Friday Fun: Three Cities Broadcasting Free Wi-Fi and Why This Is a Good Thing

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 09/04/2015 - 11:38am

The internet has rapidly changed the way that people connect with others, work, and live. Cities–like Taipei, Hong Kong, and Sao Paulo–are catering to this widespread demand for internet by broadcasting free Wi-Fi. (Photo: Antonio Tajuelo / Flickr)

From the way we learn and work, to the way we stay in contact with friends and loved ones, the internet has come to occupy a critical part of people’s lives across the world. And especially among younger generations, the internet is playing an increasingly large role in individuals’ everyday life— fulfilling everything from our entertainment to transport needs.

While slow to respond, some international organizations have begun formally recognizing the web’s crucial role in connecting the globe. In 2011, for example, the United Nations released a report that would change the way that countries think about internet access. In Frank La Rue’s Special Rapporteur, the UN labels the right to internet access a “human right,” stating:

“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states.”

Access to the web is by no means equally distributed. However, when it comes to connecting people through the internet, cities have long demonstrated leadership. Worldwide, cities have consistently ensured better internet accessibility rates and faster connections for users—and now, cities are taking internet access to a new level. To ensure that urban residents have access to the Internet, some cities have begun broadcasting free public Wi-Fi in city centers, transport hubs, and parks.

Public Wi-Fi’s Potential for Good

Free public Wi-Fi isn’t without its faults. Too often connections are slow, registration is clunky and inaccessible, and those who need it most—the working class—are typically lowest on cities’ priorities. However, speedy public internet does have advantages for cities:

  • Attracts both locals and tourists to hotspot areas, which is especially effective for government buildings, parks, and transport hubs. The increase in traffic can also help boost businesses located in these areas.
  • Allows low-income residents who are unable to afford a reliable broadband connection access to quality internet.
  • Public internet brings local governance and businesses into conversation around how public space is used, and creates collaborative partnerships between the two.
  • With the majority of public services moving online and onto mobile apps, public Wi-Fi allows citizens with mobile devices to access transport schedules, announcements, and emergency contact information.

Below are three cities taking advantage of these benefits:

Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan became one of the first countries to publicly broadcast free Wi-Fi on a large scale when it launched iTaiwan in 2011—a wireless network with more than 5,000 hotspots across the country. Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, has been particularly enthusiastic about implementing this program, opening hundreds of hotspots and reaching millions. Indeed, Taipei’s public Wi-Fi, called “Taipei Free,” recently celebrated a landmark, reaching more than 100 million registered accounts.

Users can locate Taipei’s Wi-Fi hotspots by going online and searching the city’s maps. (Graphic: Taipei City Government)

São Paulo, Brazil

Free public internet has long been a campaign promise from São Paulo’s mayoral candidates, but the idea only recently became a reality. Seizing the 2014 World Cup as a major opportunity for change, São Paulo’s mayor, Fernando Haddad, invested millions into an initiative that would create 120 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city. While the infrastructure behind this project took some time to complete, each of the city’s 96 districts now has at least one Wi-Fi access point. Furthermore, unlike many other public internet systems, São Paulo’s Wi-Fi doesn’t require any registration, making it open to all users.

Hong Kong

Living up to its “techie” reputation, Hong Kong’s government started offering free Wi-Fi in early 2008, providing services in all of the city’s 18 districts. Since then, Hong Kong has expanded public Wi-Fi services which are hosted by both the government and private companies, with platforms including: GovWiFi,  MTR WiFi, and PCCW hotspots. To band together disparate Wi-Fi providers, Hong Kong recently launched Wi-Fi.HK, which encourages private and public organizations to join the project to “make it easier for the public and visitors to find and use the free public Wi-Fi services in Hong Kong.”

What do you think? Should free public Wi-Fi be a goal for cities? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: Europe

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Source of Income

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 09/03/2015 - 8:57am

As landfills reach capacity in developing cities, organizations and governments are innovating new and sustainable methods of managing their waste. (Photo: Mr Thinktank / Flickr)

With massive population growth in store for cities across the Global South, the fact that many cities struggle to provide effective waste collection to serve the current population levels is worrying. Poor waste collection practices — such as the indiscriminate dumping of refuse due to inadequate equipment and insufficient (or even non-existent) separation of different types of trash — can have severe negative effects on the environment and urban residents’ health. In Lagos, Lilongwe, Mexico City, and Dhaka, a combination of government, non-profit, and business interests are working to revolutionize their cities’ trash collection, with a focus on engaging ordinary citizens in recycling and composting.

The Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is responsible for waste management across Lagos. Through public-private partnerships, the agency has modernized and formalized waste cart pushing, bringing informal waste collectors into the formal economy. Inner-city areas with narrow roads are now reached via mini skip trucks and automotive tricycles instead of wheelbarrows and push carts. This allows operators to collect more waste on fewer trips. It also adds ease and dignity to the process, and ensures proper disposal to official landfills since each operator is accountable to a regulating body that enforces good practices and monitors service delivery. Finally, LAWMA encourages women to get involved in the sector now that most collection has transitioned from intense cart pushing to automated activities.

Estimates show that the number of people living in Lilongwe will have more than doubled by 2030, yet even with the current population, the local authority can barely collect all of the waste that is generated: a 2008 study showed that the city could only collect and safely dispose of 30 percent of the city’s waste. In this context, women and young people, supported by the nonprofit sector, are seizing opportunities. Our World International is a local NGO working in Kawale, a traditional housing area in Lilongwe to mobilize women and youth to form waste entrepreneurship groups. Equipped with basic compost training, the entrepreneurs make compost manure and sell it to landscaping companies or individuals for use in gardens. While the motivation of the waste entrepreneurship groups is to earn a living, they are also cleaning up the city, especially in low-income areas with limited government collection services.

Disposing of solid waste is one of the biggest challenges in Mexico City. The government is pushing for a cultural change, urging residents to separate their waste, approximately 50 percent of which can be reused. Since 2012, the government of the Federal District has been implementing the Plan Verde (Green Plan) to encourage recycling. Under this plan, garbage trucks collect organic waste on certain days and inorganic waste on other days. Plan Verde also disseminates information about consumer habits, encouraging residents to buy products with the recycling emblem or made from natural materials like paper or glass. The plan recommends avoiding the purchase of overly-packaged products and limiting the amount of plastics used. Temporary market places have been installed in various locations around the city where residents can trade their recyclables using a points system they can then use to buy fresh produce.

With landfills in Dhaka reaching their full capacities, the municipality and community actors are working to improve the treatment of biodegradable waste, which represents 74 percent of the city’s waste. Waste Concern, a social business, has started a food composting program in Dhaka’s largest slums and residential areas to teach communities how to process food waste they can sell as compost. Large Indonesian composting drums were brought in to conceal the waste and minimize odor. Several families use one drum, and earn USD$12 per month from each compost drum. Waste Concern has also expanded to more affluent residential areas, with a similar door-to-door training and waste collection program. This program is done at a price that allows the organization to cross-subsidize its operations. Waste Concern is now in the process of formulating a larger integrated waste management program between 19 cities, including Dhaka, in cooperation with the city government.

Check out more of the discussion on cities as engines of change on and contribute your thoughts to the conversation.

This post was originally published on

Categories: Europe

From Amsterdam to Beijing: The Global Evolution of Bike Share

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 12:34pm

Despite being nearly 50 years old, bike share is only recently seeing widespread international growth. However, with better data and improved models, bike share’s future looks extremely bright. (Photo: LesHaines / Flickr)

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

In 1965, Amsterdam implemented what is now considered the first bike share system in history. Known as Witte Fietsen (“White Bikes” in English), the program collected bicycles, painted them white, and simply placed them on the streets for public use. However, without any payment system or dedicated locks, many of the bicycles were quickly damaged and stolen, bringing the project to a halt. While Witte Fietsen’s implementation seemed like a failure, the project was an important first step for bike share.

Due to this rough start, public bike share took years to become popular. Even in the 1990s—nearly thirty years later—bike share systems remained largely insignificant, not even reaching a total of ten worldwide.

It was only in the 2000s, and particularly within the last decade, that bike share would catch on. The transport mode grew from just 13 in 2004 to 855 in 2014—an increase of 6,477 percent. Today, the number of bicycles available through sharing programs is estimated at 946,000 bikes, most of which (750,000) are in China.

