Study: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo lost USD 43 billion from traffic congestion in 2013

Embarq The City Fix - 3 hours 50 min ago

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo must focus on improving sustainable transport options to reduce the harmful effects of traffic congestion. Photo by Bruno Baccalon/Flickr.

Traffic congestion has wide ranging costs, from increasing stress and pollution levels to wasting commuters’ time. A new study released by the Industry Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FIRJAN) confirms that traffic congestion has tremendous economic costs as well. The study found that congestion cost the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo R$ 98 billion (roughly USD 43 billion) in 2013 alone. The loss amounts to about 8% of each metropolitan area’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 2% of Brazil’s entire GDP. This is greater than the estimated budget for transport capital investment in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina combined. With this amount of money it would be possible to construct about 200 km of metro rail or 14,000 km of bus rapid transit lanes based on the approximate cost per km of transport projects in South America.

Traffic congestion cost São Paulo more than USD 30 billion, or 7.8% of metropolitan GDP in 2013. Photo by Paulo Fehlauer/Flickr.

The survey only accounted for the economic cost of lost work hours and wasted fuel, but indicated that the figure would be much greater if it included other costs that result from traffic congestion. For example, the study does not calculate the costs of increased spending on public health, vehicle maintenance, or road infrastructure, all of which create significant costs for city governments and individuals.

Traffic congestion cost Rio de Janeiro more than USD 12 billion, or 8.2% of metropolitan GDP in 2013. Photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr.

Acknowledging the costs of congestion should spark discussions about prioritizing sustainable transport systems in both regions. Efficient land use planning and a network of integrated multimodal transport systems can provide alternatives to driving and can minimize the need for private car ownership. Currently, 47% of Brazilians believe that owning a car is vital, and car ownership is increasing across the country. São Paulo is also considering creating more highways and widening existing roads, a short-term solution to reduce congestion that only reinforces car culture. Instead, Brazilian cities can turn to sustainable transport alternatives that combat the costs of traffic congestion while providing additional benefits for health, safety, and quality of life.

A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

New data from 2050 Global Calculator indicates sustainable transport critical to combating climate change

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:13am

The newly released 2050 Global Calculator illustrates the potentially disastrous impacts of failing to act on climate change, and highlights sustainable transport as pivotal to containing global temperatures. Photo by Metrovía/SIBRT.

Experts predict that a 2 degree Celsius rise in world temperatures could have drastic effects, including reduced crop yields, grave damage to ecosystems, and extreme weather. Some research even indicates that a 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures could lead to dangerous impacts like rising sea levels and the extermination of certain species.

The newly launched 2050 Global Calculator tool not only visualizes this alarming path, but also its more sustainable alternatives. Developed by a cohort of experts and international organizations – including the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) EMBARQ program, producer of TheCityFix – the Global Calculator aims to be the most open-source model of the world’s energy, land, and food systems. The interactive tool allows users to explore many options to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through changing technologies, fuels, land use, and lifestyles up to the year 2050. As part of the team working on the transport section of the Global Calculator, we at WRI and TheCityFix are excited by the opportunity to contribute to a new tool that is sophisticated yet accessible, and shows how prioritizing mobility solutions that reduce car-dependency and expand sustainable transport systems can help to contain global temperature rise.

A new tool to model the world’s energy, land and food systems

The Global Calculator project is led by the United Kingdom Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Originally, DECC built a United Kingdom calculator, which was used to inform policy debate on trade-offs between different possible actions to reduce CO2 emissions. This tool is helping the U.K. to meet the legal requirement the country has set to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels. Since then, DECC has helped develop country-level calculators for Belgium, China and South Korea, and is currently supporting the development of 11 additional country-calculators by the end of 2014. The Global Calculator builds on these tools by modeling various trade-offs at a global level and accounting for the finite amount of resources available worldwide.

The Global Calculator is divided by sector and allows users to choose a future pathway for each sector based on four levels of effort. These levels let users explore the impacts of continuing business as usual versus pursuing ambitious measures to curb emissions through actions like reducing car usage, shifting to renewable energies, or improving plant yield efficiency.

Transport sector is a major contributor to global emissions

Energy consumption in the transport sector has steadily increased over the last 40 years. Light-duty vehicles – the typical private car – are both the largest fuel consumers and one of the fastest growing, contributing to transport’s share of global GHG emissions. Graphic by International Energy Agency.

In 2011, transport made up about 22% of global GHG emissions. As shown above, roughly 80% of total transport energy use comes from road transport, and oil use in the transport sector is steadily growing. The Global Calculator allows users to see the impact on future emissions of altering passenger and freight demand, mode shares, occupancy and load, vehicle efficiency, and the number of hydrogen and electric vehicles.

In total, the preliminary version of the Global Calculator shows that the transport sector has the potential to increase or decrease total CO2 emissions by up to 20%. The initial results from the Calculator show that even with some effort in other sectors, failing to address emissions from transport could lead to a 2 – 6.6 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures.

In total, the preliminary version of the Global Calculator shows that the transport sector has the potential to increase or decrease total CO2 emissions by up to 20%.

Sustainable mobility is crucial to reducing global emissions

Growing cities have the opportunity to significantly reduce emissions by focusing on compact, mixed-use development in order to reduce the need for car usage, while also investing in sustainable transport alternatives. While significantly reducing emissions presents a challenge for local and national governments, it also represents an opportunity to improve citizens’ quality of life. For example, bus rapid transit (BRT) reduces emissions from private vehicles while also easing congestion and decreasing commuting times. Mixed-use development not only reduces the need for car transport, but it also creates shared community spaces and fosters interaction among community members.

Transport reform alone is unlikely to mitigate climate change, and actions in many sectors are needed to avoid major disruptive lifestyle changes. Tools like the Global Calculator are critical to help governments understand the relative impacts of their decisions and form comprehensive strategies for reducing emissions.

The 2050 Global Calculator still under review, and experts are invited to comment on the tool to provide feedback until August 29, 2014.

About the author: Erin Cooper is a Research Analyst with EMBARQ, the sustainable transport initiative of the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. She is part of the team leading the transport sector calculations for the 2050 Global Calculator. Learn more about EMBARQ’s work contributing to the transport sector calculations of 2050 Global Calculator here

Categories: Europe

Nominate your city for the 2015 Sustainable Transport Award!

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:49am

Nominations are now open for the 2015 Sustainable Transport Award, which will highlight one city’s leadership in sustainable urban mobility. Photo by Alex Proimos/Flickr.

EMBARQ – the producer of TheCityFix – together with the rest of the Sustainable Transport Award (STA) Committee, invites you to nominate your city for the Sustainable Transport Award!

Nominations are open now and will be accepted until September 15, 2014.

About the Sustainable Transport Award

Since 2005, the Sustainable Transport Award has recognized cities around the globe for profound leadership and vision in sustainable transport and urban livability improvements in the preceding year. These cities or major jurisdictions have shown throughout the previous year immense progress in implementing innovative transport and urban development strategies.

2013 winner Mexico City was recognized for expanding its Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system and implementing the ECOBICI public bike-sharing program, while 2014 winner Buenos Aires transformed its city center into a pedestrian thoroughfare. Other cities from around the world have reduced greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions, improved air quality, brought in transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies, and nurtured healthier, more vibrant communities.

This award, while meant to highlight the achievements of one city, is also meant to show all city leaders what can be achieved by integrating sustainable mobility into planning and governance.

How to nominate

Nominations are accepted from any interested parties – including government, non-profit/NGOs, community groups, or academic institutions – that have a working knowledge of the city’s projects and can provide verifiable data and contact information for the city.

