Cities in the United States can now participate in the Public Art Challenge, a new program to support innovative temporary public art projects by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The program invites U.S. cities with 30,000 or more residents to submit proposals for creative and transformative projects. The challenge aims to improve quality of life in cities and to reposition art at the core of society. At least three cities will be granted up to USD 1 million each over two years for art projects that engage their communities, establish public-private partnerships, and drive economic development. The challenge is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ goal to strengthen the arts in cities worldwide. Bloomberg Philanthropies also recently supported São Paulo Bienal – the world’s second largest art show – through funding an app for the event, Bienal’s teacher education program, and exhibitions that will be accessible to the public in 10 to 15 Brazilian cities. These efforts help bring attention to the role of art in shaping public spaces for healthy, vibrant cities.The need for public art funding
From improving traffic safety to drawing attention to social justice issues, public art plays an important role in advancing social missions in cities. In 2011, TheCityFix covered a favela beautification project in Rio de Janeiro by Dutch artistic duo Haas&Hahn, which counteracted the negative imagery of informal settlements. But artists like Haas&Hahn face great difficulty in securing funding. And in the United States, funding for the arts is on the decline. According to a 2013 report, United States government funding of the arts dropped by more than 30% from 1992 to 2013, adjusted for inflation. Bloomberg’s Public Art Challenge comes at an important time to remind us of the importance of public art funding.A key feature of city landscapes and urban identity
Public arts are the core of civic life in cities worldwide. Art brings community members together and makes it easy for people to share, connect and experiment. Candy Chang, an artist trained in urban planning, engaged her community by initiating the Before I Die walls in her neighborhood. Anyone walking by these walls can pick up a piece of chalk and share their personal aspirations in public space by finishing the sentence: “Before I die I want to _______.” According to the artist’s website, the Before I Die walls have been created in over 30 languages and over 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Iraq, Argentina, and South Africa.
Art can shape a city’s identity, give residents ownership over their community, and even spur economic growth. Last year, tourists flooded Hong Kong to see a giant Rubber Duck installation floating on the West Kowloon waterfront, with over 38,000 visiting the exhibition in the five days after it was unveiled. A local travel agency even sold package tours to see them. The inflatable sculpture was created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman in 2007, and has appeared in dozens of cities worldwide attracting millions of visitors.
The measure of a great city lies in its cultural life. Public art can unite a community and be a magnet for tourism. More importantly, it helps educate and inspire our citizens to take ownership over their cities by creatively re-imaging public spaces. The Public Art Challenge hopes to reclaim the cultural element that is essential to our daily life and makes our cities more livable.
Hello TheCityFixers, friends, partners and allies in the cause for sustainable transport! Our friends at TheCityFix Brasil – produced by EMBARQ Brasil – are up for the Mobilidade Minuto (“Mobility Minute”) Award. The award is promoted by the Cidade em Movimento Institute (City on the Move Institute), and aims to spread mobility solutions throughout Brazil.
In addition to awards selected by judges across six categories, a special mobility innovation award will be decided by popular vote. We are counting on you to vote for TheCityFix Brasil and help advance the conversation around sustainable urban mobility to create more inclusive, livable and healthy cities for all!
The Mobilidade Minuto Award was created to identify and spread initiatives to transform urban mobility through improved transportation, quality of public spaces, use of technology, sustainable consumption patterns, and more.
The Cidade em Movimento Institute promotes the Mobilidade Minuto Award to raise awareness of the most innovative, replicable initiatives so they can be adopted and scaled up across Brazil. The prize is a call to action for public, private and civil society actors to improve our cities.
The global rise of smartphone usage has a number of implications for mass transit. It enables ridesharing – a service quickly emerging in cities worldwide. It can improve predictability of transport services through real-time tracking and crowdsourcing apps. It can even improve user experience and transport planning for informal transport systems. Now, as more cities explore using Wi-Fi-enabled transport services, can Internet access encourage more people to switch from cars to mass transit?Internet enabled transport growing in cities worldwide
Though Wi-Fi has been offered on some transport systems for many years, it has not yet become widespread. That may be changing, as cities worldwide are experimenting with offering Wi-Fi on buses and metro systems. As of 2012, there were about one billion smartphone users worldwide, and this number is expected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2017. Metro systems in cities such as Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Paris, France; and Bangalore, Mumbai, and Gurgaon in India now offer free Wi-Fi. Bus systems in cities such as Porto Alegre and São Paulo in Brazil; Beijing, China; London, United Kingdom; and Mumbai, India are also experimenting with offering Wi-Fi. Most of these services for buses and metros have been launched in the past year.
Wi-Fi can make transport systems more appealing to potential users, and preliminary evidence suggests that this may translate into higher ridership. Multiple studies from the United States suggest that there is strong demand for Wi-Fi on transport services. Research on whether this demand translates to increased ridership is still in early stages. The United States train service Amtrak launched free Wi-Fi on its California Capital Corridor Route in November 2011. A recent study indicates that 2012 ridership on this route was expected to be 2.7% higher than it would have been without free Wi-Fi. The cost of providing Wi-Fi service on this route – which carries about 1.7 million people per year – is $405,000 annually.
Even in less wealthy cities where smartphones are not as prevalent, Wi-Fi may be an important part of the future of mass transit. In Nairobi, Kenya, some matatus – the ubiquitous minibuses that serve as a vital part of the city’s informal transport system – are installing Wi-Fi to attract riders. Telecommunications company Safarico also offers free Wi-Fi on about 3,000 matatus and buses across Kenya to attract more potential customers. Though only 15% of Kenya’s population has smartphones, this number is expected to rise to more than one-third of the population by 2017. Across Africa, mobile broadband penetration rose from 2% in 2010 to 11% in 2013, making it the fastest growing region for phone Internet access.
The use of Wi-Fi on transport systems is still young, and it remains to be seen whether the benefits from improved user experience will justify the costs for providers. The cost-benefit analysis will also vary among transport modes, as Wi-Fi may be more likely to increase ridership and improve user experience on inter-city rail transport than intra-city buses, for example. For cities, the benefits of increasing public transport ridership extend far beyond increased ticket revenue. Shifting residents from private vehicles to public transport can improve air quality and public health, decrease congestion, and save residents’ time among many other benefits.
Does your city offer Wi-Fi on mass transit services? Would you like it to? Let us know in the comments!
This just in... hot off the presses. As always, Copenhagenize has its finger on the pulse of breaking news.A roving New York reporter covers cycling in Scandinavia."If for nothing else the bicycle is blessed in Scandinavia because it saves time.""No other country has done more for the pleasure and comfort of its wheelmen than Denmark...""The construction of pavements takes in consideration what best can serve the interests of cyclists, and cycle paths are provided near all cities, in some instances leading miles away from town into the country.""...ride to market on their bicycles with baskets strapped to their backs, and other baskets dangling from the handle-bars of the wheel. ... they seldom come to grief, and manage to keep their equilibrium to their journey's end."From the New York Sun. 19 February 1897. 42,979 days ago (based on today's date)(The Sun was a New York newspaper that was published from 1833 until 1950. It was considered a serious paper, like the city's two more successful broadsheets The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune. The Sun was the most politically conservative of the three.)Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Though rapid urbanization can impair mobility and quality of life, Latin American cities have responded to this challenge with creative, low cost, and high impact solutions. Some of these initiatives have set an example for the rest of the world.
In the last installment of this series, we examined the development of bus rapid transit (BRT) in Curitiba, Brazil, and its expansion to the rest of the region and the world. In this blog, we discuss another idea born from the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Latin America that has had a global impact: recreational ciclovía events. These events provide an alternative means of healthy recreation and physical activity for millions of people in the region using a method available in all cities: closing city streets and avenues to vehicular traffic and opening them to cyclists, skaters, walkers, runners, and more.The origin of ciclovías
While many Latin American households have bicycles – mainly for recreational use – most cities do not have adequate spaces to enjoy them safely. Given this limitation, activists in 1974 convinced the Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia to close some roads to cars and buses on Sundays so that people could use the space for a walk. The idea became “Sunday Ciclovías,” and has lasted the last forty years in Colombia’s capital.
