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It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture when it comes to cities. They’re home to more than half the global population, produce three quarters of GDP and greenhouse gas emissions, and are still growing in nearly every respect. But cities are made up of individuals, and urban policy has real, tangible effects on their lives. That’s especially true when it comes to transportation policy.
Public transportation moves hundreds of millions of city dwellers, rich and poor, every day. It’s a lifeline that connects people to jobs, education and opportunity. When done right, it allows people to travel affordably, efficiently and with dignity, with more time for themselves and their families.
Making urban transportation better is the goal of the Mobility and Accessibility Program (MAP), WRI Ross Center’s eight-year collaboration with FedEx. Our success is reflected in these stories, collected from three of the cities where we work – stories from real people who have a real stake in improved transit systems.Pablo in Mexico
Five-year-old Pablo Bautista used to hate mornings. He’d wake early, his mother would bundle him into a taxi and he’d ride 45 minutes through downtown Mexico City to get to school. Minibuses, the only other alternative, were overcrowded, dilapidated and dangerous.
Things changed in 2012 when Mexico City debuted a new bus rapid transit line through downtown. Now Pablo’s commute is a seven-minute walk to the station with his mother and less than a half hour on the express line. The fare? One-fifth the amount his mother used to pay for a taxi.
Projects like Metrobus Line 4 help cities reach socio-economic and sustainable development targets; in daily life, they give residents and businesses access to more opportunities at lower costs. Line 4 carries 65,000 passengers a day, cuts travel times in half and is estimated to lower carbon emissions by 10,000 tons a year.Suvarna in India
Every weekday, Suvarna Reddy of Bangalore cooks, cleans and packs lunches before taking her grandson to school. Then she catches a bus to work, a journey that was once the most stressful part of her day. She cooks for three different households, and travels to the market to pick up goods.
“It used to take over 40 minutes to get from one home to another,” she recalls. “I had to wait for a long time before I got the bus, and would never get to sit. I always feared falling when I had to stand, because the buses were so old and unstable.”
In 2013, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation asked MAP to help improve its bus system, which serves more than 5 million passengers a day. Together, they conceptualized, planned and implemented the BIG Bus Network along high-demand corridors. With more efficient routes, increased frequency, low fares, integrated services and nearly 1,000 new low-emissions vehicles, the update has dramatically advanced the quality and capacity of the city’s public transit.
“The new buses come every 5 to 10 minutes,” says Suvarna. “I don’t have to wait a long time before I get a bus to get to any of my work places. Even when I have to go to the market, I can get a direct bus. I get there much more comfortably and a lot faster. And that gives me more time to spend with my family.”Célio in Brazil
Célio Bouzada has dedicated his career to improving life for the people of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
“Belo Horizonte, like all large cities in Latin America, has serious problems with traffic – it’s congested,” says Bouzada, who serves as the president of BHTRANS, the regional transportation agency. “It’s our challenge to change the culture, to find resources, to implement new means of transit.” Every day, the agency moves more than 1.3 million people.
Beginning in 2014, BHTRANS used MAP tools to streamline bus rapid transit routes in three priority corridors. A user satisfaction survey, developed by MAP and deployed by BHTRANS a year later, showed the average 75-minute bus commute had been reduced by 30 minutes, and user satisfaction had increased by 60 percent. Now, nine other Brazilian cities have joined Belo Horizonte in a Quality of Service Benchmarking Group to track their own results and compare best practices.
Bouzada also noted that tools developed by MAP have helped his agency plan for emergency incidents, boost the skills of drivers, and host technical exchanges with other cities implementing similar BRT systems.
The next step is electric buses, he says. “Transport is responsible for half the city’s pollution. If we can reduce pollution, that will impact the health of children, adults and, above all, the elderly. A cleaner public transport system, with faster travel, means a nicer city for everyone.”
Cities are our present and future, and we all stand to gain from a world where they are more productive, healthier and connected. For Suvarna, Célio, Pablo and millions of people across the globe, the benefits of improved mobility aren’t just abstractions, but welcome steps toward a better life.
Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.
While there is growing global interest in smart city applications, there are also significant challenges in scaling implementation and impact.
Building on the success of its annual Energy Efficiency Indicator study, Johnson Controls recently conducted its first Smart City Indicator survey to track key drivers, organizational barriers, technology trends and the status of smart city initiatives around the world. The global survey queried more than 150 leaders involved in smart city initiatives in 12 countries.
The survey findings show that the key drivers for global smart city initiatives are economic development, environmental protection and sustainability. In North America, communications infrastructure and public safety are the leading drivers. Public safety was also the greatest driver for the smallest cities in the survey. While 90 percent of survey participants claim to have smart city initiatives underway, only 7 percent are implementing a published, strategic program of initiatives. This is despite the fact that 49 percent of participants have a dedicated program office to lead their smart city initiatives.
Lack of funding is the primary barrier for adoption globally, while security issues are also a significant challenge for smaller and North American cities. Funding for global smart city projects primarily comes from national and state governments (57 percent) while in North America, public-private partnerships are the primary source of funding (43 percent). The primary financial barriers are the availability of appropriate financing options and, especially in smaller cities, internal competition for capital.
With respect to smart city projects, smart/LED street lighting, city data platforms, smart public safety, broadband communications and distributed energy systems have been piloted or partially implemented by more than 60 percent of global participants.
Smaller cities were much more likely to have implemented LED street lighting, city data platforms and city operations centers than larger cities. About twice as many organizations (38 percent) have been piloting applications versus implementing them (21 percent). Meanwhile, 99 percent of the cities say they plan to fully implement 21 out of the 22 smart city applications included in the survey.
From a technology perspective, there was interest in a range of emerging technologies with machine learning/data analytics, the internet of things and cybersecurity predicted to have the highest impact on smart city projects over the next five years.From Planning to Pilots to Projects to Partnerships
The learnings from this study suggest a couple of approaches that cities can take to accelerate the impact of smart city initiatives. The highest rated drivers for smart city investment, including economic development, sustainability, public safety and infrastructure, are generally the focus of other dedicated planning activities.
Integrated planning efforts, which cross traditional government and stakeholder boundaries, can be effective in identifying and leveraging cross-cutting opportunities across the city. Integrated planning also can help uncover opportunities such as smart LED street lighting, which can simultaneously reduce energy and maintenance costs, increase public safety and security, and promote healthy lifestyles (well-lit bike paths) while providing a connected platform for networked sensors, broadband communications and other community services.