The winning city will be announced at the 94th Annual Transport Research Board Conference, hosted in January in Washington, D.C. This ceremony draws over 12,000 urban transport professionals from across the country. Past speakers have included former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

The selection committee

The STA Committee includes the most respected experts and organizations working internationally on sustainable transport. Members of the Committee include:

  • Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)
  • The World Bank
  • Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI)
  • GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit)
  • Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center (CAI-Asia)
  • Transportation Research Board Committee on Transportation in Developing Countries
  • Clean Air Institute for Latin America
  • Despacio
Last year’s winner: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, a city of three million, implemented 23 km (18 miles) of its Metrobús Sur BRT line, expanding the system throughout the city and cutting commute times in half. The city also transformed its city center into a pedestrian-friendly environment, along with redesigning much of its signage and intersections across the city to make walking safer and more enjoyable for people. These design changes have created a culture where people feel their safety is placed above the efficiency of car travel, while also making it easier for residents to gain greater access to their city in a way that promotes health.

To learn more about Buenos Aires’s success, or nominate your own city, please visit here. For more information on the award, contact Jemilah Magnusson, Communications Manager at ITDP.

Categories: Europe

In photos: Cable car system takes transport to new heights in Bolivia

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 9:10am

Residents of the La Paz/El Alto Metropolitan area now have a new option for navigating the region’s mountainous geography. The first line of the Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car) system opened May 30, 2014, and interviews with new riders show overwhelming support for this new transport mode between the two municipalities.

The red line of Mi Teleférico. Photo by Gwen Kash.

At 4,150 meters (13,615 ft) above sea level, El Alto, Bolivia is the highest city in the world. The fast-growing municipality perches on the edge of a steep canyon overlooking the city of La Paz, an average of 500 meters (1,640 ft) below. El Alto was once a suburb of La Paz, but has recently grown even larger than the Bolivian capital. El Alto and La Paz have a combined population of nearly two million people, and public officials estimate that 85 – 90% of them rely on public transport. Though the two cities form one integrated metropolitan area, until recently, the only major route between them was the often-congested highway that winds down the canyon walls.

The La Paz-El Alto Highway makes many turns as it climbs the canyon rim. Shown here on a Saturday, it is often severely congested on weekdays. Photo by Gwen Kash.

Mi Teleférico is a work in progress and the inaugural red line is the first of three planned routes. At all three stations, construction is underway to create intermodal transport terminals. The green and yellow lines are more than 70% complete. The full system will include 11 stations and lines to cover 10 km (6 miles). It will be capable of transporting 6,000 passengers per hour. So far the system has been even more popular than expected. Technical studies predicted ridership would be around 35,000 users daily, but the actual average ridership has been around 42,000.

However, the cable car’s popularity has meant the line’s central station has been plagued with long lines and waits of up to 90 minutes. A major cause of delays has been lengthy queues to purchase single-ride tickets. Intelligent fare-cards, which became available on June 14, 2014, should reduce the wait time.

An attendant stands by the turnstile to help users learn to operate their new smartcards. Photo by Gwen Kash.

Despite the delays, users’ responses to the new system are overwhelmingly positive. In interviews, riders characterized the system as fast, reliable, and beautiful, and considered it much higher quality than the region’s conventional public transport.

Doñas Adelaida (left) and Estela ended their first trip on the teleférico at Taypi Uta (central station in the local Aymara language). Estela found the trip “very beautiful.” Adelaida added, “and very fast! On normal transit, it would have taken us an hour or an hour and a half!” Photo by Gwen Kash.

The Mi Teleférico has the potential to significantly improve quality of life in the city. The Bolivian Information Agency estimates that red line users will save between 15 and 40 minutes per trip, but users believed their overall savings could be much greater because of the greater predictability of the teleférico when compared to buses.

Though the teleférico fare is more expensive, bus passengers from El Alto have to transfer in order to reach La Paz, meaning the cable car will save passengers time while making their trip more comfortable. Further, many drivers illegally require passengers to leave the vehicle in the middle of a route so that they can pick up additional paying passengers (sometimes including those they just forced to leave). As a result, the teleférico can actually be cheaper than conventional buses, and certainly less of a hassle. This is particularly significant in a city where the lowest-income users are reliant on public transport.

Janet Milenka Castro (center) works for a private security company. Her previous assignment was at a pharmacy, but she prefers the atmosphere at the teleférico. “It’s like Christmas! Everyone is very happy. The children especially love the teleférico.” Photo by Gwen Kash.

Mi Teleférico also offers substantial benefits to disabled residents. Luís Carlos, a rider on the teleférico, explained that it is very difficult for him to use the city’s conventional minibuses.

“The drivers always tell me I have to pay an extra fare for my wheelchair, or that I can’t get on because I need to bring a helper with me. Since I travel alone, I’ve never had a good experience. Every once in awhile, a driver doesn’t charge because of their conscience, but that’s very rare here.”

Many taxi drivers also charge disabled passengers a premium. Instead, the Mi Teleférico will be offering half-priced tickets to disabled users starting on June 30, 2014. Stations are wheelchair accessible, and signage is accessible to the blind.

As an elderly passenger exited a car, a station attendant suggested that she take the elevator and helped her to board. Photo by Gwen Kash.

In addition to the federally run teleférico, other projects are expanding sustainable mobility for the city’s residents. The city of La Paz is expanding the PumaKatari bus service, and El Alto is planning a bus rapid transit (BRT) system and cycle paths to help residents reach the cable car in a sustainable way. More ambitiously, the municipalities are collaborating on a plan to revolutionize all transport in and between the two cities. On June 13, 2014, the municipalities signed an agreement authorizing a bi-municipal committee to move forward with studies for a planned Integrated Mass Transport System. The SITM (for its Spanish acronym) will fully integrate all transport service and fares, including Mi Teleférico. For now, residents admire the view from the cable car as they look to the future of sustainable mobility in the region.

The teleférico is an important new asset for sustainable mobility in the La Paz/El Alto Metropolitan area. Photo by Gwen Kash.

Research for this article was conducted by the author and included interviews with Mi Teleférico and conventional bus passengers, along with members of the planning team in El Alto, and with Rodrigo Criales, head of the Bi-Municipal Committee for the Integrated Mass Transit System in La Paz and El Alto. Raleigh McCoy assisted with interviews. 

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Two cities’ bold plans to make cars obsolete

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 10:38am

Helsinki’s “mobility on demand” system will integrate a variety of transport options and could make car ownership obsolete. Photo by Justin Swan/Flickr.

Helsinki, Finland and Hamburg, Germany are both striving to vastly improve urban transport in less than a generation. The Helsinki Times boldly states that “the future resident of Helsinki will not own a car.” Hamburg, meanwhile, has announced a plan to create and link 27 square miles of green spaces throughout the city. Angelika Fritsch, a spokeswoman for Hamburg’s department of urban planning and the environment, told The Guardian, “In 15 to 20 years you’ll be able to explore the city exclusively on bike and foot.” Both cities are pursuing the ambitious goal of people-powered mobility that, if successful, may catalyze other cities to transform integrated transport and overcome car culture.

Helsinki’s “mobility on demand”

Helsinki, Finland’s capital and largest city, is planning to revitalize its public and shared transport network by 2025 with a “mobility on demand” system. The goal is to provide an array of transport options that are cheap, flexible, and well-coordinated in order to be competitive with private car ownership. A smartphone app would function as both a journey planner and one-stop payment platform. Users would input an origin, destination, and preferences to receive a customized transport plan that combines buses, bikes, ferries, and driverless cars. The app would also enable users to purchase this mobility in real time.

There are a few caveats for Helsinki to consider. Accessibility to this new and improved system may be limited to those who can afford a smartphone and are comfortable using it. Finding the right balance between supply and demand will also be important. The system may be strained when, as the Helsinki Times puts it, “simultaneously everyone wants to take a taxi home from their Christmas party.” Additionally, this transport scheme may prove to work effectively in compact Helsinki, but it remains to be seen if the system is applicable to lower-density municipalities.

Hamburg’s “Green Network”

Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, announced in the past year that it is planning to make a greener, healthier city that would eliminate the need for cars within the next 15-20 years. Angelika Fritsch described the city’s plans to add green space by differentiating them from similar efforts: “Other cities, including London, have green rings, but [Hamburg’s] green network will be unique in covering an area from the outskirts to the city centre.” The proposed Green Network will create pedestrian and cycle paths to connect green spaces that cover roughly 40% of the city, including parks, playgrounds, sports fields, gardens, and cemeteries. Creating a network of green spaces throughout Hamburg will allow people to enjoy nature and recreation in the city and reduce the need to drive outside the city for a weekend excursion.