Bogotá’s ciclovías, which began with a small section of the city’s streets, now cover 121 km (75 miles). The event has a team of dedicated staff, volunteers, and police providing assistance and security, especially at intersections. Ciclovías include many forms of recreation, including aerobics instruction in parks and plazas, cycling, and even biking lessons for those who want to learn.
In 1995, Bogotá’s authorities were unsure of whether they would continue the 50 km (31 mile) ciclovía event. Guillermo Peñalosa, the city’s Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation at the time, worked with Mayor Antanas Mockus to revive and expand the event. They created a permanent group within the city administration to organize and manage the event every Sunday and holiday (a total of 72 times per year). They have also gained backing from the private sector, mainly to provide signage and logistical support. Ciclovía was reborn, and now it is difficult to imagine it ever being eliminated or reduced.
Ciclovía helped spark interest in cycling as a daily means of transport. Today, more than 1.5 million people cycle in the city, and it is an integral part of residents’ recreational and physical activity. The event’s success has also proved the concept for the construction of a network of permanent cycle routes – now 376 km (234 miles) – which has helped increase cycling from less than 1% of trips in 1998 to 6% of trips in 2012.
Bogotá’s ciclovía has inspired similar events in more than 100 cities worldwide: Cycle-Recrovía in Santiago, Chile; Ciclopaseo in Quito, Ecuador; Paseo Dominical in Mexico City, Mexico; CicoloRuta in Caguas, Puerto Rico; Pasos y Pedales in Guatemala, Sunday Streets in San Francisco and New York City, among many others. One prominent example is the recent introduction of “Raaghiri Day” in India – a similar initiative that began in a suburb of the capital Gurgaon, and has spread throughout the country including to the heart of New Delhi.Part of the formula for healthy urban life
Cities are faced with the difficulty of creating natural open spaces in dense urban areas. Closing streets and avenues to vehicular traffic is a great way to provide opportunities for recreation for millions of people, and also leads to significant health benefits:
- The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) promotes recreational bike paths as a means for physical activity necessary for a healthy life. This map of the Recreational Ciclovías in the Americas – edited by PAHO – includes 80 cities in Latin America.
- The Journal of Urban Health suggests that car-free events have the following cost-benefit ratios in their cities:
The estimated benefit of events in this study correspond to direct savings in medical costs, which is the main reason why the benefits outweigh the costs of closing existing infrastructure to cars. The cost to users is low, as they need not pay a gym fee or pay for specialized equipment to have space for physical activity. In addition, research indicates that these benefits are underestimated, because they don’t account for factors such as increased quality of life from recreational activities, the development of social capital, and the promotion of sustainable mobility. Read more about the study here.
This does not mean that cities shouldn’t plan adequate parks and public spaces – these are fundamental to quality of life – but it does mean cities also have the opportunity to repurpose existing infrastructure. Most importantly, by taking advantage of this opportunity to create car-free streets, cities can promote healthy lifestyles and active transport.
I made the above graphic back in 2008 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the return of Copenhagen's separated cycle tracks.Now it's 31 years on, but the anniversary is timeless.It was in June 1983 that the Copenhagen cycle track returned to Copenhagen. Meaning cycle tracks separated from cars on one side and pedestrians on the other by curbs.For the record, there were cycle tracks prior to this. Historically, separated cycle tracks criss-crossed Copenhagen but many were removed during the brain fart that was the 50s and 60s where planners decided the car was a good horse to back.Here are the first bike lanes being marked out back in... 1915.Here is a cycle track being constructed back in ... 1930.But the return of the physically-separated cycle track in the modern era is a landmark. The City of Copenhagen made a visonary choice in implementing them. Cycling levels plummeted through the 50s and 60s from a peak in the late 1940s. By the late 60s, the modal share hit 9% after a high of 55%. Due... you guessed it... to infrastructure being removed to make space for cars.Through the 1970s, the focus returned to the bicycle as a solution to transport problems. In 1983, the foundation was laid - in stone - for a return to rationality. Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, head of the traffic department (and later Lord Mayor) was responsible for the paradigm shift. A shift which continued unabated until today, where 41% of people arriving in the City of Copenhagen at work or education do so on bicycles. Of the citizens of Copenhagen municipality, the number is 55% who cycle every day. Only 12% drive cars.On June 4, 1983 the Danish Cyclists' Union, at a large bicycle demonstration, gave a "Cyclist Award" to Mikkelsen in the form of a two metre long curb to symbolise the physical separation from traffic.The cycle track was placed on the bike lane on Amagerbrogade at the corner of Hollænderdybet - just after Amagerboulevard - a sacred shrine for bike culture if anyone wants to start a'pilgrimage-ing.The photo features the Cyclist Award and the two chaps who made it - stone mason Uffe Mohr [right] and his apprentice Egon Albertsen [left].Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Transit and residential neighborhoods: Questioning the affordability of residential neighborhoods around Metro Rail stations, a Delhi case study
Large-scale mass transit projects such as the Delhi Metro Rail often lead to transit-oriented development (TOD) that can enhance quality of life, but also compromise housing affordability. Planning authorities in urban areas around the world have acknowledged the need for the integration of land use and transportation (LUT) planning for many decades. Only since the 1980s though – when the concept of TOD was coined by Peter Calthorpe – have cities revisited this concept and acknowledged its benefits for urban development. While the application of TOD can have positive features, the inherent spike in real estate prices associated with transit expansion can displace lower- and middle-income households to transit-poor neighborhoods. Delhi faces the challenge of pairing land use and transport policies to ensure affordability and access to mass transport.The affordability challenge in Delhi
Affordability is a function of both housing and transport costs. For example, housing in the urban periphery is cheaper, but requires residents to pay high commuting costs to travel into the city for employment. On the other hand, living in established areas of the city with good access to subsidized public transport is unaffordable for many, given the high price of property in these neighborhoods.
To reduce overall cost of living, cities may work to improve transit in affordable neighborhoods. However, this can lead to considerable speculation in real estate prices, which may undercut affordability and reduce equity. Besides increasing prices, other indicators that neighborhood affordability is changing include:
- The change in the pace of development in a neighborhood before and after transit provisions.
- The change in household incomes, which can indicate whether the intended resident income mix has been preserved or eroded.
- Modifications to the housing stock: the division of single household plots into multi-family divisions can indicate the acceptance of smaller dwelling units and increasing demand for housing.
- Commercialization of residential units, thereby reducing housing stock.
Delhi faces a severe housing shortage and is unable to accommodate the continuous influx of new residents with varying income levels. This makes affordability considerations related to TOD particularly important. The 2011 national census estimated Delhi’s population at 16.7 million. According to the 2007 – 2008 Economic Survey of Delhi, only 23.7% of the city’s population lives in planned communities, while 39.2% of the population lives in unplanned and illegal communities. This shows the absence of affordable housing for various income groups.A closer look into affordability in Delhi’s Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood
The Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood in northwest Delhi has had a metro rail stop since 2004. We explored this area and found a number of visible clues that indicated how the urban form has transformed and adapted to the presence of metro. We listened to narratives of residents and local real estate agents in order to understand the change they have observed over the last decade.
The tour helped us to understand how building use and the housing stock has changed, while speaking with residents and real estate agents gave us an overview of the changes in the real estate prices due to speculation, appreciation, rate corrections, and overall demand. The people we spoke with described that over the past decade, the rate of development and commercialization has increased. They estimated that residential property prices have grown by about 30%-35% a year, and commercial property rates have increased 100%. Commercialization has also led to parking problems, and the construction rate of multi-family housing in the plotted communities has increased. The housing stock did not appear to be distributed based on the social and economic structure originally intended for the neighborhood.