Pilots are an effective way to evaluate smart city applications including the validation of technology performance, cost, savings and other factors. But with most funding for global smart city initiatives coming from national or state governments, transitioning successful pilots to full-scale implementation is often a challenge. One approach is to use innovative financial solutions, such as public-private partnerships, energy savings performance contracting and “lighting-as-a-service” agreements, which can improve municipal infrastructure without burdening tax-payers or increasing city debt.
El Paso, Texas, is a good example of a city that took advantage of energy savings performance contracting. El Paso contracted to install 18,800 new LED street lights and 6,600 LED traffic signals along with wireless lighting controls and an automated GPS fixture inventory management system. The result of this program is that it reduced energy and maintenance costs by about 65 percent.
Smaller cities are particularly challenged with funding so the city of Marquette, Michigan, took advantage of recent Tax Exempt Lease Purchase legislation and entered into a $27 million performance contracting partnership, which will deliver $42 million in guaranteed savings over the term of the contract.
This single project includes heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building retrofits, new IT infrastructure, new security and life safety systems, 22 upgraded traffic intersections, 2,600 LED street lights and bike path lights, 3,300 smart water meters and a new electric co-generation system at the local wastewater treatment plant. This partnership will enhance community services, improve public safety, reduce energy consumption by 37 percent and generate significant economic development with over 70 percent of the project work being executed by local companies.
To effectively deliver on the promise of smart cities, it is critical to move from planning to pilots, from pilots to projects and from projects to partnerships. Integrated planning, innovative financing and collaborative partnerships are some of the approaches cities can take to deliver on desired outcomes and community expectations.
Clay Nesler is Vice President of Global Sustainability and Industry Initiatives at Johnson Controls and a Senior Advisor at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Diesel buses – and the choking smog they spew – are a common sight in most cities. But not in Shenzhen, China.
The southeastern city, which connects Hong Kong to mainland China, announced at the end of last year that all of its 16,359 buses had gone electric. The city’s buses are the world’s first 100 percent electrified bus fleet, and its largest – bigger than New York’s, Los Angeles’s, New Jersey’s, Chicago’s and Toronto’s electric bus fleets combined.
How the city overcame obstacles like high costs, lack of charging station infrastructure and more provides lessons for other cities looking to electrify their bus lines.Costs and Benefits of E-Buses
Diesel buses may comprise a small percentage of the vehicles on city roads, but they create an outsized environmental impact. In Shenzhen, diesel buses represent 0.5 percent of a city’s total vehicle fleet, but account for 20 percent of its transport emissions because they operate longer and drive more miles than private cars.
Switching to electric buses thus offers a vital path towards clean air. Cities and states around the world, such as London and California, are pursuing e-buses as a way to meet their air quality goals.
Yet shifting from diesel to e-buses isn’t easy. Electric buses cost two to four times* more upfront than conventional diesel buses. They need the infrastructure to support consistent charging. And their batteries need to be replaced at least once during their lifetime, which can be costly. Battery replacement is nearly half of a vehicle’s price.The Making of the World’s Largest E-Bus Fleet
Yet Shenzhen was still able to cost-effectively electrify its buses. Four tactics helped:
1. National and Local Subsidies
For Shenzhen and many Chinese cities, policy incentives such as national and local subsidies play a major role in closing the cost gap between e-buses and conventional diesel buses. Before 2016, a 12-meter e-bus in Shenzhen received a $150,000 government subsidy, more than half of the vehicle’s price.
Yet some studies show that subsidies may not be necessary to make e-buses cost-competitive with diesel buses. According to a study conducted by the World Bank and Global Environment Facility, the lifecycle cost** of e-buses in Shenzhen as of 2016 (including procurement, energy and maintenance costs over an eight-year period) is $375,457, almost the same as a diesel bus’s lifetime cost of $342,855. In short, while e-buses in Shenzhen have a high upfront cost, their operation and maintenance costs are significantly lower than those of diesel buses.
2. Leases to Reduce Upfront Investments
Instead of directly procuring e-buses at the subsidized prices (around $90,000-$120,000) like many other Chinese cities, some bus operators in Shenzhen lease vehicles from manufacturers. This greatly saved operators’ upfront investments, and reduced the need for debt financing.
3.Optimized Charging and Operation
Operating an e-bus fleet differs significantly from operating a diesel fleet. Due to shorter driving ranges and recharging needs, Chinese cities typically require 100 percent more e-buses than conventional diesel buses. This requires additional money for procurement, operations and maintenance. Shenzhen almost entirely wiped out these additional costs by optimizing its operations and charging.
Shenzhen adopted a type of e-bus where a five-hour charge supports 250 kilometers (155 miles) of driving, almost sustaining a full day of operation. However, to ensure recharging does not disrupt service, bus operators collaborated with charging infrastructure providers to furnish most of the bus routes with charging facilities. Currently, the ratio of charging outlets to the number of e-buses is 1:3. The charging facilities are also open to private cars, thereby improving the financial performance of the charging infrastructure.
The bus operators also coordinated the time of charging with the operation schedule, with all e-buses charged fully overnight when electricity prices are low, and recharged at terminals during off-peak travel times.
4. Lifetime Warranty of Batteries
The early-phase technological immaturity of e-buses, coupled with the mid-life battery replacement need, often lead to frequent mechanical breakdowns and increased costs. Bus operators traditionally shoulder all these costs, but in Shenzhen, bus manufacturers provide a lifetime warranty for vehicles and batteries, because the bus operators required this at the procurement stage.
Manufacturers are better positioned than bus operators to manage financial risks because they can continuously innovate battery technologies.A Better City Through Better Buses
Shenzhen’s experience proves that it’s possible for cities to cost-effectively electrify their bus fleets. The result benefits citizens both on and off the bus: Shenzhen met its air quality improvement goals in both 2016 and 2017.
*Shenzhen Urban Transport Planning & Design Institute. 2017. New Energy Bus Operation Evaluation Framework (Stage report). World Bank-GEF “Large-city Congestion and Carbon Reduction” Project
** The lifecycle cost refers to providing the same level of service (including mileage and frequencies) as a diesel bus, the number of e-buses and the pertinent investments (including procurement and O&M) required.
Lu Lu is a Research Analyst for the Transport Program at WRI China.
Lulu Xue is a Research Analyst at WRI China.
Weimin Zhou is a Transport Specialist with the World Bank.
In just 10 years, from 1996 to 2006, Bogotá’s traffic fatalities dropped by half. Despite facing challenges common to many cities – inadequate infrastructure, congestion, pollution, inequality and crime – the Colombian city has become a powerful example of urban transformation.
