Cities in the 21st century face two monumental shifts: growing urban populations and a rapidly changing climate. As the world’s urban population nears five billion, cities will need to build more infrastructure in the first 30 years of this millennium than they have since the dawn of urbanization. As climate change intensifies, they will need to do this in a manner resilient to storms, flooding, droughts, and rises in sea level. The cities of the near future will need to serve more people than ever before in ways that are more flexible and innovative than ever before.
But how can city leaders find novel solutions at such an unprecedented scale? Unlike researchers in a lab, they can’t experiment with many different approaches. New initiatives cost money and impact real people. This leaves planners and decision makers with a dilemma. Should they bound boldly and blindly into unknown territory, or tread more slowly and carefully?Testing urban resilience strategies with pilot projects
At the recent Advancing Climate Resilient Development Symposium hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), development professionals from around the world spent a morning sharing lessons on urban resilience. Many of these lessons were drawn from pilot projects. A common approach in the international development field, pilots are small, experimental projects that can potentially be expanded to a larger scale. If a pilot succeeds, planners and decision makers can apply this proven strategy to other locations, and if the pilot fails, they can fix or even cancel the project before making too much of an investment.
Pilots allow resilience-building institutions to look before they leap, yet many pilots encounter resistance—and with good reason. The large-scale problems facing cities demand large-scale solutions, but often this action never materializes. Without taking time to follow up on lessons learned, even a successful pilot is a waste.
Pilots can serve as the bridge between small steps and large ones, but only if they’re done right. So what makes a good pilot, and how can it have a broader influence? The USAID symposium yielded insight into three elements of successful pilots for urban resilience: a flexible methodological approach, customization of that approach to city-specific needs, and integration across sectors.Pilot projects in action
Every good pilot starts with a good idea, and an organized, flexible approach to a problem like climate change can generate a host of good ideas. To that end, USAID created the Climate Resilient Development (CRD) framework, an approach that systematically incorporates climate change into development projects and plans, helping decision makers pinpoint how climate change and other obstacles could threaten their development goals.
Approaches like the CRD framework allow city leaders to create customized planning tools for their respective cities. Under the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services (CRIS) program, USAID and partners have tailored their framework to meet the needs of specific cities in Mozambique, Peru, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic.
In Peru, the city of Piura had a typically arid climate, yet encountered extremely wet years every few decades, with rainfall close to twenty times the regular amount. Climate change is likely to make these intense rainfall episodes more frequent. After floods in a wet year knocked out an important bridge, city officials decided to rebuild with climate resilience in mind. The city government, USAID, and local organizations collaborated to apply the CRD framework to the design new infrastructure that could withstand both wet and dry conditions.
In addition to an organized, flexible approach that can be tailored to city circumstances, a good pilot needs to have the right people in the room. Urban planners, architects, engineers, utility companies, and municipal services often work separately from one another, but a complex issue like climate resilience requires them to coordinate. For instance, in the Dominican Republic, city planners designed new neighborhoods in Santo Domingo but failed to coordinate with utilities, leading to the construction of large slums with no piped water. Residents got their water from nearby rivers that were polluted with waste and even human remains. A pilot project under CRIS aimed to correct this lack of cooperation and bring together the many people who build and maintain cities.
Due to the experimental nature of pilot projects, they will sometimes fail, but pilots with an organized approach, a tailored plan, and a collaborative atmosphere are more likely to succeed—and when they do succeed, they are easier to replicate. Pilots like this can influence not only their initial organizers but other groups as well, catalyzing a range of related projects around the world.
Achieving sustainable urban growth in the midst of climate change will take time and effort, but like any a long journey, it can start with a single step.
The rapid increase in car ownership in cities worldwide has brought conflicts between pedestrians and cars to center stage. Complete streets that accommodate all users not just are ideal in design, but have actually been successfully implemented in cities like Mexico City, New York City, and Copenhagen. However, when limited space or overcrowding effectively restrict the use of this kind of design, skyways are emerging as one solution for creating better walking environments. In some places, skyways also serve as important public spaces for various commercial and social activities.
While they’ve only recently grown in visibility, skyways are not new. The earliest prototypes date back to 16th century Italy. Unlike pedestrian bridges—which usually connect two sides of a road—skyways usually lead pedestrians to certain important destinations, such as buildings, transit stations, and parks. Therefore, they tend to be longer, and in many cases are interconnected as a network. Modern skyways can range from 100 meters, such as those between two buildings, to several miles in length. Some of the largest skyway systems are the Plus 15 in Calgary, Canada and the Minneapolis Skyway System, both of which span several city blocks.
But simply elevating pedestrians above roadways does not necessarily make for a livable, walkable city. These three examples show both the challenges and opportunities of skyways for people-oriented urban development.Mumbai, India
Mumbai, India’s most populous city, has busy streets and congested road traffic. Street vendors and parked vehicles further limit safe walking space at the street level. To improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians, the city has built 36 skyways connecting transit and commercial hotspots. If the full plan to build 50 skyways is completed, the system will be the largest in the world.
Even though the skyways in Mumbai are designed for commuting purposes, they have attracted a variety of users. One survey shows that more than 1.5 million commuters make use of the skyways daily. In a city where open spaces are scarce, the skyways are also filling the role of public spaces for street vendors and playgrounds for kids.
However, controversies arose when some residents complained about the structures blocking views from their buildings. And because they’re only accessible by stairs, the skyways do a poor job of serving seniors and people with disabilities. Furthermore, they are considered unsafe places for women traveling alone, especially at night. Despite these connectivity and accessibility problems, Mumbai’s skyway system does have the potential to enhance urban mobility if it is complemented with human-centered design and public participation.Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok’s streets are also congested with cars and two-wheelers, and its sidewalks are occupied by motorcycles and street vendors. In downtown Bangkok, a one-kilometer skyway connects office buildings, shopping plazas, and hotels. With the help of clearly marked signs as well as escalators and elevators at metro stations and commercial buildings, the skyway provides pedestrians with safe access to jobs, entertainment, and other activities. This is also helpful to disabled people because Bangkok’s poorly-maintained sidewalks and numerous street vendors restrict mobility for those in a wheelchair.Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong, known for its impressive skylines and high density, has several skyway systems that connect almost every building in its business district. Due to limited usable land, hilly topography, and high population density, pedestrian accessibility to buildings has historically been problematic. As early as the 1970s, Hong Kong developers began linking important buildings with footbridges to improve accessibility. Since then, the construction of footbridges has expanded to an extensive downtown network of dozens of buildings. As directed by the city’s planning agency, developers of new buildings need to build additional footbridges to ensure continuous accessibility and add to the existing network.
Hong Kong’s Central Elevated Walkway System connects almost every major business venue to hotels, public transport, open spaces, and other footbridge networks. The system has escalators, elevators, ramps, and staircases for easy access. The comfort and convenience of the skyway system has done more than just create a safer environment for pedestrians; it has also become a catalyst for tourism and economic activity.Putting skyways in perspective
Skyways are not just segregated paths in the sky—they also can be powerful facilitators for vibrant street life. It’s important to understand that each city has its own unique socioeconomic, environmental, and historical context. The question of whether to use skyways and how to design them depends on local conditions and capacities.
In most cases, accommodating the needs of pedestrians and cars at the street level is a more desirable solution for safe, people-friendly cities. However, if cities find themselves struggling to provide safety and accessibility to pedestrians, skyways offer a useful alternative.
In 2003, London adopted a program of congestion pricing that now places a roughly $17 (£11.50) daily fee on motor vehicles entering central London. The effort was expected to reduce car traffic, air pollution, and emissions in the area, and has since been lauded as a major success.
Beyond these benefits, congestion pricing has also saved lives by reducing the number of fatal traffic crashes caused by cars, increasing physical activity from cycling and walking, and limiting exposure to air pollution.
A new study by researchers in the United Kingdom shows that, since the introduction of the congestion charge, there have been 30 fewer monthly traffic crashes in central London—a 40 percent decline—and a comparable fall in fatalities and injuries. This reinforces the conclusions of a previous study from 2006 as well as global research that transport pricing policies can bring important safety benefits.Reinvesting in safe, sustainable urban mobility
Cities considering congestion pricing should ensure that the revenue generated is used wisely. EMBARQ research suggests that congestion pricing initiatives should include complementary projects within the pricing zones that enhance mass transport, walking, bicycling and public spaces, as congestion fees can be a consistent source of revenue. Without adequate support and investment, programs may not prove successful or may even result in less safe conditions, like if fewer cars end up driving faster.