Delhi’s 2021 Master Plan explicitly indicates that the provision of housing for residents of varying incomes is an important aspect of planned development. The issue of housing affordability in these decade old rapid transit corridors is also highlighted in the Delhi Development Authority’s TOD draft policy, released in 2012. The effectiveness of TOD depends heavily on the connection between land use and transport planning. Strengthening their symbiotic link through equitable policies regarding affordability of living and commuting is necessary for a modal shift to occur, especially in a city like Delhi, which covers 1483 square km (573 square miles).
Delhi’s larger concern is to envision tools and processes through which mass transit and residential areas will be able to exist symbiotically, whereby areas can be accessible to transport and affordable for various income groups.
The authors would like to acknowledge Himadri Das, who contributed to this blog as a reviewer.
Rio de Janeiro is breathtaking. It just takes a walk along the boardwalk of the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, for example, to be completely absorbed by the city’s natural beauty and the thousands of people enjoying these sites. There you will see generations of families and happy dogs; street vendors selling their goods; and runners, cyclists, and skaters dodging meandering tourists. Before arriving, however, beachgoers must take their life into their own hands crossing the busy Avenida Vieira Souto before they can settle in on their beach towel and snap that perfect photo of the Morro Dois Irmãos (“Hill of Two Brothers”) looming above.
At any point between the waterfront buildings and the boardwalk, there are streets at least six lanes wide with 70 kmph (43 mph) speed limits. This high speed limit in an area with significant activity shocked international experts during last week’s road safety training organized by EMBARQ Brasil, PTV Group, and the University of Newcastle in Rio. “This number does not make any sense,” said a surprised Paulo Humanes, a Portuguese adviser to PTV Group.
The speed at which vehicles regularly pass feet or even inches by pedestrians and cyclists is frightening and sometimes deadly. Rio’s traffic mortality rate – at 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year – is the highest among 23 surveyed metropolises according to 2012 data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health. By comparison, São Paulo’s mortality rate was 13 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.
This problem extends nationally. In 2012 alone, Brazil experienced 44,812 traffic deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country currently has the fourth most annual traffic deaths in the world. “If we consider the rate of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, Brazil is second only to Nigeria, which is fifth in absolute numbers,” warns Luis Antonio Lindau, President and Director of EMBARQ Brasil.
The country’s high fatality rate is directly related to street speed limits. Some of Rio’s peer metropolises – like New York, Tokyo and London – have managed to reduce the number of fatal crashes to around 2 per 100,000 inhabitants. These cities share a 50 kmph (31 mph) speed limit.
“What usually kills is not the speed, but the difference in speeds between travelers. If a car hits a bike at 80 kmph (50 mph), the probability of the cyclist surviving is practically zero. Unfortunately, this is the reality that we find here in Brazil,” explains Humanes.
Common in most countries, a 50 kmph (31 mph) speed limit saves lives. This speed greatly reduces the probability that a collision will be fatal. As a car’s speed rises, the risk of death increases exponentially. According to WHO data, a pedestrian has a 36% chance of being killed when struck by a car traveling 40 kmph (25 mph). But if the vehicle is traveling 60 kmph (37 mph), the probability jumps to 98% – almost a zero percent chance of survival.
In addition to high vehicle speeds, Rio’s beachfront offers another major risk to pedestrians and cyclists: reversible lanes. Based on the time of day, lanes change direction as a way to relieve congestion during peak hours. This move was widely criticized by experts during last week’s road safety training, because reversible lanes confuse pedestrians – even those accustomed to the area – and drivers. “The prioritization of vehicular traffic in a site with great movement of people is inconsistent, since it generates many conflicts, putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk,” says Marta Obelheiro, Coordinator of Health Projects and Road Safety for EMBARQ Brasil.Designing roads to save lives
More people die in Brazil in traffic accidents than in many wars, motivating experts around the world to seek effective solutions. Expert recommendations at the road safety training represent a departure from the traditional education and enforcement efforts that treat the behavior of drivers and pedestrians as the sole cause of crashes. Rather, solutions should revolve around designing roads that protect pedestrians and cyclists. Streets and avenues should be people-oriented, giving priority to more sustainable modes of mobility like active, non-motorized, and mass forms of transport.
Repainting pavement to make roadways seem narrower for cars, creating pedestrian refuge islands and medians, and creating more pleasant pedestrian spaces are all ways to reduce speeds and ensure the safety and comfort of people who choose sustainable means of transport. These actions are part of the concept of “complete streets,” which focuses on improving comfort and safety for people through modifications to street design.
Complete streets are designed to ensure secure access for all road users – be they pedestrians, cyclists, motorists or transit users of different ages and abilities. Experts suggest that a complete street should include the following attributes, with flexibility for local requirements:
- Speeds limited to 50 kmph (31 mph) in areas of general circulation
- Traffic calming measures
- Universal accessibility
- Clear, pedestrian-oriented signage
- Useful urban infrastructure (bins, benches, lighting, sidewalks, etc.)
- Security monitoring in specific places
- Short cross walks and refuge islands for pedestrians
- A limited supply of free parking
- Bike paths and/or lanes
- A range of preferred/exclusive bus services
- Easy access to public transport and public transport stops
Complete streets principles also discourage reverse lanes and counterflow designs, such as those on Rio’s Avenida Vieira Souto.
These recommendations are being implemented in some Brazilian cities. Rio should follow suit to make its world famous beachfront – and other streets throughout the city – safer and even more enjoyable. Who knows, in the not-too-distant future, the “Marvelous City” could surprise the world not only for its beauty, but also by eliminating all preventable deaths.
I've lost count of how often people have tried to convince me that their city's streets are too narrow to have cycling infrastructure. The three words "not enough space" are repeated as if they are a mantra. It is often genuinely believed that Dutch towns were built with wider streets and that there is therefore more space here than in other countries. Of course, that's not true at all. If you David Hembrowhttp://firstname.lastname@example.org://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/10/our-streets-are-too-narrow-for-cycle.html
Do steep hills prevent you from biking? They don’t have to. The city of Trondheim, Norway, has demonstrated an original way to promote cycling: make uphill biking easy. Called the “Trampe CycloCable,” this 130-meter bike lift pushes cyclists using a foot pedal attached to an underground motorized cable. Take a look at how it works:
The lift was originally built in 1993, and has since carried over 200,000 cyclists without a single accident. Before being upgraded in 2013, the lift charged a fee and could only carry one biker at a time. It is now free, travels 4 to 5 miles per hour, and can carry up to six cyclists per minute. This bike escalator helps make Trondheim one of the premier cycling cities in the world. According to City Clock Magazine, 18% of all trips in the city are made by bike. It ranked Trondheim as the 7th best cycling city in the world.
The CycloCable technology is being commercialized for implementation in other cities around the world. It will cost between $2,300 and $3,000 per meter, though a pay-for-use model can be installed to make back this cost.
The CycloCable is one of multiple ways to improve cycling in hilly cities. The Copenhagen Wheel – a motorized back wheel that attaches to any bike – is another innovation that can help cyclists power up hills. In Japan, a different type of bike escalator helps integrate biking and public transport infrastructure. Municipal authorities have created the “Bike-A-Lator” to help cyclists ascend or descend stairs leading to subway stations. See how it works below:
On Monday, we posed the central question driving discussion at this week’s tenth annual International Congress on Sustainable Transport (“X Congreso”) to our TheCityFix readers: how can we make cities better places to live?
At the end of the three-day conference organized by EMBARQ Mexico, we’ve heard numerous answers to this question from transport and urban planning professionals, government officials, civil society actors, and business leaders. Some of these address how to best govern our cities, while others look to harness the transformative power of engaged, innovative citizens to catalyze grassroots change.
No matter the approach, X Congreso reinforced that there is indeed optimism for the urban future, even amidst challenges to sustainably accommodating rapid urbanization. To carry forward this spirit of optimism, the following are six quotes from the past week that we at TheCityFix hope will stick with you and inspire you to go out and make your city a better place to live.Six perspectives on reinventing our cities
Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, Buzzcar, and GoLoco
“I truly believe that transport lies at the center of the universe. It can make you happy or make you incredibly angry every day.”