Many elements contributed to this success, including the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, which debuted in 2000; the creation of an ambitious network of bike lanes; and improved pedestrian sidewalks and crossings. But how did political, financial, institutional and power dynamics contribute? A new research project by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed an unforeseen synergy between general public safety actions in Bogotá and efforts to lower traffic mortality.The Strategy: Link Road Safety to Other Issues People Care About
The 1990s were a turbulent decade for Colombia, with record levels of violence and homicide. Citizens demanded a government response. In Bogotá, a suite of enforcement, social marketing and education policies were enacted, under the banner “Life is Sacred.” As part of this program, the administration linked traffic deaths to wider problems of crime and murder in the city, and framed it as a part of a public health crisis.
This approach galvanized public attention around “traffic violence.” Targeted social marketing and education programs encouraged people to expect safe and courteous behavior from their fellow citizens and promoted recognition of societal norms in public spaces, particularly traffic regulations. The resulting shift in perspective also generated increased support for changes to public transport and public space.
These programs had unexpected benefits for road safety. For example, one “Life is Sacred” policy set earlier closing times for night clubs to reduce alcohol-fueled violence. A welcome side effect was a reduction in drunk driving, which resulted in significant gains for road safety. It demonstrated that Bogotá’s actions to reduce violent crime could have an impact on traffic fatalities as well.Other Potential Strategies
Our research also looked at two other cities which struggle with road safety and sustainable mobility options: Mumbai and Nairobi. We examined local political dynamics in all three cities and outlined key challenges and opportunities for catalyzing action to improve road safety.
The research did reveal some gains, notably the creation of a non-motorized transportation policy for Nairobi and court-mandated road safety interventions in Mumbai.
But we also found that it can be difficult to gain traction politically when discussing road safety in isolation. The issue is often seen as a matter of personal responsibility, rather than a question of public health or government service.
In addition to the strategy above, our research identified three more ways to make progress with road safety: tying road safety to other issues, such as traffic congestion; building alliances at all levels of government, including local, regional and national; and producing a dedicated road safety plan with short-, medium- and long-term aims and objectives to build lasting solutions and avoid prioritizing “quick wins” only.
These strategies are not failsafe. Even in Bogotá, there is still progress to be made. There, road fatality numbers have plateaued and the new “safe system” based road safety plan hopes to catalyze further action. But its dramatic progress in public perception and political action related to road safety make it a point of reference around the world. The city has shown that a multi-level approach, combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns, can unite citizens and decision-makers in a common goal: saving lives.
This article was originally published on WRI’s Insights.
Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Cities around the world face a crush of converging pressures. They are being asked to improve mobility, affordable housing, equity, and access to opportunity – all while accommodating more residents, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making their streets safer and healthier.
More infrastructure and funds alone are not enough to take on these challenges; cities need help making better decisions too. Getting the right knowledge, tools and expertise to the right person at the right time is critical. Most cities find they lack the necessary individual, organizational and institutional capacity to respond effectively. Many have little choice but to farm out planning, leading to a vision of the city that reflects that of external experts rather than citizens or leaders.
Recognizing this complex reality, WRI Ross Center is devoting more resources to capacity building for urban professionals. If we recognize that cities need more solutions and they need to be tailored to local contexts to be successful, then we need more capable city professionals and leaders. Our newest effort to fulfil this need is TheCityFix Learn, a web-based global knowledge and capacity building platform for city officials, practitioners and stakeholders.A Tool for Every Job
Building capacity in cities is an enormous undertaking and no one can do it alone. TheCityFix Learn provides an approachable, organized, multilingual, mobile-friendly catalogue of learning products from WRI Ross Center and partners around the world.
The platform draws from our experience supporting the implementation of projects on the ground and creating customized training products for different audiences and needs. A learning guide on cycling infrastructure, for example, teaches six key design principles using a set of digital cards to break the concepts down into bite-size pieces. A webinar on the building blocks of transport-oriented development (TOD) is one in an eight-part series designed to introduce the concepts and strategies behind TOD corridor planning. An in-person training event helps city officials better understand and manage climate risks as part of existing planning processes. And our congestion charging and low-emission zone hub connects users to more information from WRI China and related research publications.
The variety of content types and organization of the site are designed to meet the contextual needs of various audiences (political leaders vs. technical staff), levels of government (national vs. local), city types (primary vs. secondary) and geographies. The platform is launching with English, Spanish and Turkish language content, but more multi-lingual content will be continually added over the next few months.A Blended Approach
Online tools have immense potential to reach people. They’re affordable and widely accessible. Africa has among the highest growth rates in e-learning, for example, and the number of internet users in India is expected to hit 500 million this year, with nearly two thirds on mobile.
With TheCityFix Learn we hope to better serve these users through self-paced, online content that explains technical content. At the same time, online training can’t be the only solution. The platform also connects new audiences to in-person trainings and peer-to-peer gatherings, which are better suited to build some skills, like leadership and management. This “blended” approach is a comprehensive offer designed to meet users where they are.
National governments are understanding the growing need for capacity building too. In Brazil, the Meeting of Municipalities for Sustainable Development brings together thousands of public officials every two years to learn from their peers and attend complementary training sessions. Attendees comprise a network of 658 municipalities, covering 68 percent of the country’s population and 80 percent of its GDP. China’s Transit Metropolis Program has the potential to affect 490 million citizens through improved transit, increased traffic safety, and reduced congestion, commuting time and air pollution. Eventually, the plan is for it to reach all 600 of China’s cities. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation program aims to build the capacity of 45,000 urban officials from 500+ cities in five years. And the federal program for mass transport in Mexico has stablished a training program to support planning, design and implementation of mobility projects in cities throughout the country.
As we barrel towards two-thirds of the global population residing in cities by mid-century, the need to help cities not only through more resources but more human capacity to manage and direct those resources is clear. TheCityFix Learn is a small part of a greater effort to give cities the tools and skills they need to provide services for all and build environments that work for people and the planet. Ultimately, it is a community platform. It will only succeed if you interact, and will only become better if you provide feedback. We invite you to explore the new site and tell us what you think.
Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.
Unaffordability is a major problem in cities of all kinds. Many households spend far more on housing and transportation than is considered affordable, and many people who would like to live in magnet cities cannot due to these costs.
Cities are trying new strategies to improve housing and transportation affordability. However, it is important to be smart when evaluating potential solutions. Affordability can be assessed in various ways that lead to very different conclusions as to what solutions should be implemented. Measured one way, a solution may seem effective and beneficial, but measured in another, it may seem wasteful and harmful. The devil is in the details.