London has smartly dedicated revenue from its congestion pricing program to finance mass transport and infrastructure upgrades. According to a report on road pricing from the United States Federal Highway Administration, of London’s $222 million net revenue in 2008, 82 percent went to bus improvements, including exclusive bus lanes, electronic fare payment, stricter enforcement of bus lanes and parking restrictions, public transportation signal priority, and low-floor and accessible vehicles. Another 9 percent went to roads and bridges, and the last 9 percent to road safety, pedestrian and cycling facilities, neighborhood planning, and green infrastructure.
The investments have clearly paid off. According to Transport for London, the London Underground now runs 5 percent more train-miles on the Tube, and bus usage reached a 50-year high in 2011, with a 30 percent service increase and a 20 percent waiting reduction.
London has added new cycling infrastructure downtown—taking space away from cars—and plans for expansion are currently in development. While the amount of vehicle traffic has fallen by 25 percent over the last decade in central London, the number of cyclists has doubled, and now account for a quarter of all traffic during morning rush hour. Mayor Boris Johnson also recently announced a ban on the type of Lorries (trucks) considered most unsafe to bicyclists and cyclists.Beyond London
The positive results seen in London are akin to the experiences of other cities taking on car traffic. Stockholm—another city with a congestion charge—has also seen improvements in safety and air quality and has also dedicated revenue to public transport and street redesign. In Seoul, South Korea, though not congestion pricing, the city knocked down an elevated expressway, replaced it with a linear park, and implemented a network of dedicated busways. There, traffic crashes went down by a third and air quality improved as well.
In Beijing, where restrictions on vehicles entering the city based on license tab numbers are already in place, discussions of congestion pricing are currently underway, and include the possibility of dedicating revenue to mass transport, walking, bicycling, and public space improvements.
An excessive number of high-speed vehicles on our roads puts people’s lives in danger. This is simple physics. Effective tools like congestion pricing, traffic calming, street redesign, and limiting vehicle usage can strengthen road safety and improve quality of life of all residents.
Developing countries are projected to gain 2.2 billion new urban residents between now and 2050. Governments and city leaders have a choice: they can develop cities that are sprawled and auto-dependent, or they can develop cities that are connected, compact, and coordinated. A new report for the New Climate Economy project outlines the massive economic, social, and environmental costs of urban sprawl in the United States.
While this research focuses on urban planning lessons and mistakes from the United States, it also contains compelling lessons for countries worldwide looking to avoid the steep costs of sprawl.The costs of sprawling development
The economic costs of sprawl are huge. The new report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl, finds that Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear an astounding $625 billion in extra costs, and that the public costs of this sprawl amount to an extra $400 billion each year. These stem from the health costs of air pollution and unnecessary spending on infrastructure, public services, and transportation, which could be avoided if cities were compact, connected, and people-oriented. Ultimately, everyone is affected, not just those who live in sprawled communities, because both urbanites and rural residents subsidize the extra costs of their suburban counterparts.
Sprawl increases the distance between homes, businesses, services, and jobs, raising the cost of infrastructure and public services in sprawled areas of the United States by anywhere from 10 to 40 percent. For example, a fire station in a low-density neighborhood with disconnected streets serves far fewer households at a much higher cost than an otherwise identical fire station in a more compact and connected neighborhood. In prior research, the New Climate Economy found that implementing smarter urban growth policies on a global scale could reduce urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than $3 trillion over the next 15 years.
In addition to being economically costly, sprawl has a negative impact on public health. The report finds air pollution from urban cars, exacerbated by sprawl, causes $582 in external health costs per capita each year. People who live in sprawled neighborhoods are two to five times more likely to be killed in car accidents than those in smarter growth communities. Sprawl also tends to increase sedentary living, and therefore obesity rates and associated health problems. Those in the least walkable neighborhoods are twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighborhoods.The benefits of smart growth
Fortunately, there is another way. Smart growth is the opposite of urban sprawl. Smart growth cities and towns have well-defined boundaries, a range of housing options, a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation. They focus on vibrant, competitive, and livable urban cores. By reducing per capita land consumption and infrastructure and transportation costs, smart growth policies can deliver significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.
People living in smart growth communities save money on transportation. Households in accessible areas spend on average $5,000 less per year on transportation expenses. Additionally, real estate located in smart growth communities tends to retain its value better than in sprawled communities during economic downturns, due to greater access to services.
Smart growth is more inclusive of people who are not able or cannot afford to drive. It offers easier access to schools, public services, and jobs, and encourages mixed-income communities, which have a powerful impact on economic mobility. With every 10 percent decrease in urban sprawl, Americans are 4.1 percent more likely to climb from the lowest to the highest income quintile.
Smart growth is also better for the climate. Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. According to New Climate Economy research, the adoption of compact, transit-oriented cities could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, rising to 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050—more than twice the annual emissions of Canada.Critical lessons for global development
Ninety percent of urban growth between now and 2050 is projected to take place in emerging economies. Cities in the developing world can minimize urban infrastructure and transportation costs by learning from the challenges now faced by countries like the United States. By preventing urban sprawl, these cities can stimulate economic growth while avoiding climate risks.
Ahmedabad, for example, is India’s sixth-largest city, located in the western state of Gujarat. In the next 25 years, its population is expected to more than double, growing from 5.4 million in 2011 to 13.2 million in 2041. A city like Ahmedabad has two possible futures. On one hand, it could follow the example of the United States and pursue sprawling development that encourages and even necessitates car travel. On the other hand, it could follow a more sustainable path by investing in public transport and ensuring compact development through land use policy.
In the sustainable, smart growth scenario, the developed area of Ahmedabad would cover only half the amount of land it would in the car-centric, sprawled scenario. As shown in the graphic below, this would cut traffic deaths by more than four times the sprawled scenario and greenhouse gas emissions by more than six times.
For Ahmedabd and other world cities to avoid the high costs of sprawl now facing the United States is no small task. To do so, both federal and local governments must embrace diverse housing and transportation options, more neutral city planning processes, and location-based construction and utility fees so residents pay more for sprawled locations and save with smart growth.
Correcting the market forces that favor urban sprawl provides an opportunity for better growth and a better climate in cities worldwide.
A century of car-centric urban development has left our cities polluted, congested, and searching for sustainable solutions. Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies can provide these solutions by combining public policy and private sector innovation to reverse over-reliance on private cars. The Moving Beyond Cars series—exclusive to TheCityFix and WRI Insights—offers a global tour of TDM solutions in Brazil, China, India and Mexico, providing lessons in how cities can curb car culture to make sustainable transport a reality.
São Paulo’s population is growing—and so is its traffic congestion. Residents of South America’s largest city take more than 43 million trips daily, nearly 30 million of which are in vehicles, mainly private cars. São Paulo‘s average commute time by car is around 1.5 hours, and the productivity lost to traffic congestion is equivalent to 7.8 percent of the metro area’s GDP.
As the city continues to grow, leaders know that commuters will need a better, more sustainable way to travel. Reducing the number of cars on the road through transport demand management (TDM) offers a promising solution.A first taste of transport demand management in São Paulo
WRI, EMBARQ Brasil, and the World Bank launched a TDM pilot project in 2012 in one of the city’s most congested areas, along the Pinheiros River.
The first-of-its kind in Brazil, this pilot project worked with 20 companies that draw in a total of more than 1,000 employees daily. At the onset of the project, more than half of those employees drove to work alone, while fewer than 20 percent used public transport. By the end of the initiative, the number of employees driving to work by themselves dropped by 17 percent, and the number of public transport users rose by as much as 10 percent.
Businesses involved in the project pursued three big changes—creating benefits for themselves, their employees and the city at large.
1. Quantify the impact.
Historically, many employers in Brazil have not felt they have a role in addressing employee commuting beyond providing and/or paying for parking. The responsibility to improve overall mobility lay solely with the public sector, they thought.