Hamburg is already feeling the effects of global climate change. In the past 60 years, the city has seen a median temperature increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius and sea levels have risen 20 centimeters. Storm surges could also increase another 30 to 110 centimeters by 2100. In addition to reducing the need for driving, the expanded green spaces and new green paths will help absorb CO2 and alleviate flooding.

Car-free cities

Many in the mainstream media are wary of the idea that a city could go completely car-free given the rise in car culture since the introduction of the automobile. Achieving an entirely car-free city is a difficult task, but some cities, like Fez el-Bali and Venice, have successfully rebuffed cars and maintained pedestrian-focused transport.

The Medina of Fez el-Bali is an old walled city within Fez, Morocco. It is considered to be one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world. With very narrow streets and a population of 156,000, the primary mode of transportation is walking and goods are moved with the help of donkeys and carts.

Venice, Italy is Europe’s largest car-free urban area. Road and rail facilities are limited to the northern part of the city. Transportation throughout the rest of the city, and especially the historic center, is supported by walking or boating amongst the city’s 400 bridges connecting 118 islands.

The 4,300 person neighborhood of Haenggung-dong in Suwon, South Korea also went car-free for a month when it hosted the EcoMobility World Festival in 2013. While the festival initially faced opposition, many residents grew to prefer the ecomobile lifestyle that led to reduced noise levels, improved air quality, and was a boon to local businesses.

With urban growth on the rise, cities have a unique opportunity to be not only economic hubs, but greener, more mobile environments. Providing integrated “mobility on demand” like Helsinki and interconnected green spaces like Hamburg allows people to efficiently and actively experience their city without depending on a car. These innovative strategies provide examples of how cities can combat climate change while also improving citizens’ quality of life.

Categories: Europe

New British infrastructure. A real improvement or making stop-start cycling even slower ?

Hembrow - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 4:49am
Cyclists often win "commuter races" because of their ability to get through traffic jams which hold up both motorists and public transport. Many existing cyclists enjoy the fact that they can make fast journeys have have predictable journey times. These give cyclists major advantages over using other modes of transport. If cycling is to be spread wider through the population then other people David Hembrow
Categories: Europe

Bridging the divide between vendors and local governments for more inclusive cities

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:04am

Governments must create inclusive spaces for dialogue with street vendors and craft policy to support their livelihoods and economic mobility. Photo by Carlos Penalba/Flickr.

As previously discussed on TheCityFix, many cities worldwide are facing a series of challenges around informal economic activity. As they begin to modernize and transform public spaces, street vendors are often left behind or swept away. Yet, these efforts at ‘modernization’ endanger not only the people who depend on the informal sector, but the entire city economy. In Lima, Peru, it is estimated that 5.4% of total employment is in hawking of some kind, while in India the total number of street vendors is estimated at over 10 million. City leaders are beginning to recognize the enormity of this phenomenon, and to understand that large-scale evictions are both unfeasible and short-sighted.

Instead, cities must engage directly with vendors, creating platforms for them to shape the policies that impact them while contributing to and benefiting from economic development.

Building trust for deeper engagement

Any response to the challenge of informal economies demands a common ground of mutual confidence. Governments are wary of economic activity outside their control and bemoan tax revenues lost to the informal sector, while vendors worry about government encroaching on their ability to make a living.

Many cities have attempted to bring hawkers into the formal economy. But street vendors, who often end up paying a great deal in bribes and informal fees in order to operate in the supposedly ‘unregulated’ informal economy, have worries of their own. They fear – often justifiably – that increased formality will increase their costs and prices, cut them off from their customer base, and create insurmountable obstacles to doing business. Creating a basis of trust and a space for negotiation is the first step in overcoming these concerns on both sides.

Creating institutional structures inclusive of street vendors

Local governments must also create spaces for debate and negotiation accessible to vendors. There are numerous examples of cities doing just this. Nairobi City Council Stakeholder’s Forum, created in 2006, convenes the municipal government, the formal private sector, hawkers, and other informal interests to promote mutually beneficial policies. Surakarta, Indonesia brought together local government agencies, the regional parliament, NGOs, and vendors in a public debate in 2006. They reached an agreement between vendors and government on the relocation of thousands of vendors to established markets. Similar efforts at relocation in nearby Jakarta failed without this space for debate.

In India, where vendor evictions are still alarmingly common, a new bill looks to bring informal vendors into the planning process. The bill would create Town Vending Authorities with at least 40% membership from street vendors, who would be selected by vote and of which one-third must be women. This measure ensures participatory decision-making around street vending activities like the definition of vending zones, preparation of street vending plans, and surveying of street vendors. And, while the bill has yet to be fully implemented, it represents a clear statement of the national government’s intent to include vendors in the decisions that affect their lives.

Yet other initiatives focus on economic security and opportunity for street vendors. An insurance program in Chapinero, Bogotá, Colombia allows vendors to pay into a system that can insure them and their families, key for a population in which only 5% are currently insured. Other projects such as Singapore’s job training and education program provide avenues for these workers to advance up the economic ladder at their choosing. In India, the National Urban Livelihoods Mission launched in September 2013, with one of its first projects dedicating USD 1 million to the “skilling of street vendors, support[ing] micro-enterprise development, [and] credit enablement.”

What these approaches have in common is the notion that innovation often comes from the informal sector, and that the government has an important role in developing this existing entrepreneurialism.

Formalization is not the only route

While these types of initiatives are well intentioned and have been successful, they must be undertaken with care. Many programs aimed at improving the livelihoods of street vendors aim to bring them into the formal economy. While the outcome of such formalization varies, in order to truly improve vendor livelihoods, the approach needs to be responsive to their needs. It should not only include “move off streets” or “register your business” measures that impose unreasonable costs on vendors. This, of course, would limit their social and economic mobility and increase inequality in the city, not to mention cutting off consumers from affordable goods they depend on. Instead, formalization must be understood as an incremental and ongoing dialogue with street vendors, reliant on transparent governance.

Institutions can make the informal economy a boon to the city

Engagement with street vendors through programs like those mentioned above has the potential to create debate and spur innovation for cities across the developing world. And in some cases, it has yielded success that has benefited both the city and the individual.

Freddy, a Peruvian entrepreneur profiled in the Informal City Dialogues, turned his one-person sewing stand into seven formal and profitable textile workshops over a series of years. If informal workers and city governments can reach a state of engagement rather than conflict, and keep their focus on improving the lives and prospects of these vendors, perhaps more informal workers will be able to recreate his example.

Categories: Europe

People-oriented Cities: Mixed-use development creates social and economic benefits

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 9:08am

Mixed-use development combined with pedestrianization on Mexico City’s Calle Madero promotes sustainable, prosperous communities. Photo by Julius Reque/Flickr.

The “People-oriented Cities” series – exclusive to TheCityFix and Insights – is an exploration of how cities can grow to become more sustainable and livable through transit-oriented development (TOD). The nine-part series will address different urban design techniques and trends that reorient cities around people rather than cars.

Atlanta, Georgia was recently announced the most sprawling city in the United States, coming as no surprise to many as it has long been recognized as an international symbol of urban development practices that contribute to car-centric growth. Residential suburbs are segregated from the city center, where jobs and opportunities are concentrated. These land use patterns contribute to traffic congestion and air pollution and make it difficult for public transport to serve the extremely dispersed population. Together, these adverse impacts are costing city residents and compromising quality of life. Congestion alone costs the region USD 3 billion in lost productivity and fuel costs per year, and its rising air pollution landed it the dubious honor of being named “America’s Most Toxic City.”

Travel to New York City and the landscape is much different. A single city block houses a mix of restaurants, office buildings, residences, and shops. This type of development – known as “mixed-use development” – makes it easy to use public transport, walk, or bike, helping to efficiently connect the city’s neighborhoods through sustainable transport. The portion of commuters relying on cars in the city fell from 90% to 59% between 2010 and 2011.