The latest International Housing Affordability Survey is a case in point. The global report on housing costs helmed by three London School of Economics reporters and widely cited in the media, encourages urban expansion, thanks to what the authors perceive as higher affordability in urban fringes.
My new report for the Victoria Transport Policy Institute concludes the survey deserves scrutiny, however, and that this important conclusion rests on a set of assumptions about economic opportunity, choice and happiness that can and should be challenged.Beyond Housing Costs
“Affordability” refers to a consumer’s ability to purchase basic goods such as food, housing, transportation and health care. Extensive research considers how best to measure affordability. Since housing is usually a household’s largest expenditure, affordability was originally defined as households being able to spend up to 30 percent of their budgets on housing.
But since households often make trade-offs between housing and transport costs – between cheaper urban-fringe housing or more expensive central-area housing, for example – many experts now define it as households spending no more than 45 percent of their budgets on housing and transport combined.
The Survey evaluates housing affordability using “median multiple,” which measures the ratio of median house prices to median household incomes. This only considers house purchase prices, ignoring other shelter costs, such as maintenance, utilities and property taxes.
Crucially, median multiple also ignores transportation costs. This is important since a cheap house is not truly affordable if located in an isolated area where getting to work or play takes more time and money than a more connected area. A household can rationally pay more than is generally considered affordable to live in an accessible neighborhood with lower transportation costs.Mobility and Sprawl
These omissions bias the Survey results to exaggerate the affordability of urban fringe housing and the unaffordable of compact, infill housing in walkable urban neighborhoods compared with what households actually experience.
As a result, the Survey ranks sprawled U.S. cities such as Atlanta and Houston as more affordable than Seattle and Washington, D.C. When evaluated using consumer expenditure data, the rank reverses. The sprawled regions’ lower housing costs are more than offset by their higher maintenance, utility and transport costs, making them the least affordable of the 22 regions for which data is available.
The Survey ignores many benefits of living in a walkable urban neighborhood. It claims that car-oriented sprawl reduces travel time costs, although people who live in more central neighborhood tend to have better access to jobs and shorter commutes than urban fringe residents. This is particularly true for non-drivers, who have far more independent mobility and therefore greater economic opportunities in central urban neighborhoods.
The Survey also ignores the mobility needs of people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive, therefore also ignoring the isolation and higher transport costs they experience in car-dependent, urban-fringe areas. The Survey claims incorrectly that sprawl benefits disadvantaged people. Good research indicates the opposite: physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people have more independence, better economic opportunities and better outcomes in walkable urban neighborhoods than in car-dependent suburbia.A Smarter Approach
Some urbanists call compact, multimodal development “smart growth,” which the International Housing Affordability Survey criticizes as consisting primarily of urban containment regulations. Smart growth actually includes a variety of strategies, many of which reduce regulations and increase affordability – for example, by allowing more housing types such as townhouses and apartments, reducing parking requirements, and promoting transportation options other than driving.
The Survey claims with great certainty, but no real evidence, that “urban containment” policies are the primary cause of urban housing price increases. In fact, even studies it cites indicate that restrictions on urban infill (or redevelopment) are much more common and costly than urban expansion restrictions, and therefore a much larger cause of unaffordability in cities.
Reducing urban infill constraints, so more households can find suitable housing in walkable, better connected neighborhoods, is the key to creating truly inclusive communities. Housing affordability is both a great challenge and a great opportunity.
Housing affordability is both a great challenge and a great opportunity. With comprehensive affordability analysis and smart, integrated solutions we can create communities that truly provide economic opportunity, freedom and happiness.
Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems.
“Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.
Through the different lenses of New York City, Bogotá, Stockholm, Beijing and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world.
In 2002, the average London driver spent half their travel time sitting in traffic, and road transport accounted for 95 percent of fine particle pollution in the city center. To combat these problems, Greater London’s first mayor, Ken Livingstone, turned to congestion charging.
Conceptually, congestion charging is straightforward: if there are scarce resources (urban road space), they cannot be given away for free or everyone will try to utilize them at once (congestion), leading to poor results for all. Functionally, London’s congestion charging, introduced in 2003, is based on an area. Unlike in Stockholm, where prices differ during peak and off-peak hours and tolls charge drivers every time they pass a control point, London drivers face a simple, one-time charge of £11.50 ($15.90) to enter the zone, measuring 13 square miles (21 kilometers).
And it’s been largely successful. Not only is London’s congestion charging zone still active today, car usage has declined as well. Congestion – though still a challenge, as pedestrian space is increased and new, for-hire services like Uber take off – is better than it would be in an alternate world.
While many cities have considered congestion charging, there are only a few success stories. So what worked in London? To learn more and consider what can be replicated in congested Chinese cities such as Beijing, WRI China interviewed the founders of the scheme last December, including Mayor Livingstone, who outlined three contributing factors for successful implementation.1. Centralized Institutional Structure and Strong Political Will
The recipe to-date for successful adoption of congestion charges requires a political climate conducive to change and a champion who can harness it. London had both. In 1999, the Greater London Authority was created with a directly elected executive mayor. This newly integrated regional government made it much easier to create city-wide policy compared to the previous arrangement of 33 boroughs.
Improving city transport was a key part of Ken Livingstone’s election platform, to improve economic competitiveness and livability. He framed congestion charging as a way to cut the amount of traffic in the city center and create more space for buses. After taking office, he established Transport for London (TfL), which became the sole transport management agency and wields considerable control over transport policies to this day. The mayor’s maneuvering, along with an integrated transport institution, helped move the congestion charging policy forward, overcoming legislative hassles encountered in other cities like New York.2. Extensive Public Communication and Consultation
Implementation of the new policy was also aided by the fact that people understood and supported the change. TfL ensured that public information was widely available to answer fundamental questions, Dave Wetzel, former vice chair of TfL, told WRI. The team initiated an intensive program of advertisements, using TfL’s website, newspapers, public radio and television to educate the public about how it worked and what it would mean for residents and commuters. They addressed questions like, what is the congestion charging, how much is it, and how do you pay, Wetzel said.
TfL also engaged in community meetings and hosted a series of consultations with key stakeholders. At each stage, the agency took public concern and recommendations into consideration, adjusting the plan as necessary, Wetzel said.
“And it wasn’t a rubber stamp,” he said. “We listened to what people said, and where possible – because sometimes you get contradictory things…we made changes to the scheme. And to be honest, the scheme was better as a result of the consultation than it would have been if we had just gone ahead with our original ideas. We actually improved the scheme by having genuine consultation, listening to people and introducing many of their suggestions and ideas.”3. Improved Public Transport and Fare Integration
While congestion charging was a focus of Livingstone’s campaign, the policy did not stand on its own but was part of a package of transport improvements. “The simple fact is the more you invest in roads, the more congestion you will create,” he told WRI. “Invest in public transport.”