So researchers helped companies participating in the pilot project collect data about how much long commutes cost their businesses. Once companies understood the economic impacts of traffic congestion, they were keen to pursue solutions that supported cycling or walking to work, such as providing in-house shower and locker facilities. Companies saw an increased uptake in cycling to work amongst their employees, with staff citing improved health and well-being as a result.
2. Use incentives to overcome cultural barriers.
For many Brazilians, owning a car demonstrates social status. Employers can play an important role in reversing this cultural barrier by providing education and incentives.
Some employers with the pilot program launched company-wide education campaigns to promote more sustainable modes of transport. Companies supplied personalized commuting routes and mobility kits that mapped local transit stops and connections. Other employers discouraged private vehicle travel by providing financial incentives for using public transit or offering better-located or cheaper parking spots for carpoolers.
3. Involve top leaders.
Finally, the pilot project showed that sustained engagement was highest amongst companies whose leadership was involved from the onset of the project design and who understood the impact of mobility issues to a company’s performance. In companies where top leadership was not involved, TDM measures fell by the wayside over time. Leaders must demonstrate their commitment in order to secure long-term behavioral and cultural changes, by taking advantage of corporate mobility plans and taking alternative transit options into work.Next steps for TDM in Brazil: scaling up and out
While TDM is an effective strategy to make corporate mobility more sustainable, implementing TDM measures does not come natural to Brazilian companies. Rather, it requires a fundamental shift not only in corporate culture and priorities, but also in government and city policy. And this takes time. WRI Brasil and EMBARQ Brasil are now expanding the pilot program into the multi-stakeholder Plataforma Conexões Rio Pinheiros, which unites 20 member companies and government organizations with other key players in the Rio Pinheiros district, with the aim to test, pilot and scale mobility solutions.
This approach will be key for building a more sustainable São Paulo, which set urban mobility as a priority in its August 2014 strategic master plan. Specifically, the plan emphasizes curbing car culture and recognizes a fundamental link between urban mobility and quality of life. As the city’s master plan is considered a milestone for urban development in Brazil, we can expect solutions that work well in São Paulo to be replicated in other Latin American cities.
If the congestion capital of South America can do it, why not cities across the world?
Known for its beautiful natural landscapes, Christ the Redeemer statue, and Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro is an iconic city. Citizens’ ability to access these and local opportunities, though, has been limited in the past due to increased reliance on individual cars generating congestion.
Low-income communities lack access to reliable, affordable public transit. Commuters face atrociously long travel times due to intense traffic congestion exacerbated by the geography of the city. One study showed that congestion cost Rio and São Paulo $43 billion in 2013 alone.
But Rio’s transport system may be starting to switch gears. Over the past few years, city leaders have started pursuing low-carbon public solutions for urban mobility. And now, in celebration of its 450th anniversary this year and as the host city of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the city is following up with concrete actions to begin transforming the city’s image into one of a global leader in sustainable mobility.
Let’s take a look at a few of the ways in which Rio and Mayor Eduardo Paes, also chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Alliance, are building sustainable urban solutions that can inspire.An operations control center for better management
Rio built its integrated control center in 2010, which allows more than 30 city agencies to monitor what’s happening across Rio in real time. In the past four years, the control center has reduced emergency response time by 30 percent. The impressive capabilities of the control center come from both the technologies involved—30 kilometers of optic fiber connect 560 cameras around the city, and 100 rainfall gauges operate 24/7—and the advantages of centralization. Additionally, approximately 8,800 buses and municipal vehicles are monitored via GPS to help monitor traffic and provide rapid response to traffic incidents.
The control center allows the city to respond more effectively to natural hazards, accidents and other events in order to keep citizens safe. “The biggest benefits are the bad things that don’t happen, that won’t come to reality because of it,” said Mayor Paes in an interview with CNN.
A BRT network to serve both daily commuters and tourists
Rio’s network of high-quality bus rapid transit (BRT) serves 9 million people and saves 7.7 million hours of travel every month. Each bus on the two corridors already in place—TransOeste (56 km) and TransCarioca (39 km)—replaces 126 cars on average, resulting in a 38 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on those corridors. The city aspires to make its BRT system the best in Brazil by 2018, and will launch the new TransOlimpica corridor in 2016 to support key locations for the Olympics and provide connectivity to the existing corridors.A cable car system connects once isolated communities to the city center
Rio’s hilly low-income communities used to be only accessible by foot and informal transport. In an effort to make these communities more connected and accessible, the city built the Teleférico do Alemão in 2011, the first mass transport cable car of its kind in Brazil. Each resident is entitled to a free roundtrip pass per day. The network spans 3.2 kilometers, with 152 cable cars that can transport ten people each. A single trip takes only 16 minutes to connect riders to Rio’s commuter rail network, greatly expanding residents’ access to jobs, healthcare and other social resources in the region.Creating a world-class cycling network
As a part of its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Rio has announced its “Rio Biking Capital” (Rio Capital da Bicicleta) program, an initiative to develop 300 km of cycling infrastructure by 2016. The investment includes bikeways, bike paths, shared streetspace with cars and pedestrians, and bike parking infrastructure. Between 2009 and 2012, the city already created 152 km of new cycling pathways along the beachfront, and connected the city’s lake to the bustling Botafogo neighborhood.
Future phases of the plan will improve connectivity to both existing and future BRT and metro corridors in several neighborhoods—not just beachfront areas that rely on bike infrastructure for tourism. In 2015, the city will increase its bike share program from 60 to 260 stations, adding 2,600 new bikes. While this system remains smaller than those in leading bike share cities like Paris, London, or New York, Rio’s is the second largest in Latin America.Building momentum for local and regional action
While the city will likely continue to face significant infrastructural and social challenges for years to come, it’s encouraging to see Rio’s leadership taking action on several fronts. These steps have the potential to influence other city leaders in Brazil, Latin America, and beyond.
As the chair of C40, Mayor Eduardo Paes is already spreading the gospel. Paes will join other city leaders and experts from EMBARQ—WRI’s sustainable mobility initiative—for a Mayor’s Summit on September 9, 2015, and the International Congress on Cities and Transport conference from September 10-11, 2015 to help spread information about best practices and inspire mayoral leadership across the globe.
As for Rio, the city is only just getting started on the road towards a sustainable future.
In the northern hemisphere, the days are growing longer and warmer, signaling the first day of spring. For many, it’s time to start sowing seeds, and for those in cities, it’s time to dig into community gardens. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. In the developing world, urban residents have long had to grow food or tend livestock for extra food security, but in recent years urban farming has become more practical for many income groups in cities around the world.
Urban agriculture enhances sustainability, secures public space, and provides much needed food security and health benefits for communities. Whether in backyards, on rooftops, on balconies, or in vacant lots, ingenuity in urban agriculture yields abundant solutions for those who put in the effort.China’s inventive rooftop gardeners
While many of China’s booming metropolises are sprawling over land with new buildings and construction, some people have taken to the roofs. In the southwestern city of Chongqing, employees at a door-making factory have cultivated a 10,000 square meter rooftop farm, complete with crops, poultry, livestock, and a tractor. This functional green roof has improved the quality of life of the employees who voluntarily tend the farm, providing them with fresh fruits and vegetables.
In Beijing and Hong Kong, two urbanites have received attention for their farming exploits. One man has experimented with inventing fertilizers, eventually yielding a good harvest in his second season. Another man invites his neighbors to rent boxes while providing soil, seasonal seeds, tools, and the opportunity to garden themselves so that they can spread information about this new initiative with the community.
This video shows each of these community gardeners in action:Repurposing areas for a green future in India’s slums
In much of the world, urban gardens provide not only public green space, but critical sources of food security and nutrition for impoverished urban residents. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “urban agriculture, credited with producing 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food in 2011, can be a driving force of urban nutrition and community development.”