These two cities showcase an emerging urban design lesson: Sprawling cities decrease quality of life; compact, mixed-use developments yield economic and social benefits.

Sprawling and segregated: The cost of disconnected cities

The proliferation of zoning at the beginning of the 20th century contributed to sprawling cities around the world. Residential neighborhoods sprouted on the urban periphery and in suburbs, giving rise to car-dependent commuter towns. City centers languished, shopping malls replaced commercial streets, and the urban poor were segregated from the wealthy elite.

These sprawling cities are increasingly common in developing nations. For example, Mexico’s history of dispersion created thousands of single-family houses on the outskirts of cities. The sheer distance to everyday destinations means some families spend 25% of their income on transport. This type of design increased Mexico City’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70% and costs USD 2.5 billion (33 billion pesos) each year in lost economic productivity.

Connected communities improve health, environment, and economies

Mixed-use development works against these trends to create inclusive, connected communities. In mixed-use areas, you can find housing, restaurants, services, schools, cultural facilities, parks, and more. This connectivity reduces the need for private vehicles, thus increasing the viability of public transportwalking, and bicycling. For example, Mexico City’s longest street, Avenida Insurgentes, is home to a range of services, residences, and businesses, but traffic congestion initially made the street difficult to access. For these reasons, Insurgentes was chosen as the site for the city’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Metrobús. After the launch of Metrobús in 2005, 100,000 daily car trips were replaced by sustainable transport, easing congestion and reducing the city’s GHG emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons. It’s a powerful example of how mixed-use development supports and attracts sustainable transport, bringing significant benefits for urbanites.

Everyday needs should be close enough to residential neighborhoods that they can be reached by walking, bicycling, or public transport. Graphic by EMBARQ.

By reducing the need for vehicle travel, mixed-use development also brings shared community space. Plazas, parks, and sidewalks foster interaction among community members – interaction that wouldn’t be safe or possible under a sprawled, car-centric design model. One landmark study of San Francisco compared three neighborhoods identical except for the levels of vehicle traffic on their streets. It revealed that residents of the neighborhood with the lowest level of car traffic had three times as many friends and twice as many acquaintances as their more heavily trafficked counterparts.

Finally, mixed-use, public transit-friendly neighborhoods benefit local economies. They save individuals money on transportation by reducing the length and number of everyday trips and eliminating the need for car ownership. Mixed-use development also supports local businesses by increasing foot traffic. Transport for London found that pedestrians spend up to 60% more money at businesses each month than those traveling by car, while spending less on transportation. Combining mixed-use development with pedestrianization reinforces these benefits.

Human-scale neighborhoods encourage different activities and social interaction, recreating the streets and sidewalks as viable public spaces. Graphic by EMBARQ.

Growing cities can win with sustainable, mixed-use development

According to the World Health Organization, cities will hold 70% of the world’s population by 2050. About 96%of this growth will occur in developing countries, demanding quality urban spaces and services.

As current cities expand and new ones crop up, it’s important for local leaders, urban planners, and citizens to examine what works. Compact, car-light cities spur economic growth, social cohesion, and quality of life.

Stay tuned for the next entry in the “People-oriented Cities” series, which will address the role of vehicle demand management in effective transit-oriented development. For more on the transit-oriented development paradigm, download EMBARQ’s Transit-oriented Development Guide for Urban Communities.


Editor’s note: The original version of this post depicted Mumbai, India as a sprawling city. After careful review, our researchers determined this was an imprecise depiction, and the example has been replaced with Atlanta.

Categories: Europe

Customers protest new women-only cars on São Paulo metro system

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:05pm

To help increase safety for women on mass transport, cities in Latin America are requiring women-only passenger cars on metro systems. Photo by Gustavo Gomes/Flickr.

Cities around the world face the challenge of creating safe public spaces for women. In Brazil, sexual assault is a prevalent problem. Alarmingly, a survey by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, a major Brazilian research institute, found that 65% of respondents agreed that “women who wear clothes that show off their body deserve to be attacked,” a finding that sparked considerable public response. Perceptions around sexual assault challenge cities to create safe environments for women, including safe public transport. In São Paulo, 33 men have already been arrested this year following sexual harassment claims from women passengers on the metro system. Cities around the world have responded in different ways to ensure women’s safety when using public transport. In the United States, cities have used successful awareness campaigns to discourage harassment and empower women to report improper conduct. Cities in India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil also use women-only passenger trains and buses to reduce assault.

The following article from our colleagues at TheCityFix Brasil sheds additional light on the challenges cities are facing as they try to create safe public transport for women and other marginalized communities.


Are you in favor of women-only metro cars in a metro system? Public opinion is divided on a law that passed the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo (Alesp) and requires the Paulista Metropolitan Trains Company (CPTM) to build cars exclusively for female passengers. The measure is not yet being enforced as it has not yet been approved by São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin. If signed into law by Alckmin, metro operators will have 90 days to comply with the law. Opponents of the law have protested by putting stickers on metro cars that read:

Deixe as mulheres livres, Não ao vagão rosa.” In English, “Let women be free, no to the pink train!”

Stickers posted to metro cars in protest of new law. Photo via TheCityFixBrasil.

A similar measure was passed in 2006 in Rio de Janeiro, and applies to the rail system and the Superhighway MetrôRio. The law, however, is not consistently enforced. In 2012, the Commission for Consumer Protection of the Legislative Assembly (Alerj) filed a class action lawsuit demanding that the two operators enforce the law, and would be subject to a penalty if they failed to comply. The lawsuit also demands that Agetransp, the agency that regulates transportation in the state of Rio de Janeiro, complies with its obligation to supervise the two operators.

This article was originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

Congestion pricing can make Beijing a more equitable city

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 1:51pm

Congestion pricing has the potential to pave the way for more equitable mobility in China’s cities. Photo by GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock.

China’s capital city of Beijing is already home to 5.4 million cars, the most of any Chinese city. The country’s rising wealth means that this is a trend unlikely to stop. This rapid motorization has led to many city government “quick fixes” aimed at easing congestion problems in the short-term. In Beijing and other cities, these include creating numerous expressways, flyovers, and tunnels throughout the city. But this infrastructure that immediately “fixes” the problem never quite seems to keep up with the mounting number of vehicles on the road for long.

To provide better air quality and faster, safer mobility for its 11.5 million residents, on November 5, 2013, the Beijing launched its “Work Plan for Vehicle Emission Control 2013-2017”. This plan includes lowering car-licensing quotas from 240,000 to 150,000 cars per year, while increasing the annual quota for electric vehicles from 20,000 units in 2014 to 60,000 units by 2017, and creating the charging stations needed to support these vehicles.

Congestion pricing is one of the most contested components of the work plan, but is also one of the potentially transformational moves that will bring sustainable transport investment and equitable mobility to Beijing. The success of congestion pricing will rest on how this new charging scheme is perceived and how its revenue is reinvested in the community.

Rising wealth and inequality create concern over the urban future

This hesitance to enact congestion pricing policies stems from the rapidly shifting economic climate and growing inequality of China’s cities. Any policy that treats a different sector of the population differently is viewed with suspicion, even if this policy is meant to create greater mobility for all populations.

Residents’ lack of trust in the government to combat inequality stems from China’s economic reforms of the late 1970s, which, while decreasing poverty rate from 87% in 1981 to approximately 13% in 2011, also widened the gap between the rich and poor. By the end of 2009, the total urban population in China was 621,860,000, among which 50,000,000 were urban poor. Some of the poor are laid-off workers that used to work in state-owned companies that failed in competition with private and foreign-funded firms. Many of these employees could not be re-employed due to physical limitations, or lack of necessary skills. Then there was the growing “floating population” of rural migrant workers that took on temporary, insecure jobs because they could offer cheap labor. How to address this class of urban poor has become one of the greatest challenges for Chinese cities. Creating more jobs has been one component of this debate. Finding how to incorporate these people into the social security and welfare system has been another component. So, too, has been developing mass transport in an equitable way to give these populations greater access to jobs, better education, and health care opportunities.