TfL created a team in August 2002 to promote bus priority strategies, for example. On the first day of the congestion charging scheme, 300 additional buses were added to central London to ensure residents had non-car options available. TfL also introduced a smart ticketing system using the iconic Oyster cards, which streamlined fare payment across different modes. The strategy was to engage both the supply and demand sides of transport simultaneously.
Overall, the revenue generated from congestion charging, which TfL told WRI is around $2.5 billion in its first 15 years, has been strictly reinvested in London’s transport improvements, especially for public and non-motorized transport.A Changing City
London saw dramatic changes in the first year following congestion charging. Data from TfL shows that the number of private cars entering the zone during charging hours dropped 30 percent, while the number of buses entering the central area increased 20 percent, growing to nearly 3,000 buses during peak morning hours. These changes, together with relatively low public transport fares (£1 or $1.40 for a single fare), resulted in a nearly 40 percent increase in rush-hour bus passengers entering the charging zone.
Congestion charging also contributed to improved road safety and environmental conditions. The number of two-wheelers involved in accidents decreased by about 7 percent, despite an increase of 15 percent entering the charging zone. Furthermore, carbon emissions in central London decreased by 20 percent and nitrogen oxides by 12 percent. One estimate suggests the net economic benefits of congestion charging in London’s first year of implementation reached £50 million ($78 million in 2004).
London’s launch of congestion charging serves as an example to other cities eyeing similar policies, and the city now faces new transport challenges as technologies continue to evolve. In fact, due to the increased activity and availability of for-hire services, like Uber, and the growth of delivery vans from booming e-commerce services, congestion has increased in recent years. Street closings for pedestrian areas, sidewalk expansions and implementation of protected bike lanes have also reduced space for cars.
These changes have little to do with personal car usage, however, which has continued to decline since 2000, and more to do with the new mobility revolution. London is now working to adapt once again. The city is engaged in legal maneuvering with Uber to improve accountability. The congestion charging zone will likely be expanded to cover the entire city and use electronic tolls to charge motorists differentially depending on when, where and how much they drive. The city is also introducing a toxicity or “T-charge” to further combat pollution, which will evolve into an ultra-low emission zone. Overall, by 2041, the newly published Mayor’s Transport Strategy boasts the city will increase the share of walking, biking, and public transport users to 80 percent of all travelers.
Shiyong Qiu is a Research Analyst at WRI China.
Thet Hein Tun is a Transportation Research Analyst at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Dario Hidalgo is Director of Integrated Transport at WRI Ross Center For Sustainable Cities.
“Come, Participate in This Bold Indian Experiment:” Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on the Global Housing Technology Challenge
Provision of affordable, adequate and accessible housing is one of the major challenges facing India today, as it surges forward economically and demographically. Current government statistics put the housing shortfall at 10 million units, down from an estimated 19 million in 2011, but still staggeringly large. Almost 100 million people live in informal housing across the subcontinent.
At the World Urban Forum this year, the government of India launched an effort to encourage new solutions to this daunting challenge. The Global Housing Technology Challenge – India, announced by Hardeep Singh Puri, union minister of state with independent charge in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, aims to encourage building technology entrepreneurs to apply their creative minds to the goal of providing every Indian family affordable and quality housing by 2022.
“India has perhaps the most ambitious and comprehensive program for planned urbanization in the works today,” Puri stressed at a parallel event during WUF9, and “getting the technology right” is imperative. “We have several schemes, which when successfully implemented, will have a fundamental and transformative effect.”
The governments hopes the challenge will encourage better, faster, more efficient housing solutions to meet the needs of new urban residents and current residents living in substandard conditions.
“The Global Housing Technology Challenge initiative essentially provides an opportunity, a canvas, under which leaders of green technologies, those in the business of construction, no matter where they may be placed, have an opportunity to come and participate in this bold Indian experiment,” Puri said.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs will be accepting proposals from prospective participants, which they expect to range from construction companies and developers to research organizations and housing boards. Winning proposals will gain an opportunity to certify their technology in India and receive start-up funding in addition to mentoring from leading institutions.
While technology is important to scale up and achieve speedy results, it’s important to consider lessons learned from previous efforts to address housing crises. A recent entry in the “World Resource Report: Towards a More Equal City” proposes three recommendations from experiences around the world.
One is to allow upgrading and improvement of existing informal housing, with the involvement of the residents, rather than displacement to make way for new development. Another, is to reconsider land use and convert under-utilized areas of urban cores into affordable housing, rather than building new housing stock in the periphery isolated from jobs, services and social networks. And the third is to reevaluate rental options, expanding them to residents of lower income brackets, rather than focusing on policies that prioritize home ownership.
All three recommendations ring true in India, says author co-author Robin King. “It is pathbreaking that India is including rentals in their current housing efforts, including a new national rental policy. Slum upgrading is another component of India’s broader housing policy that aligns with our recommendations. Technology can help provide some solutions, but political will is indispensable.”
As India seeks cutting edge innovations to meets its ambitious plan to provide housing for all, the world will be watching. Under business as usual, the affordable housing gap globally could increase dramatically in the years ahead, resulting in 1.6 billion people without proper housing worldwide by 2025.
Valeria Gelman is a Communications Specialist & Program Coordinator II at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
If you’re reading this, you are probably a city dweller. More than half of humanity lives in cities, and the percentage continues to grow. As more and more of us move from the rural landscapes our ancestors called home, we are particularly estranged from forests. Trees have been cut back to the hinterlands, replaced by farms, housing and urban sprawl.
But even if you live in the heart of the concrete jungle, you should care about forests. Today is the International Day of Forests. This year’s theme is Forests and Sustainable Cities. Take a minute to reflect on how much you depend on these ecosystems, from the park in your neighborhood to the distant Amazonian rainforest.1. Trees in urban areas make people healthier and happier.
Trees on city streets and parks don’t just raise property values; they provide cooling shade that reduces energy costs and help moderate run-off after storms. They’re good for the mind and body as well. Urban forests help cleanse the air of pollutants, reducing the incidence of respiratory disease. And their presence makes you feel better. One study in Toronto found that an additional 10 trees on a city block improved peoples’ perceptions of their health by an amount comparable to a $10,000 increase in income or being seven years younger.2. Nearby forests provide urban dwellers with water, energy and protection from weather extremes.
