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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Urban sustainability trends to watch

Mon, 2014-12-29 21:01

What moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? TheCityFix’s Year in Review recaps trends to watch for the urban future. Photo by Birger Hoppe/Flickr.

With urban growth come a number of opportunities to positively transform our cities. And while the unique challenges faced by city leaders are shaped by local contexts and histories, their actions reveal broader trends in how cities worldwide are changing to better serve their residents. Supported by a combination of political leadership, citizen innovation, and global knowledge networks, 2014 was a year of remarkable progress for urban sustainability.

So, what moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? These three major trends are ones to watch for the future of our cities.

Sustainable cities are on the international agenda

More than ever before, building socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable cities was a priority issue for the international community in 2014. Although discussions around global development typically take place among national leaders, action often begins at the city level. In many cases, the ambitious, innovative local actions city leaders take are taking have done more to advance sustainable development than national actions.

This focus on cities was reflected in multiple international arenas. For instance, the latest draft of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes an explicit goal to make cities “safe, inclusive, and sustainable.” The Medellín Declaration put forth at the end of the seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7) in March places equitable cities at the core of global development. Finally, climate negotiators at the U.N. Climate Summit and COP20 built strong consensus around the importance of cities in winning the fight against climate change.

These developments bode well for advancing urban sustainability as we move into a pivotal year for the international agenda. In 2015, we can expect to see the finalization of the SDGs and an international climate agreement at COP21, all leading into 2016’s HABITAT III conference on housing and sustainable urban development.

New and exciting innovations in urban mobility

More people in cities means we need mobility options that move beyond the personal car, and 2014 provided us with plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of sustainable urban mobility. From established solutions like bus rapid transit (BRT) scaling up to newer shared-use mobility systems like bike-sharing, car-sharing, and ridesharing taking hold in emerging economies, it was a year of major progress for cities built to move people, not cars.

Sustainable mobility solutions continue to grow as cities move away from auto-dependency. Graphic by EMBARQ (2013).

While the specific reasons vary from city to city, there are a few explanations for these growing trends that ring true across the board. For one, the number of new technologies to fuel citizen participation and innovation grew substantially in 2014, tapping the power of businesses and civil society to help city leaders advance sustainable mobility. Additionally, we’re also seeing a generational shift away from car culture towards more flexible mass transit and shared mobility systems. In places like Mexico, India, and Brazil, the preference for sustainable mobility options over cars has even been embedded in official policy.

Cities are growing, and this is a good thing

It almost goes without saying at this point, but our cities are growing at an unprecedented scale and pace. According to the 2014 revision of the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects, 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, up from 30% in 1950. Africa and Asia are currently the only regions with majority rural populations. They’re also the fastest urbanizing regions and are expected to be solidly urbanized by 2050. Asia is already home to 53% of the world’s urban population, and China – which boasts the world’s largest urban population – is building its national development plan around urbanization.

Does this rapid urban growth present challenges for creating sustainable, livable cities? Certainly, but it also means there are huge opportunities to improve quality of life for billions and boost global economic growth through city-level action. Not only that, but these goals go hand in hand. Analysis from the Better Growth, Better Climate report released in September shows that sustainable, connected urban development could save cities US$ 3 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 15 years. Cities may be the source of many challenges to sustainable, equitable development, but they’re part of the solution, too.

Trends we’re looking forward to in 2015 

Progress in 2014 does not mean we can rest on our laurels in the year to come. Rather, we at TheCityFix hope that 2015 will be a banner year for urban sustainability.

We hope mayors and city leaders will take bold actions on climate change, traffic safety, public health, urban equity and other chronic challenges for the world’s cities; we hope their citizens will not rest until they do. We hope to see more platforms for financing sustainable solutions and global networks to help cities make urban sustainability a reality. And of course, we hope to see many of you – our wonderful readers – again in 2015 as we continue to chronicle the latest trends, innovations, advances, and ideas in sustainable cities and urban mobility.

Check out the other entries in TheCityFix’s Year in Review series for more on the movements and moments that shaped our cities in 2014. 

The need to visualize public transit data for better bus systems in India

Wed, 2014-12-17 03:19

As Indian cities invest in information technology services, minimum standards should require the use of visualization tools to better utilize transport data and improve bus planning. Photo by EMBARQ.

Over the past decade, many transit agencies in Indian cities have implemented information technology services (ITS) to improve bus planning and operations in urban areas. These typically require huge investments financed either by the city government or by the transit agency alone. However, using such technologies alone does not guarantee tangible improvements in level of service. Without the appropriate analytic tools to analyze transit data, technology implementation results in the mere procurement of hardware that generates a huge amount of data without supporting any real decision-making.

Minimum standards must be created that require transit agencies to use various analytic methods and create easy-to-read operational reports that can be generated from this rich data as part of the technology procurement process. Better visualizations and analytic tools can make use of valuable transit data to provide a wide range of insights for transit agencies – from whether buses are arriving on time to which bus stations are used most – improving transport planning and the user experience.

Current ITS reports waste the potential for useful data analysis

Indore became the first Indian city to implement an Automatic Vehicle Location System (AVLS) to track public buses in 2006, while Mysore is the most recent city to deploy AVLS technology. Still, the format of AVLS-generated reports has hardly changed over time. AVLS’s are used to create a wide range of reports, including:

  • Speed violation reports
  • Skipped stops reports
  • Missed trips reports
  • Improper stopping reports
  • Route deviation reports
  • Harsh breaking/rapid acceleration reports
  • Schedule adherence reports

While these reports seem important, the format in which they present data makes it difficult to draw any conclusions from them. For example, one day’s harsh breaking report generated from the AVLS system in Mysore ran hundreds of pages. Similarly, the schedule adherence report for a single day is 130 pages, a sample of which is shown below.

This sample extract from a schedule adherence report shows that despite the information’s importance, the report’s format makes it difficult for transport planners to draw any conclusions. Image from Mysore ITS Report 2013/EMBARQ India.

Further, the system generates reports on issues of little use for urban transit planning. For example, it generates speed violation and route deviation reports, despite the fact that buses operate on extremely congested roads, and there is not much possibility of a driver deviating from his or her route while carrying passengers.

Currently, the only practical use of AVLS’s in public transport in Indian cities is passenger information systems that display the anticipated arrival time of the next bus at a stop. However, there has not been any research on the accuracy of these systems. Similarly, data from electronic ticketing machines is often only used for daily earnings and passenger count reports, despite their vast potential.

Making ITS data useful through data visualizations and analyses

The use of simple visualization techniques using data generated by ITS can transform these monotonous reports into powerful tools for transit managers. EMBARQ India’s Bus Karo 2.0 report provides examples of visualizations developed from AVLS and electronic ticketing data that can improve planning by answering key planning questions.

Are bus schedules reliable?

By representing schedule adherence report data in a graph comparing time of day and bus stops, an entire day’s worth of data for a bus can be shown in a single image, as shown below. The yellow line shows where buses should be located at a given time, represented by distance travelled. The gray line clearly shows where a bus driver deviates from his or her schedule.

This bus schedule adherence report visualization from Bhubaneshwar can show the reliability of individual bus drivers. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

This data could also be translated into a quantitative measure, which would enable a transit manager to rank each driver and identify the best and worst performers. This information can be used to implement a rewards and penalties incentive system to encourage drivers to adhere to the schedule.

Using the same AVLS data from all buses on a particular route, a simple graphical representation of arrival patterns can be created to understand the reliability of the transit service. The graphic below shows the variation in times between buses arriving at a particular stop – known as “headway.” The yellow line shows that buses are scheduled to arrive at consistent intervals, though the gray lines show that the time between bus arrivals varies.

This headway analysis report from a stop in Bhubaneswar shows the inconsistency of bus arrivals. In a scenario where the planned arrival time is consistent throughout the day, a standard deviation of zero would correspond to total reliability. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Which bus stops do passengers use most?

Just like AVLS data, ticketing data from electronic ticketing machines can also be used to develop graphics that improve transit planning. For example, the data can be used to map ridership and boarding and alighting (disembarking) patterns at each bus stop, as shown in the graphics below.

This graphic shows ridership at each stop – called the “load curve” – created from electronic ticketing machine data in Visakhapatnam. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

This boarding and alighting (disembarking) visualization is created from data collected in Bangalore. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Creating new standards for ITS reports

ITS are of no practical use unless combined with visual and analytical tools that process the data generated to help understand performance and evaluate the effectiveness of a particular route or the transit system as a whole. This potential has not yet been reached in any of the cases where ITS are being used in Indian cities. Developing a manual on the minimum standards for data visualizations and analytics from transit data could make it easy for transit agencies to include these deliverables as part of ITS procurement, thus making effective use of the enormous sums of money spent on ITS technology.

Learn more about visualization and transit management in EMBARQ India’s Bus Karo 2.0 report.

