage initiative organized a symposium at the Heliopolis Club in the neighborhood. This was about the only dialogue held with the inhabitants of the area after the completion of the projects and not before they were implemented. Among the attendees was the transportation and roads advisor Osama Aqil who is a professor at the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University and the engineering consultant who planned the Heliopolis and East Cairo roads projects accompanied by Doctor Yasmine Fouad, the Minister of Environment. Aqil was asked to offer a solution for pedestrians to cross the roads, after the rise in the number of accidents as a result of the expansions of the roads. In a video obtained by the investigator, Doctor Aqil responded, “The state is not a nanny: It only provided the bridges (for car circulations). Pedestrian bridges are the responsibility of civil society or the local businesses or the Heliopolis Services Development Association which is a rich (organization).” He provided no answers regarding the interruption to daily living in the area for most residents and specially the elderly.
Tabary El-Hijaz Secondary School for Boys mourned the death of Mahmoud. The investigator obtained a copy of an official memorandum sent by the school to El-Nozha Educational Administration in which it appealed for the building of a pedestrian bridge and to activate the traffic lights system, especially that the area is abounds with schools, institutes and hospitals. Such pedestrian crossings should protect students and prevent accidents similar to the tragic one that killed Mahmoud who was crossing the street to sit an exam. To date, no one has responded to the school memorandum.
The investigator confronted officials at the Ministry of Local Development, the entity responsible for local roads management. He presented the ministry with the evidence of neglect and the lack of planning and preparation for the safety of crossing pedestrians. The Assistant Minister of Local Development and the Ministry’s spokesperson Doctor Khalid Qasim explained that work in governorates, especially in transportation and local roads is decentralized and that the ministry’s role is only to support the governorates in developing plans and providing resources for illuminating the roads. It also coordinates with the relevant ministries and authorities, but the implementation process is the responsibility of local government in cooperation with neighborhood figures.
Concerning complaints and demands made by Cairo residents regarding the lack of safe pedestrian crossings, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Local Development explained that a dialogue was held with the local residents to hear their complaints and to explain the situation to them. The investigator assured him that this consultation only took place after the roads were completed and that the project consultant said that providing pedestrian bridges is “the responsibility of civil society, not the government.”
The spokesman to the Ministry of Local Development referred us to the executives in Cairo neighborhoods. The investigator made continuous attempts to communicate with Ibrahim Sabir, the deputy governor of Cairo for the Eastern Sector through phone calls and WhatsApp messages. Despite his promises to respond, he did not get back to us on our repeated queries until the date of writing this article.
The investigator, however, found a response by the head of El-Nozha neighborhood in East Cairo; on November 6, 2020, when Major General Khalid Aqil wrote a piece in Al-Ahram official newspaper about the lack of safety on the roads. He explains that he agrees with the residents’ complaints completely and confirms that his own family members suffer from the same problem. He stressed that these complaints have reached the highest echelons in the Egyptian government and that the Engineering Authority, which is responsible for the development project, was notified. A response is in progress to put traffic lights that regulate the movement of pedestrians and cars at all necessary points for safe pedestrian crossing and to preserve lives.