India has about 93 million slum dwellers, and as much as 50 percent of New Delhi’s population and 60 percent of Mumbai’s are estimated to live in these informal settlements. Residents in the dense slum of Ambedkar Nagar in Mumbai recently converted a dumpsite into a community garden. Formerly, the waste had become as high as a two-story building, propagating diseases and threatening the nearby Mithi River and residential water pipeline. With help from local organizations, the community mobilized to clean the area and raise awareness of waste management and composting. In addition to greatly improving public health and containing waste, the site is now covered in greenery and attracts butterflies rather than flies. When event halls are too costly, families have even turned to the garden as a wedding venue.Learning new skills and building community in Brazil’s favelas
In Rio de Janeiro, about 22 percent of the population resides in favelas. An important part of the city’s Morar Carioca favela improvement program is to foster community garden development in communities like Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira. Early during the program in 2012, 16 residents volunteered for a five-month training program to learn household planting and growing techniques, which gave them homegrown organic produce as well as new skills that could be shared with their neighbors. Additionally, through organizations like Green My Favela, the city is reclaiming degraded land to build green spaces, securing nutrition, and sharing skills with a variety of participants and collaborators.
In São Paulo, Cidades Sem Fome (“Cities Without Hunger”) works to develop community gardens, school gardens, agricultural greenhouses, and small family farms. The organization focuses on the east side of the city, which contains 33 percent of the city’s population and is home to about 40 percent of the city’s unemployed residents. The organization’s first initiative, the Community Gardens Project, has started 21 community gardens, trained 115 community gardeners, and organized 48 professional qualification courses.A global movement building at the local level
By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, leading to a higher demand for food and a smaller supply of rural residents producing it. Urban agriculture may increasingly become a “strategy of emancipation” for food security and improved quality of life in cities. The environmental, health, and economic benefits of community gardens are many, and the innovative solutions from places like Beijing, Mumbai, and Rio may soon become the mainstream in cities around the world.
Why are the two most sustainable forms of transport missing from the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Walking and cycling may be the two most basic modes of transport, but they may also be the most promising for a sustainable future. In a car-filled world, it’s the people who use their own two feet or two wheels that are making efficient use of space in crowded cities while creating health and environmental benefits for themselves and others.
Yet in a forthcoming international agreement that will steer development policy and funding for the next 15 years, the question remains whether these active transport modes will be recognized as a proven way of creating more sustainable cities.
The United Nations will host negotiations later this month on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new set of globally agreed-upon goals by national governments to replace the existing Millennium Development Goals. These negotiations will culminate in a meeting in late September to adopt this new post-2015 development agenda.
In the current proposal for adoption, cities are taking a larger role, with a stand-alone goal to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” A set of targets within this goal address specific issues, and one of them mentions transport, stating, “by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.”
This is no doubt a promising opportunity to raise the profile of cities, transport, and traffic safety to unprecedented levels of public awareness. Yet while the target for sustainable transport specifically mentions expanding public transport, it leaves out walking and bicycling.Why active transport is integral to sustainable urban mobility
Enhancing active transport is a necessary step toward improving overall urban mobility, as it is a broad category that includes, for example, taking a walk to public transport or a nearby store, commuting by bike to work, or using a bike share system for short trips.
Active transport produces the least pollution, requiring no use of fossil fuels. There are significant health benefits to regular walking and cycling. Given that the world is facing steep declines in physical activity that harm health and result in severe economic burdens, prioritizing active transport can be a necessary tool for making the world a healthier, safer, and more sustainable place. Additionally, investing in walking and cycling infrastructure helps address traffic safety by protecting these vulnerable users, who bear a significant brunt of traffic deaths. Lastly, moving around by walking and cycling can provide mobility not bound to the kind of congestion caused by motor vehicles.
Walking and cycling levels in low and middle-income countries are on par with or surpass those of public transport. In Latin American countries, walking and bicycling comprises around 30 to 40 percent of all trips in most cities. In Mumbai, walking and cycling represent 51 percent of the city’s mode share. Walking represents 70 percent of total trips in Addis Ababa and nearly 50 percent in Dar es Salaam. And currently, bicycling in the city of Copenhagen accounts for nearly 36 percent of all trips to work or education, demonstrating the bicycle’s potential to become a staple of city life.How to internationally recognize the value of active transport
The current Sustainable Development Goals proposed could be revised to include not only mass transport, but walking and cycling as well—capturing the three most impactful forms sustainable transport. In his commentary on the Sustainable Development Goals in the SAIS Review of International Affairs, the World Resources Institute’s Dario Hidalgo notes that “the means to provide better mobility, notably through public transport, may also need to include the concept of quality and the inclusion of infrastructure for walking and bicycles. Sustainable urban mobility involves not only public transport, but incorporates all three sustainable modes.”
Hidalgo suggests a small edit that could accommodate active transport: “By 2020 provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding QUALITY public transport and infrastructure for walking and bicycling with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”
For cities wishing to provide sustainable urban mobility that increases residents’ quality of life, active transport must be a priority. Expensive rail projects and new highways may be attractive to some, but recognizing basic human needs and quality of life are more important in the long term. As for the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s a major step forward that cities in general—largely excluded from the Millenium Development Goals—are a focus of the new post-2015 agenda. Whether walking and bicycling will ultimately be included in the goals is yet to be seen, but they would certainly strengthen an already ambitious agenda to shape a more sustainable, prosperous planet.
There are currently 190 cities in the world using bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to serve the mobility needs of more than 31 million daily passengers. The BRT boom over the past 15 years has been a significant step toward achieving sustainable urban transport, particularly in rapidly growing cities. Understanding the factors that make BRT successful is critical for not only improving the cost-effectiveness of BRT, but also ensuring strong ridership, which influences on key performance variables like travel time, operational savings, road safety, and emissions.
As a result, there’s been recent interest in assessing how the built environment—which includes factors like pedestrian infrastructure and density—affects ridership in different types of BRT corridors. However, little is known about the relationship between the built environment and BRT ridership, since existing studies have generally examined the impact of the built environment on transit ridership within metro and light rail systems. This leaves a serious gap in our understanding, as it’s often assumed that population density alone determines BRT ridership.
New research looks to fill this gap by exploring how the built environment influences BRT ridership at the station level. Presented at Transforming Transportation 2015, this research suggests that a rich array of built environment factors affect BRT travel behavior. The study tested for associations between BRT ridership and built environment data around 120 BRT stations in seven Latin American cities, and concluded that the built environment plays a significant role explaining BRT ridership. Mixed land use and active transport infrastructure play an important but often overlooked role as well.BRT ridership depends on how cities are designed
Conventional wisdom says that population density is the primary determinant of BRT ridership. However, high-rise developments, mixed land uses, non-motorized transport infrastructure, and public facilities—like hospitals, libraries, markets, plazas, and churches—surrounding BRT stations also play an important role explaining ridership. This has significant implications for designing successful BRT systems in varying urban environments:
- An urban environment characterized by a strong presence of public facilities in combination with industrial-commercial developments mixed with some residential land uses could constitute a favorable environment for BRT.
- BRT lines that connect commuter destinations—like financial districts and universities—and dense, multi-family developments can benefit from policies supporting pedestrian-friendly public spaces and access to offices and businesses.
- The built environment can support historic centers if there is strong pedestrian infrastructure, connected public spaces, commercial land use, and access to public facilities.
- High-rise multifamily developments, in combination with commercial land uses and moderately high population densities can help make BRT successful.
- Stations that serve low-income areas and informal settlements see greater ridership when they offer amenities important to low-income residents, such as adequate pedestrian infrastructure, mixed land use, and accessible public facilities.
- The results of the study also suggest that BRT terminals could benefit in terms of ridership levels if they function as nodes of larger urban development projects, including high-rise and mixed land use developments that are connected with non-motorized transport infrastructure.
This last point relates to a concept receiving increasing attention in urban planning circles: transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD is an approach to urban planning that prioritizes the role of transit for creating connected, compact, mixed-use cities. This study confirmed that BRT stations can expect a positive change in ridership if the built environment around BRT stations has these features. A diverse mixture of land uses—like tall, multi-family residences, commercial businesses, and offices concentrated around stations—has been shown to strengthen ridership, as well. Given that several cities are considering integrating TOD principles into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of their BRT stations, these insights will help substantiate the case for prioritizing transit-oriented development as a means to build more prosperous, sustainable cities.Giving policymakers the necessary resources to make well-informed decisions
BRT was pioneered in Latin America, and the region has been refining and expanding its BRT systems for more than 40 years. Robust research on the influence of the built environment on ridership levels allows city leaders to make informed policy decisions about how to fund, develop, and manage BRT stations and the areas around them.