Increasing mode share of bus transport in Indian cities

Fri, 2014-12-12 22:30

EMBARQ India is releasing Bus Karo 2.0, which analyzes bus services in cities across India and will inform urban planners, designers, and bus operators in order to help increase bus mode share. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

Like many cities around the world, Indian cities are experiencing urbanization, motorization, and increasing congestion. Coupled with declining public transport use and infrastructure expenditures that promote a car culture by building roads and flyovers (overpasses), Indian cities are losing out on the standard of living that residents deserve. The next decade requires focus on precise and system-wide improvements. The call of the hour is to introduce operational, infrastructural, technological, marketing, and financing innovations to double the mode share of public buses in the next decade. For Indian cities to be livable, city bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems must become an integral part of urban development.

Buses are the backbone of urban mobility in India

As of 2005, buses made up over 90% of public transport in Indian cities, and serve as a cheap and convenient mode of transport. There are approximately 35,000 buses operational in Indian cities. Of these, eight of the biggest cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Pune – account for 80% of all buses.

Pilot initiatives and bus reforms in recent years have reinforced that city bus systems will continue to be the backbone of urban mobility in India because they are cost effective, more sustainable, and easier to implement than other infrastructure-heavy mass transit systems like metros. The graph below shows the current mode share of bus transport in ten major Indian cities.

Bus mode share varies significantly from city to city in India. Graphic by EMBARQ India. Data from 2007-2011 (excludes non-motorized trips).

How can Indian cities improve bus services?

Recognizing the need for improved bus services, many Indian cities have transformed mobility through the implementation of innovative bus transit solutions in recent years. For example, the BIG Bus Network in Bangalore provides high-frequency bus services along major arterials in the city, a driver training fuel efficiency program – initiated by the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) – has now been implemented by bus operators in cities across the country, and BRT systems have been introduced in cities like Indore and Bhopal, to name a few. To ensure that city bus services continue to be major transport modes, promoting innovation among bus operators is imperative.

While these advancements have begun to establish best practices for Indian cities, there is still need to examine the challenges faced and the lessons learned during implementation and continued operations. In addition, greater effort is required for these innovations to succeed in the long term. The industry is comprised of several authorities and players, facing various difficulties. Bus manufacturers, for example, continue to use truck chassis to build buses, compromising their safety, comfort, and convenience. There is also a shortage of skilled workers to manage adequate maintenance and operations standards, which is a significant problem for operating agencies. Furthermore, there is a lack of coordination among multiple players to allocate land for transit infrastructure needs, resulting in the industry falling short of its potential.

Today, EMBARQ India is releasing Bus Karo 2.0 – Case Studies from India, which provides an overview of the current state of urban public transport systems in India. Findings in the report highlight the phenomenal growth of bus transport and the implementation of new technologies, service financing methods, and management techniques. The report takes a close look at key areas like planning and operations, support infrastructure, fuel efficiency training and management, technology applications, branding and marketing, and financing models. The map below shows the extensive work by EMBARQ India analyzed in the publication.

EMBARQ India is improving bus systems in cities across the country. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

The way forward is to maintain this momentum and gradually work towards increasing public transport’s mode share in Indian cities. Specifically, EMBARQ India transport experts strongly recommend that by 2020, bus transport in Indian cities should comprise at least half of the modal share of all motorized trips in cities with at least 10 million people and at least one-third of the modal share in small and medium-sized cities. As mobility needs change, it is important that a city’s transit system responds effectively and swiftly. Bus transport has proven to be flexible to such changes with minimal investment and greater efficiency.

To learn more about bus transport in Indian cities, read the full Bus Karo 2.0 report here.

Friday Fun: These maps help to visualize the world’s urban growth

Sat, 2014-12-06 03:18

Want to see what the world will look like in 40 years? These maps will help you comprehend the urban growth that is transforming countries worldwide. Photo by Charlie Ma/Flickr.

We are living in the midst of the urban century. Though it is common knowledge that the world is urbanizing, it can be striking to visualize this growth on a map. This animation from Unicef maps countries’ urban populations from 1950 to 2050, and shows that urbanization is a global phenomenon set to continue for decades:

Graphic by Unicef.

As seen in the animation, a number of African countries will go from less than 25% urban in 1950 to more than 75% urban in 2050. From 2010 to 2050, Nigeria’s urban population will nearly triple from 79 million people to 218 million. But this growth pales in comparison to the transformative urban growth occuring in Asia. As shown by the map below, much of the world’s population is concentrated in Asian countries:

Image by Valerie Pieris.

Asian countries are undergoing a century-long rural to urban migration. Unicef’s animation shows that in 1980, both India and China were less than 25% urban, with 160 and 190 million people living in cities, respectively. By 2050, India and China will both be more than 50% urban with staggering urban populations of 875 million and 1.04 billion, respectively.

Some of this urban growth is concentrated in megacities

According to the United Nations, there were ten megacities with ten million people or more in 1990. Today there are 28, and by 2030, they estimate that there will be 41. This map from Statista shows that the top 15 megacities will absorb a striking number of new residents over the next decade. For example, between 2011 and 2025, Dhaka, Bangladesh is set to grow by eight million people, and New Delhi is expected to add ten million.

Graphic by Statista. Data by UN Population Division, World Economic Forum.

As they grow in population, many of the world’s biggest cities have rapidly growing urban footprints. This visualization of Lagos, Nigeria, for example, shows the city’s geographic expansion, which has accelerated in recent decades:

In some parts of the world, cities’ growing urban footprints and rising populations are creating an urban region of clustered cities – called a megalopolis. For example, in China’s Pearl River Delta, nine cities are becoming a megalopolis that covers 16,000 square miles.

Image by The Telegraph.

In 2012, The Guardian reported that planners will spend £190 billion (US$ 296 billion) until 2018 integrating transport, energy, water, and telecommunications services among the region’s cities. Including the special administrative zones of Hong Kong and Macau, this cluster of urban areas has over 60 million people.

Rapid growth is also happening in smaller cities

The world’s urban growth is not limited to megacities. In countries worldwide, small- to medium-sized cities are also in the midst of rapid expansion, as shown by this chart from the United Nations:

There will be more than twice as many medium-sized cities in 2030 as there were in 1990. Graphic by UN/World Urbanization Prospects.

How can we deal with the world’s urban growth?

Urban growth – particularly in megacities – can create distinct challenges including housing shortages, air pollution, congestion, and more. However, well managed growth can help create sustainable, livable urban communities. A growing consensus is emerging around the science of people-oriented cities that are connected by sustainable transport, compact, and coordinated through effective governance. Ensuring that cities can be equitable, sustainable, and livable will be the defining challenge of the urban century.


In photos: Mumbai celebrates four weeks of Equal Streets

Wed, 2014-12-03 02:24

Now in its fourth week, Mumbai’s Equal Streets movement has given citizens the opportunity to reclaim their streets as public spaces for people. Photo by Mansi Jain/Facebook.

Linking Road is known as one of Mumbai’s busiest streets. On any given day, it is choked with cars, taxis, buses, and rickshaws from every possible direction. In addition, noise pollution emanating from motorized vehicles has made the environment increasingly stressful. Suffocated with this congestion and pollution, Mumbai has been gasping for a breath of fresh air. It has become a rare sight to see a child cycling to school, even though this was a popular mode of transport for many children less than two decades ago.

For the past four Sundays, however, it has been absolutely refreshing to watch Mumbaikars reclaim their streets.

It is a delight to see the city’s children have the opportunity to actively enjoy open streets every Sunday, away from their indoor video games. Photo By Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Since Equal Streets was launched in Mumbai on Sunday, November 9, 2014, nearly 40,000 Mumbaikars have joined in the celebration of open streets.

The number of cyclists is increasing every Sunday, bringing Mumbai a step closer to the initiative’s larger objective of creating streets for people, not cars. Photo by Sachi Aggarwal/EMBARQ India.

The level of excitement at Reebok’s Zumba stage is palpable every Sunday. Photo by Sachi Aggarwal/EMBARQ India.

Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement has changed the thinking of thousands of people, and it is only the beginning.

The Morning Drum Circle at Equal Streets highlights the new ways people are using public spaces when cars are not present. Photo by Pooja Sharma/Facebook.

Every Sunday morning, the streets are filled with residents – cycling, performing yoga, dancing, playing football or cricket, rollerblading, or even enjoying Carrom – a local board game.

People practice yoga on the usually chaotic and congested Linking Road at Equal Streets in Mumbai. Photo by Zubin Gheesta/Facebook.

A flash mob partakes in a beautiful fusion of Bollywood and the Indian folk dance Kathak on the inaugural day of Equal Streets. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Kids and adults enjoy a comfortable round of board games right in the middle of the street. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

In the coming weeks, Equal Streets is working towards launching campaigns around urban tree cover, climate change, and other environmental issues, hoping to make this initiative an even stronger community movement.