Although China has the greatest number of bike share systems for a single country (237 in total) the majority are located throughout Europe. And among all bike shares, Paris’s Vélib is the second-largest in the world. Currently, the French program has 1,205 stations and nearly 20,000 bikes that have helped make 253 million total trips – an average of 86,000 per day. In its 8 years of operation, Vélib recorded the highest rates of use in September of 2013, with each bike making 8 trips per day

Paris may have the largest bike share in the world—but its program is also perhaps the most creative. In June 2014, the city launched P’tit Vélib, an initiative providing bikes to children. These bikes come in four models designated for different age groups (each with their own uniquely colored helmet). The program not only makes cycling more accessible for a range of age groups, it also helps foster an open and inclusive bike culture.

A map of the Vélib stations located throughout Paris. (Graphic: Vélib Paris)

Outside of Europe and China, Brazil has also had success with bike share, with more than 20 cities having developed local systems. For example, Brasília and Sao Paulo boast the two largest programs, with 400 and 285 stations respectively. Also notable is Rio de Janeiro’s bike share, which in its four years of operation already accounts for 6.2 million total trips; São Paulo’s system, on the other hand, has only made 1.3 million trips.

The Importance of Open Data

Comprehensive, accurate data is critical for researchers and decision makers interested in knowing what makes a successful bike share system. As a result, an increasing number of think-tanks and civil society organizations are calling for open data from local governments so that the public can understand bike share’s impact.

One such study, Bikeshare: A Review of Recent Literature, was published in April of this year and collected global data on the expansion of bike share, who and how it is being used, and its impact on road safety. The researchers found that public bicycle share has reduced the number of kilometers traveled by motor vehicles in various cities across the globe.

In 2010, Oliver O’Brien, a researcher at the Department of Geography at UCL (University College London) working with digital cartography and data visualization, created a Bike Share Map. Updated in real time, the map shows the location of bike share stations in 150 cities across the world, and has become one of the easiest ways for users to get updated on information on their local bike programs.

Publications and tools like these allow decision makers to understand the dynamics of bike share systems and monitor travel patterns—ultimately enabling better urban and transport planning. Integrating bike share with other modes of transport is critical for sustainable urban mobility. An integrated system improves travel times and raises individuals’ quality of life.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

To Achieve its New Climate Goals, China Must Look to its Buildings

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 09/01/2015 - 9:35am

To  meet its emission goals, China should begin to reevaluate building efficiency with new technology and better financing. (Photo: Alexander Savin / Flickr)

China made international news earlier this summer when it announced a new pledge to peak its emissions by 2030, in addition to other climate commitments. The country laid out 15 specific actions as part of its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC). One in particular—curbing emissions from the buildings sector—offers significant potential for helping China achieve its new climate goals.

Emissions from the Building Sector

In 2011, buildings in China accounted for about 28 percent of total energy consumption. Driven by rapid urbanization and growth in the national building stock, energy consumption from the country’s buildings has increased by 40 percent since 1990. This trend is expected to continue, as China’s building energy use is projected to rise by 40 percent between 2009 and 2030 to accommodate the 1.7 billion square meters of new floor space being built annually. Buildings are the largest physical element in China’s cities, occupying 50 percent or more of urban land area.

The Chinese national government is currently implementing multiple policies and programs to promote building efficiency, such as codes and standards, a green building rating system, and financial incentives and retrofit options for existing buildings. China could achieve a 14 – 22 percent reduction in energy use and CO2 emissions among buildings simply by enforcing these energy codes. Yet the country will need to take even more action in its building sector in order to achieve the goals of its INDC and curb its emissions.

Building energy consumption levels and patterns vary across China because of the country’s diverse climate zones. Buildings in northeastern cities have high heating requirements, while those in southeastern cities have moderate requirements. These regional differences have a substantial impact on technology options for building efficiency improvement.  In addition to considering efficient technology options, Chinese policymakers and building owners will need new financial mechanisms to accelerate the adoption of efficient building technologies.

Driving Technological Innovation

One of the measures set out in the INDC aims to strengthen research and development, commercialization and demonstration for low-carbon technologies such as highly efficient heat pumps and energy efficient building envelopes. Doing so will help drive scientific and technological innovations that can replace inefficient building products and appliances.

China will need to cooperate with both domestic manufacturers, financial institutions and government agencies—as well as those in other countries—to support and expedite the commercialization and distribution of new efficient building technologies.

One example of bilateral cooperation is the Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). U.S.-China CERC was established in November 2009 to support the development of clean-energy technologies in the United States and China. More than 1,100 researchers supported by more than 100 U.S. and Chinese partnering universities, research institutions and business are currently working in building energy efficiency. For instance, the new Johnson Controls Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai, expected to open in 2017, is proposed as a “test bed” for U.S. and China CERC partners to demonstrate advanced low-carbon technologies such as integrated sensing and control networks, renewable energy resources and advanced air filtration systems. China will need to pursue more cooperative relationships like this, and then quickly scale up these successes in order to achieve its INDC target.

Scaling Up with Innovative Financing

Utilizing new financial mechanisms is essential to accelerating building efficiency in China, especially for retrofitting existing buildings. There isn’t enough public money to make China’s buildings fully efficient—bringing in external financial institutions is essential to bridge the gap between capital and projects. The country’s INDC commits it to innovate new investment and financing mechanisms for low-carbon development through increasing financial and policy support.

For example, the Energy Performance Contracting Working Group, part of the US-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG), focuses on performance contracting for energy efficiency. Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) is a renovation model where a building owner can work with energy services companies (ESCOs) to conduct building energy efficiency retrofits, in which the savings in energy costs cover the repayments for efficiency upgrades. The cooperation on ESPC is one of the three initial areas under the CCWG’s Energy Efficiency Initiative. There is significant room for ESCOs to expand ESPC in underserved sectors, such as public and commercial buildings in China, and industrial and commercial buildings in the United States.

Although meeting China’s target will be a challenge, leadership has demonstrated that it is becoming more ambitious in addressing climate change. Focusing on building efficiency will be a tremendous opportunity for China to achieve the goals set out in its INDC.

LEARN MORE: For updates on buildings as a solution for cities of the future subscribe to the Building Efficiency Initiative newsletter.

Categories: Europe

BRT Hits 400 Corridors and Systems Worldwide

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 08/31/2015 - 11:40am

Bus rapid transit recently hit a landmark in its recent exponential growth, highlighting its success as a new mode of transport. (Photo: Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil)

Last week, bus rapid transit (BRT) reached a global milestone, as the number of mapped BRT corridors and systems in’s database broke 400. As an online resource, BRTData compiles and tracks the development and progress of BRT projects globally. Additionally, the tool allows users to access data on infrastructure, performance, fleets, and road safety—equipping decision makers with the information they need to support local mobility solutions.

BRTData’s most recent update shows that there are now 402 mapped BRT corridors and bus lanes, stretching over 5229 kilometers worldwide. The significance of this figure is twofold: first, it shows that many cities worldwide are becoming increasingly interested in sustainable modes of transport; secondly, the figure is a reflection of the vast amount of free and accessible data that exists online to support the case for BRT.

BRT’s Recent Accelerated Growth

Every day, in 195 cities across the globe, nearly 33 million people use bus rapid transit.

Despite BRT’s international success and rapid growth rate, its origins are humble, and date back to 1974. Beginning in Curitiba, Brazil, BRT started as a small, local project designed by Mayor Jaime Lerner as an alternative to expensive mass transport projects. At its core, BRT was a push to make bus systems more effective and user-friendly.

As more cities continued to implement BRT systems, decision makers and residents alike began to realize the full range of benefits that BRT offers, fueling the transport mode’s expansion. Indeed, from 2004 to 2014, BRT nearly quadrupled in size, growing particularly fast in rapidly urbanizing countries such as China, Brazil, and Indonesia. However, even more promising is BRT’s future: 48 cities are currently expanding their BRT systems, while 141 more are constructing or planning new BRT projects. Overall, this success demonstrates cities’ dedication to sustainable transport and a growing shift away from personal vehicles. Moreover, this new data paves the way for better and more efficient BRT systems.

