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WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities' online resource for the latest news and analysis on urban sustainability and development, from a global perspective.
Updated: 8 hours 27 min ago

The People of Bogotá Want Cleaner Air. Will the City Listen?

Thu, 2018-05-31 13:13
Bogotá is one of Latin America’s most polluted cities – but thanks to its citizens, its air may be getting cleaner. A decision from the mayor’s office to keep using diesel fuels in the next generation of buses in the city’s bus ...

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Informal Workers Make Cities Work for All: 3 Stories from Thailand, India and Colombia

Tue, 2018-05-29 19:00
Think of the delicious food stands in Southeast Asia, the street performers in Africa, the rickshaw driver in Bangladesh, and the invisible home-based workers who embroider garments and stitch shoes in India. What do they all have in common? They ...

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As China’s Urban Rail Transit Systems Boom, Public-Private Partnerships Face a Reckoning

Thu, 2018-05-24 13:13
To curb car congestion and boost the economy, China is embracing trains at an unprecedented rate. In June 2017, the government approved 5,770 kilometers of new urban rail systems, almost 17 times the total amount of track in all of ...

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Boosting the Cool Factor of Energy Efficiency

Tue, 2018-05-22 13:13
Energy efficiency’s image is due for a makeover. Long seen as one of the simplest ways to reduce consumer costs, energy efficiency also offers multiple benefits that improve people’s lives while cutting air pollution and curbing climate-warming emissions. And yet, ...

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Making India’s Streets Safer Means Confronting Political Economy Barriers

Mon, 2018-05-21 13:13
On average, two people die on Mumbai’s roads owing to traffic crashes every day. The city ranks seventh in the country in terms of absolute numbers of road traffic fatalities. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are most vulnerable, and are involved in ...

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Financing Sustainable Cities: New Tools Help Leaders Get from Aspiration to Action

Wed, 2018-05-16 13:13
By the year 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. Cities are primary drivers of economic, cultural and political advancements and, as such, require vast quantities of the world’s resources – today, cities generate more ...

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A First Step Down the Road to Zero-Carbon Buildings in India

Mon, 2018-05-14 13:13
In 2013, the world’s cities accounted for 64 percent of primary energy use and 70 percent of CO2 emissions. Energy use in buildings is the second largest contributor (after transport) to urban GHG emissions and to urban heat islands. Emissions ...

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Greening at Altitude: Bogotá Makes National Building Codes a Local Reality with the Help of Some Friends

Fri, 2018-05-11 13:13
As countries around the world ramp up ambition toward global climate and development goals, Bogotá’s experience is an example of why they should look to cities for “ground-truthing.” At 8,600 feet above sea level, high on an Andean plateau, Bogotá is Colombia’s largest city and one ...

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Cyclists and Walkers Lead Mexico City on the Road to Sustainability

Thu, 2018-05-10 13:13
This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries. Sara Vélez got an ultimatum from her boss one day: either find a way to arrive ...

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Big Picture, Small Cities: Why Urban Development Needs National Governments

Mon, 2018-05-07 18:27
More and more, cities are acting independently of – or even in direct opposition to – their national governments. This trend is seen, for example, in the group of American “Climate Mayors” that remain committed to the Paris Agreement even ...

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Ritwick Dutta on Why Air Quality Data Is So Critical: Fighting for Blue Skies Part 1/3

Thu, 2018-05-03 13:13
“India has 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world,” says Ritwick Dutta, the managing trustee for the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), and Indian advocacy and law group. And yet, for the “bulk” of places ...

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São Paulo and Fortaleza Embrace ‘Safe System’ Approach to Combat Road Safety Problems

Mon, 2018-04-30 18:49
Each year, around 38,000 people die from traffic-related crashes in Brazil. Most of the victims are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. The staggering number is a direct result of the lack of road safety precautions in Brazilian cities, which are growing ...

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Green Growth for the Commonwealth: Ready for Phase Three

Fri, 2018-04-27 13:13
A few short years ago, the idea of sustainability drew praise as something that ought to be encouraged for its environmental benefits, despite what was then seen as its inevitable trade-off with economic growth. That was Phase One. Phase Two ...

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Not Just Car Makers, Utilities Are Banking on Shared Electric Vehicles Too. Here’s How Batman and Robin are Redesigning the Batmobile.

Wed, 2018-04-25 13:13
With CEO Mary Barra at the wheel, GM has matured their climate strategy from simply greening operations to product strategy to shared electric mobility solutions. A few years ago, GM’s energy demands came from building cars. Now they come from ...