See more pictures from Mumbai’s Equal Streets events below, and on Facebook, and keep up with the events on Twitter.

A street performer attracts a crowd of people during her hula-hoop act. Photo by Anil Patel/Facebook.

People of all age groups take advantage of Equal Streets. Photo by Priyanka Vasudevan/EMBARQ India.

Open data benefits cities and citizens: A Q&A with Jyot Chadha

Thu, 2014-11-13 00:29

EMBARQ India’s Data Visualization Challenge opens important data sets to the public, empowering citizens to change Indian cities’ understanding of urban transport. Photo by mydearboy/Flickr.

EMBARQ India spoke with Jyot Chadha, head of EMBARQ India’s Initiative to Catalyze Urban Innovations, about the launch of a new Data Visualization Challenge, which encourages citizens to use publicly released data to create data visualizations that shed light on mobility in Indian cities. The visualizations will serve to highlight potential uses of public data, encouraging city agencies across India to make data public and foster innovation.

What is the Data Visualization Challenge?

Jyot Chadha: In partnership with the Institute of Urban Transport, EMBARQ India has launched the Data Visualization Challenge by making public key data sets around urban mobility in India. To participate in this challenge, anyone can download these data sets and develop creative and interesting visualizations that depict mobility trends in urban areas. We’re looking forward to seeing new ways of tackling the basic question, ‘how do we move about in Indian cities?’

In addition to using data sets released for the challenge, participants are encouraged to do their own research along the theme of urban mobility, using other data from verifiable sources and clarifying their research methodologies. Visualizations will be considered for six awards: most beautiful, most creative, most comprehensive, most insightful, most innovative, and best overall.

Submissions are due by November 19, 2014, and the finalists’ work will be showcased at the Urban Mobility India (UMI) 2014 Conference, organized by the Ministry of Urban Development in New Delhi from November 25 to 28. The Honorable Minister for Urban Development, Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu, will present the award.

What is the larger idea behind this challenge?

JC: At EMBARQ India, we’re keen on facilitating and catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of transport and urban development. In the last decade, we’ve seen the emergence of technology being used to improve the quality of service in public transport. This digitization has resulted in huge amounts of data being captured, ranging from passenger ticketing information to real-time vehicle tracking. When analyzed, this data can tell us a lot about how people live and move about in cities. In addition, this data can also play an important role in sparking innovation in these areas. For example, app-based programs that help commuters navigate cities better, or dynamic pricing mechanisms based on travel patterns.

We have seen from global examples that cities and transit agencies benefit from making their data public. Take Mexico City, for example, within a month of the city’s transit agency opening their data, data sets were downloaded 683 times, and the data was subsequently used to power 28 apps that saw a total of 5.5 million downloads! This evidence suggests that opening data leads to innovation, which results in substantial benefits to passengers and potential users of transit services.

How will you use the results of this challenge to influence agencies to open up their data to the public?

JC: Selected entries from the Challenge will be displayed at UMI 2014, and viewed by hundreds of attendees from various transit and development agencies, civil society, academia, and others. We hope that by using this platform to showcase what can be done with data, it will serve as an initial demonstration to agencies that opening up their data to the public will benefit both agencies and commuters. The Data Visualization Challenge is a cost-effective and robust way to engage with the community of technologists, urban designers, data scientists, and businesses in Indian cities.

The Institute of Urban Transport is revolutionizing this space by opening up its data sets to the public. Through this challenge, EMBARQ India hopes to encourage more agencies to make their data publicly accessible, and encourage public participation that can improve the quality of life in cities.

Graphic by EMBARQ India.

100 smart cities in India: Governing for human impact

Mon, 2014-11-10 22:18

India’s new ‘smart’ cities should not be evaluated by their use of technology, rather by their ability to solve the country’s persistent urban challenges. Photo by Sandeep Shande/Flickr.

This summer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to build ‘100 smart cities’ across India in an effort to take advantage of the country’s recent urban boom and catalyze investment in Indian cities. His initiative will cost the government 1.15 billion USD for the first year, and will emphasize building new smart cities rather than implementing smart infrastructure in existing cities. While there has been much discussion – positive and negative – in the media and political circles surrounding the initiative, Modi himself is ready to accelerate the project, and has taken steps to reduce delays in decision-making and necessary approval processes.

One consistent piece of the mainstream rhetoric around smart cities in India has been the transformative power of technology. New technologies are already making waves in India’s auto-rickshaw sector in cities like Chennai, but are not yet widespread across different sectors or in cities throughout the country. The ability to monitor traffic behavior, improve energy provision, electronically unify health care information, and more accurately predict transit ridership, for example, is expected to create profound changes in how cities operate.

Despite this overwhelming emphasis on the technological and financial inputs for smart cities, these undertakings – like any urban development project – should also be evaluated based on their outcomes. In economic terms, the difference between outputs and outcomes is subtle but important, creating a dividing line between the end result of a project and the real change it creates in people’s lives. Evaluating for outcomes holds city leaders accountable to ensuring that the scale of investment matches the real benefits for citizens.

While shifting investment toward technology-savvy infrastructure in cities can be seen as a positive step, regulating how this technology is leveraged will be key in creating on-the-ground change. New technologies offer the potential for safer, more efficient cities with higher quality of life. This potential can only be realized, however, through effective governance that leverages technology to respond to the needs of citizens.

Defining success for India’s smart city boom

At the end of the day, smart city development is an opportunity to learn from and improve upon failures in urban governance to enhance quality of life for all Indian citizens. The birth of smart cities creates a chance to catalyze progress in three key areas:

  • Improved governance structures and practices
  • Equitable economic growth and access to basic services
  • Human connectivity through mobile and Internet connection

Improved governance creates the foundation for smarter cities, and is essential for cities’ use of technology to improve service provision. Many Indian cities lack adequate cooperation among different sectors of government, and instead focus too often on public-private partnerships without first focusing on coordination across government departments. This can result in ineffective spending that fails to create sustained impact. Prime Minister Modi has emphasized that a key component of smart cities is improving the way city governments function. He has stressed the need to promote coordination across departments and reduce delays in decision-making. For example, the use of data is a key component of technology-enabled smart cities. However, when this data is siloed across a range of government arms, its potential is lost. A more efficient and connected government provides the basis for an investment-friendly environment that generates and sustains economic growth, in addition to better service provision.

Smart cities should also be evaluated based on their ability to provide equitable economic opportunity and access to basic infrastructure for all residents. Like effective governance, widespread access to basic infrastructure is a prerequisite for effective technology-driven urban improvements. When pursuing increased competitiveness and economic growth, smart cities cannot lose sight of the challenges faced by India’s urban poor. For example, increasing school graduation rates, or improving public health issues like child mortality and water-borne diseases should be core focuses of smart cities.

With the right priorities and effective governance structures, smart cities can use new technologies to improve service provision and quality of life.

Balancing governance and technology for smart, livable cities

The challenge for smart cities in India will be to evolve from the notion of ‘smart’ as one rooted in technology to one rooted in governance. Technology is only as useful as those who wield it. Strong governance structures and a focus on equitable quality of life improvements can help smart cities provide the framework for India’s future cities, and for future cities worldwide.

The author would like to acknowledge Dr. Vinay Lall of the New Delhi-based Society for Development Studies for the inspiration for this article.

Divya Kottadiel and Wanli Fang also contributed to this article. 

Mumbai is ready For “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement”

Fri, 2014-11-07 04:55

Car ownership is on the rise in Indian cities, but Mumbai’s new Equal Streets movement will help people take back the streets every Sunday while encouraging community interaction and active lifestyles. Photo by

Every day, Mumbai residents are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, whose numbers are growing rapidly each year. A recent report by the Munich-based global consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants stated that the Indian passenger vehicle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, and will reach annual growth of five million cars by 2020. According to consultancy Strategy&, India will be third largest market for annual vehicle sales in the world by 2030.

Despite having a lower rate of car ownership than other developed and developing countries at present, India is rapidly catching up. Graphic via Skolkovo Institute for Emerging Market Studies.

In an attempt to help reclaim streets for people, EMBARQ India has initiated “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the help of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Mumbai Traffic Police, and with support from the Times of India Group. Equal Streets will be held every Sunday, starting this weekend on November 9.

In addition to the omnipresent danger posed by motorized transport on the roads – which are in fact public spaces – Indian cities face a rising toll of air and noise pollution, traffic crashes, completely eradicated footpaths, increasing investment in roads and flyovers (also known as overpasses), increasing traffic speeds, high stress levels from driving, and the loss of tree cover from increasing automobile infrastructure that has left Mumbai gasping for breath.

How do we deal with this complex web of problems to create more humane and environmentally sustainable streets instead of highly unequal roads that favor cars? How do we make cities and their streetscapes more livable? How should we reclaim some street space for pedestrians and cyclists?