Shared-mobility entrepreneur Robin Chase opened the conference with a keynote address on transforming urban mobility through innovative leadership. Her remarks remind us just how much mobility shapes our everyday lives and determines quality of life in cities. There are very few things that the world’s billions of urban residents all have in common, but the desire to move freely and safely throughout our cities is one of them.
Guillermo Peñalosa, Executive Director, 8-80 Cities
“Walking and bicycling are not frivolous pursuits. They’re a fundamental part of urban mobility, equitable cities, and democracy.”
Many of the discussions at X Congreso revolved around building cities that move people – not cars – through fostering active transport. Addressing attendees on Tuesday, Guillermo Peñalosa reminded us that this goal brings benefits beyond mobility, and is actually a fundamental piece of inclusive urban development. Car-centric urban design limits mobility for all, and has a disproportionate affect on disadvantaged members of society. For instance, elderly city dwellers can account for up to 45% of pedestrian fatalities and up to 70% of cyclist fatalities globally. Reversing this trend and better protecting the most vulnerable road users is a way to both expand urban mobility and address inequality in cities.
Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute
“We can either turn cities into the solutions for our problems, or continue business-as-usual and face the consequences down the road.”
Andrew Steer closed proceedings at X Congreso by emphasizing a turning point for the world’s cities. Urban growth in the developing world means cities – especially those in Asia and Africa – are poised to make enormous investments in urban infrastructure in the coming years. In China, for instance, 60% of all buildings will be new buildings by 2050. Because urban infrastructure typically lasts for decades, the decisions these city leaders make today will determine the course that our cities follow for generations. Will we create sprawling, fragmented cities reliant on cars, or connected, coordinated cities that improve quality of life?
Robin King, Director of Urban Development and Accessibility, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
“What does it take to build a city that you would actually want to live in? To create this city, you have to work with both your friends and your enemies.”
To move beyond discussions and debates, Robin King put the rhetoric around sustainable, livable urban development to the test. Her workshop had participants create a fictional city from scratch, exposing the conflicting interests and visions behind the processes that guide urban development. The exercise revealed the considerable challenges facing mayors and city leaders as they attempt to cross political divides and achieve real impact in their cities. As one participant put it, “if we can’t even create our ideal livable city on paper, how can city planners do this in real life?”
Francisco Barnés Regueiro, Executive Coordinator of the Metropolitan Environmental Commission
“The environment knows no borders, no political divides, and no social classes. It impacts all of us.”
If there was ever doubt about the urgent need to coalesce around environmental action, Francisco Barnés eliminated it here. On top of that, he underscored the importance of coordinated governance to address issues like climate change, ensuring sustainable mobility in metropolitan regions, and fostering cooperation between connected regional economies. Most of all, Barnés reminded us of the high cost of inaction on environmental issues: human well-being.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
In the long and difficult journey to create more sustainable societies, it’s easy to focus on all of the problems in our cities today. Robin Chase reminds us that we can’t forget to celebrate our progress and appreciate innovations that makes cities more sustainable. To close out her opening remarks, she recounted a story from her days as CEO of car-sharing pioneer Zipcar, in which the company received an anonymous email simply stating, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” This one moment reinforced in her the reason urban activists and city leaders fight the uphill battle every day to build more sustainable communities: it makes people’s lives better!
Here’s to continuing to reinvent our cities despite the challenges, and celebrating the part that each of us plays in creating sustainable cities with a high quality of life for all.
Many cities in sub-Saharan Africa are choking on their traffic, both literally in terms of air pollution and figuratively in terms of congestion. Nairobi, Kenya is no exception. However, new technologies, in particular new uses of smartphones, are helping to improve mass transport services. Manual data collection on the city’s transport routes mean information on transport systems has historically been sparse. Earlier this year, TheCityFix examined the openMatatus project, in which a team from MIT, Columbia University, and the University of Nairobi worked to change that by giving tracking-equipped smartphones to passengers on matatus – mini-buses that operate mostly under the radar within the city’s informal transport network. The study revealed that matatus do indeed follow routes, even though they are not properly marked, advertised, or known by non-users. Smartphone data was also able to determine average speeds along route segments. This kind of information is an essential starting point for transport planning.
This is only one example of why GPS in smartphones has the potential to quickly improve mass transport at minimal cost, particularly as smartphones become more common. Congestion causes a number of urgent problems in Nairobi including pollution, strangulation of economic development, and poor traffic safety. The time is now to explore and adapt technologies that can improve the informal transport sector for the benefit of transport operators, passengers, and the city at large.Nairobi faces challenges improving transport technologies
There is a plan to install bus rapid transit (BRT) in Nairobi, but its implementation schedule is uncertain. It will require the creation of new governance structures to coordinate BRT with a formal feeder system, and even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will take many years before it can cover the entire city. In the meantime, informal transport services are vital for residents.
Nairobi has already taken a number of steps to use existing technologies to improve the informal transport system, with mixed success. Nairobi recently passed a law that requires matatu crews to accept cashless fare collection methods (for example, the BebaPay smartcard). As entertainingly made clear in a recent New York Times video, the uptake of this law has been slow. Google provides cards for free, but requires users to open a Gmail account. The main reason for the slow uptake, though, is that drivers’ incomes come from a percentage of cash fare exchanges and they do not have the incentive to use cashless fare collection.
To address rampant speeding and a poor safety record, speed governors – which are devices that measure and limit the speed a vehicle travels – were also made mandatory for matatus. However, there have been many disputes between the police and drivers as to actual speeds travelled. This highlights the need for reliable and accurate equipment if advanced technology is to gain acceptance, especially when law enforcement is involved.Smartphones can improve mass transport users’ experience and transport planning
Creating a real-time map of all buses along a route used to involve a Computer Aided Dispatching/Automatic Vehicle Location system based upon an expensive dedicated digital radio system and mobile data terminals (MDTs). Now, however, much of this capability can be achieved by assigning standard smartphones to all mass transport vehicles. Phone apps also take advantage of crowdsourcing to provide real-time data of bus locations to improve users’ experience. Twende Twende is an application that also works on older phones and can send SMS messages to motorists about current traffic conditions near Nairobi’s 36 intersections that currently have CCTV. There are, of course, established international smartphone apps like Waze, and Kenya’s ma3route that use crowdsourcing. Only about 15% of Kenya’s population has access to smartphones, but this is expected to rise to one third of all Kenyans by 2017. Steadily improving crowdsourced traffic information can be combined with real-time matatu location data to estimate when the next matatu will arrive at a particular waiting location, (formal “stops” don’t always exist). Some matatus are also improving customers’ experience using on-board wifi, which could become increasingly common.Improving safety, predictability, and traffic flow
Acquiring data about matatus through smartphones can also improve the city’s transport planning. Having real-time data can allow planners to detect bunching of vehicles and excessive gaps in the newly launched traffic control center. It can also help planners identify vehicles that are short turning – turning around before reaching the end of a transit route – or otherwise deviating from official plans.
Planners can also couple GPS data with other technologies to improve safety. If covert alarm buttons are installed in matatus, the control center can direct law enforcement directly to where it is needed based on GPS data. This can be especially important at night, given that the city has almost no streetlights.
Smartphones also open up possibilities for requesting signal priority for matatus by communicating with traffic signals using Bluetooth. This could serve as a powerful way to speed up mass transport even when bus-only lanes are not available.
The smartphone revolution promises to bring near-term improvements to informal transport services in Nairobi. It can reduce rider anxiety. It can dramatically improve the productivity of limited enforcement staff. It can provide both government and individual firms with archived data usable for statistical analysis. Perhaps most importantly, when the positive impacts on the city become clear, it will make requests for further enhancements to the public transport system more persuasive.