Why it Matters: How More BRT and Better Data Changes Urban Transport

Like any mass transport system, BRT isn’t perfect—but for some urban areas, BRT is decreasing congestion, improving air quality, and moving people through cities faster than ever. Consider, for example, Rio de Janeiro’s BRT system. Rio’s bus rapid transit system is particularly effective, serving 9 million people and saving 7.7 million hours every month. Each of the bus’s corridors—TransOeste (56 km) and TransCarioca (39 km)—replaces 126 cars on average, and consequently reduces CO2 emissions by 38 percent along these routes.

BRT has had similarly positive impacts in other cities. Research by WRI found that “In Istanbul, the average passenger on Metrobüs saved 28 workdays per year in reduced travel times.” Likewise, Bogotá, Colombia will save an estimated $288 million in avoided traffic injuries and fatalities due to its new BRT system, from 1998 to 2017. With the proper implementation and in the right environment, BRT is well positioned to transform and integrate public transport in efficient and cost-effective ways.

BRTData’s new landmark points to exciting new growth in BRT—but it’s the data behind this achievement that will effect the most change in urban transport. Indeed, one of the largest barriers BRT has had to overcome is the uncertainty cities face when attempting to implement it. Given how young this new form of transport is, adapting BRT to a city’s local context can be messy. In Delhi, India, for example, BRT has encountered unique challenges, such as major resistance from car owners, fierce competition with metro systems for funding, and lackluster public relations exacerbated by local media.

However, these difficulties are being recorded in online databases and BRT’s triumphs are being shared. The lack of data on BRT in diverse environments is being filled and made accessible thanks to tools like BRTData, and a record number of journals are publishing reports on bus rapid transit. Indeed, since Delhi’s rocky start, India has pushed ahead with BRT, learning from past challenges and implementing best practices going forward.

With 141 cities currently planning or constructing new BRT systems, online data is key for ensuring that this new transport mode sees even greater success in the future.

Created in 2012, BRTData is an online tool produced by the BRT Center of Excellence – Across Latitudes and Cultures (ALC-BRT CoE) and EMBARQ, sustainable urban mobility by WRI, in collaboration with the Latin American Association of Integrated Systems and BRT (SIBRT)  and the International Agency for Energy (IEA).

Categories: Europe

Deventer: An efficient route for cycling in a city which has much to offer.

Hembrow - Sat, 08/29/2015 - 4:34am
A few days ago, Ranty Highwayman wrote about visiting Deventer. He covered the central streets quite well, but unfortunately, the central streets are not where you find the best developed cycling infrastructure in that city. Therefore, I've brought forward a long overdue blog post about Deventer, including a long video which I shot back in April 2014 just after a new cycle route had opened. David Hembrow
Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Three Cities Innovate Solutions for Tackling Water Scarcity

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 12:56pm

As cities face increasing populations and long periods of drought, urban areas are being forced to innovate new ways to produce clean water. (Photo: David Berkowitz / Flickr. Slightly modified from original)

Today marks the end of World Water Week in Stockholm, where experts from across the globe convene to discuss the world’s water issues. To further explore water stress across the globe, take a look at the interactive maps and resources of Aqueduct, a signature initiative of WRI.

Accompanied by record high temperatures, regions across the globe are currently facing life-threatening periods of drought—the U.N., for example, estimates that a total of 1.2 billion people across the globe live in areas with water scarcity. To ensure reliable access to water, it is essential that cities, home to 54 percent of the world’s population, innovate new ways to improve their water supply.

While there’s no perfect solution to water scarcity, some cities are seeing success by using new technology and bringing down consumption. Below are three cities gaining traction in the fight against water scarcity:

Los Angeles, California

The City of Angels recently made headlines for releasing 96 million shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir. These small black spheres cover the surface of a body of water to slow evaporation, conserving water. The dark coloring and expansive coverage of the balls mitigates evaporation by absorbing the sun’s rays at the surface of the water—providing “shade” for the water beneath.

Like any new program, the shade ball approach has been criticized by some, but it’s a bold, concerted effort for a state which recently endured the driest three-year period in its recorded history (2012-2014). Overall, California’s conservation efforts have had encouraging results. California mandated a reduction of water use by 25 percent by February 2016, and is on track to exceed that figure, having reduced consumption by 31.3 percent in July.


Singapore has long faced a water crisis. The small city-state of five million people relies on four main sources of water: importation, desalination plants, rainwater collection and, most intriguing, the recycling of sewage water (or “recycled water”). Wastewater undergoes a four-step reverse osmosis process which removes all contaminants and toxins, creating clean, potable water.

Despite the safety of recycled water, many refuse to drink it because of the source: waste. However, Singapore is tackling this challenge through strong branding and educational outreach, including a NEWater Visitor Centre.

Qingdao, China

Qingdao, a seaside city in China’s Shandong Province, is home to nearly 9 million residents and faces high water demand. To meet its water needs, the city constructed a massive desalination plant with the capacity to produce enough water for 500,000 residents every day. Similar to Singapore’s purification methods, the plant uses reverse osmosis to filter ocean water, stripping it of salt and other impurities.

Desalination may appear like a simple way for coastal cities to generate drinking water, but in reality, the process is incredibly expensive, energy-intensive and harms marine life. In spite of this, many water-scarce cities use desalination as a primary source for water out of necessity. Ideally, if a city relies on desalination, the water plants should only be used in case of emergencies and should be powered by renewable energy.

Unfortunately, water scarcity is expected to increase over the coming decades due to growing populations, rising water consumption and climate change. A recent analysis by WRI found that 33 countries are likely to face extremely high water stress by 2040 – just 25 years away. Technology and innovation will be key to addressing this serious issue, and cities across the globe will be vital in implementing safe, sustainable and cost-sensitive solutions.

Categories: Europe

Accelerating Building Efficiency Improvements in Latin America

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 9:50am

To decrease energy consumption, cities in Latin America–such as Mexico City–are launching new initiatives to boost the energy efficiency of their buildings. (Photo: Joseph Wingenfeld / Flickr)

Energy efficiency improvements in the building sector can yield significant financial and environmental benefits including reduced energy costs, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, improved occupant health and increased local employment.  However, long standing market and policy barriers stand in the way of achieving these potential benefits at scale.  Latin America, facing increasing populations in urban cities, could reduce global energy demand by one-third if available energy efficiency best practices were implemented widely.  A number of recent initiatives are helping to accelerate energy efficiency programs in in Latin American cities.

The UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Building Efficiency Accelerator is an international, multi-stakeholder network devoted to helping cities and sub-national governments speed up the adoption of best-practice building efficiency policies and double their rate of energy efficiency improvement.  The network also includes a number of corporate and NGO partners that cover a range of technical competencies across the building design, construction, operations and retrofit life cycle.   The World Resources Institute (WRI) Building Efficiency Initiative serves as the managing partner for the Building Efficiency Accelerator and leads a broad coalition of partners including ICLEI, the World Green Building Council, WBCSD and others in coordinating engagements in Latin America and around the world.

At the 2014 Climate Summit, Mexico City announced a commitment to the SE4ALL Building Efficiency Accelerator with goals to adopt a local energy code and undertake a retrofit of public buildings.  The WRI Building Efficiency Initiative and WRI’s Mexico affiliate CTS EMBARQ are leading the Mexico City engagement.  In March 2015, a multi-stakeholder workshop was convened where over 100 participants from local technical organizations, businesses and federal ministries met with the city, SE4All leaders and international delegates.  In April, the partners formed four working groups co-chaired by Mexico City and a local partner.  These groups meet every few weeks and conduct technical workshops to complete the recommendations which will be presented to the Mexico City government in September 2015.

In June, the Global Green Growth Forum held their Latin American and Caribbean meeting in Santiago, Chile where building efficiency policy challenges and market solutions were discussed during a session on the SE4ALL Building Efficiency Accelerator.  Christina Gamboa, Executive Director and CEO of the Colombia Green Building Council described the implementation challenges facing the region and the opportunity to promote building efficiency solutions that are attractive to both business and governments.  Manuel Olivera, C40 regional director, then described the work they are doing with 11 cities in Latin America to improve public buildings, private buildings and transportation systems.