EMBARQ India is launching “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the intention of correcting this fundamental imbalance. The movement strives to put the people at the center of road use for major roads, including Linking Road, SV Road, and a section of Juhu road in the suburbs of Mumbai. Through this bold movement, communities will regain some control of major roads and declare them closed to motorized traffic for a few hours every Sunday morning, and perhaps eventually more.

The equal streets loop is a stretch of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) including: Linking road, SV Road, and a part of Juhu road in the suburbs of Mumbai. Graphic by Naresh Kuruba/EMBARQ India.

The mission: Establishing the right to equal space in the city

Everyone, regardless of their class or wealth, will have equal access to the open spaces of the Equal Streets loop. One side of the road will be closed to vehicular traffic to create a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) open space for people. The other side will remain open for general traffic. People of all age groups are welcome to interact with their community and participate in activities like yoga, aerobics, cross fit, Zumba and street dancing.

Through cycling and open streets, Equal Streets aims to create active communities and connect citizens and happy neighborhoods. Photo via Cycle Day, Bangalore.

Equal Streets, as the name suggests, gives Mumbai residents an opportunity to access the roads as public rather than private spaces. It seeks to rid select roads of an oppressive hierarchy whereby motorists believe that they have a right to occupy the majority of space while pedestrians and cyclists are pushed to the periphery, always in danger of being injured, and suffering from toxic vehicle emissions.

In every corner of Mumbai, there are conventional and non-conventional spaces that should be opened for public use. Equal Streets can network such spaces by connecting them with walking and cycling tracks. This promotes healthy activity and seeks to correct the sedentary lifestyle in which even children now partake.

This comic from the official Times of India contrasts the vibrancy of the Equal Streets portion of roads with the damaging, stress-inducing portion for motorized vehicles. Graphic via official Times of India.

While Equal Streets certainly aims to be a fun, community-building event, at its core it is an important statement about public space and democracy in urban India. According to Binoy Mascarenhas, Manager of Urban Transport for EMBARQ India:

This movement does not end at declaring a car-free day but aims at raising greater public awareness regarding the significance of public spaces in Indian cities. Thus Equal Streets is not a one-off initiative but a sustained movement by the people. The objective is to provide walking and cycling tracks throughout all neighborhoods in the city. This is the assertion of a democratic principle, based on the rights of citizens to equal space in the city, which should be a part of Mumbai’s Development Plan. The closure of certain streets to motorized transport will result in achieving the larger mission.”

Can’t join in Mumbai this weekend? Follow the Equal Streets movement on Facebook and Twitter, and stay tuned for more coverage on TheCityFix.

The role of private developers in sustainable mobility

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:32

Gated communities are on the rise on Bangalore’s periphery. As demand for housing increases and incomes rise across Indian cities, private developers play an important role in promoting sustainable development by ensuring access to alternative modes of transport. Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr.

Rapid urbanization in countries such as India is raising people’s incomes, creating huge demand for housing, and increasing vehicle ownership rates in the upper-middle and middle classes. By 2030, 50% of India’s population is expected to live in cities, and this will in turn create a huge demand for housing. To cater to the housing demand, private real estate developers in several large Indian cities are building large gated residential communities. These are primarily located in peripheral areas of the city where land is cheaper, but supporting public infrastructure is often severely limited. There is strong evidence that the interaction of transport patterns and urban form can be cyclical, such that more car-oriented urban development in locations farther from the city fosters increased vehicle ownership. This in turn requires more land to accommodate the increased infrastructure requirements for private vehicles. To address this need, developers construct more residential communities in peripheral locations. The design of the new developments, therefore, risks creating and perpetuating residential communities’ dependence on private vehicles. Household surveys conducted by EMBARQ India in these developments in Bangalore show that in comparison to the rest of the city – where 6% of people drive cars – 70% of those living in these gated communities drive.

Peripheral residential development increases demand for private vehicles in Bangalore. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Transport thus has a strong spatial structuring effect on cities. This is evident by the over five-fold increase (466%) in the built up area of Bangalore from 1973 to 2007, with growth primarily occurring at the city’s periphery.

Focus on private developers

A session at EMBARQ India’s CONNECTKaro conference earlier this year focused on the role of private developers in building a sustainable built environment. The session also created awareness for the need to develop indicators and benchmarks to measure how the built form impacts travel patterns in Indian cities. These indicators and benchmarks will encourage private developers to incorporate design practices that promote sustainable transport patterns and create neighborhoods and communities that are energy-efficient, inclusive, safe, walkable, lively, healthy, and climate resilient.

EMBARQ’s vision for the 2030 City. Graphic by GEHL architects.

The authors of this blog were part of the discussion panel at the conference, with Ashwin Mahesh representing the Residents Welfare Association (RWA) at L&T South City, a gated community in South Bangalore, as well as multiple citizen action and civil society groups in Bangalore, and Anjali Mahendra representing EMBARQ India. Along with the authors, other panelists at the session included an architect from eminent architecture firm Prem Chandavarkar, Rangesh A.V. of the Bangalore development Authority (BDA), and Chandrashekar Hariharan, a leader in the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and a private developer of sustainable residential communities himself. The session was designed to gather perspectives from multiple key stakeholders on these issues.

EMBARQ India’s current work with private developers focuses on influencing the design of upcoming developments through design audits and data collected from household surveys done in existing communities. EMBARQ’s vision is to work with 250 developments, impacting over 1 million homes or 5 million people in the next 5 years – considered a small first step in the right direction. Through the design audits, EMBARQ is engaging with private developers to ensure greater use of sustainable mobility strategies, such as:

  • Design solutions promoting safe and energy-efficient travel by walking, cycling, and public transit
  • Adopting mixed land uses
  • Creating safe public spaces
  • Increasing accessibility to jobs, schools, amenities, and community functions
  • Improving connectivity to public transport options

A household survey of residential communities conducted by EMBARQ from November 2013 to April 2014 showed that about 49% of respondents chose to buy or rent a home based on the open space and safe environment within that community. Almost 38% selected their home based on the community’s commitment to green practices and environmental issues. Presence of safe physical infrastructure was considered by the majority of respondents as the most important factor that would promote walking and cycling.

A residential community with access to safe, open spaces and a commitment to green practices is a priority of many Bangalore residents. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

Takeaways from CONNECTKaro
  • Developers should focus on mixed use development and urban design aimed at ensuring better connectivity and access for residents. This includes landscape design, which is typically viewed as a visual discipline, not a spatial one; however, done properly, it can help create continuity of space and develop a sense of community. Developers must consider their investment as a means to improve the neighborhood and the civic realm and this can translate to increased market demand.
  • Small projects constitute the majority of sites being developed in the city today. Policy makers should address the wide diversity in demand across dwelling sizes, types and affordability. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) should consider a town planning scheme to promote integrated and inclusive living.
  • Policy makers and development authorities such as Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) and BDA should adopt and enforce initial plan approval conditions based on how well a proposed development would perform against quality of life indicators. Having such conditions will incentivize more developers to focus on sustainable developments and can aid in scaling up such efforts.
  • Many differences exist between the government and the real estate industry as typically builders are more concerned about maximizing gains rather than improving quality of life for citizens. Also, platforms like IGBC are voluntary and there is no mandate for developers to follow green practices. With appropriate mandates and incentives from local development authorities, private developers can lead sustainable building efforts in Indian cities. For instance, developers are usually asked to fit in more parking than what is required by the statutory parking regulations. If alternate mobility options are present, developers should have the flexibility to cater to only the required amount of parking.
  • The role of customers is important – if they demand “green and connected communities,” developers will provide it. This market demand can be translated into a checklist of quality of life indicators, which can then be mandated by authorities like the BDA. Residents’ associations can help with retrofitting measures in existing communities and while there could be some initial resistance, experience shows that such efforts eventually lead to a sense of pride and ownership among residents. These individual communities then become evangelists for responsible and sustainable practices, sharing lessons with other similar communities, and helping to scale up such efforts.

Transit and residential neighborhoods: Questioning the affordability of residential neighborhoods around Metro Rail stations, a Delhi case study

Tue, 2014-10-21 21:29

Delhi faces the challenge of ensuring that neighborhoods have access to quality public transport without compromising housing affordability. Shown here: commercialization around the Pitampura Metro Station in the Dakshini Pitampura area. Photo by Prerna Vijaykumar Mehta and Alokeparna Sengupta/EMBARQ India.

Large-scale mass transit projects such as the Delhi Metro Rail often lead to transit-oriented development (TOD) that can enhance quality of life, but also compromise housing affordability. Planning authorities in urban areas around the world have acknowledged the need for the integration of land use and transportation (LUT) planning for many decades. Only since the 1980s though – when the concept of TOD was coined by Peter Calthorpe – have cities revisited this concept and acknowledged its benefits for urban development. While the application of TOD can have positive features, the inherent spike in real estate prices associated with transit expansion can displace lower- and middle-income households to transit-poor neighborhoods. Delhi faces the challenge of pairing land use and transport policies to ensure affordability and access to mass transport.