Ridesharing has been gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, with companies like Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, and Wundercar facilitating hundreds of thousands of rides a month. This has presented a new, convenient, and affordable alternative means of transport in some of the world’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Berlin, to name a few. After achieving huge success in these metropolises, the biggest ridesharing companies are expanding their operations into several emerging economies, such as India, which offers huge growth potential for this type of transport-on-demand.Competition in India’s ridesharing market gets fierce
Uber – one of the largest ridesharing services in the world – began operating in India when it expanded to Bangalore in October 2013. In August, the company announced that it would launch its service in four new Indian cities – Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and Kolkata, and now serves a total of ten Indian cities. With Uber working towards a deeper market penetration in the second-most populous country in the world, India’s ridesharing industry is set to grow and become quite competitive. In addition to the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws, Mumbai-based Ola Cabs is already a well-established player in the market – operating in nine cities with over 11,000 drivers. Both Uber and Ola Cabs offer competitive prices, with UberX charging a base fare of Rs 50 (US 82¢) plus Rs 1 per minute (US 1.6¢), and Ola Cabs charging a minimum bill of Rs 100 (US$ 1.6) for the first 2.5 miles, and an extra Rs 15.00 (US 25¢) for each additional half mile. Meru Cabs is another technology-enabled taxi service that operates in 11 Indian cities, and the owner claimed it books 700,000 trips per month.
As is common in less-wealthy countries, many Indian cities have poor transport infrastructure, and have significant room to improve public transport options. The addition of ridesharing as a transport alternative could lead to a small revolution in the country’s transport industry. As these companies grow in India, however, it remains to be seen how they will become integrated with other transport modes.Can ridesharing complement public transport in India?
Ridesharing can be more a convenient, fast, and cost-effective form of transport than its alternatives. For many, ridesharing may already be cheaper than owning a car. It can also be an important part of multi-modal journeys by addressing first-and-last mile connectivity to bus, train, or other public transit services, fueling the demand for these already established transport modes. There are some signs that the implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) may have reached a tipping point in Indian cities, with new or expanding systems in Bhopal, Ahmedabad, and Surat that can dramatically improve mobility and quality of life. However, many cities in India still face heavy traffic congestion. Ridesharing may help connect users to these mass transport systems, making them more accessible. It may also shed light on the deficiencies of existing public transport systems in many lower-income cities in India and worldwide, prompting increased investment to improve these services.
Ridesharing has the potential to revolutionize transport in places like India and other lower- and middle-income countries that are in dire need of more organized and efficient transport systems. It can provide a cost-effective and more environmentally friendly alternative to car ownership, and an ideal extension to existing public transit systems.
Jordan Perch is a transport analyst and expert in consumer affairs for the automotive industry.
A French translation of this article follows the English text.The city of Nantes in France will host the global bicycle conference Velo-City in June 2015. Before showing up, Copenhagenize Design Company decided to do a scouting tour.Nantes and its 600,000 inhabitants - including the immediate suburbs - is one of the French cities that decided to implement an ambitious cycling policy. They dared to innovate and to make strong political decisions. We find that inspiring.To begin with, watch the Velo-City 2015 promotional clip. In this video, Nantes demonstrates that they understand that creating a bicycle-friendly city is not just about building infrastructure but it's most of all about developing a life-sized city where bicycles are merely one of the tools to create an active, creative and liveable city - albeit one of the most important tools. Nantes presents in the video its inhabitants, its urban spaces and its activities.We have to admit that we have been impressed by the diversity of features included in the bicycle policy. Far from being only focused on building infrastructure, Nantes expands the initiatives to include everything that can support rebuilding a bike-friendly city; services for cyclists; parking; a bike share programme; long and short term rental bikes; collaboration with the local associations, etc. The implementation of their policy has been a success if you consider the fact that the number of cyclists has increased and the modal share rose from 2% to 4.5% between 2008 and 2012 (5.3% in the city-centre). Most importantly, the bicycle users in the city are largely Citizen Cyclists and not hard-core "avid cyclists" dressed in racing gear.First step - Reducing the Number of ParasitesDuring rush hour, many streets are still highly congested but when it comes to traffic regulation within the city-centre, Nantes has made a crucial decision: the through traffic has been completely removed from the heart of the city thanks to the creation of a Limited Traffic Area.The main boulevard running through the city is now only accessible to bicycles, public transport and authorised vehicles (taxis, delivery trucks, shopkeepers), meaning that most cars and motorcycles are no longer welcome. On this boulevard, just like on a pedestal, cyclists ride a 4 meter wide cycle track, slightly elevated. Even if we can criticise the fact that the cycle track is very different from the others (bi-directional, in the middle of the street, elevated), we notice that the Municipality has decided to showcase to the inhabitants that the cyclists are very welcome in Nantes - and prioritized. In addition, the city continues transforming symbolic car-centric places into pedestrian areas (such as the Royale square and the Graslin square). Nantes is Copenhagenizing and modernising itself.Building Several Kilometres of Bicycle InfrastructureIn addition to their wider focus, Nantes has, bien sur, built numerous kilometres of separated bike lanes. The colour chosen for the bike lanes is a very light orange. At the intersections, this colour communicates clearly that the space is dedicated to cyclists and orange stripes along the lanes strenghten this communication in some areas.But let's look at the infrasturcture in detail because it is the backbone of any cycling city. The lanes are wide enough to host the current number of cyclists (3 meters wide for the bi-directional lanes). But when the modal share will really increase, will it be sufficient to cope with the user's flow and capacity? Is the infrastructure capable of evolving and expanding? We're not sure. A Clear Strategy Can Still Suffer from Drawbacks We must mention that one clear drawback and that is a lack of homogeneity in the bicycle network. The diversity the design of the infrastruture is such that without a strong knowledge of the city, you can easily lose track of the network. For instance, bicycle lanes are randomly designed. They are in the middle of the street, on the right of car traffic, on the right or left of the tram, shared with buses or pedestrians suddenly for a few metres, first monodirectional then bidirectional. It's a guessing game at times.Despite the consistency of the orange colour and the creation of two main routes - north-south and east-west- the network remains very complex and not at all intuitive. It makes it quite difficult to get a clear mind map of the bike route you’ll be riding. Moreover, the bi-directional bike lanes already show some limits as this infrastructure is too narrow to host the cyclists at the intersections during rush hour. The physical complexity of the bike infrastructure has two main impacts. First, the speed of the cyclists is reduced, which turns cycling into a less competitive solution compared to other means of transport (12 km/h in Nantes vs. 15,5 in Copenhagen and 20 km/h on the “Green Wave Routes”). We know for a fact that a bicycle user wants to ride from A to B as quick as possible.Secondly, the difficulty to visualise a clear cycling itinerary can become a serious deterrent to getting new cyclists onto the infrastructure. This might challenge the ambition of the city to increase the modal share. Can Nantes really reach their declared target of 15% model share for cyclists without making cycling the most practical and easiest choice? Not likely, as it is now.This challenge is common in many French cities that, on the one hand, develop ambitious cycling networks but, on the other hand, make them too inconsistent when it comes to the type of infrastructure.Increase the Diversity of ServicesLike so many French cities, Nantes implemented a bike share scheme – the Bicloo – relying on user-friendly stations (880 bikes and 102 stations). But the city also offers the commuters the opportunity to combine bicycle and train through the development of a bike-train-bike concept (similar to the BiTiBi project). Indeed, let's imagine that an inhabitant of Nantes Métropole cycles