The session included participants from the public-sector, private-sector and civil society who collaborated to prioritize a number of building efficiency policies based on importance and difficulty of implementation.  Building efficiency financing was considered very important, but relatively difficult to implement, while building energy codes and building certifications were nearly as important but easier to implement.  A major recommendation coming out of the session was to focus on intermediate sized cities in Latin America with populations from 500,000 to 2 million.  These cities often have committed leadership, less bureaucracy, limited capacity and receive less support from international organizations.

On September 9-10, the Colombia Green Building Council will host CONSTRUVERDE in Bogota where a similar session will be held to explore opportunities for the SE4ALL Building Efficiency Accelerator to engage with additional cities in Colombia and Latin America.  For additional information on the SE4ALL Building Efficiency Accelerator, please join us in Bogota at CONSTRUVERDE, register for an upcoming WRI/ICLEI webinar on September 1, or view a previously recorded webinar.

This article was originally published on

Categories: Europe

New Rules of the Road in Mexico City

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 1:44pm

To improve road safety and protect pedestrians, Mexico City is ushering in new street designs, improving enforcement strategies, and slowing traffic. (Photo: CarlosVanVegas / Flickr)

This week, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera celebrated the Day of the Pedestrian by announcing strong new policies to reduce speed limits and to increase penalties for dangerous driving. In doing so, he ushered in a new era of traffic safety in Mexico City.

Mayor Mancera’s actions reflect a growing global recognition of road safety as global health crisis. Around the world, 1.24 million people die in car crashes annually, including 1,100 in Mexico City in 2012—an average of three people killed every day. According to the World Health Organization, road traffic injuries are expected to become the seventh leading cause of death globally by 2030. The tragedy is that each traffic death is preventable. As we saw in New York City over the last decade and in our ongoing work with cities around the world, lives can be saved through strong road safety laws and increased enforcement. Yet nearly 85 percent of nations globally don’t have adequate traffic laws to help counter traffic deaths and injuries.

Mexico City joins world class cities like New York and London in addressing the number-one killer on its streets: speeding. It may seem strange to limit speeding on roads that are frequently clogged with traffic, but statistics show that large streets account for more than 50 percent of the pedestrian fatalities in Mexico City. The difference in 20 km/h in speed can be the difference between life and death, which is why lowering speed limits on primary roads from 70 to 50 km/h will save lives. And even a moment of distraction can take a life, which is why texting or making calls while driving must be treated as a serious threat to the safety of everybody on the street.

The mayor’s team began the process of making streets safer by redesigning Avenida Eduardo Molina and Avenida 20 de Noviembre. Safe street designs accompany all new Metrobus lines, including accessible sidewalks, protected bicycle paths and dedicated bus lanes. In addition, dozens of dangerous intersections are being redesigned and new pedestrian crossings are now underway. Mayor Mancera has also taken the bold step of committing Mexico City to Vision Zero—and the principle that no number of traffic fatalities is acceptable.

Unfortunately, the fact that you can kill someone with your car doesn’t make people drive safer. Cities must also have adequate penalties and an enforcement system to adequately deter reckless behavior. That’s why Mayor Mancera is bringing Mexico City in line with international norms, and listening to global road safety organizations that call for fines that reflect the danger these kinds of driving pose.

New designs, new speed limits, stronger enforcement—these kinds of bold moves have made streets safer in cities around the world. They are part of a whole process of engineering, enforcement and education necessary so that generations learn that traffic deaths are not an inescapable part of daily life.

This article was originally published on

Categories: Europe

How Two Community Groups Are Successfully Fostering Bike Culture in Brazil

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 12:59pm

To create a strong biking culture, organizations in Brazilian cities are creating community bike shops and teaching beginners how to safely bike in dense, urban areas. (Photo: Upslon / Flickr)

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

In an interview with Carta Capital, Chris Carlsson—one of the creators of the critical mass movement in the United States—commented on cycling, saying:

“The bicycle is a transport mode in a literal sense. It helps people reach from point A to point B, which is a simple non-political reality. But one can decide whether to commute by train, car, bus, walking, jumping or flying to point B. That is a political decision”

Indeed, by relying on cycling as a primary mode of transport, one sends the message that s/he supports greener transport, refuses to spend thousands every year on a personal vehicle, and avoids contributing to congestion.

It is this dedication to a more sustainable future that is bringing individuals together around cycling. In Brazilian cities, for example, biking culture is steadily growing, with an increasing amount of cyclists hitting the roads. Below are a few initiatives that are successfully inspiring both current and future cyclists and fostering a strong bike culture in Brazilian cities.

Creating a Communal Space for Cyclists

From 2010 to 2013, the initiative Cidade da Bicicleta (“Bike City”, in English) created a collective space in Porto Alegre for residents to discuss urban mobility and cycling activism. Over its three years, Bike City (BC) hosted lectures, film screenings, activist meetings, parties, and other activities, in addition to its community workshop. As a community space, the workshop provided expertise on bicycle maintenance, and helped individuals repair their bikes.

Despite ending formal operations two years ago, BC has since been fighting for its revival. For months, cyclists of the community engaged in conversations and sent letters to city leaders demanding land for a permanent BC location. In response, the mayor of Porto Alegre, José Fortunatti, signed Decree No. 18682 on June 10, 2014, ceding an area of 674.50 m² for a new Community Workshop. The legislation was a watershed moment for the group, granting them the space they needed.

Financing a New Bike City

With their first victory now behind them, BC faces an even tougher challenge: ensuring that their work has funding. Their goal is to raise around $30,000, which will allow them to immediately reopen the Community Workshop and implement the first phase of its activities. To raise the funds, the group is launching a financing campaign on Catarse, a Brazilian crowdfunding platform.

With a large following of supporters and activists, BC is optimistic that it will be up and serving the local community soon. Meanwhile, however, BC lives on through the programs that it inspired and helped establish.

One initiative created inside  BC is Mobicidade (the Association for Urban Mobility on Bicycle), which supports public policies that encourage non-motorized modes of transport. One of the organization’s recent initiatives was the creation of the app “Can you go through?”, which maps intersections in Porto Alegre and assesses how safe they are for pedestrians. Residents can go online to individually rank crosswalks and provide suggestions for improvement.

Making Cycling Accessible for Beginners

Many of us take for granted the ability to ride a bike. But for those living in large and congested cities who have never cycled, it is often difficult to start learning. Especially as residents grow older, some give up the desire to learn how to cycle altogether.

But one organization is showing people that it’s never too late. A group called Bike Anjo (Bike Angel, in English) is spreading throughout Brazil and teaching individuals how to bike, which  routes to take, and instructing residents on proper road safety. A volunteer network, the organization is composed of experienced cyclists who have dedicated themselves to teaching beginners.

Born in 2010, Bike Angel has around 250 volunteers across Brazil, and has successfully financed its work through crowdfunding. To coordinate operations, the group has an online platform for facilitating communication between volunteers and residents.

The collective also runs a more formal school program that periodically holds classes in Brazilian cities, typically on weekends. On its website, you can check the schedule of classes, request a Bike Angel in your city, or volunteer as an instructor.

In addition to classes and volunteer programs, Bike Angel has launched a number of initiatives in Brazil, such as Bike to Work Day, urban mobility workshops, and training sessions. For more information on their operations, check out their YouTube channel.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

President Obama’s Challenge to Cities: An Opportunity for Global Climate Action

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 08/25/2015 - 4:34pm

President Obama’s recent announcement of new clean energy initiatives is a major opportunity for galvanizing climate action at a global level. Photo by United Nations/Flickr.

Yesterday, the number of US cities pledging to reduce emissions with the Compact of Mayors nearly doubled. With 19 cities in the U.S. already signed onto the Compact—a global coalition of mayors dedicated to climate action—this most recent move brings the total to 34.

But President Obama has signaled that more can and needs to be done, publicly challenging all Mayors to commit to a climate action plan before COP later this year and setting a goal of having 100 US cities signed onto the Compact by the end of November. City leaders not only in the U.S. but around the world should take up the President’s challenge and sign onto the Compact of Mayors, reinforcing the global voice for a low-carbon future.

The 15 cities—from Atlanta and Chicago to New York and Seattle—that announced their commitment yesterday demonstrated great leadership. While a critical step in the right direction, this development also represents an opportunity for cities both in the U.S. and globally to commit to climate action. By joining the Compact of Mayors, city leaders gain a valuable platform for launching measures to reduce emissions, track progress, and learn from one another. The more cities that join, the stronger the message that a universal agreement on climate change is not only necessary, but within reach.