The affordability challenge in Delhi

Affordability is a function of both housing and transport costs. For example, housing in the urban periphery is cheaper, but requires residents to pay high commuting costs to travel into the city for employment. On the other hand, living in established areas of the city with good access to subsidized public transport is unaffordable for many, given the high price of property in these neighborhoods.

To reduce overall cost of living, cities may work to improve transit in affordable neighborhoods. However, this can lead to considerable speculation in real estate prices, which may undercut affordability and reduce equity. Besides increasing prices, other indicators that neighborhood affordability is changing include:

  • The change in the pace of development in a neighborhood before and after transit provisions.
  • The change in household incomes, which can indicate whether the intended resident income mix has been preserved or eroded.
  • Modifications to the housing stock: the division of single household plots into multi-family divisions can indicate the acceptance of smaller dwelling units and increasing demand for housing.
  • Commercialization of residential units, thereby reducing housing stock. 

Delhi faces a severe housing shortage and is unable to accommodate the continuous influx of new residents with varying income levels. This makes affordability considerations related to TOD particularly important. The 2011 national census estimated Delhi’s population at 16.7 million. According to the 2007 – 2008 Economic Survey of Delhi, only 23.7% of the city’s population lives in planned communities, while 39.2% of the population lives in unplanned and illegal communities. This shows the absence of affordable housing for various income groups.

A closer look into affordability in Delhi’s Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood

The Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood in northwest Delhi has had a metro rail stop since 2004. We explored this area and found a number of visible clues that indicated how the urban form has transformed and adapted to the presence of metro. We listened to narratives of residents and local real estate agents in order to understand the change they have observed over the last decade.

The tour helped us to understand how building use and the housing stock has changed, while speaking with residents and real estate agents gave us an overview of the changes in the real estate prices due to speculation, appreciation, rate corrections, and overall demand. The people we spoke with described that over the past decade, the rate of development and commercialization has increased. They estimated that residential property prices have grown by about 30%-35% a year, and commercial property rates have increased 100%. Commercialization has also led to parking problems, and the construction rate of multi-family housing in the plotted communities has increased. The housing stock did not appear to be distributed based on the social and economic structure originally intended for the neighborhood.

Delhi’s 2021 Master Plan explicitly indicates that the provision of housing for residents of varying incomes is an important aspect of planned development. The issue of housing affordability in these decade old rapid transit corridors is also highlighted in the Delhi Development Authority’s TOD draft policy, released in 2012. The effectiveness of TOD depends heavily on the connection between land use and transport planning. Strengthening their symbiotic link through equitable policies regarding affordability of living and commuting is necessary for a modal shift to occur, especially in a city like Delhi, which covers 1483 square km (573 square miles).

Delhi’s larger concern is to envision tools and processes through which mass transit and residential areas will be able to exist symbiotically, whereby areas can be accessible to transport and affordable for various income groups.

The authors would like to acknowledge Himadri Das, who contributed to this blog as a reviewer.

Opinion: Ridesharing could revolutionize urban transport in India

Tue, 2014-10-14 23:48

As companies such as Uber expand, ridesharing may become an important means of sustainable transport in India and in lower- and middle-income cities worldwide. Photo by Chris JL/Flickr.

Ridesharing has been gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, with companies like Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, and Wundercar facilitating hundreds of thousands of rides a month. This has presented a new, convenient, and affordable alternative means of transport in some of the world’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Berlin, to name a few. After achieving huge success in these metropolises, the biggest ridesharing companies are expanding their operations into several emerging economies, such as India, which offers huge growth potential for this type of transport-on-demand.

Competition in India’s ridesharing market gets fierce

Uber – one of the largest ridesharing services in the world – began operating in India when it expanded to Bangalore in October 2013. In August, the company announced that it would launch its service in four new Indian cities – Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and Kolkata, and now serves a total of ten Indian cities. With Uber working towards a deeper market penetration in the second-most populous country in the world, India’s ridesharing industry is set to grow and become quite competitive. In addition to the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws, Mumbai-based Ola Cabs is already a well-established player in the market – operating in nine cities with over 11,000 drivers. Both Uber and Ola Cabs offer competitive prices, with UberX charging a base fare of Rs 50 (US 82¢) plus Rs 1 per minute (US 1.6¢), and Ola Cabs charging a minimum bill of Rs 100 (US$ 1.6) for the first 2.5 miles, and an extra Rs 15.00 (US 25¢) for each additional half mile. Meru Cabs is another technology-enabled taxi service that operates in 11 Indian cities, and the owner claimed it books 700,000 trips per month.

As is common in less-wealthy countries, many Indian cities have poor transport infrastructure, and have significant room to improve public transport options. The addition of ridesharing as a transport alternative could lead to a small revolution in the country’s transport industry. As these companies grow in India, however, it remains to be seen how they will become integrated with other transport modes.

Can ridesharing complement public transport in India?

Ridesharing can be more a convenient, fast, and cost-effective form of transport than its alternatives. For many, ridesharing may already be cheaper than owning a car. It can also be an important part of multi-modal journeys by addressing first-and-last mile connectivity to bus, train, or other public transit services, fueling the demand for these already established transport modes. There are some signs that the implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) may have reached a tipping point in Indian cities, with new or expanding systems in Bhopal, Ahmedabad, and Surat that can dramatically improve mobility and quality of life. However, many cities in India still face heavy traffic congestion. Ridesharing may help connect users to these mass transport systems, making them more accessible. It may also shed light on the deficiencies of existing public transport systems in many lower-income cities in India and worldwide, prompting increased investment to improve these services.

Ridesharing has the potential to revolutionize transport in places like India and other lower- and middle-income countries that are in dire need of more organized and efficient transport systems. It can provide a cost-effective and more environmentally friendly alternative to car ownership, and an ideal extension to existing public transit systems.

Jordan Perch is a transport analyst and expert in consumer affairs for the automotive industry.

Must a city of 8 thousand follow the same planning processes as one of 8 million? A case for rightsize planning in India

Fri, 2014-10-10 00:14

Indian cities should undertake planning processes that are appropriate for their particular size and needs. Photo by Ryan/Flickr.

India’s urban population currently stands at 377 million, representing 31% of the country’s total population. This urban population is distributed across a diverse range of small, medium and large urban centers. Smaller urban centers – or ‘census towns’ that have recently crossed the threshold to legally gain urban status – have experienced an unprecedented 186% growth rate over the past decade, while larger ‘statutory’ towns have grown at 6% during the same time.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts empowers local bodies to better plan and govern themselves and the Ministry of Urban Development Guidelines suggest 29 different types of plans, but neither address the differing needs, complexities, and growth trends of small towns as compared to large urban centers. This is also a weakness in state-level Town and Country Planning Acts that set the same legal framework for master plan preparation across urban centers. These master plans define a city’s land uses based on an assessment of future needs and apply development control regulations.

Small towns should not be treated as scaled-down cities, and this blanket approach is an obstacle to effective urban planning. ‘Rightsizing’ can alleviate this by recognizing these important differences in size and complexity in policy, enabling more effective urban planning processes.

Too many urban centers don’t have plans for the future

According to 2011 census estimates, the state of Karnataka houses 347 statutory and census towns. These urban centers are required to undertake identical planning processes under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Acts (KTCP).

Bangalore is the state’s capital and largest city, housing over 8 million people. City agencies must provide services for a metropolitan area of over 800 sqaure kilometers, and face a range of issues including inadequate infrastructure, declining investment, lack of multi-modal public transport options, lack of affordable housing, environmental degradation, poor air quality, and prolonged traffic congestion. By contrast, smaller urban centers with populations of less than 8,000 such as Koppa, Narasimharajapura, and Beltangadi have economies reliant on a single sector or service, are struggling to become self-sustaining urban centers, and risk losing inhabitants to the lure of the larger city.

The state of Karnataka has a variety of cities of different sizes, contexts, and layouts. Should Bangalore at 8 million people and Beltangadi at 8,000 be forced to follow the same urban planning standards? Graphic by Rejeet Mathews and Tintu Sebastian/EMBARQ India. Data from Bhuvan.

While larger cities have the technical capacity to plan for themselves, smaller towns are dependent on plans from the state’s centralized Town and Country Planning Department. The significant surge in new census towns adds pressure to create master plans similar to that of a big city as per the KTCP Act that end up being unattainable.  Although 98 master plans have been prepared for urban centers in Karnataka, their implementation has suffered from lack of qualified staff, poor inter-departmental coordination, and resource constraints.

Rightsizing the planning process

Large cities facilitate access to resources, technological advancements, efficient labor markets, and contribute to a tremendous share of national and state GDP. As such, their urban planning frameworks should vary from those of smaller cities facing different challenges.