Nearby forests provide many of the services that underpin everyday life in the world’s cities. Many of those cities – including Bogota, New York and Singapore – have invested in protecting forested watersheds to ensure dependable supplies of clean, fresh water for drinking and sanitation. Forested catchment areas also fill the reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams that keep city lights burning.
As climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the role of forests in attenuating the impacts of those events is increasingly apparent. Natural forest vegetation helps mitigate the landslides and flooding that often result from heavy rainfall. Restoring tropical mangroves could help buffer coastal cities such as Mumbai from storms and sea level rise. And in alpine areas, trees on steep slopes can help reduce avalanche risk after heavy snowfalls.3. Far away forests supply timber and protect the climate.
Cities depend not just on trees in their immediate vicinity. Timber sourced from far-away forests has long been used for urban construction needs, with rot-resistant tropical species favored for outdoor uses such as boardwalks and park benches. A renaissance in the use of wood in urban architecture is underway, combining its inherent aesthetic and structural properties with new technologies to erect efficient, low-carbon buildings. Such “mass timber” structures can stand more than ten stories and offer a renewable, environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and steel.
In addition, scientists are revealing the role of forests in ensuring global well-being, including the sustainability of cities, through trees’ roles in moderating the climate both locally and globally. Forests are now estimated to constitute up to one-third of the cost-effective actions to prevent catastrophic climate change, including reducing emissions from deforestation and enhancing carbon storage through reforestation and restoration. Further, the role of forests in regulating hydrological cycles is now understood to operate not just at the level of local watersheds, but to play a role in generating rainfall across continents, ensuring the continued productivity of the world’s agricultural systems.What Can Cities Do to Protect Faraway Forests?
Urban consumers’ choices contribute to forest loss – the leading cause of tropical deforestation is conversion of forests to commercial agriculture to serve global commodity markets. Forests are often converted into pastures for beef, cropland for soy, and plantations for palm oil and fast-growing timber.
Many cities already recognize the value of urban and nearby forests, and are actively working to protect and enhance tree density to reap their many benefits. Last year, for example, 17 Asian countries produced an Action Plan for the development of urban and peri-urban forests in the region.
Awareness of what cities can do to protect faraway forests, however, is still embryonic. Urban leaders can do at least three things that would make a difference:
- Enact forest-friendly procurement policies. These would include avoiding the sourcing of products associated with deforestation, unless those products are independently certified as legally and sustainably produced. Providing markets for legally harvested and sustainable timber can provide rural communities with incentives for keeping forests as forests rather than converting them to other uses.
- Provide a market for forest ecosystem services, especially carbon. Many of the world’s leading cities have made commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century or before. While most emissions reductions can and should be achieved through reduced burning of fossil fuels, the purchase of forest carbon offsets from tropical jurisdictions could be the icing on the cake.
- Raise awareness. Most urban dwellers are unaware of how much their well-being depends on goods and services generated by forests. Environmental education can help citizens make more forest-friendly choices with their spending and voting power.
A version of this post initially appeared in Revolve Magazine.
Frances Seymour is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at WRI.
China has made significant achievements in environmental development, especially in controlling and preventing air pollution, over the past five years. As Premier Li Keqiang said in the Government Work Report he delivered to the ongoing first session of the 13th National People’s Congress on March 5, the emission of major air pollutants was continuously reduced and smoggy days in major cities were halved from 2013 to 2017. The improved air quality can be attributed to the five-sphere integrated plan.
And now that the Ministry of Ecological Environment is to be established, by incorporating the Ministry of Environmental Protection and some functions and duties of several ministries and commissions, the environment and ecology will be better protected.
Thanks to President Xi Jinping’s remark that “green hills and clear waters are golden and silver mountains,” emission control and environmental protection have been prioritized in the work agendas of the central government down up to those of city governments.
Stricter environmental inspections, led by the central government, and the strengthened enforcement of environmental laws and standards have made government officials, industries and the people more aware of their environmental protection responsibilities and duties.
The authorities also have taken a holistic package of measures to control emissions from different sources. Coal burning, industrial production and vehicle emissions have been identified as the three major sources of air pollution, especially in urban areas. In response, the measures taken to optimize the primary energy structure have reduced coal consumption by 8.1 percent and increased clean energy consumption by 6.3 percent.
Additionally, energy saving and emission programs in key industries have retrofitted 71 percent of the coal-fired power plants to be ultra-low emission units, and stricter vehicle emission standards have led to the scrapping of more than 20 million highly polluting vehicles. Many other measures aimed at optimizing the structures of energy, industry and transportation, closure of highly polluting units, and promotion of electric vehicles have also helped reduce and prevent air pollution.
Moreover, China’s road map for transitioning from coal to clean energy to reduce both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions has been serving as a strong driving force to realize the commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.
But, despite China making a lot of achievements in the fight against air pollution, its air quality is far from reaching the World Health Organization’s standard for a healthy life. At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping said the efforts to control and prevent air pollution should be intensified so that China can win the “battle to protect blue sky” in the long run. In this context, the changes in the energy and industrial structures will help reduce carbon emissions from industry sources, although the emissions from the transportation sector will go up because of rapid urbanization and the increasing demand for travel.
So efforts being made to improve the air quality should continue, with the focus on reducing vehicle emissions. The next stage tailpipe exhaust control, as stated in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), should be concentrated on heavy-duty diesel vehicles which emit huge volumes of nitrogen oxides and particulate matters in the atmosphere. Data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection show that by the end of 2016, heavy-duty diesel vehicles accounted for 3.6 percent of the total vehicles in China, but they emitted 53.5 percent and 60.5 percent of the total nitrogen oxides and particulate matters in the atmosphere.
In China, freight movement greatly relies on heavy-duty diesel vehicles. So as part of the process to optimize the transportation structure, freight movement should be shifted from highways to railways, which will not only save transportation costs but also reduce vehicle emissions. And regional collaboration on coordinated control, by raising emission standards, setting up emission control zones and strengthening the enforcement of environmental laws and standards, will help reduce the emissions from the transportation sector.
Ying Wang is a Research Associate at WRI China.
This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.
Walking and cycling are the dominant modes of transport in African cities, and too often it’s a dangerous business. Pedestrians and cyclists are disproportionately affected by road traffic crashes compared to those taking motorized transport. In 2015, 447 pedestrians were killed from traffic-related incidents in Nairobi, Kenya, for example, largely due to poor infrastructure and design. Recognizing this problem, many African cities are starting to develop new policy around these dominant modes of transport, but much is left to be done.