from home to a nearby suburban train station, he/she can park the bike under a shelter (or, even better, in a secure bike parking facility at the main train station in Nantes). Then, he/she gets on the train and upon arriving in the city-centre, he/she can rent a bike for a day and return it to the same place before taking the train home. The City of Nantes has also developed secure bike parking, long term rentals and air pumps and they allow folding bike on the trams – the Cyclotan - as well as offering citizens €300 euros subsidy for buying a cargo bike. allowance when buying a cargo-bike.Important information for our followers attending Vélo-City 2015 - we have already found the Copenhagenize HQ - near the conference venue. A lovely place on the Erdre river. See you there in June 2015.VERSION EN FRANÇAISNantes – Une ville qui a compris !La Ville de Nantes (France) accueillera en Juin 2105 la conférence mondiale Vélo-City. Avant de venir y participer, Copenhagenize a décidé d'aller y faire un petit repérage.Nantes, 600.000 habitants à l'échelle de l'agglomération, est l'une des villes françaises qui a mis en place une ambitieuse politique cyclable et qui n'a pas hésité à innover en la matière et prendre des décisions politiques fortes. De quoi inspirer.Pour commencer, visionnage de son clip de présentation de Vélo-City 2015, où Nantes montre qu'elle a compris que créer une ville cyclable c'était avant tout créer une ville humaine où les vélos ne sont finalement qu'un des éléments d'une ville active et agréable à vivre. Nantes y présente majoritairement ses habitants, ses espaces publics, ses activités urbaines. Ensuite, il faut bien avouer que nous avons été impressionné sur la diversité des éléments de sa politique cyclable. Loin de s'être uniquement focalisée sur la construction de pistes cyclables, Nantes a élargi ses initiatives concernant le vélo sur tous les fronts : services aux cyclistes, parkings, vélos publics, travail avec les associations locales... Résultat, la part modale du vélo est passée de 2 % à 4,5 % entre 2008 et 2012 (5,3% dans le centre-ville), mais surtout les cyclistes sont des usagers de la rue comme les autres et non des hard-core du vélo, de vrais « Citizen Cyclists » (cf. le blogpost sur Copenhagen Cycle Chic).Deuxièmement, des kilomètres d'infrastructures cyclablesNantes a construit des kilomètres de pistes cyclables complètement séparées de la circulation automobile. Orange pâle, c'est la couleur choisie pour marquer les pistes cyclables. Aux carrefours, cette couleur affirme la place des cyclistes et des bandes peintes le long des pistes vient parfois judicieusement renforcer la lisibilité du réseau.Les pistes sont actuellement assez larges pour accueillir les cyclistes (3 mètres de large mais en bi-directionnelle), mais qu'en sera-t-il quand le nombre de cyclistes augmentera véritablement. Toutes ces infrastructures seront-elles adaptables?Une ombre au tableauToutefois, il faut tout de même signaler un bémol : le manque d'homogénéité du réseau cyclable. La diversité du type de pistes cyclables est telle que sans être un fin connaisseur de la ville, on en perd très vite la lisibilité. La piste cyclable se situe parfois au centre de la rue, parfois à droite des voitures, à droite ou à gauche du tram, partagée sur quels mètres avec les piétons ou les bus, elle peut-être mono- ou bi-directionnelle...Le réseau est trop complexe et malgré la signalisation des axes majeurs nord/sud et est/ouest, difficile d'avoir une carte mentale claire de son itinéraire. Par ailleurs, les pistes cyclables bi-directionnelles montrent déjà leur limite aux heures de pointes, les endroits d'attente aux intersections autant rapidement saturés.La complexité physique du parcours alternant entre différents types de pistes cyclables à deux impacts majeurs. Il réduit la vitesse des cyclistes et rend ainsi ce mode de déplacement moins compétitif face aux autres modes de transport (12km/h à Nantes contre 15,5 à Copenhague et 20km/h sur les « Green Waves »). On le sait, un cycliste utilise son vélo principalement parce que c'est rapide et pratique. Par ailleurs, la complexité de lecture du réseau peut dissuader certains usagers à se déplacer à vélo et limite l'augmentation de la part modale. Est-ce ainsi possible d'atteindre 15% de cyclistes ?Cette remarque est en fait la principale critique que l'on puisse faire aux villes françaises de manière générale. Elles innovent mais complexifient leur réseau. Une diversité de services Comme des dizaines d'autres villes en France, Nantes dispose d'un service de vélos partagés – le Bicloo – et de bornes facilement accessibles (800 vélos et 102 stations). Mais elle permet également la combinaison de transport – vélo-train-vélo (cf. le projet européen BiTiBi). En effet, imaginons qu'un habitant de la région nantaise se rende de son domicile à sa gare locale à vélo, il trouve – à défaut d'un parking sécurisé – un abris à vélo. Il prend ensuite le train et une fois arrivé à la gare de Nantes, il empreinte pour la journée un vélo public et le retourne à la gare lorsqu'il vient reprendre son train. La Ville de Nantes a développé également des parkings sécurisés disponibles sur la voie public, des pompes à vélo, un vélo pliant autorisé dans le tram – le Cyclotan -, une aide àde 300 euros à l'achat d'un vélo-cargo, un vélo à disposition des étudiants...Information à tous nos lecteurs participants à Vélo-City 2015, nous avons déjà trouvé notre QG à deux pas de la salle de congrès, un lieu unique au bord de l'Erdre où nous aurons plaisir à vous retrouver. Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
No big bicycle urbanist article this time. Just a simple tale of what happens when you loan out your cargo bike. During the summer, a Swiss family from Lausanne checked into my Airbnb room. I have had only wonderful experiences with being an Airbnb host. Half of my guests know my work through the company or through this blog or had the link sent by someone who does, so I get to meet many likeminded people. The other half just like the look of the place so I get to meet fascinating strangers and welcome them into our home.The Swiss family were cool. They kind of just rocked into Copenhagen without any definitive plan. They just wanted to come here to see this cool, bicycle-friendly city. They even brought their kids' bikes with them on the plane. They had vague ideas of renting a cargo bike - preferably a Bullitt - and riding around the region but were disappointed to discover that Bullitts couldn't be rented and the other places that rent three-wheelers were booked. I was using my own Bullitt at the time, so they enquired about the Triobike three-wheeler I have in the backyard. I said that it probably wasn't THAT great to ride on longer trips, what with the wind and whatnot, but they just shrugged and smiled. They were up for anything. And off they went.They cycled up the coast north of Copenhagen to the north coast of the island of Sjælland that Copenhagen is on. Then back down again. Then over to Malmö in Sweden to ride around the region. The kids rode their bikes and when one got tired - they were four and six - they just put the bike and kid in the cargo bay and continued.I heard about their journey but I just received the photos in my inbox. It was, by all accounts, an amazing, epic journey. There are, of course, cycle tracks criss-crossing the nation - especially the island of Sjælland - so THAT was no problem, but respect for doing a few hundred kilometres as a family on a three wheeler, two small kids' bikes and one extra adult bike.Pit stop at a gas station. Not for gas, obviously.Heading north from Copenhagen. Stopping at Charlottenlund.They had camping gear with them, too.Always fun with some off-roading.Ooh. And picnics.Lakeside camping with pre-requisite Danish beer.Old building-visiting.Off to Sweden.A break back in Copenhagen at Baisikeli's café.Thanks to Simon and Sonia for the photos so I can see what they got up to on my bike!Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
How can we make cities better places to live?
This central question is at the heart of countless efforts from governments, civil society, and individual citizens to transform and reinvent their cities. Given the rapid scale and pace of global urbanization—urban areas add 1.3 million people each week—tapping into the innovation necessary to make these solutions a reality is key to improving quality of life for billions.
This week, TheCityFix is coming to you live from Mexico City, where EMBARQ Mexico is hosting the tenth annual International Congress on Sustainable Transport (“X Congreso”). With the theme of “Reinventing Cities,” the conference takes an ambitious look at what can be done to shape livable, sustainable cities and megacities—places where millions of people not only live, but thrive.
If you can’t join us in Mexico City, follow #X_CITS, @X_CITS, @EMBARQMx, and @EMBARQNetwork on social media and watch the keynote sessions streaming live. But before diving in, read more about some of the key themes and discussions to look for throughout the week.Rethinking cities at the scale of the ‘megalopolis’
Our cities are changing, and the way we plan and move around in them is changing, too. Specifically, the emergence of the modern megalopolis—which geographer Jean Gottman first used to describe the economically connected region spanning from Boston to Washington, D.C. in the United States—presents new challenges for integrated, sustainable urban planning and mobility. It’s no longer enough to think at the scale of the city, instead leaders must begin thinking at the scale of the metropolitan region.