Action Today for a Low-Carbon Economy Tomorrow

The challenge yesterday came alongside President Obama’s unveiling of new executive actions on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Ranging from investments in solar technology to partnerships with non-profits and the private sector, these actions are part of a comprehensive vision for a low-carbon economy. In fact, recent research from the New Climate Economy shows that addressing climate change now is an opportunity for achieving this vision and spurring economic growth.

Clean energy isn’t simply a matter of developing innovative technology—this is a first step. Both cities and individual consumers often face significant challenges accessing sustainable means of financing energy efficiency improvements. Making it easier for cities, building owners, and homeowners alike to tap into funds is critical for reducing emissions. This is one reason why President Obama’s executive actions and private sector commitments—including $1 billion for additional loan guarantees—represent such a major step forward.

Building momentum toward the climate negotiations in Paris requires action from all levels. However, with cities accounting for approximately 75 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 85 percent of global GDP, action at the city-level is imperative. Given the extraordinary costs of failing to act, the time to invest for a sustainable future is now.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities contributed to establishing the Compact of Mayors, under the leadership of the world’s leading city networks, including C40, ICLEI, UCLG, and other partners. Already, 107 cities, plus the new 15 cities, representing over 200 million people, have committed to the Compact of Mayors.

Categories: Europe

From Ideas to Implementation: How to Improve Capacity for Better Public Leaders

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 08/25/2015 - 9:58am

One key element of good urban governance is institutional capacity. Local governments need to be well-equipped and well-trained in order to effectively implement green policies and programs. (Photo: Nico Borges / Flickr)

How do we make cities work for people? As a WRI Helms Fellow on Urban Governance and Sustainable Cities, Maria Antonia Tigre was tasked with answering this question. Through From ideas to implementation: making sustainable cities through governance here on TheCityFix, Maria will draw on her field research in two Brazilian cities—Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—to explore the key governance gaps in urban planning, law, public policy, and institutions. Each part of the series will examine how reforms to urban governance can ensure that city-level decision making is transparent, inclusive, and accountable.

When I was in law school, roughly 80 percent of my classmates wanted to be in public service. While with good intentions, many of these individuals sought out public service primarily for its promise of a stable career and good salary—instead of an eagerness to serve the public. As I would learn years later, one of the main problems affecting institutional capacity in Brazil is the lack of vocation for public service.

Challenges Facing Institutional Capacity in Brazil

Public service is a demanding field with challenges on both the individual and institutional level. On the individual level, many public servants are simply not prepared for the responsibilities that the job thrusts upon them.  This is not the fault of the workers themselves, but is a problem with Brazil’s hiring and training process. Indeed, to become a public servant, citizens must prepare for and pass a standardized test that is too theoretical. As a result, once in office, many officials find it difficult to apply what they learned in training to the everyday demands of their jobs.

Furthermore, when these individuals make mistakes, it is often extremely difficult to hold them responsible for their actions. This is because many public servants are guaranteed stability for life once they pass the entrance exam; consequently, officials are fired only in the most egregious of cases.

On the institutional side, government personnel often face insufficient budgets and lack critical resources, such as computers and advanced technology. The combination of poor resources and a lack of internal communication means that the tools at government officials’ disposal are regularly subpar.

In order to address these issues, developing countries need improved institutional capacity. But how do we do create capable, better-equipped public officials?

Three Steps to Improving Institutional Capacity

Improving institutional capacity is challenging at best. At worst, it can require a shift of an entire system, enormous political will, or a lot of money and time. However, there are more expeditious steps available that address many of the problems associated with institutional capacity:

1)  Diversifying and Reprioritizing Funds: Unfortunately, many cities find themselves struggling to provide basic public services, as they face insufficient budgets and growing populations, which strain existing programs. Therefore, the first and perhaps most difficult solution is to seek out diverse funding sources.

  • One option is to decentralize basic services; for example, Brazil has had some success in privatizing electricity and airports. In addition, governments can cut spending on discretionary expenses that don’t require a change in law, like unnecessary social programs.
  • While governments are often suspicious of outside financial assistance, being transparent and consulting external sources is an effective way to receive feedback on budget changes. For example, reaching out to local university scholars, like New York City has, may be helpful in finding alternative ways to balance a budget.

2)  Internal Communication: Government officials often lack effective pathways for open communication. Establishing these connections is a twofold process:

  • Cities must ensure that dialogues between government officials, departments, and city stakeholders are taking place. Cross-pollination between teams is a highly effective way to optimize resources and avoid duplicated or contradictory work. This could be accomplished by hiring or designating staff to periodically communicate between departments and share information.
  • Knowledge and data should be systematically distributed and decentralized so that local governments can learn from one another. One way to achieve this is by systematizing information or creating open source data, like the Open Innovation Initiative.

3)  Training: While structural change can be difficult to do, implementing better training programs can be a quick and relatively easy way to bolster institutional capacity. For example, by attending training sessions developed by universities, public servants can learn about new technology and learn more effective ways to go about their daily tasks. Training has been proven essential to motivating employees and making sure they have the technical know-how to perform their jobs.

While building institutional capacity can require a lot of effort, having a well-trained and well-equipped staff is key for good governance. Indeed, sustainable cities are not just about combating pollution and greening public spaces, but also creating a local government that is self-sufficient and responsive to the needs of its people.

Improving Institutional Capacity is part four in our series From Ideas to Implementation. Click to read: part one here; part two; part three.

Categories: Europe

Jaime Lerner: Innovating in Brazil and the Future of Urban Transport

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:44am

Former mayor of Curitiba Jaime Lerner talks about his experience implementing a new BRT system and shares his ideas about the future of urban transport. (Photo: Columbian Ministry of TIC / Flickr)

Jaime Lerner, a three-term mayor of Curitiba, turned the city into a model for quality public transport. In the 1970s, for example, Lerner created bus priority corridors—a new transport mode that was cheaper than metro but just as effective.

Jaime Lerner will attend the Mayors´ Summit on September 9, in Rio de Janeiro. The event, which brings together hundreds of mayors across the globe, aims to inspire leaders to overcome public obstacles with creativity and improve quality of life in cities.

The Mayors´ Summit is part of EMBARQ Brasil’s ten year anniversary celebration, which also includes the Cities & Transport International Congress on September 10-11. At the Summit, more than 80 speakers will lead interactive discussions and share ideas for creating innovative solutions for cities. Interested participants can register at

Below is the WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil interview with Jaime Lerner:

You were the great mind behind the priority bus system in Curitiba. Currently, BRT systems have also been launched in Rio, Belo Horizonte and Brasília. Over 200 priority bus system projects are underway in Brazil and have been implemented in more than 190 cities around the world. How do you feel seeing this system spread?

Jaime Lerner – I feel gratified and challenged to help this idea expand because we must move forward. It comes down to identifying the system, and creating more and more networks. I believe that this—along with vehicle upgrades—is a necessary step to continuously improving the quality of public transport. Some cities are already doing this with success, others less so. In short, prioritizing public transport is vital.

You always emphasize that large sums of money are not required to change cities. Which initiatives would you highlight to demonstrate this? What cities were able to completely change with little money?

JL – Good examples include Bogotá, Mexico City, Seoul, Istanbul, and—starting now—Rio. The idea is that innovations are not restricted to dedicated lanes. We still have a long way to go. Our main concern should be to deliver a quality public transport system without sacrificing entire generations by keeping costs low. It is essential that things happen quickly, because innovating is about starting now and making inroads.

What lessons have you learned as mayor?

JL – I’ve learned that the planning process is a path that needs a goal, but you have to give the population space to correct you when you’re not on the right track. The important thing is to start. Start and continuously improve. Innovating is about starting.

By pushing ahead and working with local leaders, Lerner was able to implement an innovative BRT system for the citizens of Curitiba. (Photo: Fabio Mascarenhas / Flickr)

What were the major obstacles you faced when putting innovative projects into practice?

JL – It has always been the reaction to new things. It’s a normal reaction. It’s important to start, because when people who resist new proposals see the effect of a new transport line or a project, they change sides; they come to understand how important it is. The greater the barrier, the greater the support that comes later when people are convinced that you took the right path.