A new book, “Non-Motorized Transport Integration into Urban Transport Planning in Africa,” examines these challenges and provides case studies and lessons learned for city experts and transport planners. We sat down with one of the book’s co-authors, Winnie Mitullah of the University of Nairobi, to learn what African cities are doing and what challenges remain.
What is the current state of walking and cycling in African cities? Why is it so important?
Winnie Mitullah: The state of walking and cycling in Africa differs across cities and countries, but is poor compared to other developed countries, especially the Nordic countries where these two modes are the norm. Yet both modes are very important because the majority of the African population, especially in cities, walks to their destinations and activities. Furthermore, everyone, including those who use private cars and public modes, has to walk at one point or another. This is intensified by poor planning of different transport modes, which often have no link to each other, or are located far from one another.
Even though non-motorized transit is so prevalent in African cities, it is viewed as an “other.” Why is that, and what can cities do to change this perception?
Mitullah: Viewing non-motorized transport (NMT) as the “other” is very much influenced by modern thinking, which views motorization as advancement and NMT as backwards and not for advanced life in cities. This thinking has influenced urban planning for decades, resulting in cities giving the least priority to NMT.
In the last 10 years, however, African governments have included NMT in transport policies and planning in new infrastructure developments. Cities are also newly retrofitting old motorized transport infrastructure for NMT. In some cases, however, the product of retrofitted infrastructure has not been attractive to pedestrians and cyclists, due to both the proximity to vehicle road space and careless drivers, leaving them unused. Kenya is now trying building roads with higher curbs to keep drivers out of pedestrian and bike lanes.
Are cities doing enough to plan for non-motorized transit? What kinds of things are city leaders doing?
Mitullah: Cities are beginning to act, but they are still very far from prioritizing walking and cycling. Very few cities have formulated NMT policies, and in cases where policies exist, except for countries like South Africa, which have long history with such policies, they have not been socialized into everyday life, including planning and budgeting.
In Nairobi, lobbyists are trying to convince city policymakers to prioritize and implement NMT policies. This has resulted in isolated interventions such as assisting pedestrians to cross busy roads, providing facilities for wheelchair passage and temporarily closing streets to motorists as pilot programs.
However, in a city like Nairobi, the principle of giving pedestrians and cyclists priority is contradicted in a very practical way at major roundabouts, where police often control traffic for motorists and leave pedestrians and cyclists to leapfrog their way through the scrum. This situation has become more complex with the entry of motorcyclists,who seem to follow no right-of-way. The outcome of this failure to follow rules and regulations has been a high incidence of motorcycle crashes, maiming and killing thousands of riders and their passengers in African cities.
You use the word “integration” in the title of your book. What do you mean by integration in this context, and why is this framing important?
Mitullah: Walking and cycling in African cities for decades was viewed as an add-on to city transport culture. Formulation of NMT policies to guide city planning is a recent adventure, largely promoted and supported by UN-Habitat. Consequently, “integration,” in our book, is a call for the formulation of NMT policy in cities and embedding of NMT planning in the development of transport infrastructure. The framing is important for sensitizing city governors and practitioners to understand that NMT is not an add-on but a priority that must be planned for and integrated in the overall transport ecosystem.
In many cities, cyclists and pedestrians are often seen as doing the wrong thing, especially when they have to use the shoulders of major avenues and flyways and bridges, ending up in conflict with motorists. In such cases, NMT users are blamed, and in Nairobi, reckless matatu (minibus) operators insult NMT users for getting in the way. This resonates with the modern perception of motorized transport, which has to change if African cities want to be more responsive to how most of their population actually gets around.
For a city just getting started on improving non-motorized transit, what are three things you would relay to decision makers?
Mitullah: First, formulate a NMT policy embedded in the overall transport policy of the city, if there is none. Second, study NMT movement patterns for good planning of NMT infrastructure and connection with other modes. And third, link NMT infrastructure with other mass transit modes in a seamless manner, including providing parking for cyclists.
Winnie Mitullah is Associate Research Professor of Development Studies based at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya.
“We need to get where climate policy is in urban policy,” said WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta in an interview with Urbanet. Speaking at the World Urban Forum last month, he noted that cities are vitally important to economic, environmental and social outcomes, and yet urban policy doesn’t get the same attention as other global challenges.
“If you compare it with climate policy, Obama, the presidents, the prime ministers are going to the COP to talk about climate policy, but not so much for urban policy,” Dasgupta said. “Why is that? That’s the shift that has to take place.”
“Most people in the world live in cities. Most economies are dependent on what happens in cities. Most poor people soon will live in cities,” he said. “It’s really a conundrum, why is it not on the global agenda?”
Dasgupta noted that the recognition that urban policy needs more attention is starting in some places, but needs to spread. In India, the current government is focusing on improving cities with the recognition that the nation will follow. Minister Hardeep Singh Puri unveiled a new initiative from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs at the World Urban Forum that aims to ensure every citizen has a home by 2022. Puri said the Global Housing Technology Challenge seeks to build or incentivize the construction of 12 million new homes, many in cities.
“My view is this shift is taking place, but it’s not taking place everywhere,” Dasgupta said. “[It’s] not just cities are good… Cities need to work better, for economic performance of a country, for social outcomes for its people and obviously for a climate outcome for the world.
“I think these interconnections between the three have not been articulated as strongly and our hope as WRI is exactly to show the economic case, show the social case, so this shift can take place.”
Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already being tested in California, Pittsburgh, Singapore, Paris and Oslo. As they spread, they are becoming a natural flashpoint for debate.
Proponents of AVs point to their promise of a safer, faster, cleaner and more convenient commute. But are cities prepared for this revolution, or will AVs simply create a host of new travel patterns that end up adding more congestion, pollution and danger to city streets?
AVs have the potential to reshape cities in profound ways, that much is clear, but our understanding of the technology and its impact is changing rapidly. At the recent Transforming Transportation 2018 conference, co-hosted by the World Bank and WRI’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, one panel neatly summarized the current state of play and some of the major points of contention for proponents and opponents.Pittsburgh: Ahead of the Curve
The city of Pittsburgh has experience with AVs since 1989, in large part due to the expertise cultivated at its universities. It should come of no surprise, then, that the city became the first to allow four autonomous Ubers into the wild in 2016. At the outset of the program, riders had to opt in to use them and were not charged, said Karina Ricks, the city’s director of mobility and infrastructure. Today, it’s estimated there are 40 autonomous Ubers in circulation, autonomous Uber rides are no longer free or limited to volunteers, and five more ride-hailing companies are using Pittsburgh’s streets as their AV testing lab.