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This One Chart Shows the Radical Changes Needed to Achieve Sustainable Cities

Mon, 2018-04-23 20:30
Rose Molokoane picked up the microphone at the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur in February, and challenged the room full of policymakers, practitioners and researchers. “I’ve been a part of every World Urban Forum, and government is always talking about needing ...

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A Data Drought Hampers Cities from Acting on Climate Change

Wed, 2018-04-18 13:13
Imagine you’re a local sustainability officer developing an initiative to reduce emissions. But you don’t know how many emissions the city produces, or where they’re coming from. You don’t know who the city’s biggest energy users are, how many cars ...

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The View from the Bus: Better Transportation Means Better Lives

Mon, 2018-04-16 19:30

Pablo’s commute to school improved with Mexico City’s new Metrobus Line 4, cutting travel time and daily fares. Photo by Ari Santillán/WRI México

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture when it comes to cities. They’re home to more than half the global population, produce three quarters of GDP and greenhouse gas emissions, and are still growing in nearly every respect. But cities are made up of individuals, and urban policy has real, tangible effects on their lives. That’s especially true when it comes to transportation policy.

Public transportation moves hundreds of millions of city dwellers, rich and poor, every day. It’s a lifeline that connects people to jobs, education and opportunity. When done right, it allows people to travel affordably, efficiently and with dignity, with more time for themselves and their families.

Making urban transportation better is the goal of the Mobility and Accessibility Program (MAP), WRI Ross Center’s eight-year collaboration with FedEx. Our success is reflected in these stories, collected from three of the cities where we work – stories from real people who have a real stake in improved transit systems.

Pablo in Mexico

Five-year-old Pablo Bautista used to hate mornings. He’d wake early, his mother would bundle him into a taxi and he’d ride 45 minutes through downtown Mexico City to get to school. Minibuses, the only other alternative, were overcrowded, dilapidated and dangerous.

Things changed in 2012 when Mexico City debuted a new bus rapid transit line through downtown. Now Pablo’s commute is a seven-minute walk to the station with his mother and less than a half hour on the express line. The fare? One-fifth the amount his mother used to pay for a taxi.

Projects like Metrobus Line 4 help cities reach socio-economic and sustainable development targets; in daily life, they give residents and businesses access to more opportunities at lower costs. Line 4 carries 65,000 passengers a day, cuts travel times in half and is estimated to lower carbon emissions by 10,000 tons a year.

Suvarna in India

Every weekday, Suvarna Reddy of Bangalore cooks, cleans and packs lunches before taking her grandson to school. Then she catches a bus to work, a journey that was once the most stressful part of her day. She cooks for three different households, and travels to the market to pick up goods.

Suvarna Reddy of Bangalore. Photo by Bhargav Shandilya and Tariq Thekaekara

“It used to take over 40 minutes to get from one home to another,” she recalls. “I had to wait for a long time before I got the bus, and would never get to sit. I always feared falling when I had to stand, because the buses were so old and unstable.”

In 2013, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation asked MAP to help improve its bus system, which serves more than 5 million passengers a day. Together, they conceptualized, planned and implemented the BIG Bus Network along high-demand corridors. With more efficient routes, increased frequency, low fares, integrated services and nearly 1,000 new low-emissions vehicles, the update has dramatically advanced the quality and capacity of the city’s public transit.

“The new buses come every 5 to 10 minutes,” says Suvarna. “I don’t have to wait a long time before I get a bus to get to any of my work places. Even when I have to go to the market, I can get a direct bus. I get there much more comfortably and a lot faster. And that gives me more time to spend with my family.”

Célio in Brazil

Célio Bouzada has dedicated his career to improving life for the people of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Célio Bouzada of Belo Horizonte. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil

“Belo Horizonte, like all large cities in Latin America, has serious problems with traffic – it’s congested,” says Bouzada, who serves as the president of BHTRANS, the regional transportation agency. “It’s our challenge to change the culture, to find resources, to implement new means of transit.” Every day, the agency moves more than 1.3 million people.

Beginning in 2014, BHTRANS used MAP tools to streamline bus rapid transit routes in three priority corridors. A user satisfaction survey, developed by MAP and deployed by BHTRANS a year later, showed the average 75-minute bus commute had been reduced by 30 minutes, and user satisfaction had increased by 60 percent. Now, nine other Brazilian cities have joined Belo Horizonte in a Quality of Service Benchmarking Group to track their own results and compare best practices.

