Latest from Cityfix

Subscribe via Latest from Cityfix feed Latest from Cityfix
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities' online resource for the latest news and analysis on urban sustainability and development, from a global perspective.
Updated: 9 hours 38 min ago

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.

What does a sociological approach to safe cities reveal?: Findings from a national workshop in India

Thu, 2014-07-17 20:24

In order to make cities safer and public spaces more inviting for all, EMBARQ India studied how women perceive – and how they are perceived in – India’s urban public spaces. Photo by EMBARQ.

While concerns of violence against women are not new, women’s safety in public spaces has received significant attention in India in the past two years. Cities are seeing increased demands around making public spaces safer for women, ranging from better infrastructure, effective policing, more stringent punishment for perpetrators, creating “eyes on the street,” and more. Specifically, planning for safer public spaces goes beyond physical features and requires attention to how men and women express themselves in – and interact with – public space; analyzing who uses them, when, how, and for how long

To understand men and women’s experiences of public spaces, EMBARQ India conducted a national workshop on Gender and Public Space at its CONNECTKaro 2014 conference. The 90-minute workshop was attended by around 50 participants – with 21 women and 28 men, predominantly upper middle class, aged 20-50 years. It consisted of professionals and students. The participants were asked to sketch their experience of an outdoor public open space, responding to seven questions. They were then divided into two groups – men and women – to collate their experiences, and regrouped to discuss their findings. The workshop revealed key factors like sense of security, caste, and social class that must be considered when planning for safer public spaces.

The burden of security limits women’s enjoyment of the city 

The workshop revealed the unexpected and alarming extent to which security bears heavily on how women negotiate their daily activities, both consciously and unconsciously. Both men and women listed many of the same the qualities that made pleasant public spaces – including vegetation, public toilets, and quiet. However, there seemed to be a difference in what constituted unpleasant spaces. Women bore the burden of security in addition to factors such as traffic safety and unmaintained public toilets that both groups reported. Crowds, absence of lighting, people, and the time of day were important parameters for women’s use of public spaces in light of this security concern.

Eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces  

While “eyes on the street” are generally considered natural surveillance systems, the people those eyes are attached to seemed important to the women at CONNECTKaro. In short, women’s presence made this group of women feel safe. Thus, it is important to understand what kind of activities bring and retain women in public spaces.

Contrastingly, the presence of men did not inherently make them feel unsafe. Rather, groups of men – particularly working class men – sparked general apprehension amongst this group of upper middle class women. When probed, the participants seemed to recall from a collective memory or perception, suggesting that class and caste perceptions influence which eyes on the street contributed to their sense of safety.

Familiarity enables both risk and conformity 

For the women at the workshop, familiarity with a specific space enabled them to take risks in environments otherwise perceived as unsafe. However, this could also be a double-edged sword, in which familiarity can also police the ways in which men and women feel they can behave. For instance, women’s feelings of safety and comfort could be conditional on conforming to the expected behavioral norms of that particular space or community.

Finally, there was also a striking difference in the mood between the men and women’s groups at the workshop. The men’s group laughed and joked throughout while there was a heavier, more intense mood in the women’s group during the process of sharing stories and experiences.

The table below details some of the compelling statements men and women made during the CONNECTKaro workshop: 

CONNECTKaro brought men and women together for a discussion on the role of gender and public spaces. Image by EMBARQ.

Re-thinking the approach to safe cities: From protection to inclusion  

While urban planning and design measures often advocate for improved street lighting, mixed uses, and eyes on the street, there is also a need to understand how perceptions of safety are cognitively, sociologically, and spatially constructed.

As argued in Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai’s Streets, the demand for safer public spaces for women must not be met through the exclusion of other minority groups, be they migrants – especially working class men and lower castes and/or Muslim men in the context of Indian cities – or through a patriarchal surveillance of women’s bodies and actions. Similarly, instead of seeing the city as a place of threat that women need to be protected from – we need to see and design public spaces where women would like to spend time, or “loiter,” or “to not have a purpose to enjoy public spaces, use public infrastructure after dark, or indulge in consensual flirtation and sexual encounters.”

Thus, a project for making a city safe for women is not only about physical improvements, but also about their right to loiter without excluding other minority identities. This requires further research on what makes women of different income groups, castes, religion and regions spend time in public spaces, and what kinds of eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: New mapping algorithm poses problems and promise for cities

Thu, 2014-07-17 03:37

Technology is allowing city residents to interact with their surroundings in new ways, which can have both the benefit of advancing sustainable development and the drawback of reinforcing social divisions. Photo by Daniel Chavez/Flickr.