Contemporary megalopolis regions like China’s Pearl River Delta (whose 11 cities include Shenzen, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou) are reshaping the way we think of urban economies and governance in an increasingly globalized world. This shift in thinking demands a parallel shift in planning practices, something cities must embark on together to find solutions at scale.How can we unlock the finance to build the cities we want?
If you read TheCityFix regularly, you’re probably familiar with at least a few of the innovative ideas already out there to make cities better places to live. Some may be more practical—like leveraging existing technologies for smarter cities or creating more pedestrian-friendly streets—and some are more far-reaching, like floating cycle paths or personal rapid transit.
Whether immediately doable or wildly outlandish, there is no shortage of ideas for urban transformation. Financing these visions and making them a reality has proved more challenging, even in developed economies. Adding to this challenge is the tendency for financial flows to follow business as usual patterns, particularly in the transport sector. Experts and citizens alike are coalescing around a shared vision for creating the cities we want. The discussion is turning to how to unlock the finance and build the capacity in cities governments to make it happen.What we can learn from Mexico City
While Congreso addresses issues relevant to cities across the globe, lessons from the history of host Mexico City shouldn’t be overlooked. Long governed by policies that encouraged urban sprawl, the city has recently taken aggressive measures to become more sustainable, livable, and connected. Its new mobility law is among the most transformative in the world for prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists, an effort the city government also supports with robust active transport systems and infrastructure. The city is also the center of national efforts at urban reform that aim to reverse the patterns of sprawl gripping cities across Mexico. Underpinning all of these is one of the largest and most established bus rapid transit (BRT) systems worldwide, Metrobús, which proudly boasts that each of its buses has the capacity to eliminate the need for 126 cars on the road every day. The private sector is also contributing to Mexico City’s sustainable mobility rebirth, with startups like Carrot bringing car-sharing to the city.
As the second largest city in the world, Mexico City faces a number of challenges in providing sustainable mobility to its growing population. But its emerging successes serve as a reminder that reinventing a city, while not possible overnight, is achievable with long-term vision and a commitment to citizens’ needs. This people-oriented approach is one that can be adopted worldwide to make cities better places to live for all.
TheCityFix recently examined some of the most innovative bicycling infrastructure projects in cities worldwide, but a recent proposal for an eight-mile floating bike path on London’s River Thames might top these in originality. The “Thames Deckway” would cut through the heart of the city and connect Battersea and Canary Wharf – about a 30 minute ride. It would have two bike lanes in each direction during rush hour, and would open one lane in each direction to pedestrians at other times. On weekends, the path may host pedestrian-only days with vendors along its edges. This floating bike bridge will not come cheaply. The River Cycleway Consortium – which announced the project proposal – believes that it could be completed within two years, but estimates that it will cost £600 million (US$ 967 million). It also faces a number of other challenges including keeping cyclists safe from inclement weather and boats.
Despite success with pedestrianization, congestion pricing, and a number of other advancements for sustainable mobility, London still has severe air pollution and traffic congestion. In a statement announcing the proposal, the River Cycleway Consortium said, “London needs to think outside the box of conventional solutions to solve its deep-seated traffic and pollution problems.” The proposed Deckway, though perhaps not as practical as separated bike lanes on London’s streets, could give London’s cyclists an awe-inspiring commute.Is the floating bike path a sustainable solution or an expensive distraction?
Critics have called the Thames Deckway proposal – and its intimidating price tag – hilarious and insulting. While it can add an additional option for the city’s bikers, they argue that it would create a single bike route for the price of an entire network of bike lanes.
The Deckway is not the only cycling infrastructure improvement that could soon come to London. Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced an 18-mile protected bike lane that would travel alongside cars. At £47 million (US$ 75 million), this plan would cost less than one-twelfth as much as the proposed floating path. However, it has received fierce opposition from driving advocates.
Despite often facing resistance, making space for active transport can lead to healthier cities with higher quality of life for all. In addition to reducing air pollution and easing congestion, separated cycle lanes save lives. Nine bikers have already died on London’s streets this year. According to the Mayor, bikers account for 24% of the city’s rush hour traffic. Whether over the Thames, through London’s streets, or both, cyclists deserve a safe commute.
Though not as cost effective, the Thames Deckway is not mutually exclusive with London’s other efforts to improve cycling. The River Cycleway Consortium plans to privately finance its cost. To attract private investment, the Deckway would charge £1.50 (US$ 2.42) for access.
Large, innovative biking infrastructure projects are becoming more common in cities worldwide. In Copenhagen, a cycling superhighway has helped increase biking’s modal share to 41%. In Portland, the world’s largest multi-modal car-free bridge will help connect the city’s growing Southeast region with downtown. Finding new ways to making biking easier and safer is an important part of people-oriented cities. While these cities lead the way, the most important improvements for cyclists in many cities will come from simple, proven strategies to separate bike and car traffic. Significant improvements do not require enormous investment; rather they require a commitment to sustainable transport over car usage.
Must a city of 8 thousand follow the same planning processes as one of 8 million? A case for rightsize planning in India
India’s urban population currently stands at 377 million, representing 31% of the country’s total population. This urban population is distributed across a diverse range of small, medium and large urban centers. Smaller urban centers – or ‘census towns’ that have recently crossed the threshold to legally gain urban status – have experienced an unprecedented 186% growth rate over the past decade, while larger ‘statutory’ towns have grown at 6% during the same time.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts empowers local bodies to better plan and govern themselves and the Ministry of Urban Development Guidelines suggest 29 different types of plans, but neither address the differing needs, complexities, and growth trends of small towns as compared to large urban centers. This is also a weakness in state-level Town and Country Planning Acts that set the same legal framework for master plan preparation across urban centers. These master plans define a city’s land uses based on an assessment of future needs and apply development control regulations.
Small towns should not be treated as scaled-down cities, and this blanket approach is an obstacle to effective urban planning. ‘Rightsizing’ can alleviate this by recognizing these important differences in size and complexity in policy, enabling more effective urban planning processes.Too many urban centers don’t have plans for the future
According to 2011 census estimates, the state of Karnataka houses 347 statutory and census towns. These urban centers are required to undertake identical planning processes under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Acts (KTCP).
Bangalore is the state’s capital and largest city, housing over 8 million people. City agencies must provide services for a metropolitan area of over 800 sqaure kilometers, and face a range of issues including inadequate infrastructure, declining investment, lack of multi-modal public transport options, lack of affordable housing, environmental degradation, poor air quality, and prolonged traffic congestion. By contrast, smaller urban centers with populations of less than 8,000 such as Koppa, Narasimharajapura, and Beltangadi have economies reliant on a single sector or service, are struggling to become self-sustaining urban centers, and risk losing inhabitants to the lure of the larger city.
While larger cities have the technical capacity to plan for themselves, smaller towns are dependent on plans from the state’s centralized Town and Country Planning Department. The significant surge in new census towns adds pressure to create master plans similar to that of a big city as per the KTCP Act that end up being unattainable. Although 98 master plans have been prepared for urban centers in Karnataka, their implementation has suffered from lack of qualified staff, poor inter-departmental coordination, and resource constraints.Rightsizing the planning process
Large cities facilitate access to resources, technological advancements, efficient labor markets, and contribute to a tremendous share of national and state GDP. As such, their urban planning frameworks should vary from those of smaller cities facing different challenges.
Cities in the United Kingdom and China, for example, accord special status to large cities. London doesn’t stop at a spatial master plan for the city; it also prepares an economic development strategy and a transport development strategy to retain its global competitive edge. Larger municipalities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing have been accorded provincial status and hence are able to directly interact with the national government and employ different taxation norms. These municipalities with provincial status can implement local laws, regulations, and exercise unified administration over the economic, social, and cultural affairs in areas under their respective jurisdictions.