While some have argued that congestion pricing contributes to inequality, when done right, it can do just the opposite.

Transport as key to stopping mobility divisions

The basic idea of congestion pricing is that there is a fee on cars driving on certain roadways, a fee that varies according to the time of day when cars travel. At peak hours the price is higher; at off-peak times when fewer people are driving, the cost is lower. Many urban residents are wary of congestion pricing because they believe it will benefit the rich who can afford to pay peak-hour tolls. And in some ways it will, or at least it will benefit those that do not need to think about the added money for their mobility. For others, they might shift their trips to lower-cost times, or decide to take mass transport. More middle class mass transport users will help to change entrenched notions that mass transport is for the poor. As well, during peak times there will be fewer cars on the road, and so buses can travel faster. This means those taking mass transport will get to their destinations quicker for a significantly lower price.

The success of congestion pricing will rest on whether it is a policy supported by the public. An important part of this support rests on how the money from car tolls is used. Revenue from congestion charging can enable many new transport initiatives, such as expanding bus routes, increasing the reliability of the subway system, and capping fares for low-income individuals. This revenue can go towards building biking and walking infrastructure for expanded pedestrian access to the city. This money can create parks where populations far from home can develop new social ties. If the tolls are used in the right way, congestion pricing has the ability to usher in a new era of investment for mass transport and equitable mobility for all of China’s residents.

Learn more about EMBARQ China’s role in helping Beijing develop a comprehensive congestion pricing plan that will increase social equity, clean the air, and curb congestion. 

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Cinema shows the power of sustainable transport

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:44pm

Cinema has the power to influence our perceptions on sustainable transport and confront us with tough questions about the future of urban development. Photo by Tama Leaver/Flickr.

Movies have the power to shape our perceptions of love, of adventure, and of growing up. More subtly, movies also have the ability to shape our perceptions of small things, like how we interpret different cities, clothing brands, and even transport – who uses transport, how they use it, and why. All of these different social norms can be expressed in just a few scenes. Here are some of TheCityFix’s favorite movies that show the power of sustainable transport to help our heroes, whether its bikes that help Dave overcome social divides in Breaking Away, the train in Last Train Home that stands as the last link to family for the Zhangs, or Forrest’s run across the country in Forrest Gump that challenges the mobility limits doctors once set for him.

Breaking Away (1979)

Dennis Christopher stars as Dave, a high-school graduate who grew up in a working-class community. Yet Dave idolizes the Italian racing team so much that he speaks and acts Italian even though he lives in the middle of Indiana. One day, as Dave is biking he encounters a girl named Katherine from the University of Indiana, the university on the other side of town. The two develop a connection, but only because Dave pretends to be Enrico Gismondi, an Italian exchange student. This is a movie that revolves around Dave’s personal self-growth, but it is also a movie that confronts class divisions – and the role of sustainable transport to cross the divide between them.  Cycling plays a pivotal role in lending credence to Dave’s deception long enough to win Katherine’s heart, and prove to the world what he is capable of, no matter his past.

Cycling also has the ability to help bridge social divides outside of movies. Bikes can give all demographics the opportunity for low-cost, sustainable mobility and wider access to economic opportunities.

Mode of Transport: Bicycle

Setting: Bloomington, Indiana

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭

Last Train Home (2010)

The opening scene of this movie shows an astonishing mass of people squeezing onto a train at a Guangzhou, China train station. Though packed in tightly – some are hanging head or hands out the window – somehow a few more manage to still make it on. This film depicts the exodus of 130 million migrant workers from China’s cities that are often only able to afford to go home once a year for the New Year. The award-winning documentary focuses on the Zhang couple, who struggle to make a living in a factory while feeding their two children and parents they left in their rural hometown. The train is a symbol for the Zhangs of the thin connection between the world of family and their rural past, and their unknowable urban future. They might be able to bring their children a better life, or they might become one of the many millions of China’s “floating population” of rural migrants.

The film also looks outward from the Zhang family’s personal story to the wider phenomenon of how China might be able to develop its cities in a way that can give housing and jobs to these migrant populations. The movie ultimately raises far more questions than it answers of how the country can supply its poor with an affordable means to go home, or how to house their families in the city, so that the quest for economic opportunity does not need to result in millions of fractured families.

Mode of Transport: Train

Setting: China

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✫

Forrest Gump (1994)

When Forrest Gump was young, he was diagnosed with a crooked spine and was told that he would never walk without unwieldy metal leg braces. Yet Forrest does learn to walk on his own. Even more than that, he runs – all the way across the United States. His run is a symbol of his personal perseverance over adversity. But Forrest’s journey slowly becomes more than a story of his own personal perseverance as he develops a following of other runners. Some people run with Forrest to rebel against the political system; others run to find themselves.

Even if you don’t have a logical reason for running, the simple act of sustained motion has it own benefits, from weight loss, to lower stress levels, to a healthier heart. If this isn’t enough to entice you to run from one ocean to the other, running can also be a sustainable, healthy way to commute to work.

Mode of Transport: Running

Setting: U.S.

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭

Whether you are watching a movie this weekend with a magic flying carpet, hover-car racing, or a daring fight-scene on top of a moving train, take a moment to think about how the mobility modes in movies influence what transport you take, and what you think about it!

Editor’s note: All of the movies mentioned above are available to watch on Netflix.

Categories: Europe

What does a sociological approach to safe cities reveal?: Findings from a national workshop in India

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 9:54am

In order to make cities safer and public spaces more inviting for all, EMBARQ India studied how women perceive – and how they are perceived in – India’s urban public spaces. Photo by EMBARQ.

While concerns of violence against women are not new, women’s safety in public spaces has received significant attention in India in the past two years. Cities are seeing increased demands around making public spaces safer for women, ranging from better infrastructure, effective policing, more stringent punishment for perpetrators, creating “eyes on the street,” and more. Specifically, planning for safer public spaces goes beyond physical features and requires attention to how men and women express themselves in – and interact with – public space; analyzing who uses them, when, how, and for how long

To understand men and women’s experiences of public spaces, EMBARQ India conducted a national workshop on Gender and Public Space at its CONNECTKaro 2014 conference. The 90-minute workshop was attended by around 50 participants – with 21 women and 28 men, predominantly upper middle class, aged 20-50 years. It consisted of professionals and students. The participants were asked to sketch their experience of an outdoor public open space, responding to seven questions. They were then divided into two groups – men and women – to collate their experiences, and regrouped to discuss their findings. The workshop revealed key factors like sense of security, caste, and social class that must be considered when planning for safer public spaces.

The burden of security limits women’s enjoyment of the city 

The workshop revealed the unexpected and alarming extent to which security bears heavily on how women negotiate their daily activities, both consciously and unconsciously. Both men and women listed many of the same the qualities that made pleasant public spaces – including vegetation, public toilets, and quiet. However, there seemed to be a difference in what constituted unpleasant spaces. Women bore the burden of security in addition to factors such as traffic safety and unmaintained public toilets that both groups reported. Crowds, absence of lighting, people, and the time of day were important parameters for women’s use of public spaces in light of this security concern.

Eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces  

While “eyes on the street” are generally considered natural surveillance systems, the people those eyes are attached to seemed important to the women at CONNECTKaro. In short, women’s presence made this group of women feel safe. Thus, it is important to understand what kind of activities bring and retain women in public spaces.

Contrastingly, the presence of men did not inherently make them feel unsafe. Rather, groups of men – particularly working class men – sparked general apprehension amongst this group of upper middle class women. When probed, the participants seemed to recall from a collective memory or perception, suggesting that class and caste perceptions influence which eyes on the street contributed to their sense of safety.

Familiarity enables both risk and conformity 

For the women at the workshop, familiarity with a specific space enabled them to take risks in environments otherwise perceived as unsafe. However, this could also be a double-edged sword, in which familiarity can also police the ways in which men and women feel they can behave. For instance, women’s feelings of safety and comfort could be conditional on conforming to the expected behavioral norms of that particular space or community.