Yahoo Labs has recently created a mapping algorithm that helps pedestrians find not the shortest route to their destination, but the most attractive one. This is great for visitors who want to spend every second of their time sightseeing in a new city, or for residents who want to explore their surroundings in a new way. However, although the algorithm was meant to showcase the beauty of cities, we must not forget what is covered up in this data-centric quest for the most aesthetic path. While well intentioned, this algorithm allows city residents to systematically bypass areas of poverty and blight, and it raises more than a few ethical questions about how emerging digital applications are changing the way people interact within cities.

The makings of a happy journey

The algorithm was created using data from a range of websites – including, which allows users to choose between two photos of different locations which they prefer, together with Google Street View, Geograph, tags of #happy or #pretty attached to photos posted on Twitter, and 3.7 million Flickr photos that people found “quiet,” “relaxing,” or “cheerful.” Although this algorithm has only been tested within London, Boston, and Barcelona, it is set to be released to application developers around the globe. This creates an almost limitless set of applications. On Halloween, pedestrians can take scarier routes; on Saturday nights, people can navigate through cities based on the highest concentration of pictures that use the words #fun or #party.

However, there are some immediate limitations to the application. The “happiness” of a place is easily influenced by the time of day people take a route, which the algorithm does not take into account. Some streets might have musicians playing and families leisurely walking on the weekend, but are packed with grumpy commuters during morning rush hour.

The formula for what the algorithm’s makers define as a happy place also influences the potential of this algorithm. The demographics of those who initially tested it were 60% male, between the ages of 20 and 50, and tech-savvy enough to actively volunteer for this project. Yet, women, minorities, and elderly populations often experience urban spaces differently, and have different mobility needs. Having an application that suggests the most scenic route for an able-bodied man might be an unpleasant, or even dangerous route, for other users. Furthermore, when the algorithm is developed into an application it might ultimately fail from its own initial success. If too many people are visiting a route marked as “peaceful” it can ruin the very feeling that made the place so treasured.

Ethical issues with location-based technology

Aside from these initial limitations, there is also a much more unsettling issue that needs to be raised about the use of this technology. The places people inhabit the most are the places people care about the most. It’s no surprise, then, that the rapid rise of suburbanization in the 1950s led to disinvestment in cities in the United States at the same time, with many cities experiencing increased poverty and population loss. But what is surprising is that the number of people writing about poverty declined even as inequality was on the rise.

Disadvantaged communities – including those unlikely to live in a scenic (or #pretty) location – are already marginalized from economic and social opportunities in cities. To craft an algorithm to only see the beautiful parts of a metropolis would move poverty from something difficult to solve to an issue that disappears entirely from newspapers, books, and policy debates because it would be a phenomenon people would never be forced to see or think about.

This one ethical issue showcases a growing challenge that city planners are facing with how to address technology that is changing the interactions between people and cities in ways that urban policies are hard-pressed to keep up with. Other applications like Microsoft’s location-based ads text pedestrians with coupons to nearby stores drive traffic – for those stores that can pay for this service. Location-based survey services such as SurveySwipe can provide urban planners with important information about what services people want and what infrastructure they need improved – for those city residents that have smart-phones. Technology can be an incredibly powerful tool for public participation within cities, but it must be remembered that the true beauty of an application cannot be assessed at first glance – or even first walk – but should be assessed by the enduring good it has to make cities more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful for all. 

Scaling up sustainability: ‘Raahgiri Day’ comes to New Delhi

Thu, 2014-07-10 20:29

Raahgiri Day, a day in which streets are closed to cars and open to pedestrians and cyclists is a time to celebrate community and human-centered mobility that is swiftly expanding throughout India. Photo by EMBARQ.

Raahgiri Day, the weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making, and socializing, has expanded beyond Gurgaon, India. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) together with the New Delhi Police Department has decided to stage the first Raahgiri Day in New Delhi this weekend. Beginning July 13, 2014, the inner circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place and its various radial roads will be converted into pedestrian and cycling zones each Sunday.

This is a pivotal moment for sustainable, active transport in India’s cities. Moving from the city of Gurgaon, population 800,000 people, to New Delhi, population 22 million, is a huge leap, one that reminds us that reorienting cities around people – not cars – is achievable. This starts New Delhi on an important path towards combatting air pollution and improving public health, and all of India one step closer towards being an exemplar of sustainable urban development for other emerging economies.