This study of 120 BRT stations in Latin America emphasizes the important role of station areas in strengthening ridership. In particular, local governments should consider not only the physical built environment features discussed here, but also how these elements can be combined to create more transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly environments. By collecting data around current and future BRT stations, local governments could assess the changes on the built environment needed in order to make BRT systems more successful. In this manner, planners and designers should ensure that the areas surrounding BRT stations have compact, mixed-use development, high building heights, quality public spaces, and safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
Erik Vergel-Tovar is a 2014 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholar and Ph.D. Candidate in City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill. Download his working paper at the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship website here.
With a metropolitan population of more than 21 million people—and growing quickly—Mexico City faces distinct challenges in delivering sustainable urban mobility. Whether to combat a long history of urban sprawl or to meet the mobility needs of different communities, the city has had to innovate throughout its history to help residents move safely and efficiently.
Today, Mexico City is stepping up its vision for sustainable mobility. With the support of leading development banks and urban mobility experts, the city will invest $150 million in expanding and modernizing sustainable public transport systems.
This investment ranks among the largest in sustainable mobility in Mexico City’s history, and is a significant step forward in orienting the city around people, not cars. If the initiative achieves its goals, it will improve mobility, accessibility, and quality of life for millions of chilangos.From chaos to quality
Already, Mexico City boasts some of the most effective sustainable transport modes of any city in the world. The Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system, for example, serves nearly one million people every day. The system was the first of its kind in Mexico, with eight cities launching BRT systems of their own since Metrobús opened in 2005.
But leaders know this is not enough. Even though public transport accounts for more than 57 percent of all trips within the Federal District, car ownership is rising and reached 3.5 million in 2010. Congestion costs the city 2.6 percent of GDP every year, deteriorating air quality has become a major threat to public health, and public opinion of transport services—particularly of the city’s 29,000 microbuses—is declining.
As it stands, these microbuses serve 60 percent of public transport trips within the city, but are unregulated, inefficient, and a major source of pollution. For this reason, a key goal of the initiative announced today is to transform the operational, regulatory, and financial model of the microbuses to improve quality of service. To achieve this, the city will restructure the system—with technical support from EMBARQ Mexico—and fundamentally change the way microbuses are managed. This change is one that residents have been asking for: in a 2012 survey, 64 percent of respondents found the microbuses unsafe, while 48 percent found them too expensive.
Taking today’s chaotic and fragmented system and transforming it into one that meets residents’ mobility needs will be an important long-term focus. The end result will be a more efficient, user-friendly system that also incorporates energy-efficient vehicles to replace existing microbuses, most of which are more than 20 years old. These new energy-efficient buses will further decrease air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, complementing the 122,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions Metrobús already avoids every year. This will help the city build on the success of Metrobús, the world’s sixth largest BRT system, which will also receive funds to expand Lines 5 and 6 under this initiative.Building a culture of sustainable mobility for Mexico City
Reforming microbuses and expanding Metrobús both play important roles in shaping a more economically competitive and environmentally sustainable Mexico City, but they’re not the only solutions the city is pursuing. Building on a promise to guarantee the “right to mobility” through legislation passed last year, Mexico City’s leaders are also scaling up efforts around public bike sharing, supporting car-free days for health and recreation, and reclaiming streets for pedestrians.
The ECOBICI public bike sharing program currently has more than 6,500 bikes in operation throughout the city and prevented the emission of an estimated 232 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in its first three years of operation. Muévete en bici weekly car-free days have attracted more than one million visitors in their seven year history. And finally, pedestrianization of the city’s historic center is improving accessibility and supporting local businesses while taking cars off the road.
These initiatives—together with a rejuvenated fleet of microbuses and a world-leading mass transport system in Metrobús—put Mexico City firmly on the path to a sustainable future. While there is more work to be done to ensure that the pace of innovation matches the pace of change in the city, $150 million for more efficient, people-oriented urban mobility can go a long way towards making Mexico City more livable and sustainable.
Learn more about EMBARQ Mexico’s role helping Mexico City transform the microbus system here.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this article listed the amount of carbon dioxide emissions Metrobús eliminates as 35,000 tons per year. This has been updated to reflect the most recent data.
Over the past few years, demand for buses has been declining in major Brazilian cities. How should city and transport leaders respond to this alarming trend? One possible solution is to improve the quality and productivity of bus service. To achieve this, smart regulations can play an important role by establishing terms and conditions for private operation, assigning responsibilities to key actors, and creating a necessary tool for ensuring communication between managers and operators.
There are a variety of effective instruments for regulating public transport services. In some countries, services are assigned based on performance criteria. The success of these contracts depends on transparency, trust between the parties, and the control and evaluation mechanisms agreed upon in the contract. In Brazil, federal law stipulates that public transport services have to be assigned through a bidding process.
Regardless of the way in which operators are chosen, the quality of public transport services depends on strategic decisions. This includes the distribution of risks among managers and operators, the duration of contracts, the organization of service provision, and the determination of salaries and tariff policies. Many Brazilian cities are pressured to make bids, but find themselves with little time to think strategically about what to include in contracts.
Because the success of a transport system depends on people and organizations, transport managers and operators as well as city leaders play an important role in improving service quality and increasing productivity. This was a key finding of EMBARQ Brasil’s Seminar on Sustainable Urban Mobility: Practices and Trends held in São Paulo in the second half of 2014.
First, governments and public agencies should invest in technical training for preparing well-structured grant programs that are aligned with the strategic objectives of the cities, promote transparency when assigning service contracts, and maintain strong dialogue between parties. Second, private operators should be able to propose operational changes to improve transport services, given their expertise and on-the-ground experience. Third, control agencies that actively participate in the bidding process should communicate regularly with those involved in the bidding to facilitate their understanding. Finally, third party organizations should be able to engage in discussion, provide education and training, develop technical studies of international standards, and catalyze collaborative exchanges of information and experience.
Looking globally, there is no universal model for assigning contracts. Transport leaders and officials must analyze each city’s public transport system within the local context and study their idiosyncrasies in order to guarantee the best economic and social returns. This begins with local governments defining key, strategic objectives—such as expanding access to low-income users, strengthening user loyalty through programs, and enhancing the reliability, connectivity, speed, and security of the system.
Streets perform a necessary function in the life of cities, like the arteries of a complex, urban organism. As the Project for Public Spaces notes, city streets “animate the social and economic life of communities” by serving as primary sites for community interaction and exchange. However, many cities have historically developed their streets merely as passages for moving cars, and have neglected the vital role of streets as public places.
Cars do a great job of transporting people and goods when they figure into a greater system of transport that’s efficient and doesn’t depend excessively on any single mode. When unrestrained, however, car use can become toxic to city life, depressing economic activity, hurting public health, and directly threatening the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. While cars will remain a necessary component of urban transport for years to come, it’s worth asking whether they should be the dominant means of mobility on every city street, or even have a presence on some streets at all.
Some cities are rethinking their streets by developing “green corridors” that (re)incorporate elements of the area’s natural ecosystem into the urban environment. The goals and purposes of these greening projects are diverse, ranging from enhanced social cohesion to environmental restoration, though they almost always aim at creating a sense of place that is human-oriented, not car-centered.Global concept, local context
The vision for Cali, Colombia’s car-less green corridor, for example, combines a need for low-income housing and a desire for ecological balance. The project will be built on 15 kilometers of old railway and will offer bus rapid transit (BRT) connectivity, bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and cultural facilities for concerts, art exhibitions, sports, and outdoor festivals, while also preserving indigenous plant life. What makes Cali’s green corridor particularly compelling, however, is its recognition of access to transport as an enabler for social mobility. The city’s goal is for every resident to be within 300 meters of a BRT station.