How do you imagine the cities of the future?

JL – I don’t think the cities of the future will look like they’re depicted in Flash Gordon or Blade Runner, because cities today are not much different from cities 300 years ago. However, what has significantly changed are employment generators. Today, they are fewer in number, service areas have increased and industries are smaller and closer to home. This change is extremely relevant. Another aspect is that cities of the future cannot be car-dependent, as cars will no longer be the primary mode of urban transport. Cars are the cigarette of the future. Of course you’ll still have a car, but the way you use it will be different. You’ll use it to travel, for leisure—but for everyday transport in a city you’ll have to rely on a good public transport system and the combination of multiple transport modes.

What statement or idea would you like to share with the world?

JL – If you want creativity, cut a zero from your budget; if you want sustainability, cut two zeros from your budget; if you want solidarity, own your identity and respect the identity of others.

About the Mayors’ Summit: Hear from over 80 experts about successful strategies and best practices for making innovative and sustainable urban solutions work on the ground. Join as Jaime Lerner, Ken Livingstone, Enrique Peñalosa, Mary Jane Ortega, and other internationally recognized mayors speak about their experiences. See more and register at, and use #CTBR2015 on Twitter.

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Three Cities that Are Transforming Public Space with Street Pianos

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 1:10pm

The “Play Me, I’m Yours” project has reached more than 40 cities world wide, and continues to install pianos in urban communities. (Photo: Keegan Jones / Flickr)

When walking in downtown Hangzhou, China, one can safely expect to see a healthy variety of pedestrians, traffic, and commercial high rises.  Dig a little deeper, however, and you may also find locals and tourists belting out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on a rainbow-colored piano next to the Hangzhou Theatre.

Fortunately for music lovers, this scene isn’t an anomaly. Thanks to an art installment called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” these seemingly impromptu sessions of casual piano playing have been happening in cities across the globe, including Sao Paulo, Santiago, and Mexico City. Created by British artist Luke Jerram in 2008, “Play Me, I’m Yours” is an initiative that installs publicly accessible pianos in major cities by coordinating with residents and local art institutes. Once a location is found and a piano is installed, local artists are invited to transform the musical instrument into a work of art with whatever resources they have.

As a whole, the project operates at the intersection of art, music, and urban space to foster a sense of community and inspiration that can positively impact neighborhoods. Indeed, each piano even has a dedicated page on the organization’s website, allowing individuals to share their stories and connect with others in the area. Furthermore, after weeks of being open for public use, each piano is donated to a school or local group at the community’s discretion.

Below are three cities where “Play Me, I’m Yours” set up pianos along streets with great success:

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beginning its legacy in 2008, Sao Paulo was the first South American city to install the street pianos, and remains the only Brazilian city to have worked with the project.  Since 2008, over 13 pianos have invaded the streets, markets, and parks of the city, reaching thousands of people—and creating stories.

In an interview, Jerram recalled coming “…across a mother and daughter at a train station. The mother worked as a cleaner for four years — a piano over there costs $4,000 which is a year’s wage for a lot of people — so she never heard her daughter play. She’d been paying for all these lessons over four years but never heard her daughter because they didn’t have access to a piano. [Her daughter] sat down and played the most amazing piano.”

A young girl playing in Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo. (Photo: Street Pianos)

Hangzhou, China

Hangzhou, China partnered with the initiative in 2012 and installed 18 pianos which were decorated by students of the China Academy of Art. To jumpstart the city-wide project, Hangzhou held a launch ceremony featuring performances by residents and Li Yundi, the winner of the 2000 International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition. After being publicly available for ten days, the pianos were given to local schools for music programs.

A man reads sheet music from his electronic device outside the Hangzhou Theatre. (Photo: Street Pianos)

Mexico City, Mexico

In 2014, Mexico City used the project as an opportunity to band together The Ministry of Culture of Mexico City and Crescendi—a civil society group dedicated to promoting the arts—to customize 20 pianos for public use. After strategically placing the pianos across the city, the groups held lectures and talks to encourage individuals to become more involved with the music community.  Leonardo Miron, the director of Crescendi, noted that “anyone who visits these places and encounters a piano can…discover his musical talent,” signaling their aspirations for community engagement.

Why this Matters for Cities

While this art project has impacted millions of city dwellers across the globe, “Play Me, I’m Yours” more importantly demonstrates how public spaces in urban areas can be used to develop communities and connect residents. Indeed, the art installment has grown from a small piano lending program to a global initiative that brings local governments and residents into a conversation about how to manage public events.

To get “Play Me, I’m Yours” to come to your city, click here.

Categories: Europe

The 7 Features of a Successful BRT Station

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 12:24pm

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is transforming the way cities across the globe think about mobility. However, a successful BRT system needs well-designed stations in order to attract users and meet their needs (Photo: Mariana Gil / EMBARQ Brasil)

Have you ever ridden Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?

First implemented in Brazil, this relatively new mode of transport can be found in 194 cities around the world and is proving to be an effective and viable solution for urban mobility challenges. Unlike more traditional bus systems, BRT operates in exclusive, designated lanes, and often has greater capacity, a unique ticketing system, trackable real-time information and, perhaps most importantly: a station.

The station is the user’s gateway to the system. Acting as the face of the service, BRT stations offer citizens a host of benefits that traditional bus stops simply cannot. Indeed, stations can have a big impact on how successful a BRT system is.

Below are seven critical components of a well-designed BRT station:

1. Universal Accessibility

Curitiba’s BRT system. (Photo: Mariana Gil / EMBARQ Brasil)

Making stations universally accessible makes it easier for everyone to enter and exit a BRT station, but services should particularly focus on assisting individuals with disabilities. Indeed, because people with disabilities often face restricted mobility, making public transport easily accessible  is vital for making urban spaces open to everyone. To achieve this, both the station and the surrounding area should be equipped to accommodate individuals with diverse sets of needs, allowing them to access the station autonomously and safely. In addition to internal amenities, roads, sidewalks and crosswalks leading to the station can also improve accessibility.

2. Amenities

Waiting for the bus can be boring—but stations can become more engaging by offering a variety of services. Amenities at BRT stations can include: (i) passenger information systems, (ii) comfort services (trash cans, benches, air conditioning, Wi-Fi) and (iii) security systems (internal and external lighting, security cameras). Upgrading to full-equipped BRT stations completely transforms the bus experience, attracting more users and making public transport friendlier to both tourists and new customers.

3. Station-Vehicle Interaction

BRT MOVE in Belo Horizonte. (Photo: Louise Zottis / EMBARQ Brasil)

There are four main factors which, when all present, guarantee that boarding and exiting a bus is a safe and efficient experience for all passengers. These are: (i) an appropriate ceiling height, (ii) minimal distance between the vehicle and the station platform, (iii) proper alignment between station and bus doors and (iv) extending the station’s coverage.

4. Station Capacity

BRT station in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Mariana Gil / EMBARQ Brasil)

Each BRT station should be able to accommodate waiting passengers and circulate people arriving and departing. Anticipating the number of daily users is key for a good design.

5. Basic Infrastructure

Construction work in Brasília. (Photo: Mariana Gil / EMBARQ Brasil)

Stations should be constructed in areas where water, sewage, and electrical infrastructure is readily accessible. In addition, decision makers should creatively explore ways to make projects more sustainable.  For example, rainwater reservoirs can be set up in or near stations to save on water usage, and solar panels can be installed on roofs to power amenities. One such project even won the Young Scientist Award in 2011 for its implementation of photovoltaic panels on stations.

6. Building Materials

TransOeste station under construction in Rio (Photo: City Hall).

As with any public construction project, BRT stations may suffer from vandalism and misuse. Consequently, decision makers should use materials that inhibit vandalism to preserve the image of BRT and keep stations safe. Anticipating these problems can reduce the future costs of station maintenance.

7. Maintenance of Stations

Inside the MOVE station in Belo Horizonte. (Photo: Louise Zottis / EMBARQ Brasil)

Simply put, stations should be built to be maintained. Stations with a variety of services often demand more complex and expensive maintenance strategies, since maintenance can also impact system efficiency. Therefore, this step should be always be considered in the design stage.