Bouzada also noted that tools developed by MAP have helped his agency plan for emergency incidents, boost the skills of drivers, and host technical exchanges with other cities implementing similar BRT systems.

The next step is electric buses, he says. “Transport is responsible for half the city’s pollution. If we can reduce pollution, that will impact the health of children, adults and, above all, the elderly. A cleaner public transport system, with faster travel, means a nicer city for everyone.”

Cities are our present and future, and we all stand to gain from a world where they are more productive, healthier and connected. For Suvarna, Célio, Pablo and millions of people across the globe, the benefits of improved mobility aren’t just abstractions, but welcome steps toward a better life.

Stories adapted from the 2017 Mobility and Accessibility Program Report. Learn more at mobility.embarq.org.

Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.

From Planning to Partnerships: What’s Driving Smart City Initiatives Around the World

Wed, 2018-04-11 13:13

LED street lighting can simultaneously reduce energy costs, increase public safety and promote healthy lifestyles. Photo by Jen-Hao Kuo/Flickr.

While there is growing global interest in smart city applications, there are also significant challenges in scaling implementation and impact.

Building on the success of its annual Energy Efficiency Indicator study, Johnson Controls recently conducted its first Smart City Indicator survey to track key drivers, organizational barriers, technology trends and the status of smart city initiatives around the world. The global survey queried more than 150 leaders involved in smart city initiatives in 12 countries.

The survey findings show that the key drivers for global smart city initiatives are economic development, environmental protection and sustainability. In North America, communications infrastructure and public safety are the leading drivers. Public safety was also the greatest driver for the smallest cities in the survey. While 90 percent of survey participants claim to have smart city initiatives underway, only 7 percent are implementing a published, strategic program of initiatives. This is despite the fact that 49 percent of participants have a dedicated program office to lead their smart city initiatives.

Lack of funding is the primary barrier for adoption globally, while security issues are also a significant challenge for smaller and North American cities. Funding for global smart city projects primarily comes from national and state governments (57 percent) while in North America, public-private partnerships are the primary source of funding (43 percent). The primary financial barriers are the availability of appropriate financing options and, especially in smaller cities, internal competition for capital.

With respect to smart city projects, smart/LED street lighting, city data platforms, smart public safety, broadband communications and distributed energy systems have been piloted or partially implemented by more than 60 percent of global participants.

Smaller cities were much more likely to have implemented LED street lighting, city data platforms and city operations centers than larger cities. About twice as many organizations (38 percent) have been piloting applications versus implementing them (21 percent). Meanwhile, 99 percent of the cities say they plan to fully implement 21 out of the 22 smart city applications included in the survey.

From a technology perspective, there was interest in a range of emerging technologies with machine learning/data analytics, the internet of things and cybersecurity predicted to have the highest impact on smart city projects over the next five years.

From Planning to Pilots to Projects to Partnerships

The learnings from this study suggest a couple of approaches that cities can take to accelerate the impact of smart city initiatives. The highest rated drivers for smart city investment, including economic development, sustainability, public safety and infrastructure, are generally the focus of other dedicated planning activities.

Integrated planning efforts, which cross traditional government and stakeholder boundaries, can be effective in identifying and leveraging cross-cutting opportunities across the city. Integrated planning also can help uncover opportunities such as smart LED street lighting, which can simultaneously reduce energy and maintenance costs, increase public safety and security, and promote healthy lifestyles (well-lit bike paths) while providing a connected platform for networked sensors, broadband communications and other community services.

Pilots are an effective way to evaluate smart city applications including the validation of technology performance, cost, savings and other factors. But with most funding for global smart city initiatives coming from national or state governments, transitioning successful pilots to full-scale implementation is often a challenge. One approach is to use innovative financial solutions, such as public-private partnerships, energy savings performance contracting and “lighting-as-a-service” agreements, which can improve municipal infrastructure without burdening tax-payers or increasing city debt.

El Paso, Texas, is a good example of a city that took advantage of energy savings performance contracting. El Paso contracted to install 18,800 new LED street lights and 6,600 LED traffic signals along with wireless lighting controls and an automated GPS fixture inventory management system. The result of this program is that it reduced energy and maintenance costs by about 65 percent.

Smaller cities are particularly challenged with funding so the city of Marquette, Michigan, took advantage of recent Tax Exempt Lease Purchase legislation and entered into a $27 million performance contracting partnership, which will deliver $42 million in guaranteed savings over the term of the contract.