The following offer starting points to enable responsive planning processes in Indian cities:
- Large urban centers: Large cities that have more than 8 million people and contribute significantly to the state and national GDP – like Bangalore – should be accorded a special status. They should follow a richer planning process and be required to prepare connected and complementary spatial, economic, and transport plans that better suit the city’s needs, complexities, and aspirations.
- Medium urban centers: The complexity of planning processes should be proportionate to the city government’s ability to pay for itself without relying on financial bailouts from centralized agencies. Medium-sized cities should follow a lighter planning process that is more responsive to both dynamism and decline, instead of being forced into a planning overdose.
- Small urban centers: Small cities and towns that do not face the complexities of larger and mid-sized cities should focus on the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities to improve quality of life and foster a good trade and business environment. These would be more achievable within the resources and capacity that these towns already have.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act has set in motion the revision of Town and Country Planning Acts in several Indian states, and this revision is particularly important as more rural towns gain legal status as urban areas. Now is the time for such documents to incorporate planning processes that are more responsive to the needs of urban centers based on their size and the complexity of the issues they face.
Editor’s note: The title of this article was updated on October 9, 2014 to increase clarity.
On September 21, 2014, Bhopal became the fifth city in India to implement the weekly open streets movement, Raahgiri Day. Organized by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), Traffic Police, and Bhopal City Link Ltd. (BCLL) in collaboration with EMBARQ India, the event began at 6am and witnessed an overwhelming first day turnout. Over 10,000 people from all over the city participated in the event at Bhopal’s Boat Club Road on the shores of Lake Bhojtal.
Raahgiri Day is India’s first sustained car-free day, first launched in Gurgaon – India’s “Millennium City” – on November 17, 2013. Roughly 10,000 people participated in the inaugural event and now over 500,000 Indian city dwellers have participated in car-free Sundays, including in the country’s capital and largest city, New Delhi.
Bhopal’s rendition of Raahgiri Day saw special programs including fitness dancing, exercises, rangolis, cycling, skating, and sports including cricket, soccer, badminton, hockey and yoga. The Commissioner of BMC, Ms. Tejaswi Naik, also actively participated in a game of hockey with a group of children. Traffic police and officials patrolling the stretch did so on bikes. For the first time at a Raahgiri event, a computerized bike rental system was available.
Traffic police officials gave important information about road safety, educating people about traffic signals, safe driving, and the importance of wearing helmets. Participants brought large banners that read “city for people, not for vehicles.” Environmental experts were also on hand to speak with visitors about to the importance of protecting and preserving our environment for future generations.
Bhopal is the 14th largest city in India and is known as the “City of Lakes” for its various natural and artificial lakes. In recent years, Bhopal has witnessed a gradual increase in vehicle ownership. Civic bodies have adopted different measures to retain the existing mode share of cycling and walking in the city, which is still relatively high. Raahgiri Day is an effort to advance this vision.
Devendra Tiwari, an engineer in the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal, said, “The Raahgiri concept has been brought to Bhopal after being successfully run in Gurgaon for the past year so that we can make people aware about road safety, healthy lifestyles, the use of non-motorized vehicles, and public transport. We will try to expand it to the entire city. Maximum deaths happen due to road accidents and heart attacks, so we want to send a message to be safe on the road and stay healthy.”
The city installed widespread outdoor marketing and advertising at major intersections and popular market places prior to the event to raise awareness. In addition, an engaging social media campaign via Facebook informed supporters and participants about key events for the day. Text messages were sent to people in the BMC database, and several buses played Raahgiri Day videos in the lead up. The media, especially The Times of India, were actively involved in publicizing the event.
Raahgiri Day, India’s car-free Sunday movement, is gradually expanding across the country. With the ‘Raahgiri revolution’ comes an opportunity for India to promote broader solutions for sustainable cities.
Car-oriented cities have a number of costs for citizens’ health and well-being. Up to 75% of urban air pollution is caused by motor vehicle fuel combustion, and in 2012, 3.7 million premature deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution. Numerous studies have also shown that sedentary, car-oriented lifestyles contribute to higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and other associated diseases.
Shifting the daily commute from cars to sustainable transport modes – like public transport, walking, and bicycling – incorporates physical activity into everyday commuting and can improve health and happiness. One study found that if Atlanta, Georgia, had the same level of mixed-use, mass transport, and pedestrian amenities as Boston, Massachusetts, the risk of obesity for its inhabitants would be reduced by 17%. These kinds of health benefits can lower insurance costs for employers and create a happier, more engaged workforce. Some worry about the risks of active transport, especially in busy, crowded cities, but a study out of the Netherlands has shown that the benefits of increased physical activity far outweigh the potential risks. All of these facts have employers asking: How can I encourage my employees to engage in sustainable commuting?
Holger Dalkmann (shown speaking above), Director of EMBARQ, producer of TheCityFix, recently contributed to a panel at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that examined this issue as part of its No Impact Week. These are some of the top strategies they discussed:Make public transport more cost-effective
Most public transport providers have programs already in place that allow employers to provide discounted or pre-tax fare cards to their employees. In addition to making public transport cheaper for employees, many employers are able reap tax benefits by participating in these programs.Make active transport more seamless at your facilities
One of the primary barriers to active transport – which includes biking, walking, jogging, and other “people-powered movement” – is available infrastructure at the workplace. By providing access to protected bike rooms, showers, lockers, and other similar amenities, bikers, runners, and walkers can more seamlessly transition from their commute to their workday without having to worry about finding a safe place to park their bike, a clean place to make themselves work-ready, or whether or not their stinky towel or running shoes will be a distraction at the office!Provide discounted bike-share or car-share memberships
For some workplaces, encouraging active transport can be a challenge, especially if they are located far from public transport. In these cases, sponsoring discounted memberships to bike-share organizations can help bridge that extra mile.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, discounted car-share memberships can also encourage sustainable transport use. Some employees would prefer to take public transport or bike to work, but require access to a car for emergencies or for mid-day trips, such as a meeting off-site, a doctor’s appointment, or a visit to their child’s school. With access to car-share programs, employees can still bike or take public transport to work with the reassurance that they have access to a car, should the need arise.Advocate for sustainable transport infrastructure in your neighborhood
Employers can work together with other neighborhood organizations to advocate for transport infrastructure improvements, such as protected bike lanes or expanded bus routes that make sustainable transport more accessible for employees, improve quality of life in the community, and attract new hires. Look no further than TheCityFix to learn more about some of the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT), transit-oriented development (TOD), and active transport.Foster carpooling
Some workplaces are simply not suited for active transport or other sustainable transport modes. For example, some workplaces are located on the outskirts of cities or on busy highways. In these instances, encouraging and fostering a carpooling program through sign-up sheets in the cafeteria or a message board on the company’s intranet can go a long way towards getting more cars off the road.Disincentivize driving
Another barrier to active and sustainable commuting is that driving to work and parking at the office can be more cost effective for some employees. One way to disincentivize car use is by reducing or eliminating parking subsidies or cutting the number of parking spaces to increase parking prices. This additional revenue from increased parking fees could be channeled into improved bicycling facilities or subsidizing public transport.Create a positive active transport culture
There are also a number of ways to improve sustainable and active transport without significant capital investments. Employers can:
- Create a sustainable transport taskforce whose goal is to develop informational materials and advocate for sustainable and active transport around the office.
- Create a sustainability goal for your organization around active or sustainable transport.
- Sponsor a sustainable or active transport month in the springtime, a pedometer competition to encourage people to walk more, or an active transport competition between departments.
- Encourage employees and managers to be open to flexible schedules that allow active travelers to avoid rush hour traffic or have more flexibility in their bike-to-work transition timing.
Employing any of these methods can help improve the health of your workforce, reduce local air pollution, help reach company-level greenhouse gas emissions targets, and attract new hires to your organization. Let us know how your organization is making changes and encouraging people to get out of cars and experiencing their streets!