Cities in the United Kingdom and China, for example, accord special status to large cities. London doesn’t stop at a spatial master plan for the city; it also prepares an economic development strategy and a transport development strategy to retain its global competitive edge. Larger municipalities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing have been accorded provincial status and hence are able to directly interact with the national government and employ different taxation norms. These municipalities with provincial status can implement local laws, regulations, and exercise unified administration over the economic, social, and cultural affairs in areas under their respective jurisdictions.

The following offer starting points to enable responsive planning processes in Indian cities:

  • Large urban centers: Large cities that have more than 8 million people and contribute significantly to the state and national GDP – like Bangalore – should be accorded a special status. They should follow a richer planning process and be required to prepare connected and complementary spatial, economic, and transport plans that better suit the city’s needs, complexities, and aspirations.
  • Medium urban centers: The complexity of planning processes should be proportionate to the city government’s ability to pay for itself without relying on financial bailouts from centralized agencies. Medium-sized cities should follow a lighter planning process that is more responsive to both dynamism and decline, instead of being forced into a planning overdose.
  • Small urban centers: Small cities and towns that do not face the complexities of larger and mid-sized cities should focus on the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities to improve quality of life and foster a good trade and business environment. These would be more achievable within the resources and capacity that these towns already have.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act has set in motion the revision of Town and Country Planning Acts in several Indian states, and this revision is particularly important as more rural towns gain legal status as urban areas. Now is the time for such documents to incorporate planning processes that are more responsive to the needs of urban centers based on their size and the complexity of the issues they face.

Editor’s note: The title of this article was updated on October 9, 2014 to increase clarity.

In photos: Bhopal becomes India’s fifth city to join the car-free Raahgiri movement

Wed, 2014-10-08 23:41

The Raahgiri movement is bringing car-free Sundays to cities across India, spreading the principles of sustainable, active transport. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

On September 21, 2014, Bhopal became the fifth city in India to implement the weekly open streets movement, Raahgiri Day. Organized by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), Traffic Police, and Bhopal City Link Ltd. (BCLL) in collaboration with EMBARQ India, the event began at 6am and witnessed an overwhelming first day turnout. Over 10,000 people from all over the city participated in the event at Bhopal’s Boat Club Road on the shores of Lake Bhojtal.

Raahgiri Day is India’s first sustained car-free day, first launched in Gurgaon – India’s “Millennium City” – on November 17, 2013. Roughly 10,000 people participated in the inaugural event and now over 500,000 Indian city dwellers have participated in car-free Sundays, including in the country’s capital and largest city, New Delhi.

Bhopal’s rendition of Raahgiri Day saw special programs including fitness dancing, exercises, rangolis, cycling, skating, and sports including cricket, soccer, badminton, hockey and yoga. The Commissioner of BMC, Ms. Tejaswi Naik, also actively participated in a game of hockey with a group of children. Traffic police and officials patrolling the stretch did so on bikes. For the first time at a Raahgiri event, a computerized bike rental system was available.

Large crowds came out to participate in a variety of activities on this car-free road in Bhopal. Photo by Ajita Shrivastava/Facebook.

Traffic police officials gave important information about road safety, educating people about traffic signals, safe driving, and the importance of wearing helmets. Participants brought large banners that read “city for people, not for vehicles.” Environmental experts were also on hand to speak with visitors about to the importance of protecting and preserving our environment for future generations.

Instead of carrying cars – which contribute to the air pollution that causes over 600,000 premature deaths in India annually – Boat Club Road gave residents the opportunity to be physically active and improve their health. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

Bhopal is the 14th largest city in India and is known as the “City of Lakes” for its various natural and artificial lakes. In recent years, Bhopal has witnessed a gradual increase in vehicle ownership. Civic bodies have adopted different measures to retain the existing mode share of cycling and walking in the city, which is still relatively high. Raahgiri Day is an effort to advance this vision.

Devendra Tiwari, an engineer in the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal, said, “The Raahgiri concept has been brought to Bhopal after being successfully run in Gurgaon for the past year so that we can make people aware about road safety, healthy lifestyles, the use of non-motorized vehicles, and public transport. We will try to expand it to the entire city. Maximum deaths happen due to road accidents and heart attacks, so we want to send a message to be safe on the road and stay healthy.”

The city installed widespread outdoor marketing and advertising at major intersections and popular market places prior to the event to raise awareness. In addition, an engaging social media campaign via Facebook informed supporters and participants about key events for the day. Text messages were sent to people in the BMC database, and several buses played Raahgiri Day videos in the lead up. The media, especially The Times of India, were actively involved in publicizing the event.

Bikers take advantage of new access to public spaces at Raahgiri Day. Photo by Raahgiri Day, Bhopal/Facebook.

Raahgiri Day, India’s car-free Sunday movement, is gradually expanding across the country. With the ‘Raahgiri revolution’ comes an opportunity for India to promote broader solutions for sustainable cities.

Read more about Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon, New Delhi, and elsewhere on TheCityFix. A version of this article was originally published on

What India’s new road safety bill means for cities and citizens

Wed, 2014-09-17 18:27

India’s ambitious new road safety bill, currently open for public comment, is expected to save lives, grow the country’s economy, and create one million new jobs. Photo by IamNotUnique/Flickr.

Road safety issues have reached a pinnacle in Indian cities. In 2013 alone, 140,000 people died in traffic crashes, and many more were severely injured. These premature deaths and debilitating injuries put an intense burden not just on families and communities, but also on the workforce and the economy. One study even estimated the social costs of traffic crashes in the country at the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP. Improving road safety in India, then, is a pursuit that can both support economic growth and save lives.

To meet this aim, India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) published last week a draft Road Transport and Safety Bill for public comments and suggestions. The Bill pulls from global best practices in mobility policy to address issues around transport, motor vehicles, and road safety. If passed by Parliament, it would replace the existing Motor Vehicle Act of 1988.

In its current form, the Bill includes ambitious and far-reaching changes to governance, public transport systems, regulations, and more. Its national impacts are expected to include saving 200,000 lives in five years, growing national GDP by 4%, and creating one million jobs through increased investment in the transport sector.

At the local level, here’s what the Bill means for everyday citizens.

New governing bodies for road safety and transport

The Bill proposes three independent authorities to serve as regulators, facilitators, and enforcers of its grand vision – to make the movement of people and freight safer, faster, cheaper, and more inclusive.

The first of these authorities is the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority of India, whose principle objective would be to improve road safety and vehicle regulation.

The second regulatory body, the National Road Transport and Multi-modal Co-ordination Authority, will facilitate the government’s ‘Make in India’ vision. This body will serve as an independent authority aiding accountability and transparency in the planning and development of efficient multi-modal infrastructure in order to move goods and passengers safely, swiftly, and economically. With a special emphasis on the safety of vulnerable road users, this dedicated authority will facilitate safe, integrated systems that use innovative technologies for enforcement.

A third agency, the National Highway Traffic Regulation and Protection Force will deal exclusively with the enforcement of this act along national highways. This body will be responsible for the safety and efficiency of national highways via enforcement, investigation of crashes, maintenance of signage and equipment, and secure medical attention to victims of traffic crashes.

New standards for vehicle regulation and driver licencing

Comprehensive regulation with regard to motor vehicles’ design, manufacturing, registration, maintenance and safety standards will emphasize adopting new technologies in areas like alternative fuels and retrofitting.

A new driver licensing system will also standardize processes throughout the country. New models for driver testing facilities will open the industry to private sector participation and create more jobs. Automated testing systems will reduce corruption and bribery in the driver testing process. Education will also no longer be required in order to apply for a licence.

Centralizing the vehicle registration system will standardize the process across all states. The database records of the vehicle registration would be linked to a certificate of fitness, insurance, and past offences. Finally, integrating all stakeholders and opening they system up to private sector participation will lead to greater transparency.

Impact on passenger and freight transport

The Bill aims to make public transport more safe and sustainable. Improved infrastructure and traffic management for freight networks will reduce congestion, helping to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Enhanced regulations will also lower logistical costs, reducing inflation and enabling Indian manufacturing to become globally competitive.

Clear standards for multi-modal infrastructure in both passenger and freight transport include construction, traffic management, and inter-state transit development. These changes can increase safety and reliability while at the same time reduce the cost of transportation.

Offenses, fines, penalties, and claims

This Bill places a high emphasis on safety, and gives emergency and para-medical vehicles right of way, even over VIP vehicles.

Enforcement practices will focus on children and the most vulnerable road users. The Bill also calls for electronic enforcement – like traffic cameras – in urban clusters, especially in cities with populations over one million, and harsher penalties for speeding and drunk driving.

Third party insurance will be made mandatory, as well as detailed accident investigation reports in the event of crashes. Claims tribunals will have an improved case management system, with a time bound application process for claims and the settlement of claims. Compensation payments will follow a structured formula, and payments to accident victims made quick and easy.