This single project includes heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building retrofits, new IT infrastructure, new security and life safety systems, 22 upgraded traffic intersections, 2,600 LED street lights and bike path lights, 3,300 smart water meters and a new electric co-generation system at the local wastewater treatment plant. This partnership will enhance community services, improve public safety, reduce energy consumption by 37 percent and generate significant economic development with over 70 percent of the project work being executed by local companies.

To effectively deliver on the promise of smart cities, it is critical to move from planning to pilots, from pilots to projects and from projects to partnerships. Integrated planning, innovative financing and collaborative partnerships are some of the approaches cities can take to deliver on desired outcomes and community expectations.

This article was originally published on GreenBiz.

Clay Nesler is Vice President of Global Sustainability and Industry Initiatives at Johnson Controls and a Senior Advisor at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

How Did Shenzhen Build the World’s Largest Electric Bus Fleet?

Mon, 2018-04-09 13:13

Shenzhen has the world’s largest electric bus fleet. But how did it overcome onerous barriers like high costs? Photo by Jo./Flickr

Diesel buses – and the choking smog they spew – are a common sight in most cities. But not in Shenzhen, China.

The southeastern city, which connects Hong Kong to mainland China, announced at the end of last year that all of its 16,359 buses had gone electric. The city’s buses are the world’s first 100 percent electrified bus fleet, and its largest – bigger than New York’s, Los Angeles’s, New Jersey’s, Chicago’s and Toronto’s electric bus fleets combined.

How the city overcame obstacles like high costs, lack of charging station infrastructure and more provides lessons for other cities looking to electrify their bus lines.

Costs and Benefits of E-Buses

Diesel buses may comprise a small percentage of the vehicles on city roads, but they create an outsized environmental impact. In Shenzhen, diesel buses represent 0.5 percent of a city’s total vehicle fleet, but account for 20 percent of its transport emissions because they operate longer and drive more miles than private cars.

Switching to electric buses thus offers a vital path towards clean air. Cities and states around the world, such as London and California, are pursuing e-buses as a way to meet their air quality goals.

Yet shifting from diesel to e-buses isn’t easy. Electric buses cost two to four times* more upfront than conventional diesel buses. They need the infrastructure to support consistent charging. And their batteries need to be replaced at least once during their lifetime, which can be costly. Battery replacement is nearly half of a vehicle’s price.

The Making of the World’s Largest E-Bus Fleet

Yet Shenzhen was still able to cost-effectively electrify its buses. Four tactics helped:

1. National and Local Subsidies

For Shenzhen and many Chinese cities, policy incentives such as national and local subsidies play a major role in closing the cost gap between e-buses and conventional diesel buses. Before 2016, a 12-meter e-bus in Shenzhen received a $150,000 government subsidy, more than half of the vehicle’s price.

Yet some studies show that subsidies may not be necessary to make e-buses cost-competitive with diesel buses. According to a study conducted by the World Bank and Global Environment Facility, the lifecycle cost** of e-buses in Shenzhen as of 2016 (including procurement, energy and maintenance costs over an eight-year period) is $375,457, almost the same as a diesel bus’s lifetime cost of $342,855. In short, while e-buses in Shenzhen have a high upfront cost, their operation and maintenance costs are significantly lower than those of diesel buses.

2. Leases to Reduce Upfront Investments

Instead of directly procuring e-buses at the subsidized prices (around $90,000-$120,000) like many other Chinese cities, some bus operators in Shenzhen lease vehicles from manufacturers. This greatly saved operators’ upfront investments, and reduced the need for debt financing.

3.Optimized Charging and Operation

Operating an e-bus fleet differs significantly from operating a diesel fleet. Due to shorter driving ranges and recharging needs, Chinese cities typically require 100 percent more e-buses than conventional diesel buses. This requires additional money for procurement, operations and maintenance. Shenzhen almost entirely wiped out these additional costs by optimizing its operations and charging.

Shenzhen adopted a type of e-bus where a five-hour charge supports 250 kilometers (155 miles) of driving, almost sustaining a full day of operation. However, to ensure recharging does not disrupt service, bus operators collaborated with charging infrastructure providers to furnish most of the bus routes with charging facilities. Currently, the ratio of charging outlets to the number of e-buses is 1:3. The charging facilities are also open to private cars, thereby improving the financial performance of the charging infrastructure.