Raahgiri Gurgaon a test-bed for a brighter urban future for India

New Delhi already houses 22 million people within its metropolitan region, and this number is growing annually at a rate of 4.6%. This rapid population increase, combined with shifting consumption patterns and increasing infrastructure development, have created more congested roads and compromised public spaces. Delhi is fighting air pollution that is worse than Beijing’s while simultaneously finding that less than 5% of women feel safe in the city’s public spaces. Leaders have been actively searching for innovative ways to show its residents that it is possible, with public support, to make the megacity more livable.  With Raahgiri Day, it seems to have found an answer.

Raahgiri Gurgaon, which began in November 2013, has proved that even in an increasingly motorized city, sustainable mobility is possible. Its success has sparked a shift in mindset and lifestyle among city residents, many of whom have now become proponents of active transport. A recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India in Gurgaon 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 levels of physical activity. Furthermore, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sundays in Gurgaon were 95 parts per million (ppm) less than the typical weekday in the city (99 ppm compared to 194 ppm). With Delhi’s mortality rate doubling in the past two decades due to air pollution, the potential for Raahgiri Delhi to improve public health and clean the air cannot be ignored.

Raahgiri’s success and expansion enabled by collaboration

Expanding Raahgiri to Delhi required collaboration between government and civil society. For example, the Delhi Police and NDMC conducted route reviews to evaluate potential sites in the heart of the city, while the initiative in Gurgaon was originally spearheaded by a founding group of NGOs, namely EMBARQ India, Pedal Yatri, India Cycle Service, I am Gurgaon, and Road Safety Officers. Moreover, EMBARQ India and NDMC plan on expanding Raahgiri Delhi even further, expanding routes within the city and gradually increasing attendance.

In order to help Raahgiri Day gain traction in Delhi and other Indian cities, EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt hosted a webinar on The Hub to share lessons learned in implementing this event in Gurgaon to inspire and instruct other cities. Experts in the fields of sustainable transport and urban development joined representatives from India and around the world – including Delhi, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune in India as well as cities in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Canada – to explore what active transport and streets for people could do for their cities.

Spreading sustainable mobility internationally

Raahgiri Day is slowly moving from a Gurgaon phenomenon to a country-wide practice. As Bhatt has stated:

“This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.”

The cities of Ludhiana and Navi Mumbai have already followed Gurgaon and Delhi’s lead to begin Raahgiri Days of their own. It is no longer a question of whether Raahgiri day has been a successful sustainability initiative, but simply a question of which city will join in next. 

Friday Fun: Mumbai’s Seatbelt Crew wants you to buckle up

Fri, 2014-05-30 20:20

Groups like the Seatbelt Crew combine education and entertainment to get automobile drivers on Mumbai, India’s crowded roads to buckle-up. Photo by Jerry H./Flickr.

Imagine it’s a hot, sunny day in Mumbai, India. Traffic is stopped. As you watch people passing by, suddenly a group of hijras – sometimes referred to as India’s transgender “third sex” – in matching saris file into the streets and strategically position themselves among the cars. Are they extras from a Bollywood movie? Perhaps a flash mob?

No, they are The Seatbelt Crew.

The Seatbelt Crew is a public service initiative of VithU, an emergency App, and Ogilvy and Mather, an international advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. The hijras’ goal is to remind drivers that they have a simple safety tool in their car: the seatbelt. It turns out to be a pretty effective tool as well: according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2013 Global status report on road safety, “seat-belts reduce the risk of a fatal injury by up to 50% for front seat occupants, and up to 75% for rear seat occupants.” The statistics speak for themselves, but seatbelt-wearing rates, as well as urban design techniques that can reduce the likelihood of traffic crashes in the first place, still lag in many cities. Studies have shown that an effective way to increase the use of seatbelts is to strategically combine educational social marketing efforts with legislation and law enforcement – and many countries have set out to do just that.

Countries entertain for education and impact

Popular campaigns over the decades have taken a variety of approaches, from humorous to dramatic. Some have left their mark as cultural treasures and award winning works of art. Others are remembered solely by the lives that they’ve saved.