Finally, there was also a striking difference in the mood between the men and women’s groups at the workshop. The men’s group laughed and joked throughout while there was a heavier, more intense mood in the women’s group during the process of sharing stories and experiences.

The table below details some of the compelling statements men and women made during the CONNECTKaro workshop: 

CONNECTKaro brought men and women together for a discussion on the role of gender and public spaces. Image by EMBARQ.

Re-thinking the approach to safe cities: From protection to inclusion  

While urban planning and design measures often advocate for improved street lighting, mixed uses, and eyes on the street, there is also a need to understand how perceptions of safety are cognitively, sociologically, and spatially constructed.

As argued in Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai’s Streets, the demand for safer public spaces for women must not be met through the exclusion of other minority groups, be they migrants – especially working class men and lower castes and/or Muslim men in the context of Indian cities – or through a patriarchal surveillance of women’s bodies and actions. Similarly, instead of seeing the city as a place of threat that women need to be protected from – we need to see and design public spaces where women would like to spend time, or “loiter,” or “to not have a purpose to enjoy public spaces, use public infrastructure after dark, or indulge in consensual flirtation and sexual encounters.”

Thus, a project for making a city safe for women is not only about physical improvements, but also about their right to loiter without excluding other minority identities. This requires further research on what makes women of different income groups, castes, religion and regions spend time in public spaces, and what kinds of eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces.

Categories: Europe

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: New mapping algorithm poses problems and promise for cities

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 5:07pm

Technology is allowing city residents to interact with their surroundings in new ways, which can have both the benefit of advancing sustainable development and the drawback of reinforcing social divisions. Photo by Daniel Chavez/Flickr.

Yahoo Labs has recently created a mapping algorithm that helps pedestrians find not the shortest route to their destination, but the most attractive one. This is great for visitors who want to spend every second of their time sightseeing in a new city, or for residents who want to explore their surroundings in a new way. However, although the algorithm was meant to showcase the beauty of cities, we must not forget what is covered up in this data-centric quest for the most aesthetic path. While well intentioned, this algorithm allows city residents to systematically bypass areas of poverty and blight, and it raises more than a few ethical questions about how emerging digital applications are changing the way people interact within cities.

The makings of a happy journey

The algorithm was created using data from a range of websites – including, which allows users to choose between two photos of different locations which they prefer, together with Google Street View, Geograph, tags of #happy or #pretty attached to photos posted on Twitter, and 3.7 million Flickr photos that people found “quiet,” “relaxing,” or “cheerful.” Although this algorithm has only been tested within London, Boston, and Barcelona, it is set to be released to application developers around the globe. This creates an almost limitless set of applications. On Halloween, pedestrians can take scarier routes; on Saturday nights, people can navigate through cities based on the highest concentration of pictures that use the words #fun or #party.

However, there are some immediate limitations to the application. The “happiness” of a place is easily influenced by the time of day people take a route, which the algorithm does not take into account. Some streets might have musicians playing and families leisurely walking on the weekend, but are packed with grumpy commuters during morning rush hour.

The formula for what the algorithm’s makers define as a happy place also influences the potential of this algorithm. The demographics of those who initially tested it were 60% male, between the ages of 20 and 50, and tech-savvy enough to actively volunteer for this project. Yet, women, minorities, and elderly populations often experience urban spaces differently, and have different mobility needs. Having an application that suggests the most scenic route for an able-bodied man might be an unpleasant, or even dangerous route, for other users. Furthermore, when the algorithm is developed into an application it might ultimately fail from its own initial success. If too many people are visiting a route marked as “peaceful” it can ruin the very feeling that made the place so treasured.

Ethical issues with location-based technology

Aside from these initial limitations, there is also a much more unsettling issue that needs to be raised about the use of this technology. The places people inhabit the most are the places people care about the most. It’s no surprise, then, that the rapid rise of suburbanization in the 1950s led to disinvestment in cities in the United States at the same time, with many cities experiencing increased poverty and population loss. But what is surprising is that the number of people writing about poverty declined even as inequality was on the rise.

Disadvantaged communities – including those unlikely to live in a scenic (or #pretty) location – are already marginalized from economic and social opportunities in cities. To craft an algorithm to only see the beautiful parts of a metropolis would move poverty from something difficult to solve to an issue that disappears entirely from newspapers, books, and policy debates because it would be a phenomenon people would never be forced to see or think about.

This one ethical issue showcases a growing challenge that city planners are facing with how to address technology that is changing the interactions between people and cities in ways that urban policies are hard-pressed to keep up with. Other applications like Microsoft’s location-based ads text pedestrians with coupons to nearby stores drive traffic – for those stores that can pay for this service. Location-based survey services such as SurveySwipe can provide urban planners with important information about what services people want and what infrastructure they need improved – for those city residents that have smart-phones. Technology can be an incredibly powerful tool for public participation within cities, but it must be remembered that the true beauty of an application cannot be assessed at first glance – or even first walk – but should be assessed by the enduring good it has to make cities more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful for all. 

Categories: Europe

Southend-on-Sea. Missed opportunities to create a better environment for cycling and walking.

Hembrow - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 4:36pm
I spent last weekend in Southend-on-Sea. My daughter and I went there for a short break at the sea-side. This was not a cycling holiday. We mainly walked around the town, and we enjoyed it. However I couldn't help but take photos and videos during our stay and to look up some facts and figures on our return. The result is below. Most of the points that I make could be made about many towns in theDavid Hembrow
Categories: Europe

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals emphasize sustainable cities in latest draft

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 9:26am

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define important priorities for international development over the next 15 years, including the need for safe, sustainable, and inclusive cities. Photo by Justin Swan/Flickr.

At the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, the United Nations member states began the ambitious process of defining the social and economic priorities for humanity over the next fifteen years. The open and participatory process and the initial negotiations amongst the world’s nations through the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has resulted in a draft document with 17 focus areas and 148 targets to address before 2030. The focus areas span from ending poverty everywhere to advancing rule of law across the world to working to combat climate change. It is a very impressive catalogue, and, if achieved, would truly change the face of our planet.

Inclusive, safe, and sustainable: Goals for urban life in 2030

Nestled among these lofty goals in the current draft of the SDGs is a specific focus area on urban development:

“11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable.”

The urban targets for 2030 include ambitious advances in housing, basic services, transport, planning and management, climate resilience, public spaces, integration with rural and peri-urban areas, and sustainable buildings. These global targets will be difficult to accomplish in 15 years, but not impossible if cities are committed and the international community advances adequate instruments, financing, and institutions.

This dedicated emphasis on cities as key to combatting many of the world’s challenges can largely be attributed to the Seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7). Organized by UN-HABITAT and held in Medellín, Colombia earlier this year, the event highlighted the importance of cities to a sustainable future, with a particular focus on equity in urban environments. In fact, the WUF7 declaration made a specific call for “the need to include key topics for sustainable cities and human settlements in the post-2015 Development Agenda.”

Now, the negotiators are working to make the SDGs more precise in order to give countries around the globe clear targets to be accountable for. The Open Working Group is now integrating repetitive themes, and cutting out some targets. Cities will still likely stand as a focus area after these revisions, as the United Nations recognizes the fact that now half of the world lives in cities – a proportion expected to greatly increase by 2030. Cities are the places where policies are turned into real, physical developments, and so city governments dedicated to a sustainable future have enormous potential to make inroads on issues like climate change and equitable communities. This emphasis on cities as a focus area in itself, instead of being a word spread throughout several different focus areas, is important because it influences the scale at which change is made and the magnitude of that change.

A broader look at the international development agenda

The SDGs are a critical piece of the international development agenda, particularly for international development institutions, which base their portfolio on the United Nation’s agreements. The SDGs will guide bilateral government-to-government cooperation and connections between local and national governments. Similar to the 2000 – 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which advanced important issues related to extreme poverty and health, the new development agreement will be key in pushing countries and cities to build and manage a sustainable, vibrant future. The dedication of cities around the globe, combined with clear measurement and evaluation mechanisms, will be necessary to take these ideals from policy to reality and create a more inclusive, sustainable future for all.