The bus operators also coordinated the time of charging with the operation schedule, with all e-buses charged fully overnight when electricity prices are low, and recharged at terminals during off-peak travel times.

4. Lifetime Warranty of Batteries

The early-phase technological immaturity of e-buses, coupled with the mid-life battery replacement need, often lead to frequent mechanical breakdowns and increased costs. Bus operators traditionally shoulder all these costs, but in Shenzhen, bus manufacturers provide a lifetime warranty for vehicles and batteries, because the bus operators required this at the procurement stage.

Manufacturers are better positioned than bus operators to manage financial risks because they can continuously innovate battery technologies.

A Better City Through Better Buses

Shenzhen’s experience proves that it’s possible for cities to cost-effectively electrify their bus fleets. The result benefits citizens both on and off the bus: Shenzhen met its air quality improvement goals in both 2016 and 2017.

*Shenzhen Urban Transport Planning & Design Institute. 2017. New Energy Bus Operation Evaluation Framework (Stage report). World Bank-GEF “Large-city Congestion and Carbon Reduction” Project

** The lifecycle cost refers to providing the same level of service (including mileage and frequencies) as a diesel bus, the number of e-buses and the pertinent investments (including procurement and O&M) required.

Lu Lu is a Research Analyst for the Transport Program at WRI China.

Lulu Xue is a Research Analyst at WRI China.

Weimin Zhou is a Transport Specialist with the World Bank.

“Life Is Sacred”: The Surprising Link Between Reducing Homicide and Traffic Fatalities in Bogotá

Thu, 2018-04-05 13:13

Bogota is combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns to save lives. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr

In just 10 years, from 1996 to 2006, Bogotá’s traffic fatalities dropped by half. Despite facing challenges common to many cities – inadequate infrastructure, congestion, pollution, inequality and crime – the Colombian city has become a powerful example of urban transformation.

Many elements contributed to this success, including the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Transmilenio, which debuted in 2000; the creation of an ambitious network of bike lanes; and improved pedestrian sidewalks and crossings. But how did political, financial, institutional and power dynamics contribute? A new research project by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed an unforeseen synergy between general public safety actions in Bogotá and efforts to lower traffic mortality.

The Strategy: Link Road Safety to Other Issues People Care About

The total number of fatalities from road collisions in Bogota is decreasing. Graphic by Overseas Development Institute

The 1990s were a turbulent decade for Colombia, with record levels of violence and homicide. Citizens demanded a government response. In Bogotá, a suite of enforcement, social marketing and education policies were enacted, under the banner “Life is Sacred.” As part of this program, the administration linked traffic deaths to wider problems of crime and murder in the city, and framed it as a part of a public health crisis.

This approach galvanized public attention around “traffic violence.” Targeted social marketing and education programs encouraged people to expect safe and courteous behavior from their fellow citizens and promoted recognition of societal norms in public spaces, particularly traffic regulations. The resulting shift in perspective also generated increased support for changes to public transport and public space.

These programs had unexpected benefits for road safety. For example, one “Life is Sacred” policy set earlier closing times for night clubs to reduce alcohol-fueled violence. A welcome side effect was a reduction in drunk driving, which resulted in significant gains for road safety. It demonstrated that Bogotá’s actions to reduce violent crime could have an impact on traffic fatalities as well.

Other Potential Strategies

Our research also looked at two other cities which struggle with road safety and sustainable mobility options: Mumbai and Nairobi. We examined local political dynamics in all three cities and outlined key challenges and opportunities for catalyzing action to improve road safety.

The research did reveal some gains, notably the creation of a non-motorized transportation policy for Nairobi and court-mandated road safety interventions in Mumbai.

But we also found that it can be difficult to gain traction politically when discussing road safety in isolation. The issue is often seen as a matter of personal responsibility, rather than a question of public health or government service.

In addition to the strategy above, our research identified three more ways to make progress with road safety: tying road safety to other issues, such as traffic congestion; building alliances at all levels of government, including local, regional and national; and producing a dedicated road safety plan with short-, medium- and long-term aims and objectives to build lasting solutions and avoid prioritizing “quick wins” only.

These strategies are not failsafe. Even in Bogotá, there is still progress to be made. There, road fatality numbers have plateaued and the new “safe system” based road safety plan hopes to catalyze further action. But its dramatic progress in public perception and political action related to road safety make it a point of reference around the world. The city has shown that a multi-level approach, combining technical know-how with socially and politically savvy campaigns, can unite citizens and decision-makers in a common goal: saving lives.

This article was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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