Costa Rica combines love and the law for record change

In Costa Rica, the Por Amor campaign of 2003-2004 asked drivers, “por amor use el cinturón” (for love, use your seat belt) prompting drivers to choose to wear a seatbelt for the sake of family and friends. The campaign paralleled the introduction of a new seat belt law. The goal was to achieve a seatbelt-wearing rate of 70%. After the campaign, a survey confirmed that a combination of the campaign, seatbelt legislation, and police enforcement raised seatbelt useage by drivers from 24% to 82%, and recorded traffic fatality rates in the same period dropped by 13%.

The United States: Learning from Vince and Larry

The Crash Test Dummies, Vince and Larry, was a campaign in the United States that addressed this serious problem with a humorous approach. The dummies were so beloved that they now sit in the National Museum of American History collections as cultural icons. Their message also has had widespread impact – from 1985-1999, seat belt usage in the United States increased from 14% to 79%, saving an estimated 85,000 lives, and US$ 3.2 billion in costs to society. The Click It or Ticket campaign has continued Vince and Larry’s dedication through a new series, #3Seconds2Life, making an emotional connection between life’s special three-second moments and the time it takes to buckle up.

Europe embraces drama for impact

Language is not a barrier for understanding the dramatic campaign “Do not disconnect the line of life,” produced by the Ministry of Health and WHO in Russia. Likewise, the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership in England launched the impactful seatbelt and road safety campaign Embrace Life in 2010. The video won numerous safety awards, along with attracting 11.8 million hits on YouTube.

Meanwhile, a 2011 campaign in Afyonkarahisar, Turkey promoted that “Life has the right of way over time,” reminding watchers that the fun moments of everyday life are best enjoyed when protected by a seatbelt.  This video, combined with intensive social marketing campaigns across various mediums, local media support, and increased enforcement, all helped to increase the initial seatbelt wearing rate to about 49%.

Entertainment, combined with legislation pushes safety forward

Countries around the world understand the full importance of having citizens wear seatbelts. At least in terms of legislation, the outlook is positive. WHO states that 111 countries (69% of the world’s population) now have comprehensive seat-belt laws covering all occupants. However, to translate this into acculturating social norms towards safety (getting people to actually use their seatbelts) it will take a combination of enforcement by trained police (generally through fines) as well as more lighthearted approaches, from Vince and Larry to the Por Amor campaign. From seatbelts and helmets to speed limits and transport planning that supports safer streets, strengthening safe road behavior will require persistent attention. Yet, the potential societal shifts are vast, for convincing individuals to make smarter decisions today can pass down safer societal norms throughout generations.

What entertaining ways can you think of to promote seatbelt usage? Let us know in the comments!

Across the divide: Information and communication connect users and transport systems

Wed, 2014-05-28 20:10

Information-communication technologies have the ability to improve data quality for transport operators while increasing convenience for transport users. Photo by Frederik_Rowing/Flickr.

As the situation stands in India, lack of data connectivity inhibits the success of urban transport systems on two fronts. On one hand, transport operators do not have the baseline information to do their job efficiently. On the other hand, transport users are not given the data they need to make informed decisions on how they can move throughout their cities. In response, urban residents turn to private vehicles to claim a greater sense of ownership over their mobility. Although complex, there are clear steps forward in order to create the basic ecosystem for successful transport systems in Indian cities.

These steps include using current information-communication technologies (ICT) to tie together currently discrete services into a cohesive transport network. These ICT solutions are particularly relevant to India’s notoriously chaotic urban bus systems. To do this, it is necessary to change the way that cities deal with data – including streamlining data classification and coding as well as building platforms for transport operators and casual users alike to utilize the city’s transport data. With a stronger information-communication technology framework, India’s disparate urban transport systems can merge into continuous, adaptable, and convenient platforms for urban mobility.

The need for stronger data

One of the major roadblocks in strengthening India’s urban transport systems is a lack of consistent classification within each system; each individual defines routes differently, there are no sequence of bus stops or set schedules, and no shared set of maps. This means that users have unreliable information as to when they can catch the bus, or where the bus will drop them off. This unreliable information creates inconvenience, in turn fueling car culture and increasing motorization.

Meanwhile, processes that have been given to bus drivers to help streamline operations and collect useful data – including trip planning, rostering, vehicle and duty allocation, and fare collection and consolidation – are so tedious that the data the drivers input is often so incorrect as to be useless, or missing entirely. In order for transport operators to create more effective routes and more innovative pricing structures, they need accurate data. The drivers need to be given platforms where they can quickly input data, and enable management to assess the data and adapt accordingly.