The full text of the draft Sustainable Development Goals is available from the United Nations here, with sustainable cities and human settlements highlighted as focus area 11.

Categories: Europe

New BRT data shows cities’ increased commitment to sustainable transport

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:42pm

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is expanding worldwide, particularly in Asia and Latin America. Watch it grow on Photo by EMBARQ Brasil.

The global database of bus rapid transit (BRT) data has recently been updated, and the increased number of BRT lines, as well as the length of those lines, reflects the commitment of cities around the world to provide high-capacity mass transport to their citizens. Now, 180 municipalities have dedicated bus routes, 12 more than reported in April 2014. This means there is a total of 4,668 kilometers (2,900 miles) of BRT corridors benefitting 31 million people worldwide. The growth of BRT worldwide also shows that city leaders are increasingly realizing the potential benefits of BRT for expanding sustainable urban mobility.

Over the past three decades, BRT has grown from a local phenomenon to a global one. Originally pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil, BRT is the brainchild of architect, urban planner, and former Curitiba mayor Jaime Lerner. From Curitiba, BRT has expanded to 180 cities, with 363 dedicated lanes. Brazil accounts for 114 of these routes, including those built for the World Cup. Asia is emerging as the next big market for BRT, with rapidly growing cities in China and India also opting for BRT.

The largest concentration of BRT systems are currently concentrated in Latin America and South Asia, however, other cities around the globe are rapidly increasing their use of flexible mass transit systems. Photo by EMBARQ.

BRT has grown due its relatively low barriers to implementation and the quality of service it provides. It is a highly flexible system that combines planning, operations, communication, and technology to create a user-friendly experience. BRT is for people. Dedicated lanes allow riders to avoid congestion, gaining back to to live – not commute. Reducing the amount of time buses stay on the road also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increases traffic safety, while the brief walk to the stations helps users build physical activity into their days.

Since 1974, BRT systems have grown almost exponentially throughout the world – showing cities know a good mobility solution when they see it. Photo by EMBARQ.

Cities currently building or expanding BRT systems include: Belém, Brazil; Belfort, Cannes, Chalon-sur-Saône, Evry and Metz, France; Chiayi, Taiwan; Fareham-Gosport, Runcorn, United Kingdom; and Guadalupe, Nezahualcoyotl, and Tijuana, Mexico. launched nearly two years in an effort to disseminate information on the widespread use of BRT and to help cities improve, expand, or pioneer BRT systems. is managed in partnership by the BRT Centre of Excellence – Across Latitudes and Cultures (ALC-BRT CoE) and EMBARQ, the producer of TheCityFix, in collaboration with the Association of Latin American Integrated Systems and BRT (SIBRT) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

This post was originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Following the solar-grid road to sustainable mobility

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:46pm

Solar roadways have the potential to decrease carbon emissions and increase the potential of electric cars, all by harnessing the power of the sun. Photo by James Rintamaki/Flickr.

We’ve come to the convergence of two parallel stories in technology: it is now cheaper to get energy from solar power than from coal-fired power plants in the United States, and everyday citizens are increasingly able to prototype and cheaply manufacture hi-tech goods. These two trends are responsible making the once-fantastical idea of a solar-powered roadway – one that can harness the sun’s energy to power cars, communicate weather conditions, and alert drivers to traffic delays and accidents – possible.

Scott Brusaw and his wife Julie have created the Solar Roadways project, which would charge electric vehicles as they drive and interact with road users and pedestrians to create safer and smarter roads. Through its indiegogo campaign, Solar Roadways has garnered 2.2 million dollars from public funding along with world-wide attention through the viral video, “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways!

A rendering of the solar roadway depicts potential information that the road can convey, from alerting cars to weather conditions to better informing pedestrians when the road is safe to cross. Image by Sam Cornett/

A twister! A twister! The looming threat of energy scarcity

The EPA reports that electricity production and transportation together contributed to 60% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States in 2012. By the year 2040, the production level of oil reserves will fall to 15 million barrels per day, 20% of current daily consumption.  At the current rate, by Hubbert’s Peak Theory, the world will run out of oil at the turn of mid-21st century.

Even if scarcity is not a core issue in this shift towards sustainable energy production and mobility, the increasing impacts of how energy is produced has created demand for innovative ideas. The burning of coal is a leading cause for smog (Nitrogen oxides) and acid rain (Sulfur dioxides). In a 2011 analysis conducted by Greenpeace for China, where coal is a major source of energy, coal emissions contributed to a quarter of a million premature deaths. According to the report, Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants, published by the American Lung Association, coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollutants than any other pollution sources.

If these solar roadways are successful, they help to solve many of these different issues. They decrease dependence on oil for people’s mobility needs. They decrease the impact of energy production on air quality. They solve a current weakness in electric motor vehicles of short driving distances and long charging times. They can serve as a renewable, clean power source for the LED lights that light lane markings, road markings, and other road features. With any excess power produced, these roads can power homes in nearby neighborhoods.

The wonderful wizard of technology

These solar roadways could also have big impacts on traffic safety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 22% of the 1.24 million yearly road traffic fatalities are pedestrians. Speeding, driving under the influence, and driver distractions are the major causes of these fatalities. Through wireless communications between the solar panels, drivers will receive advance warning of obstacles that might be present in the roadway such as animals or fallen trees. Crosswalk microprocessors signal to other panels to warn drivers that pedestrians are on the crosswalk. At the same time, pedestrians will become more aware of an incoming car because the LED lights will flash as the vehicle approaches the pedestrian. This new infrastructure can go a long way in combatting this rising tide of road fatalities, and even more so if they can be produced cheaply enough to deploy in low- and middle-income countries.

Reaching the Emerald City

The next step the Brusaw family has laid out is to create solar parking lots and recreation facilities to test the durability and sustainability of the panels.  There are many possible pitfalls: the loss of traction at higher speeds, materials and construction cost, as well as the durability of the solar panels. If the project receives the go-ahead signal for implementation on the roadways, the fear of fossil fuel depletion in the upcoming decades will slowly fade away, while road fatalities might be drastically reduced. Then perhaps, we can truly create a sustainable, green – or perhaps even an emerald – city.

Categories: Europe

TheCityFix recognized as one of the top 20 websites for urban planners

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:50pm

TheCityFix is excited to be recognized as one of the Top 20 resources for urban planners for delivering top-notch analysis on sustainable urban development in the developing world, a role we will continue far into the future. Photo by Juan Felipe Rubio/Flickr.

Today TheCityFix has something big to celebrate. We are ranked as one of the Top Blogs for Urban Planners, now for the third year in a row. Since our launch in 2007, we have been working to provide our readers with analysis on important urban issues, a platform for innovative thinkers to share their ideas, and best practices for sustainable development. Our readers come to our blog from around the world, and include engineers, entrepreneurs, urban planners, and researchers. They are people who are deeply interested in learning socially and environmentally responsible ways to make cities better places to live, and how to turn this learning into action.

This is a great compliment to our global network of contributors, for which we are incredibly proud. Over the past year, we’ve launched series on people-oriented cities – exploring how transport-oriented development (TOD) and human-centered design can create healthier more vibrant cities – and emerging mobility trends in cities around the world. We have begun and look to continue a discussion on how women experience transport, and how cities can use policy and design to help women access education and job opportunities safely. We have also written about how members of the informal economy play an important and often invisible role in city life and how institutions are finding new ways to increase the voice of these populations in the planning process. Along the way, we’ve also shared a few laughs with some of our more light-hearted entries, from Harry Potter to sci-fi cities to skateboarding and social change.

We’re delighted to cover such a wide range of topics in sustainable urban development for our knowledgeable and engaged readership. We are proud, too, to be a voice dedicated to urban development trends, challenges, and solutions in the developing world. We also share this recognition with our sister blogs TheCityFix Türkiye and TheCityFix Brasil, the latter the recipient of Brazil’s TopBlog award.