A Checklist for Cities

BRT systems are rapidly expanding in both Brazil and across the globe. To assess whether new stations contain these essential characteristics, Virginia Bergamaschi TavaresLuis Antonio Lindau  and Guillermo Petzhold from WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil produced a report called The BRT Station: An Analysis Of Features And Components For Its Qualification to serve as an assessment tool.

In short, the tool is a checklist for BRT stationsIt contains four main criteria (accessibility, amenities, station-vehicle design and interface) and gives both existing and future stations clearly defined standards for comparison. Download the research here.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

My City Sucks and it's Great

Copenhagenize - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 5:19am
When I am doing keynotes or interviews I describe the mainstream aspect of our bicycle culture as being nothing more than Vaccuum Cleaner culture. Like bikes, we all have one, we all use it but they are just tools to make our daily life easier. No fetishizing, no naming of inanimate objects, no vaccum cleaning clothes.Our city sucks in other ways in other ways. Almost every day I'm reminded of just how much it sucks. And I love it.I enlisted The Lulu to show how we get rid of our household garbage. Because it's pretty cool. Firstly, as The Lulu's photo clearly demonstrates, we use small bags for daily waste. Nothing bigger than this will do.When we chuck our garbage, we do it in the morning, as we head for school and work. We pass one of the four bike sheds in our backyard.We end up at this little building - there are two of them in the backyard - with this round chute. That's why we have to use small bags - the chute just ain't big enough for bigger bags.Open chute and insert bag. Boom, baby. The bag slides down into an underground container and that is the last we see of it. But that's where it gets cool.Out on the sidewalk, outside the backyard, about 60 metres away, this cylinder stands all quiet and sentinal. An unassuming addition to the street.We never see the elusive "sugebil" or "suck truck" if you like, but it will roll up to the cylinder, unlock it and attach a badass vaccum to the top. Hit the switch and all the garbage in the two underground containers are sucked into the truck at a speed of up to 70 km/h.It's over in under two minutes, with a minimum of noise and fuss. Call me urbanist geeky, but I get a kick out of this. But I've been looking into this lately and I've found out that there are 240 of these systems in Denmark, sucking garbage from 27,000 flats. Not surprisingly, most of them are in the densely-populated cities.Many of the systems suck garbage from multiple backyards at once, from much farther distances than ours. Be still my urbanist heart. The advantages are many. I assume it's more cost-efficient to do this rather than have garbage men traipse in and out of countless backyards dragging wheeled containers behind them. I certainly don't miss the early morning noise waking me prematurely up. Eliminating smells is certainly a bonus. We have a big problem with rats in Copenhagen, so this kind of system separates them from the garbage, too.Most of these systems are retrofitted in the backyards with a simple cut and cover operation to install the pipes and lead them out of the backyard through the gateways. These are sucked up by the trucks. There are also apartments built in the 1970s and 1980s where the garbage chutes are installed in the stairways and the garbage is collected in a container in the basement. Sometimes a truck will suck from there, other times the garbage is first sucked to a larger container, after which it is picked up by trucks.I quickly got sucked into learning more about this system that I have taken for granted for years. It turns out that all the garbage in the picture postcard area of Copenhagen called Nyhavn is now rigged with this kind of system. Which is awesome.It also turns out that this system was developed in the early 1960s in Sweden and was first implemented in a hospital - Sollefteå Sjukhus - in 1961. It is still in use today with many of the original parts. In 1965, the first housing development installed a system - Ör-Hallonbergen in Sundbyberg, Sweden. Again, it's still working fine today and has become the largest housing area with garbage sucking in Sweden. While writing this I was trying to figure out what to call garbage sucking. You know, for the Americans. Sucking would probably be deemed socially unacceptable, rude and politically incorrect. It's "affaldssug" in Danish. Garbage suck. What about "Vacuumed Waste Removal System"? Oh, nevermind.By all accounts, a Swedish company named Envac sits comfortably on the Garbage Sucking Throne. They invented it and they have mastered it. They now have 700 installations in over 30 countries. Most are in Sweden and Denmark and the other Nordic countries, so it's not as though this system is widespread. Envac Group - Official company presentation from Envac Group on Vimeo.Here is a film about their products. Once you get past the overly-dramatic music and lame speaker voice, it gets interesting. Using underground facilities is nothing new. These photos are from the 1940s in Copenhagen. Leaves were swept into underground containers. I'm still trying to figure out how they were moved from there, afterwards. But hey.Is garbage sucking the perfect waste management solution for cities? It just might be.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Europe

Using Bikes to Improve Mobility in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 12:57pm

Favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro, such as Rocinha, use bicycles as a primary means of transport; consequently, efforts to improve mobility in these areas should focus on cycling for the greatest impact. (Photo: Robert Cutts / Flickr)

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

The hills around Rio de Janeiro offer stunning views, but the infrastructure in Rio’s favelas—or informal settlements—is extremely poor. Because of this, and coupled with its steep and winding topography, the hilly shanty towns surrounding Rio de Janeiro can be very inaccessible. Despite these conditions, more than half of all commutes within these communities are made by bike, signaling just how important cycling is to these areas.

Faced with few transport options, roughly one-third of households in favelas own bicycles, and 57 percent of all trips in these regions are made by bike. For comparison, consider that only 2.4 percent of all trips in the metropolitan region of Rio are via bicycle, despite the infrastructure and incentives in place to support them.

With such high numbers, it’s clear that the bicycle is a critical tool for sustainable mobility in favelas. As a result, it has also become a strong element of residents’ cultural identity, giving them a source of mobility and connecting them with neighbors and friends. Therefore, any changes in infrastructure within these areas should take into account how residents use bikes. The challenge is to implement transport solutions that overcome the topographical conditions of these communities while respecting local culture.

Addressing this need, WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil launched the Manual for Projects and Programs to Foster the Use of Bicycles in Communities. Sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the project was developed to promote safe cycling within Rio’s favelas. By gathering technical information, the guide provides support for Rio’s Morar Carioca program—a government sponsored project with the goal of revitalizing the city’s informal settlements by 2020.

The publication provides technical guidance in five areas:

  • Infrastructure
  • Education
  • Incentives
  • Inspection
  • Equity

While the publication’s primary objective is to support Morar Carioca, its data and recommendations are widely applicable. ”By bringing together international experiences and Rio’s baselines, the manual can be used by any Brazilian city, with just some adjustments to the master plan of each municipality. The purpose of this manual is to help people bike more. By bringing bikes to the people, we can prevent migration to less safe modes, such as motorcycles, for example,” explains Paula Santos da Rocha, Coordinator of Transportation Projects and accessibility of EMBARQ Brasil.

The guide translates technical content into accessible, illustrated ideas for encouraging and facilitating more cycling. Here are a few examples from the guide:

Win a Bike

By participating in and learning from the program, students have the opportunity to borrow and eventually “win” a bicycle. (Photo: Mariana Gil /WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil)

The “Win a Bike” program collects donated or discarded bicycles and reassembles them for local communities. Residents in need of a bike can simply volunteer to work in the shop and, after a certain number of hours, are awarded a bike for their efforts. Other than providing quality bikes for locals, the program also educates students on good bike maintenance. For a year, local students are eligible to borrow a bike—if they promise to attend lessons about responsibility, health and safe transport. After the full year in good standing with the shop, the student keeps the bicycle. Rio de Janeiro’s state government has a similar initiative called Recicleta, which upgrades old donated bikes and gives them to working class individuals and recently released prisoners.

Bike on Home

Under the “Bike on Home” program, residents are able to share bicycles and use them to travel between stations. (Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil)

Some areas in the favelas are either too steep or dangerous to bike, forcing individuals to consider alternatives or simply leave their bike. In order for residents to bypass these problem areas, “Bike on Home” sets up predetermined points for users to pick up and return bicycles. This way, residents can seamlessly move between various modes of transport while always having access to cycling. The program is similar to bicycle sharing projects, but can be either publicly or privately owned. Furthermore, there is no need for new infrastructure, since bikes can be stored in local buildings or existing community spaces.

Messenger Cyclist

An active bicycling community also presents opportunities to broaden existing public services, such as mail delivery. Post office delivery by bike is already a common practice in neighborhoods such as Copacabana and Leblon, and could be even more successful in Rio’s favelas given widespread bike ownership. Cyclist messengers can deliver both small and large packages by attaching them to the bike.