ICT success demands streamlined processes

Moving towards creating a single, interconnected network demands grappling with the current system’s size and volume. Even the smallest operator will often have hundreds of buses in a fleet. Some of this volume can be resolved through technology. With prevalent GPS systems in buses that can report to central operators whether buses are in or out of service, individual transport operators no longer need to worry about writing down where they are going – technology can track their locations faster and with more accuracy. At other times, the problem of volume can be solved by outsourcing the large problem to many different people – for example, by using electronic ticketing machines so individuals can pay at kiosks before getting on the bus. This system relieves bus drivers from a time-consuming task, demands that the buses keep to a regular route near the kiosks, and saves travel time for all.

Underpinning both of these solutions is a larger demand for a streamlined process between the overarching strategy and the daily operations of buses that is common across vendors and neighborhoods. This is necessary for creating a system that allows is both easily navigable and enjoyable to use.

Big data done the right way: Unlocking the potential for sustainable transport

Even if this streamlined system is only partially successful, it entails generating large amounts of data on the number of passengers, peak times, and areas of concentrated demand. This data has the potential to just sit on different computers, helping individual vendors take infinitesimal bites out of their competition. But, if the different data streams meet, and this data is synthesized in an accessible way, then it can provide immense value to everyone in the system, from vendors who can see whether the current supply of buses matches up with demand, to drivers who can see the most profitable routes, to everyday users who can access buses where and when they need them. Making this data attractive through infographics, and placing it on mobile platforms through time tables, route maps, and interactive trip planners, might even entice some customers back to sustainable transport – or to create new mobility systems of their own.

A story of demand and dissent for Mumbai’s skywalks

Fri, 2014-05-16 19:36

Mumbai India’s skywalks have been a symbol of poor planning for the city, but with public engagement and key design initiatives, the skywalk still has the potential to increase access for the residents of the city. Photo by TheMumbaiflyover/Flickr.

Mumbai, India’s skywalk project was meant to provide better connectivity and accessibility for pedestrians in the city. The project – a joint initiative of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Maharshtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) – aimed to build a target of 50 skywalks with a pricetag of USD 123 million. The goal was not only to build the world’s largest skywalk network, but also to shape Mumbai as an innovative leader in urban planning among developing cities. Due in part to poor planning and a contractor-driven agenda, the skywalks are now largely a blight on the city. Yet, the project’s failures also serve to illuminate the path forward. With human-centred design and public participation, these skywalks can become the tools to increase sustainable mobility that Mumbai’s planners envisioned and that citizens deserve.

Skywalks: The seemingly silver bullet

There was originally huge enthusiasm in the media for Mumbai’s skywalks – they were seen as solutions for a healthier, more active lifestyle, calming traffic, and fighting pollution. Thirty-seven skywalks rose around the city over the course of the past five years. Yet a survey conducted by the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit revealed that only one or two major skywalks were attracting pedestrians. The MMRDA called off further construction of the skywalks amidst growing dissent over the once glorified project. In an interview given to the Times of India, Vasai legislator and activist Vivek Pandit dubbed the skywalk project a “contractor driven project” with hardly any public outreach and little research behind the locations and safety of the skywalks. The Times found that only 1% of pedestrians use the skywalks for commuting, which was thought to yield the highest economic return for the project.

More problems come to light

Dissent surrounding the skywalks only increased following public availability of data on the project’s safety. According to a recent survey published in the Hindustan Times, 63.2% of people said the skywalks were not safe for women, especially at non-peak hours. 42.6% felt they were unsafe for everyone, with 81.4% going so far as to say that there needed to be full time security.

Other issues emerged, such as skywalks being constructed too close to residential buildings and creating privacy issues for residents; in other places, construction was delayed by as long as four years and caused persistent traffic congestion in the surrounding communities. Some of the issues with the skywalk were more subtle, such as there being no visible signboards for first time users. Lack of services, such as escalators and ramps, also made it difficult for the mobility-impaired to access the skywalks.

Can the skywalk be saved?