Traffic offenses and penalties will follow a points-based system where the scale of the penalty would correspond to the nature of the offence, as well as the accumulation of penalties can lead to harsher penalties in future. The new system will have combination of fines, imprisonment, impounding of vehicles, cancellation of licenses or permits along with penalty points will serve as a deterrent.

What’s next for the Road Safety and Transport Bill?

MoRTH is currently seeking comments from the public and other key stakeholders, after which the Bill will be finalized. It will be presented to the Indian Parliament during its upcoming winter session.

Can auto-rickshaw fare reform in Chennai lead users to choose sustainable transport?

Tue, 2014-09-16 19:55

Rickshaw fare regulation has caused some users to shift their mode of transport from private vehicles to auto-rickshaws in Chennai, though further reforms are necessary to address drivers’ concerns. Photo by Morgan Schmorgan/Flickr.

Chennai, India has long been notorious for its lawless auto-rickshaw drivers. On August 25, 2013, the Tamil Nadu state government sought to change this perception by reforming rickshaw fare structures for the first time in 17 years. The government was forced to implement the reform based on a directive from the Supreme Court following a petition filed in 2010. Tamil Nadu’s transport commissioner hosted a closed door meeting with stakeholders to gather input for the rerforms and with EMBARQ India’s assistance, the state devised a meter-based fare system acceptable to all. However, it remains unclear whether this restructuring will have a significant impact on either the users or the drivers’ perception of the system, or whether the restructuring will shift users away from private cars to the more sustainable transport option.

To uncover whether or not fare restructuring had an impact on user behavior, EMBARQ India spent three months speaking to over 500 commuters and 500 auto-rickshaw drivers in the city, along with stakeholders such as government officials, auto-rickshaw union leaders, entrepreneurs, activists and journalists, to discover how the fare restructuring has impacted customers and drivers – and identify what challenges still remain.

The impact of fare reform on commuter choices

EMBARQ India’s surveys, conducted between February and April 2014, revealed that the price reforms prompted many commuters to shift their dominant mode of transport. At the beginning of the survey, 89% of respondents reported that they use their personal vehicles due to the poor quality of auto-rickshaw and public transport services in Chennai. Nearly 80% of respondents, however, reported having shifted some trips from other modes of transport to auto-rickshaws after the reforms.

The survey has also shown that pricing reform has influenced residents’ decisions to buy cars. Almost 79% of the respondents owned personal vehicles, of which 73% were not planning to buy another motor vehicle after the auto-rickshaw meter reform. From the respondents who did not own any vehicle, 63% are not planning to buy any personal vehicle.

Both of these shifts in mindset speak to the positive influence of fare reform on perceptions and usage of Chennai’s auto-rickshaw fleet, providing residents a viable and sustainable mobility option beyond the car.

Auto-rickshaw drivers more resistant to meter reform

By contrast, roughly 87% of auto-rickshaw drivers were not satisfied with the meter reform, and have been hesitant to accept it. This is largely due to the fact that while the daily average distance travelled by drivers has marginally increased from 97 km (about 60 miles) per day to 98 km (about 61 miles) per day and the daily average number of trips has also marginally increased from 21 to 22 per day, “dead trips” – where no one is in the vehicle – have also increased by about 4% on average. In short, drivers are driving more but losing revenue. In addition, when auto-rickshaw drivers are earning money, they aren’t earning as much – drivers report a drop in earnings of 24% from 720 INR (USD 12) before reform to 547 INR (USD 9) after the fare reform. It must be noted, however, that this reduction in income could not be confirmed because fare price before the reform was largely based on the bargaining acumen of the rider.

Because of the drivers’ resistance, the state government has established a grievance call center for customers to register complaints regarding drivers’ non-compliance with the new meter policy. Transport authorities intend to take strict action against the accused drivers, but putting the burden on the customer to enforce a state-wide policy is not an ideal solution for any party involved.

Challenges ahead for successful fare reforms

For potential customers, the main factor preventing them from using auto-rickshaws during heavy traffic periods is over-charging by auto-rickshaw drivers. According to the survey, 48% of commuters found that drivers are still negotiating for a higher fare or are asking for extra money over the meter reading. Although it is true that drivers are burning more fuel and travelling shorter lengths for the same fare, a middle ground between strict regulation and pure negotiation is the route that would satisfy both drivers and passengers.

Additionally, 16% of customers believe that the metered fares are still not competitive to other cities and other modes of transport in the city. About 25% of commuters blame the culture of the drivers, including rudeness or harassment, as a reason not to use auto-rickshaws, while 5% cite safety concerns.

Drivers’ concerns relate more to overregulation in a competitive market. About 21% of the auto drivers feel that competing share-autos and share-taxis have cut into their ridership and revenue. In such a competitive market, they feel it is necessary to have the freedom to barter. About 4% of auto drivers are frustrated by the need to bribe the Regional Transport Office for permits, license and fitness certificates and feel victimized by the new regulated fare.

Others say that they cannot use the meter system because the reported 24% reduction in earnings does not give them enough income to live on. Another 7% cite the fluctuation of fuel prices, and a fare that does not rise with it, as a challenge. Finally, 37% of the drivers reported an increase in dead trips as a challenge.

This resistance to the fare reform will likely continue without necessary adjustments. To increase the number of commuters using sustainable transport like rickshaws, Chennai must establish a mutual consensus between all stakeholders. To help further reform the system, EMBARQ India plans to expand these statistics with more robust recommendations to help the city, drivers, and commuters resolve these challenges.

To learn more about the impact of auto-rickshaw fare reforms in Chennai, see EMBARQ India’s survey results here. For further questions regarding EMBARQ India’s survey, please write to Roshan Toshniwal at

Making space for street vendors: Towards equitable urban development

Thu, 2014-08-14 19:38

Cities can dramatically improve street vendors’ livelihoods by providing sufficient space and infrastructure for vending. Photo by Prasanth Chandran/Flickr.

As previously discussed on TheCityFix, informal street vendors in cities around the world experience daily challenges to their economic livelihoods. For example, street vendors are perceived to be detrimental to city life, unhygienic, noisy, and to obstruct smooth flow of commuters, pedestrians and traffic. In the minds of some policymakers, hawkers crowd sidewalks, plazas and parks, come too close on the subway, or sell too close to local businesses. Many of these complaints, however, are due to insufficient spaces and infrastructure for street vendors.

These problems are more pronounced in dense cities like Mumbai or Hong Kong. In Bangkok, for example, space is so limited that vendors set up a market on the train tracks, moving their carts and awnings four times a day as the train passes. However, several strategies can alleviate these concerns over space for street traders and provide them with better economic opportunities. These strategies include proper mapping, efficiently managing public spaces, and providing appropriate infrastructure to vendors.

Mapping and enumerating street vendors

Any urban intervention that involves spatial changes depends on maps, yet most urban maps do not accurately account for street vendor populations. One potential mapping solution, called “community-led enumerations,” involves vendors or their representative organizations in the data collection process to form a more complete census. This method increases vendors’ trust in city government and the results of mapping efforts.

In Mumbai, by contrast, the hawkers’ union perceived the city’s surveys as inaccurate and not properly verified. They claimed that new hawkers who had established stalls overnight were being registered, creating increased and unwanted competition for longstanding hawkers. The Mumbai Hawkers’ Union has since planned to conduct its own survey.

Using public spaces more efficiently

Before creating new spaces for vending, cities should attempt to repurpose existing spaces. In Mumbai, the TATA Institute of Social Sciences recommends that the government allow street vendors along the elevated walkways, called skywalks, which lead to the suburban railway stations. This could help vendors and attract more pedestrians to other commercial activity on the skywalks. The TATA Institute also recommends the use of space under “flyovers” (overpasses) for hawking.

Street design and zoning policies can also create space for vending areas. The inclusion of distinct “multi-utility zones” in sidewalks creates built-in space for vending (and for other useful amenities like street trees or signage). A new policy in Jakarta also requires real estate developers to set aside 5% of their space for street vending activity. Proper implementation of these spaces is key, however, as they will only be useful to vendors if they enable access to customers.

Creating infrastructure to support vendors

Finally, cities can upgrade infrastructure to assist hawkers and create better functioning and more aesthetically pleasing urban environments. Pedestrianization of market streets, for example, can create space for vending while simultaneously mitigating the negative effects that street vendors’ use of space has on traffic flow. Constructing high-quality stalls, lockers, and common roofs over street vendor areas increases hawkers’ legitimacy and eliminates the need to transport their wares to and from home each day.

Additionally, increasing the availability of proper sanitation and drainage can help improve vendors’ public image and counteract their reputation as dirty and unhygienic. For example, installing clean public toilets, trash receptacles, and improving vendors’ access to electricity and water would benefit hawkers and anyone else using those public spaces.