Yet, even though this is a time of celebration, it is also a time to reflect on how we can push ourselves further to be an even better resource for our readers. We want to learn more from you on which topics you want covered, and want to keep you engaged by inviting you to contribute or comment, so that we stay at the forefront of how to make cities across the globe healthy, safe, inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable.

This ranking was established by Global Site Plans, an environmental branding firm, with the assistance of Alexa Analytics.

Categories: Europe

Scaling up sustainability: ‘Raahgiri Day’ comes to New Delhi

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 9:59am

Raahgiri Day, a day in which streets are closed to cars and open to pedestrians and cyclists is a time to celebrate community and human-centered mobility that is swiftly expanding throughout India. Photo by EMBARQ.

Raahgiri Day, the weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making, and socializing, has expanded beyond Gurgaon, India. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) together with the New Delhi Police Department has decided to stage the first Raahgiri Day in New Delhi this weekend. Beginning July 13, 2014, the inner circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place and its various radial roads will be converted into pedestrian and cycling zones each Sunday.

This is a pivotal moment for sustainable, active transport in India’s cities. Moving from the city of Gurgaon, population 800,000 people, to New Delhi, population 22 million, is a huge leap, one that reminds us that reorienting cities around people – not cars – is achievable. This starts New Delhi on an important path towards combatting air pollution and improving public health, and all of India one step closer towards being an exemplar of sustainable urban development for other emerging economies.

Raahgiri Gurgaon a test-bed for a brighter urban future for India

New Delhi already houses 22 million people within its metropolitan region, and this number is growing annually at a rate of 4.6%. This rapid population increase, combined with shifting consumption patterns and increasing infrastructure development, have created more congested roads and compromised public spaces. Delhi is fighting air pollution that is worse than Beijing’s while simultaneously finding that less than 5% of women feel safe in the city’s public spaces. Leaders have been actively searching for innovative ways to show its residents that it is possible, with public support, to make the megacity more livable.  With Raahgiri Day, it seems to have found an answer.

Raahgiri Gurgaon, which began in November 2013, has proved that even in an increasingly motorized city, sustainable mobility is possible. Its success has sparked a shift in mindset and lifestyle among city residents, many of whom have now become proponents of active transport. A recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India in Gurgaon found that Raahgiri Day has had a positive impact on everything from non-motorized transport usage to road safety, greater engagement between local businesses and the community, and increased levels of physical activity. Furthermore, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sundays in Gurgaon were 95 parts per million (ppm) less than the typical weekday in the city (99 ppm compared to 194 ppm). With Delhi’s mortality rate doubling in the past two decades due to air pollution, the potential for Raahgiri Delhi to improve public health and clean the air cannot be ignored.

Raahgiri’s success and expansion enabled by collaboration

Expanding Raahgiri to Delhi required collaboration between government and civil society. For example, the Delhi Police and NDMC conducted route reviews to evaluate potential sites in the heart of the city, while the initiative in Gurgaon was originally spearheaded by a founding group of NGOs, namely EMBARQ India, Pedal Yatri, India Cycle Service, I am Gurgaon, and Road Safety Officers. Moreover, EMBARQ India and NDMC plan on expanding Raahgiri Delhi even further, expanding routes within the city and gradually increasing attendance.

In order to help Raahgiri Day gain traction in Delhi and other Indian cities, EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt hosted a webinar on The Hub to share lessons learned in implementing this event in Gurgaon to inspire and instruct other cities. Experts in the fields of sustainable transport and urban development joined representatives from India and around the world – including Delhi, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune in India as well as cities in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Canada – to explore what active transport and streets for people could do for their cities.

Spreading sustainable mobility internationally

Raahgiri Day is slowly moving from a Gurgaon phenomenon to a country-wide practice. As Bhatt has stated:

“This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.”

The cities of Ludhiana and Navi Mumbai have already followed Gurgaon and Delhi’s lead to begin Raahgiri Days of their own. It is no longer a question of whether Raahgiri day has been a successful sustainability initiative, but simply a question of which city will join in next. 

Categories: Europe

Turning the car around: Decreasing high-emission automobiles is the first step to a greener China

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 8:58am

Increasing motorization in cities across China is threatening air quality and public health, causing many to ask what reforms can combat the country’s growing culture of car-dependency. Photo by ilmari hyvönen/Flickr.

China currently has enough roads and infrastructure to accommodate 300 million vehicles. With car ownership reaching 137 million at the end of 2013, and 74 Chinese cities already reporting pollution surging above the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) for over two thirds of the year, adding another 170 million cars to the country’s roads will be an economic, environmental, and health disaster.

Statistics from the Beijing Environmental Bureau show that vehicle exhaust contributes to over 30%of the haze in Beijing, drastically decreasing life span and quality of life for millions. But even as the country grows a collective understanding of the impact of vehicle emissions, as China’s growing middle class assumes the consumption patterns of developed countries, people individually still want cars. Increasing strict vehicle emissions controls and stemming the growing culture of car ownership will both be necessary first steps towards advancing sustainable urbanization and improve air quality for China’s growing urban population.

Policy and economic growth slow sustainable progress

Even with the understanding that uncontrolled motorization is a detriment to both people and the environment, it is incredibly hard for China to make meaningful reforms. In Shangai, license plates can be sold for up to 90,000 Yuan (14,500 USD) in the city, which should mean that fewer people are buying cars. But instead of helping, Shanghai’s restriction has generated a surge in car sales in cities where restrictive policies are not in place. At an auto exhibition in Nanjing this May, consumers rushed to buy cars because they feared that a car-purchase limit was on the way. Approximately 300,000 people attended the exhibition, and one car was sold every three minutes.

China is a site of both production and consumption for major carmakers, and much of the country’s economic growth can be attributed to the auto industry. Any policy attempt to discourage car sales or car usage has been tactfully watered down so as not to damage economic growth.

Belated Vehicle Emissions Control

There are some steps being taken to turn this trend around, but these are steps often plagued by misperception. According to iCET’s 2014 China Green Car report on small and multi-purpose vehicles, traditionally perceived as greener than large and luxury cars, these vehicles often perform poorly in terms of emissions control due to weak enforcement of vehicle emissions. To make any measurable improvements, China needs to use the same emissions control technologies that the United States and Europe have been using in their cars for decades, but at prices that consumers in developing cities can afford.

Beginning next year, China will adopt the long-delayed national stage 4 emission standard (China 4) – the equivalent of Euro 4 standards – on diesel vehicles. This means trucks and lorries that produce high levels of harmful substances will be taken off the road, and may signal that the country will implement regulations aimed at decreasing fuel consumption by passenger vehicles. However, much room for implementation capacity-building still exists.

Challenging the car as a status symbol

Despite all efforts made by the government to curtail the car use and exhaust, it is the symbolism of the car in modern China that presents as large a barrier to improvement as weak policies. The car in China has evolved as a symbol of success. It is seen as a key to social mobility, serving individuals in their pursuit for both personal and business goals. There is much for urban planners to do in convincing people that cars are far more of an impediment to urban mobility – especially in megacities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – than they are worth as a symbol.

This shift is underway, as China’s city leaders take actions to help residents transition to active transport. Once called the Kingdom of Bicycles, China is trying to re-establish its cycling culture through bike-sharing. Hangzhou is home to the world’s largest bike-share program, offering more than 60,000 bikes to its residents with their first hour’s use free of charge. The program is integrated with bus, bus rapid transit (BRT), and metro, creating a sustainable and integrated transport system. China also leads global electric-bike production, creating many opportunities for the country to be a leader in global urban mobility.

A road to people-oriented transport

China is taking important steps towards challenging the ascendency of the car as a symbol of social success, strengthening vehicle emissions controls, limiting licenses, and expanding its bike-share systems. Both city planners and residents need to move the country  further on the path to sustainable, people-oriented development and go past regulating cars – a strong first step – to look further at what sustainable transport and urban development can do to make cities safe, livable, and accessible.

Categories: Europe