Pulling the plug and knocking down or closing the skywalks will not aid Mumbai’s mounting  traffic congestion problem or advance the city towards walkability, livability, or sustainability. After several comparative studies of services being offered successfully in other cities, such as metro stations in Delhi, the Vadodra Bus Terminal of Gujrat, and the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport of Hyderbabad a few key initiatives have been found that can turn Mumbai’s skywalks into a successful project not only in terms of utility but in terms of revenue as well:

  • Increase usability with proper signboards to help first-time commuters.
  • Increase accessibility for all populations by providing escalators and wheelchairs at all skywalks.
  • Increase infrastructure maintenance for clean walkways and to avoid unwanted encroachment.
  • Strategic placement of skywalks around metros and airports to connect and integrate transport modes.
  • Partner with local vendors to occupy areas around the footpaths to drum up foot traffic—increasing safety and helping local businesses.
  • Provide both male and female security guards to increase security for female commuters.

Any project that seeks to bring long-term sustainability to an urban area requires public engagement, particularly as these projects are taxpayer-funded and citizens are the ultimate users. Indian city dwellers are beginning to question the infrastructure that their cities are providing them, and they are growing ever more resolute in asserting their needs. For Mumbai’s skywalks and beyond, Indian citizens have made their demand for safe, connected cities and the sustainable mobility they deserve.


Integrating health benefits into transport planning and policy: The case of Indore, India

Thu, 2014-05-01 19:55

The city of Indore, India, is a pilot city for the creation of a new Health Impact Assessment methodology that will be used to evaluate the potential impacts of transport developments and policies on city residents. Photo by McKay Savage/Flickr.

India alone accounts for about 10% of traffic fatalities worldwide. Fourteen lives are lost every hour, totalling 330 people that die each day on India’s roads. Out of this number, pedestrians comprise 21% of these deaths. In order to combat these fatalities, Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) should be used to evaluate the potential impacts of traffic developments and policies on city residents. Recently on TheCityFix, we discussed why Health Impact Assessments should be an integral part of transport policy and planning. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how this plays out in the Indian context.

The dominant Health Impact Assessment model was not originally intended to address the transport sector, nor was it optimized to work for the kinds of problems faced by developing countries. To create a more contextually appropriate Health Impact Assessment model, EMBARQ India developed a methodology focusing on modal shift – when users switch from one transport mode to another – and vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) for Indian cities, where measurement of health outcomes can be difficult and resource-intensive. This model was then used to evaluate the health impacts of the recently implemented bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor in the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The case of Indore reveals the immense potential of Health Impact Assessments to benefit the safety and health of people in emerging economies.

Establishing a baseline for progress

One of the first components of this new Health Impact Assessment methodology is a baseline assessment of the current impacts unsafe transport options have on Indore’s residents. Motorized two-wheelers and unorganized public transport – like auto-rickshaws, mini buses and vans – contribute to around 85% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Indore. A 2012 study from EMBARQ India and TARU identified vehicle traffic to be the primary source of air pollution and also found very high concentration of particulate matter levels in several areas of Indore. This rapid increase of motor vehicles in Indore has contributed to an equally rapid decline in air quality.

Increasing air pollution has a corresponding effect on citizens’ health. High PM10 – one of two types of particulate matter – values can cause respiratory health problems such as coughing, wheezing, and reduced lung function; 20 million people already suffer from asthma across India. Outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 620,000 deaths in India in 2010, a six-fold increase from 2000, and is the fifth leading cause of disease in India. Acute respiratory infections are one of the most common causes of deaths in children under five in India, and they contributed to 13% of in-patient deaths in pediatric wards in India in 2013. Roughly 1.6 million Indians died in 2012 from traffic crashes, a 73% rise from 2001 that is estimated to further increase by 200,000 deaths and 3 million hospitalizations by 2015.  

The health impacts of transport projects significantly impact economic vitality for cities and communities. The exposure to air pollution and increase in vehicles increases the cost to society via visits to the emergency room, hospital admissions and missed days of work and school and is  estimated at a loss of 3% of India’s GDP. This translates into a loss of 4522.96 million Indian Rupees (INR) (US$ 113.08 million) for a 50 micrograms per cubic meter increase in PM10, also known as an increase in ash-sized particles that can be inhaled and accumulate in the lungs, leading to lowered immune systems, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer.

Findings in Indore resonate across India

The damages caused by an increase in vehicles and air pollution levels is significant, yet findings from Indore show that with proper attention to the health impacts of transport developments, the gains from shifting people from cars to sustainable transport are also vast. It is estimated that those who switch from cars to bicycles gain three to 14 months on their lives on average. Additionally, should Indore maintain its BRT network, the city can save an estimated 19 lives per year after 2014, resulting from the reduction in traffic fatalities from fewer vehicles on the road, reduced exposure to air pollution, and increased physical activity.