Bhubaneshwar, India demonstrates impact of vendor engagement

Evidence from Bhubaneshwar, India shows that proper mapping, efficient use of space, and infrastructure improvements can significantly benefit vendors’ livelihoods. A vendor engagement process in Bhubaneshwar created a series of vending zones through a participatory mapping process. The city then built fixed kiosks in these zones. Vendors have benefited greatly, with 67% reporting an increase in the number of customers and 61% reporting increased sales. Of vendors who reported increased sales, more than 70% reported increases of at least 10%.

Bhubaneshwar’s creation of vending zones shows the importance of inclusive planning to support street vendors. Photo by Daniel Roy/Flickr.

Vendors’ economic well-being is delicate, and policy changes should be undertaken with caution. Any relocation effort or move towards formalization must be context-specific, in consultation with vendors, and transparent in its motives and methodology. For example, when possible, infrastructure should be created where street vendors have already demonstrated their desire to sell their goods.

A number of policy shifts have the potential to benefit the world’s large street vendor population; these represent just a few. However, coupled with social assistance programs and engagement with vendors, these concrete changes have the potential to substantially improve lives for the millions of vendors in cities worldwide.

Friday Fun: Delhi announces Raahgiri at the center of week-long Independence Day celebrations

Fri, 2014-08-08 21:18

Raahgiri is promoting sustainable, active transport in India’s capital. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

Delhi’s government just announced a week of Independence Day celebrations culminating in a Raahgiri event at Chandni Chowk. Raahgiri Day first came to Delhi in July as a weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making and socializing. This Raahgiri event will take place on India’s 68th Independence Day across from the Red Fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and will also include activities like skating, zumba, yoga, and cycling. On the morning of Independence Day, the Delhi government will offer free bus rides to take people to the Red Fort, outside of the car-free zone.

Raahgiri scaling up

Raahgiri Day took a huge leap forward when it spread from Gurgaon, the 800,000 person city where it began in November 2013, to Delhi, the world’s second most populous city. Over 5,000 people attended Delhi’s first Raahgiri Day in Connaught Place, located in the heart of the city. In its third week, attendance doubled to more than 10,000. Organizers say that the event is becoming the city’s hotspot on Sundays. In Gurgaon, a recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India found that Raahgiri day has had a positive impact on everything from non-motorized transport usage to road safety, greater engagement between local businesses and the community, and increased physical activity. Further, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sunday’s were about half as high as the typical weekday.

Delhi’s week of Independence Day activities

Raahgiri will be at the core of a week of Independence Day activities intended to “tap into people power.” Activities will include kite flying, concerts, fireworks and more. The celebrations will begin on August 8th and will feature a city-wide cleanup featuring a massive tree-planting effort. In total, 1.1 million trees will be planted all over the city. According to Lieutenant-governor Najeeb Jung, the week-long cleanup aims to provide a “clean and green Delhi to its citizens.”

Raahgiri Day is already capturing public imagination in Gurgaon and Delhi. The decision to place Raahgiri Day at the center of Independence Day celebrations shows Delhi’s desire to integrate the principals of sustainable, active mobility into the city’s culture.

The video below shows a dance workshop at the most recent Raahgiri Day in Delhi: 

Regulation can help e-rickshaws transform urban mobility across India

Mon, 2014-08-04 20:35

E-rickshaws offer multiple advantages over more common auto-rickshaws, but require increased regulation to ensure passenger safety. Photo by Subhash Barolia/Flickr.

As one of the most widely used forms of intermediate public transport or paratransit – services that connect users to mass transport systems like buses or metro – auto-rickshaws are ubiquitous in Indian cities. The electric rickshaw (e-rickshaw), however, emerged as an even cheaper alternative in 2011. E-rickshaws are similar to a motorcycle combined with a rickshaw, and have immense potential to provide low-cost mobility to many of India’s residents. However, cities need to create safety regulations and build appropriate infrastructure to make sure this transport mode is simultaneously affordable and safe.

E-rickshaws serve as an important form of transport primarily around the expanding Delhi metro area. Over 1,500 e-rickshaws reportedly hit Delhi’s streets in 2013 and an additional 90,000 have been added in the first half of 2014.

E-rickshaws are cheaper to buy and operate than auto-rickshaws, and rising fuel prices have made them even more attractive compared to vehicles that run on petrol or natural gas. E-rickshaws cost about half as much as conventional rickshaws at about RS 85,000 (around USD 1,400), while conventional auto-rickshaws cost about RS 1.68 lakh (around USD 2,750).

E-rickshaws cause safety concerns

The rapid emergence of e-rickshaws on Indian streets, coupled with a lack of regulation of their use, has made them quite the safety concern. E-rickshaws generally carry 6-8 passengers, though their aluminum body is designed to hold only 4-6 passengers. Additionally, the braking equipment has not been checked by any government authority, making it unreliable. The sharp turning capability of e-rickshaws coupled with its high speeds also raises questions about its stability when making turns.

E-rickshaws run on electric batteries and need to be charged, which can put extra strain on the already overused electricity grid. According to media reports, manufacturers equip e-rickshaws with batteries capable of more than 750W of power to achieve higher speeds and carry more passengers – a clear violation of the non-motorized criteria under the Delhi Motor Vehicles (MV) Act of 1993. E-rickshaws take about 6 to 8 hours to charge, and dozens of e-rickshaws often fight over the limited street charging stations. This creates a nuisance at best and a safety problem for other city residents at worst. Because of the lack of charging stations in Delhi, many drivers tap into electric lines on streets to charge.

E-rickshaws are significantly less regulated than auto-rickshaws

Auto-rickshaw drivers must pay RS 2,000 (about USD 34) for a new, renewed, or transferred license. In this way, government officials are made aware of the number of auto-rickshaws on the streets, and can use this information to create and enforce standards that make auto-rickshaws comparatively safer. Auto-rickshaw drivers need to be tested (though minimally), and their fares are regulated – all of which is better for the passengers who use these vehicles. Since e-rickshaws are not considered to be motor vehicles, they do not need to be registered, and neither the vehicle itself nor the driver needs to be tested to see if they satisfy the minimum operational and driving standards. Drivers determine fares themselves, leaving the door open to overcharge or even exploit the passenger.

City leaders are now responding to the rise of e-rickshaws with stricter regulations, though these have been met with stiff resistance from drivers. The Delhi government recently ordered all manufacturers to get clearance and quality inspection on their products. When manufacturers subsequently failed to conduct quality inspections, the government banned e-rickshaws in Delhi in April 2014. Following political backlash and protests from the e-rickshaw union in Delhi, the government decided to lift the ban with the stipulation that all vehicles are required to undergo inspection for safety and operational capabilities. However, on July 31, 2014, the Delhi High Court directed the city government to stop the use of e-rickshaws until a law is framed to regulate them.

How to integrate e-rickshaws into cities safely

Cities can create more appropriate regulations by amending the Delhi Motor Vehicles Act of 1993 to ensure that e-rickshaws are safer, and that road infrastructure safely accounts for their use.

Making sure that e-rickshaws are safe requires starting with quality assurance, from inspecting body parts’ load capacity, tires, brake equipment, and turning radius. These inspections should be carried out for new and existing vehicles. People who drive e-rickshaws for the city should not be penalized if vehicle violations are detected, otherwise problems will never be reported. These policies will require the cooperation of drivers, manufacturers, and India’s Central Government to enforce such regulations.

Infrastructure must also change to support e-rickshaws. Proper charging stations must be installed around the city, and auto-mechanics must be taught how to handle problems specific to e-rickshaws. Charging stations can be integrated into existing fuel stations without placing a heavy burden on fuel-station owners. In fact, developing infrastructure to support e-rickshaws can help Indian cities. Batteries currently imported from China can be made locally to help bring money to India’s communities and lower the cost of batteries for e-rickshaw drivers.

Getting drivers and manufacturers to agree on policies and changing cities’ infrastructure to accommodate e-rickshaws will be enormously challenging. However, once Delhi and the Central Government tackle these challenges and improve safety, e-rickshaws have the potential to expand access to mobility in Indian cities and increase connectivity for residents.

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

Thu, 2014-07-24 19:34

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

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

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

Building trust for deeper engagement

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

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

Creating institutional structures inclusive of street vendors

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

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

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

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

Formalization is not the only route

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

Institutions can make the informal economy a boon to the city

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-07-23 19:38

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

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

Mumbai, India can be a commuter’s nightmare. Downtown sits a full ten miles from the residential core, and the two areas are poorly linked by public transport. Mumbaikars have the longest commute of any Indian city resident, averaging more than 47 minutes each way every day. This fragmented urban development has pushed car ownership in the city to rise by an astonishing 3,700% in the past 60 years, clogging roadways and polluting the air.

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

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

Sprawling and segregated: The cost of disconnected cities

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

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

Connected communities improve health, environment, and economies

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

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

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

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

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

Growing cities can win with sustainable, mixed-use development

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

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

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


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