Similarly, Curitiba, Brazil has transformed its once-congested urban fabric into a vibrantly green paradise, but has done so with a different perspective on development. Instead of overhauling entire sections of the city, Curitiba has approached greening at a much more granular level, redeveloping small patches of land into pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The city currently has 16 parks, 14 forested areas, and more than 1,000 smaller plots designated for trees and vegetation—all of which amounts to an impressive 560 square feet of green space per person. Furthermore, the city has integrated these green spaces into the urban streetscape by designating large portions of the downtown as car-free. Rather than causing residents to abandon the downtown due to inaccessibility, Curitiba has been successful in making these green public spaces walkable and popular. This is due largely to the city’s investment in creating a BRT system that is integrated, reliable, and relatively cheap. 70 percent of Curitiba’s residents use public transit.
And in China, the western city of Chengdu is currently exploring ambitious ways to mitigate car-oriented sprawl in its surrounding suburbs. One proposal currently in development is the complete creation of an entirely new city in which “cars will be essentially unnecessary.” Like Curitiba and Cali, this new city will ensure that its residents are minutes from public parks—green areas that protect natural wildlife habitats as much as they facilitate social interactions. These green spaces should be easily accessible by foot, as the city will likely be entirely walkable and half of all road space will be designated for non-motorized traffic. However, Chengdu’s new urban project goes beyond other green corridors in its progressive approach to waste management. The city will also develop an eco-park to treat wastewater and solid waste, generating power for the city. The architects of the project expect to cut energy use by 48 percent, water use by 58 percent, and waste by 89 percent, compared to other, similar developments.
Green corridors aren’t feasible everywhere and represent just one of the ways that cities can reimagine their underlying structure to be more people-oriented by design. But, generally, by prioritizing green spaces and overall car reduction, cities can become more sustainable, economically vibrant, and socially cohesive places to live.
The first step? Reimagining city streets as places for people.
Two weeks ago, the World Bicycle Forum in Medellín, Colombia brought together more than 4,000 attendees from across the globe to discuss the challenges and opportunities of urban cycling. Many have praised the event for its ability to bring a wide swath of constituencies together and identify key outcomes.
Cities and citizens are turning to the bicycle for good reasons. The bicycle offers a healthy form of mobility that cuts the need for car travel and reduces emissions. But there remains a major obstacle to establishing cycling as key mode of travel: designing safer infrastructure that all people feel comfortable using.How urban design at the street and city levels enables safer cycling
A workshop co-hosted by EMBARQ and the Cycling Embassy of Denmark at the World Bicycle Forum focused on the design principles and conditions that enable safer cycling. Participants drew lessons from global research on urban design, road safety audits and inspections in cities on the ground, and academic research on safety and cycling.
At the city level, a cohesive network of bicycle facilities that connects parks, streets, waterfronts, and other vital corridors is necessary for ensuring safe cycling conditions. Copenhagen’s well-known network is a great example of this kind of comprehensive planning. A similar network is emerging in Minneapolis, where on-street buffered and protected bicycle lanes are expanding the city’s already renowned off-street trail network. Bogotá, Colombia has nearly 392 km of bicycle lanes, 232 km of which were built during the Enrique Peñalosa administration from 1998 to 2001. According to the recently released bicycle account for the city, cycling in Bogotá has steadily increased from around 0.5 percent of daily trips in 1996 to 6 percent in 2014. Overall, in fact, Latin American cities actually have some of the most extensive cycling infrastructure outside of Europe. A recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank and Despacio indicates that Latin America’s 56 largest cities have a combined network of 2,513 km of bicycle lanes between them.
At the street level, physically segregating bike lanes—with bollards, curbs, or raised tracks—can create safer conditions for cyclists. These concepts have already been put into practice and their successes are documented in city and national guides, like Copenhagen’s Focus on Cycling and the Netherlands’ CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Increasingly, these guides are becoming more popular at a global scale, from the United States to Turkey. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has helped reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists by raising the bike lane and moving it behind a bus stop refuge. This design strategy is also recommended in a guide on cycling design prepared by EMBARQ Brazil.Unsafe intersections still often pose a threat to cyclists
Yet with protected lanes, problems can arise at intersections and access points where motor vehicles turn or enter into areas with pedestrians or cyclists. In Mexico City, a prime example of safer street design can be found on Avenida Eduardo Molina, where 20 km of one-directional protected bicycle lanes line both sides of the street, across from a center-median bus rapid transit (BRT) and rebuilt sidewalks. Although some cities have installed bi-directional lanes, the one-directional lanes are usually preferable, as they do not induce unexpected counterflow bicycle traffic at intersections. Mexico benefits from having both a city-level bicycle strategy, developed by the Secretary of Environment, and a national level guide called Ciclociudades, led by ITDP.
Another way to improve safety at intersections is to provide two-step turns, in which cyclists do not actually make a left hand turn in one move, but move instead to the intersecting street and wait for the signal to proceed. A study from Beijing shows that the introduction of two-step turns led to a 24 percent reduction in conflicts and crashes. Moreover, efforts that raise visibility between bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers will reduce the chance of impact.
These aren’t the only tools that can help produce a safe, comfortable environment for cyclists, but they do represent an important starting point. While other strategies should be considered, cities should recognize that lowering traffic volumes and speeds is essential to ensuring greater safety and higher rates of cycling.Using the World Bicycle Forum as a springboard for global action
Ultimately, safe cycling design is about developing a system that people will use. Considering the engagement and energy at this year’s World Bicycle Forum, and the expected progress we’ll see at next year’s forum in Santiago, Chile, this vision may not be that far off from becoming reality.
This is exactly what you like to see on a spring morning in brilliant sunshine in Copenhagen. Yet another bicycle/pedestrian bridge being put into place on Copenhagen Harbour. The Circle Bridge - Cirkelbroen in Danish - is designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and will fix a minor glitch in the mobility network in Copenhagen.This beautiful but modest bridge will connect Christiansbro and Applebys Square. A subtle, but important link in making the entire harbourfront walkable and bikeable. On the above map you can see the new and coming bicycle bridges in this section of the harbour. Yes, pedestrians use them, too, but in Copenhagen they are referred to as bicycle bridges first and foremost.The bridge is a gift to the City of Copenhagen from the Nordea Foundation (they're a bank) and it is 32 metres long. For a budget of 34 million kroner ($4.8 million) you get an artistic bridge designed by a famous artist. Interestingly, the entire Bicycle Snake had about the same budget.Here's a view from the Black Diamond / Sorte Diamant on the opposite side of the harbour. You can what the mouth of the canal looks like without the bridge.But hey, it's a gift so who cares. The form of the bridge is rounded, with no straight line from shore to shore. Normally, the design of a bridge for bicycles involves a straight line. The artistic licence on this bridge creates an aesthetic obstacle course. At this location, it is not a problem. This is not a major bicycle route, nor will it ever be. The main focus in on the recreational use of the harbourfront and creating access. So an exception is totally permissable.Olafur talks about his creative thoughts in this YouTube video, in Danish. The masts reflect the masts of the many ships in Christianshavn Canal. The bridge is a swing bridge, to allow access from the harbour to the canal and vice versa. The many canal tour boats plying their tourist trade will just scoot underneath.The bridge was originally meant to be finished in 2012 but the same malady struck it as struck the Innner Harbour Bridge farther east. The company who was building them went bankrupt and things rolled to a halt. The locals in this area of Christianshavn are among the whiniest and least willing to see Copenhagen change, so there was also a delay as some of them tried their case against the bridge in the courts. All water under the bridge now. Today, work is underway. The components are constructed and are being set into place. Spring is upon us. A new bridge is blossoming. Copenhagen just got a little bit cooler.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Cities contribute 70 percent of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and play an essential role in climate change mitigation. However, since average global temperatures are already rising and the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly palpable around the world, cities also need to focus on adaptation measures in order to strengthen their resiliency and better protect billions of global urbanites.
With the changing global climate, river flooding in cities worldwide has emerged as an immense challenge to urban resilience. Currently, approximately 21 million people worldwide could be affected by river floods on average each year, and that number could increase to 54 million in 2030 due to climate change and widespread urban development.
The Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer, a new online tool developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI), quantifies and visualizes the reality of global flood risk. The Flood Analyzer allows users to estimate the urban damage caused by river flooding in various scenarios, and to gauge both the GDP at risk and the size of vulnerable populations. Given that cities are the primary drivers of economic growth and are home to over half the world’s population, it’s critical that city leaders are informed about the threats that river flooding poses to their citizens’ health, security, and economic well-being.A threat to urban populations, infrastructure, and economic activity
The Flood Analyzer’s urban damage calculator allows users to estimate the direct damage in dollars that river flooding causes to urban areas. Users can toggle a selected country’s flood-protection level to determine not only how much damage would occur in the country’s urban areas, but also how much damage can be avoided as a result of flood-protection systems. A country’s flood-protection system is a broad category of both natural and hard infrastructure—from natural buffers like expanded flood-plain areas to strategic tools like dams, levees, and land use planning. Additionally, the Flood Analyzer can estimate urban damage in three different scenarios for 2030, depending on the magnitude of climate change and future development patterns.
One key insight from the Flood Analyzer is the disproportionate impact of river flooding on countries with high urbanization rates. 15 countries—led by India, Bangladesh, and China—account for 80 percent of the aggregate population exposed to flooding worldwide. Furthermore, many of these countries are particularly vulnerable in terms of affected GDP and urban damage, given their intense concentration of unprotected people and buildings in cities. India, for example, currently has $14.3 billion exposed GDP, and that figure could increase tenfold to $154 billion in 2030 in just a “middle-of-the-road” scenario. In a country where 75 percent of national economic activity will soon be generated in cities, it’s imperative that leaders address their cities’ vulnerability to the urgent risk of river flooding.Awareness and action for more resilient cities
But India isn’t alone. Climate change is a global phenomenon, and regional river flooding often transcends city and national borders. Although the risks are escalating, there are plenty of opportunities for the public and private sectors to strengthen urban resilience and prevent catastrophic damage. The Flood Analyzer’s easily accessible data will help to raise awareness among decision makers and city leaders about the current and future risks of river flooding. Armed with this information, decision makers will be able to prioritize risk reduction and climate adaptation projects, and implement the most viable, cost-efficient options. It will take time and significant investment, but starting now, city leaders and decision-makers in international relief organizations, local governments, and the private sectors have an informative, powerful tool for developing vital flood protection systems and ensuring the long-term safety and stability of cities worldwide.
Visit and interact with the Aqueduct Global Flood Risk Analyzer here.
This article was originally published in the Deccan Herald on February 25, 2015.
After five years of construction, Indore opened one of India’s few bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in May 2013. Operations started with a fraction of the total fleet planned, and yet, passengers exceeded 30,000 a day, a fourfold increase compared to the ridership of the regular city bus service that operated along the road before the BRT. But the bus lanes looked “empty” to the eyes of car drivers.
Some car users, who are still a minority, felt something was wrong–that they should be allowed to drive in the bus lanes. A representative of this vision took the case to court and, in October 2013, a Division Bench ordered that cars were allowed to use the bus lanes, as a temporary measure until the case was solved.
The result was appalling: traffic speed declined from 20 km/h to 13 km/h; traffic incidents became common, and demand for BRT declined substantially, jeopardizing the sustainability of the operations. BRT lost its charm, and rather than a symbol of progress and pride, became a dangerous trap. The intention to move people, not cars, was temporarily defeated.
The Division Bench appointed an expert committee to look into the details of the BRT and recommend whether to keep the temporary order or reinstate bus exclusivity.
The panel included members of the institutes of technology and management in Indore, a representative of the Ministry of Surface and Roads Transport, a social activist, and a senior advocate. They recommended that only iBus vehicles should use the BRT lanes, and at the same time made several suggestions for improving infrastructure and services in the corridor.
The Division Bench of two members did not agree on the recommendations, with one judge inclined in favor of keeping cars in the bus lanes and the other following the indication of the committee. As the case was not solved, it was passed to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, which made a final decision on January 23, 2015.
The High Court decided to ban cars from the bus lanes, and closed the case. From now on, the corridor will be exclusive to iBus vehicles, and is expected to recover speed, safety and convenience to the public transport users, who happen to be the majority of people along the 11.4 km BRT corridor.Conventional wisdom
With this ruling, the High Court challenges the conventional wisdom that roads are meant for moving cars, not necessarily maximizing people’s mobility, and suggests a type of city closer to European paradigms, where urban roads are designed with pedestrians, bicycles, and public transport in mind.
The High Court ruling on BRT in Indore, which is preceded by a similar ruling in Delhi, confirms that this approach is closer to the needs of Indian cities. BRT was built in Indore to give priority to people in buses, and thus maximize the movement of people, not cars. Allowing cars in the BRT lanes was a mistake, based on the wrong understanding that roads are mainly for vehicular movement.
It will be important, not just following the main recommendation of the experts committee (to limit the facility to iBus vehicles), but to advance other suggestions to improve the corridor, especially:
a) Increase the bus fleet to provide more frequent service and reduce waiting times and bus high occupancy levels;
b) Improve pedestrian crossings to the stations as to provide higher safety standards for vulnerable users; and
c) Introduce additional crossings to prevent people jaywalking and jumping the fences, as they would need to walk very long distances otherwise. With this ruling, the legal system sits on the people’s side – favoring the majority of the people, not just those privileged enough to drive cars.
In the Delhi case, the court said: “Since in a democracy it is not possible to physically seize cars and destroy them, the only democratic solution would be to dedicate road space for buses, which would move fast, and this would act as an incentive for people to switch to public transport. A developed country is not one where the poor own cars. It is one where the rich use public transport.”
These legal decisions are important precedents for many Indian cities planning BRT as part of integrated, multimodal, equitable public transport systems.
Here we go again.Out into the backyard this morning with The Lulu, heading for school and then off to work. Something was missing. It was big and red and quite gone. My Bullitt cargo bike was not where it should be. Locked with the mother of all chains in our bike shed. It was stolen. The first thought was "Damn... my logistics this week are screwed." Second thought... "I liked that bike". You know you live in a mainstream bicycle culture when the thoughts occur in THAT order.I walked around the backyard in vain hope. Then I noticed that another Bullitt wasn't parked in its normal spot. It was gone, too. Double Bullitt thieving in the dark of the night. In a secure, locked backyard.Fun having to explain to The Lulu, aged 7, about why people do such things. She's no stranger to bike theft, but still, she was as upset as me, so we had to tackle the subject on the spot.It's just a bike, I know. But it's a bike that we use alot. For transporting stuff like just two days ago at the recycling centre. For building snowmen. For just getting around town. For all our daily needs.Someone is going to have to break the news to Tigger this evening. THAT ain't gonna be pretty.This has happened before. Hey, it's a bicycle culture. Back in 2011: My Bike Was Stolen! Back then the story had a fairytale ending against all the odds and thanks to social media: My Bullitt is Found!I even got my vintage Swedish bike back once, too.While I don't harbour hopes of repeating those fairytales, you never know. There are loads and loads of Bullitts in Copenhagen now, compared to back in 2011 but anything could happen.My bike has some unique markings. Sure, the first thing the bike thief does is remove them, but sometimes they just stick it in another backyard in another part of town for a while. There's a pattern to this cargo bike theft.So, here are the things that make it recognizable:- A little sticker on the front.- A Copenhagenize.eu sticker on the front panel.- A map of Copenhagen on the cargo bay.- The handlebars are unlike many Bullitts in Copenhagen. My mother taught me to sit up straight, so they are not low and straight, but high and suitable for a gentleman.- There is a GoPro base on the front of the bike and, down by the front wheel on the left, there is another GoPro solution. (not pictured)- On the back fender there are white, reflective chevron stickers, just like on The Lulu's bike.Sigh.Hvis du ser cyklen et eller andet sted i København, sms eller ring på 26 25 97 26.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Eliminating the risk of "Dooring": Good cycle infrastructure design keeps cyclists out of the door zone and saves lives
Alberto Paulon is the second cyclist in the image. The collision happened few video frames after this image. Read more about the incident here and here. A few days ago on a road in Melbourne Australia a car door was opened. Alberto Paulon was cycling past the car at the time. He collided with the door, fell into the path of a truck and, sadly, he died. This tragedy could and should have been David Hembrowhttp://firstname.lastname@example.org://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2015/03/eliminating-risk-of-dooring-good-cycle.html
A century of car-centric urban development has left our cities polluted, congested, and searching for sustainable solutions. Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies can provide these solutions by combining public policy and private sector innovation to reverse over-reliance on private cars. The Moving Beyond Cars series—exclusive to TheCityFix and WRI Insights—offers a global tour of TDM solutions in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, providing lessons in how cities can curb car culture to make sustainable transport a reality.