At least in this Pennsylvania city, AVs are a fully operational mobility service. Furthermore, AVs are an important part of the city’s ambitious 2030 agenda, which includes reducing energy, water and transport emissions by 50 percent, said Ricks.
A survey conducted six months after Uber’s AV operations began showed a positive public response. Fifty-nine percent of respondents felt safe or very safe operating alongside a robotic vehicle, and 68 percent were satisfied with testing taking place in their city. Overall, cyclists were happy with AVs passing at a safe distance, and pedestrians felt safer when AVs did not start driving immediately when traffic lights turned green. Additionally, both cyclists and pedestrians felt safer with vehicles adhering to the local speed limits (which annoyed some aggressive drivers).
Even with these benefits, the test shows AVs aren’t perfect. They still have difficulty adjusting to changing built environments, detecting the presence of other vehicle traffic, and recognizing social norms in local contexts, like the “Pittsburgh left.”Pumping the Breaks
Stacy Cook, senior associate with Cambridge Systematics, a transportation innovation firm, said she believes the technology currently being tested in cities is way ahead of our ability to handle it. Governments, in collaboration with the private sector, should ask first what societal goals they need to achieve, and then make sure these goals are met by new technologies, she said.
Ricks herself noted a number of policy questions Pittsburgh is still grappling with due to the influx of AVs, including how city leaders manage the financial disruption from the loss of fuel and property taxes and parking revenues.
Cook quoted a 2016 survey on 50 states and metropolitan transport authorities in the United States: Just 6 percent of respondents indicated they were strongly advancing the integration of AVs, which many experts say is required to reduce congestion and emissions. Thirty-five percent were doing little, and 40 percent were not thinking about the AV challenge at all.
Overall, there are great opportunities for improving road safety, reducing congestion and lowering emissions. But few governments are thinking along these lines.
For Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the major concern is about job losses. To ensure the AV revolution is inclusive, operators need to be part of the conversation, he said. We need a humanitarian view of the future, he said, that considers the needs of transport workers alongside users.More Than a Technological Change
David Ward, secretary general of the Global New Car Assessment Program, a UK charity, offered a counterpoint to the hype around the AV “revolution,” saying the mobility environment is not actually changing as quickly as many think.
Fleet replacement takes a long time, Ward said, as car owners today are holding onto their vehicles for longer than those of the past. To have a significant impact in 20 years, a current manufacturer would need to offer an extremely low-cost, fully functional AV right now. This is rather good news, he said, because we have time to better prepare.
At the same time, there are many other technologies that are ready and can be implemented immediately to achieve the road safety benefits that AVs promise: electronic stability control (anti-skid technology that’s currently missing from 40 percent of the global vehicle fleet); autonomous braking systems; and intelligent speed adaptation (pre-loaded maps and on-board sensors that identify the posted speed limits and prevent drivers from exceeding them). All of these elements will be mandatory for vehicles in Europe by the end of 2018.
Despite such an unclear landscape, a common theme from each speaker was the need to understand and advocate for social progress, environmental protection, road safety and economic efficiency while cities and companies are working through the kinks in the technology. If cities cede this space to the private sector, the effect could be disastrous for places already grappling with congestion, increasingly dangerous streets, and deadly air pollution. This is the reason WRI supports the recent Shared Mobility Principles, which among other goals, states that autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas should be operated in shared fleets.
Dario Hidalgo is Director of Integrated Transport at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
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What happens when 22,000 urbanists descend on your city for the biannual World Urban Forum? We present, we dialogue, we attend high-level sessions, side events, training events, and networking events. Maybe most importantly, we benefit from the open exchange of ideas and personalities that you can only get by meeting in person, providing renewed inspiration for our work.
But what’s most satisfying for many of us? Exploring.
Beyond the convention center, where WRI Ross Center experts from around the world contributed to the conference, UN Habitat organized a number of events and exhibitions scattered around Kuala Lumpur. We saw some of the growing pains of Malaysia’s capital and largest city, with more than 7 million residents, and we found pop-ups that invited passers-byes to contribute ideas about the future of KL.
The sprawling city serves as a hub for international companies such as BMW, Motorola, and HSBC, and has attracted talent from near and far. The iconic Petronas Towers dominate downtown, but they are not alone; the tropical skyline is dotted with many towers and new construction. Some 30 major buildings are expected to be finished in the next five years, including the 118-storey Warisan Merdeka. The city museum, located in the historic district, featured a short video and installation depicting this progress, pictured below.
But such rapid growth has not come without costs. Traffic is notoriously bad in KL, especially in the city center. “This is a car culture,” we heard from locals. Like many other rapidly growing cities, to modernize and spur economic development, planners have sometimes overlooked the details of transport design. There is a bus rapid transit line, a light rail system, a monorail and integrated stations. But in a tour of the BRT system for WUF attendees, operators admitted transit ridership was not what they’d like.
Poor signage and design also leads to some dangerous and frustrating pedestrian experiences, from crosswalks that do not line up with the crossing light or curb exit, to narrow, fenced off sidewalks that leave you hunting for safe spots to cross the street.
Small pop-ups run by local university students gave a glimpse of the next generation of planners. Nestled around the city were “parklets” – parking spots turned into green spaces. The parklet below featured a solar-powered phone charging station, space for people to find shade and fans, and recycling bins.
These spaces created not only a fun and inviting environment, they represented a vision of a kind of participatory, people-oriented development. Staffed with students and packed with feedback forms, they drew WUF participants and city residents to consider a greener future for their cities.
One of the pop-ups featured a “cities for all” wish list, where people posted ideas for their own cities and KL. Among many compliments about the host city, suggestions included better sidewalks, more trees, and benches. “Cities for all” was the overall theme of WUF9, echoing our framing of the “World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City,” which explores ways to provide adequate and equal access to core services, like housing and transport, for all.
In Medan Pasar, a historic meeting place in Kuala Lumpur, a micro-housing installation demonstrated ways to accommodate population growth and highlighted the importance of smaller housing footprints and higher density.
Perhaps as salve to the idea of living in such tight quarters, the same exhibit showcased green, interactive public spaces.
Similar to many of the cities we work with around the world, Kuala Lumpur is a fast-growing dynamic place with a mix of both unique and somewhat universal challenges. Exploring the city on foot and talking with its young planners-to-be gave us a unique perspective. It also made us want to stroll back through these streets in the years ahead to see which of these ideas have taken root in the urban form.
Adna Karabegović is Project Coordinator, Research Tools and Economics Team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Valeria Gelman is a Communications Specialist & Program Coordinator II at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Robin King is the Director of Knowledge Capture and Collaboration at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
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