Rio’s favelas may be underserved and suffer from poor infrastructure, but supporting residents’ cycling culture is a way to ensure that citizens living in these areas have greater access to mobility. These programs are only a few ways of establishing reliable transport options for those who need it most: the people of Rio’s favelas.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

3 Ways Land-Use Planning and Zoning Can Increase Urban Density

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 1:09pm

Cities faced with rapidly growing populations should turn to zoning and land-use planning to create dense, urban areas. Singapore, for example, implemented inclusionary zoning to help working class residents afford homes near the city center. (Photo Niels de Vries / Flickr)

Where would you feel safer walking alone at 3 A.M: a busy, heavily trafficked street, or a loosely populated section of a sprawling city? Most people would likely choose the former. Indeed, higher population densities can make city streets feel safer at all hours—while also fostering commercial activity and giving cities an attractive, bustling character.

Land-use planning and zoning are cities’ primary tools for increasing density and supporting high quality services.  Land-use planning broadly guides development, while zoning laws regulate specific areas of land and dictate how they can be used. Without these regulations and incentives, many developers will continue to build where it is most cost-efficient: outside of the city. For example Euclidian—or single-use—zoning is the dominant style of zoning and is often blamed for encouraging sprawl because it splits land up into segregated residential, commercial, and industrial zones.

Euclidean zoning. (Graphic: The City of Crystal Lake, Illinois)

However, there are alternative tools that cities can use to increase density, including: density bonuses, inclusionary zoning, incentive zoning, land assembly, and graduated density zoning. We group these into 3 types of zoning and land-use planning tools that cities can use to foster density and growth:

(1)   Density Bonuses

Density bonuses allow developers to build more densely than normally permitted in exchange for providing a public good, such as affordable housing. This zoning tool achieves two things: (1) developers can build additional units, increasing potential profit, and (2) loosely populated areas become denser. For example, instead of building a single-family home on a large plot, a developer would be incentivized to build multiple affordable condominiums—a project that would not otherwise be legal. Density zoning is similar to incentive zoning because it makes exceptions to density regulations in exchange for some public benefit.

One example of how this can work in practice is Ontario, Canada, which in 1983 enacted Section 37, permitting developers to build beyond existing density restrictions in exchange for “facilities, services, or matters.” The Ontario Municipal Board has interpreted this to mean cash contributions or public goods, such as a local park. Booming cities like Toronto were permitted to link economic growth with service improvements and affordable housing. Density bonuses served the city by encouraging high density development and benefited citizens by expanding public facilities and services. And, from 2007-2011 alone, the S37 density bonus legislation provided Toronto with $136 million in cash contributions.

(2)   Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning mandates that new construction projects must include a certain percentage of affordable units. This type of zoning complements density increases by ensuring that low- and middle-income individuals and those of different ethnic and racial backgrounds—who are often pushed outside of well-serviced dense urban areas—can afford to live inside the city. Inclusionary zoning ensures that development does not displace poor and minority populations—resulting in a workforce that is also more stable and reliable for cities.

In Singapore, for example, inclusionary zoning successfully brought together different ethnic communities, which, in light of Singapore’s race riots in the 1960s, was a difficult task. The Singaporean Housing and Development Board (HBD) accomplished this by permitting individuals to buy homes through mobilizing their pension resources. This form of inclusionary housing led to 90 percent of Singaporeans owning homes, with 80 percent living in public-sponsored housing. It’s important to note that the HBD has also taken measures to ensure diversity through its Ethnic Integration Policy.

(3)   Land Assembly and Graduated Density Zoning

Finally, land assembly—a type of land-use planning—is a process of consolidating small pieces of land into larger plots in order to repurpose underutilized areas. One way to use land assembly to achieve density is through graduated density zoning (GDZ). GDZ incentivizes developers to build higher density buildings on large plots of land and construct less dense structures on small plots of land. Ultimately, it encourages the efficient use of premium urban land for denser development.

Consider Gujarat, India, where land assembly has been successful in developing infrastructure—a key component of good density. The Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act was amended in 1999 to allow the government to appropriate land for infrastructure construction. As a result, landowner satisfaction in the area increased and development projects ran on schedule.

A plot of land before (left) and after (right) land assembly was used. (Graphic: Affordable Housing Institute)

Moving Away from Single-Use Zoning Toward Public Engagement

Land-use planning and zoning can be used in innovative ways to ensure equity and increase density. However, developing and implementing zoning regulations must be a cooperative process that engages the public. Top-down approaches to zoning often alienate citizens and struggle to properly address the needs of residents and business owners.

Dense cities are more efficient, equitable, and vibrant. The first step is moving away from single-use zoning.  Instead, city leaders should look to land-use planning and zoning tools to avoid sprawl and ensure sustainable development.

Categories: Europe

The most dangerous junctions in Assen and other Dutch cities. What makes junctions dangerous ? What can we do to address that danger ?

Hembrow - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 2:08pm
Though there isn't a huge amount of traffic at this location, and though speeds aren't particularly high (this is an intersection in a residential area between a 50 km/h road and 30 km/h roads), this is the most dangerous road junction in Assen for cyclists. It doesn't look like much - just a simple road crossing. But simple crossings like this can be dangerous for cyclists. The problem at David Hembrow
Categories: Europe

That Dingy Bus Stop Is Hindering India’s Progress – An Economic Case for Safe Public Transport

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 10:36am

Because women in India lack equal access to private vehicles, public transport safety is a women’s issue, affecting their social and economic potential. (Photo: EMBARQ / Flickr)

Women account for 48.5 percent of the general population of India, but only constitute about 31 percent of the total work force in the country. You may think that this corresponds with what you know about the status of women in India. But a deeper look at the trends would shock you.

Shocking Trends

First, as our economy grows, fewer women are joining the workforce. In fact, women’s workforce participation fell by almost 12 percentage points in six years (from 37 percent in 2004-05 to 25.5 percent in 2010-11). The International Labor Organization (ILO) placed India as low as 120th of the 131 countries it ranked on women’s workforce participation rate.

Second, urban women are less able to join the workforce than their rural counterparts. Women’s work force participation in India is lower in urban areas (15.44 percent) than in rural areas (30.02 percent). How can this be true when cities today are the source of jobs, income and prosperity?

Cost to the Country

The lack of women’s participation comes at an enormous cost. According to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia, if the employment rate of women in India were to be at par with that in US (i.e. 86 percent), that alone would increase the GDP of the country by 4.2 percent, which translates to a whopping $19 billion. Even a 10 percent increase in women’s participation would mean a $5 billion/ year gain.

Why Are Women Missing from the Labor Force?

There are multiple factors which together account for the missing women in India’s workforce. Recent studies have shown a correlation between violence against women and women’s work force participation. A survey of non-working women in Delhi showed that ‘lack of safety’ was one of the biggest reasons for their decision to not enter the formal workforce. Another report by Chakraborty et al in 2014 stated that women are less likely to participate in the labor force when the perceived threat of crime against them is high, and this deterrent effect is likely to be stronger in traditional societies.

Women tend to avoid places/ locations which are known to be unsafe or which they perceive to be unsafe. That is, the presence of threat or even the perception of threat leads a woman to self-restrict her movement. Freedom of movement is one of the biggest casualties of violence against women in public spaces.

The Economic Case for Safe Public Transport

Women are known to be more dependent on the public transport system, given the unequal access to private transport. However, when harassment happens in the public transport system, the impact is not restricted to their use of public transport facilities alone. The impact is amplified because it directly affects their access to economic, social and health opportunities given the role of transport in providing access. That is, when women stop using public transport due to a lack of safety, it severely impacts their mobility and thus access to opportunities. Also, considering that women have traditionally played the role of the primary caretaker of children and elderly at home, the lack of freedom of movement for women could impact entire families and thus cause heavier economic impacts.

Today, public spaces and public transport in cities are simply not safe enough – read well lit, easily accessible and low threat of crime – for women to use at any time of the day. A city which ensures freedom of movement for women, through safety in public spaces and public transport, will reap not only social benefits but deep economic benefits as well.

A dingy bus stop, or a series of them, can thus cost more than a few dollars to the country.

To know more, please read EMBARQ India’s report on “Women’s safety in Public transport: A pilot initiative in Bhopal.”

This article originally appeared on

Categories: Europe