More people in cities means more cars. By 2050, cities will add more than 2.5 billion people and global car ownership could reach 2 billion, nearly double today’s level. By focusing on what makes us drive in the first place, transport demand management (TDM) can improve mobility and quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing world.
The social, economic and environmental costs of auto-dependent cities are already high. Traffic crashes worldwide claim more than 1.2 million lives every year and are on track to be the fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. In the United States, commuters waste 4.8 billion hours in traffic each year, translating to $101 billion in lost economic productivity. And in Beijing, the costs of congestion and air pollution are an estimated 7-15 percent of GDP.
Urban mobility solutions have traditionally focused on the supply side, particularly on expanding roadways. By contrast, TDM focuses on strategies to reduce travel demand, especially from single-occupancy vehicles, and make mobility more efficient and sustainable by disincentivizing unnecessary driving and stimulating long-term behavior change.Local governments take the lead, but private sector catches up
The majority of existing TDM measures have been driven by the public sector, accelerating success in cities around the world. Parking pricing in San Francisco now adjusts in real-time with demand to ensure enough available parking spaces to reduce cruising and double-parking. As a result, miles travelled by cars in areas with dynamic parking pricing have decreased by 30 percent.
In London, congestion pricing has reduced vehicle travel by 17 percent, saved 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and created a reliable funding stream for public transport improvements. Other examples of TDM around the world include vehicle quotas in Singapore and Beijing, license plate restrictions in Latin America, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in the United States and low-emission zones across Europe.
Local governments set TDM policy, but the private sector also has an important overall role to play in improving mobility for employees and cities. Commuting trips comprise a high percentage of total city trips—accounting for more than 45 percent of all trips in São Paulo, for instance—and most commuters travel during peak hours when transport systems are most saturated. Employers can wield significant influence over their employees’ preferred modes of transport by facilitating sustainable mobility options and setting the right incentives to discourage private vehicles.Transport demand management is good for business, too
Companies can implement a range of TDM options according to their needs and local context. They can encourage active transport like walking, jogging and cycling to work by providing bike parking, lockers and showers on site. Similarly, they can organize commuting groups to use vehicles more efficiently through carpooling, car sharing, ride sharing or bus shuttles. Other alternatives include allowing flexible work hours and telework. Financial incentives encourage sustainable commuting through measures like employee parking costs, tax benefits for using active transport or providing public transportation vouchers.
All of these strategies benefit employees by reducing the time they spend sitting in congestion while improving their health and saving money. At the same time, cities benefit from reduced congestion and traffic crashes, improved air quality, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, employers benefit from operating in a more competitive city with a more satisfied and productive workforce, while saving on costly investments such as parking infrastructure.
These measures have been successful in some cities, and are becoming more common worldwide. In the United States, Seattle Children’s Hospital’s TDM programs have reduced the rate of employees driving alone to work from 73 percent in 1995 to 38 percent today. Companies in the developing world have also had success applying TDM measures. For example the PEMS network—which coordinates corporate sustainable mobility among large companies in Bogotá—held a week-long carpooling event in 2014 that removed more than 80,000 cars from city streets.Smarter driving for an urbanizing world
TDM creates concrete opportunities for cities to use existing transport infrastructure wisely, while generating funds to improve sustainable transport options. At the same time, it helps companies boost their bottom line and their employees’ well-being. Still, TDM is nowhere near the finish line in terms of being mainstreamed into policymaking or corporate sustainability strategies.
Even so, the innovative efforts already underway help governments and private companies reap the benefits of TDM while trailblazing a path to sustainable cities. Over the next two months, this blog series will explore TDM strategies in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico to show how cities worldwide can orient themselves around people, not cars.
Like many DIY, post-recession movements that have sprung up in the past few years, tactical urbanism is human-centered and empowering. At its core, it’s about people making the city work for them. Rather than relying on governmental actors, the tactical urbanism movement empowers individual citizens to make their streets, their neighborhoods, their cities the places they want them to be. Projects—like installing street signs more useful than the official ones—are typically low-budget, informal, and east to implement, allowing people to become actively engaged in civic life in a way that yields fast, concrete results.
Uneven Growth, a current exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), explores the potential of tactical urbanism at the global level. Bringing together thought leaders and practitioners from Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, and Rio de Janeiro, the exhibition examines how the citizen-driven movement is changing conventional relationships between people, public space, housing, and natural environments. Although the exhibition’s proposed solutions have been criticized for having lofty, unrealistic ambitions, Uneven Growth‘s online platform retains the movement’s original DIY ethos, as users everywhere can submit examples of tactical urbanism from their own communities.
Tactical urbanism encompasses a wide spectrum of projects that are shaped in the unique contexts of our cities and communities. They often emerge in very different circumstances and for very different reasons. Some are completely individual and grassroots; others are inspired in collaboration with local non-profits. Here are four examples from the Uneven Growth exhibition that stood out to us and represent the diverse range of forms tactical urbanism can take.Quito, Ecuador
This making-of video shows how the Frida Project was built and how this “car” makes Quito’s streets brighter, more enjoyable places. Video from YouTube.
Many cities are currently grappling with rising rates of car ownership and over-dependency on private vehicles. Quito is something of an exception. Only 26 percent of residents use private cars as their primary mode of transport. The Frida Project takes advantage of this to reimagine the city’s streets as collective public spaces for people, not cars. Built with recycled materials and unskilled labor, “Frida” radically plays with our concept of what a vehicle is by substituting chairs and a communal table for an isolated transport experience. Frida is structured in the rough shape of a car, but transforms parking spots into human-centered public spaces—sort of like a mobile parklet.
As Frida’s creators note, “This car does not take you long distances, but instead takes in ideas, dreams, and relationships. Where it parks, instead of occupying space it provides a place for citizens.” After all, tactical urbanism often aims to challenge the impersonality of traditional design and make the city work for people.Istanbul, Turkey
Start the video at 1:45 to see residents of Istanbul’s Beyoglu District stop and check out the Kopfkino project. Video from Vimeo.
As many people increasingly rely on data-driven apps and platforms like Google Maps to navigate their cities, some skeptics have worried that our streets are losing their traditional element of chance, surprise, and mystery. Kopfkino (roughly, “head theater” in German) is a project to revitalize those aspects of the urban experience. Using a shopping cart as their base, a group of friends in Istanbul built a portable projector that casts users’ faces onto building facades when they peer into a laptop camera. Kopfkino invites the curious passerby to pause from his or her regular routine and discover a new experience in a familiar place.
DIY projects in public spaces like Kopfkino are popping up all over Turkey. However, unlike some other examples of tactical urbanism, Kopfkino likely wasn’t intended to be replicable or scalable. The point, however, is to challenge what it means to encounter other people in public space, and to revisit the idea that every city offers an individual and unique experience.Antofagasta, Chile
Situated on the Pacific coast in the far northern deserts of Chile, Antofagasta isn’t naturally brimming with green spaces. However, Ciudad Emergente—a Latin American non-profit that promotes tactical urbanism as a form of public participation—organized a community bike ride for collective tree planting earlier this year in order to raise awareness about the potential of urban greenery. Along the route, gray-water recycling workshops taught participants about irrigation and bottom-up maintenance.
Ciudad Emergente aims to empower neighborhood residents to take control of their public spaces, and to show how urban greenery can be about much more than top-down city beautification.Chengdu, China
After the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008 devastated an elementary school in Chengdu, the local education bureau needed a quick way to get students back in a stable learning environment. In a collaborative partnership between Shigeru Ban Architects from Japan and Chengdu’s community leaders, 120 Japanese and Chinese volunteers came together to design and construct temporary classrooms entirely out of paper tubes. By opting for cheap, recyclable, reusable, and readily available paper, the volunteers were able to build nine classrooms in about forty days.
Novel projects like this demonstrate how the flexible, responsive nature of tactical urbanism can provide effective disaster relief to cities in times of need.
Are tactical urbanism projects picking up steam where you live? Let us know in the comments!