In order to accurately estimate the health impacts of transport, more research is needed to develop tools that more accurately reflect the environmental context of India and other developing countries. This is especially true of measuring physical activity, for which there is the least data available.

Engraining health and equity into future public policy

The case study of Indore has laid an important foundation for assessing the potential impacts of new urban developments, but there is still more work to be done. For example, the poor in India are the most vulnerable to air pollution exposure and road accidents because they are the largest proportion of pedestrians and cyclists. The equity issues related to the health impacts of transportation decisions also require careful study and consideration, for a Health Impact Assessment that brings positive benefits to only part of the population is not truly successful.

The pace and scale of environmental, social, and economic change occurring across India contributes to the urgency of applying the models created in Indore across all of India. Growing demand for motor vehicles and an increasingly affluent populace are widening inequality and exacerbating the health impacts on the most disadvantaged portions of society. Health Impact Assessment can help evaluate the economic benefits of transportation projects, complementing the usual metrics like time savings and reduction in operational costs, to help policy makers choose the most sustainable and socially responsible development projects, creating healthier, safer cities for all residents.


Cities that inspire us for United Nations Global Road Safety Week 2015

Thu, 2014-05-01 00:46

Pedestrianization projects like those is Istanbul, Turkey can reduce traffic crashes and protect pedestrians. Photo by Andres Arjona/Flickr.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the third Global Road Safety Week occurred in April 2014. The third Global Road Safety week is planned for 2015. 

Already there are 1.2 million traffic-related deaths per year worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, if we stay on a business-as-usual course, road fatalities are expected to become the fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. In order to stem this rising crisis, the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration has set up a yearly Global Road Safety Week to convene country leaders, draw attention to the urgent need to protect all road users worldwide, and create policies that advance the goals of the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

But committing to road safety takes more than writing policy; it necessitates understanding not simply how urban systems should work, but the subtle ways in which humans actually act in these spaces. This understanding means true success can only occur when urban residents both refuse to accept auto-centric development and know concrete steps they can take to correct unsafe situations. In honor of the UN Global Road Safety Collaboration announcing its commitment to Global Road Safety Week 2015, TheCityFix has rounded up some of our favorite examples of cities addressing road safety challenges and their innovative solutions to bring back human-centered mobility.

The re-making of public spaces in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey faced the problem of needing to move a daytime population of 2.5 million people efficiently around its Historic Peninsula. The city needed to advance its infrastructure to meet the needs of its residents, yet the small, twisting alleyways of the historic district made this task appear impossible without creating several highways. Yet this solution would have decimated the rich character of the area.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Fatih Municipality, in collaboration with EMBARQ Turkey, worked to pedestrianize some 250 streets in Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula. In order to move people efficiently throughout the peninsula, the city also installed a light-rail trolley. These pedestrianization projects have had multiple benefits, from supporting physical activity, growing economic development through the increase in customers walking along commercial corridors, and producing better air quality. Istanbul’s example shows that it is possible to build pedestrian spaces that improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, without sacrificing mobility.

Accessibility in Bangalore: Putting pedestrians first

With 10 million people, the city of Bangalore has doubled its population over the past twenty years. With this increase in population has come an explosion in the rates of motorization, with 50% of households now owning motorized transport. Much of this new wealth has gone towards road construction and expansion. This increasingly auto-centric infrastructure has resulted in disappearing sidewalks and barriers between pedestrians and car users and increased congestion on roadways. This leads to an increase in traffic crashes, particularly those involving pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

But Bangalore is working to reverse this trend and restore pedestrian infrastructure. The “Towards a Walkable and Sustainable Bengaluru: A Safe Access Project for Indiranagar Metro” project looks to increase safe access to Bangalore’s metro stations for residents using all kinds of transport, while preserving the vibrant informal economy of street vendors and rickshaw drivers that rely on these transport hubs.

Leading locally for large-scale change

Already, half of the world lives in cities. By 2050, 70 percent of people are expected to live in cities. If we begin to think of road safety as an afterthought in this rapid urbanization process, it will be too late. To maintain cities as locations for opportunity and innovation, we need to preserve the flow of people and goods through safe and efficient transportation. Well-planned cities that offer multiple sustainable mobility options will improve urbanites’ quality of life and provide access to opportunities. Examples like Istanbul and Bangalore, combined with EMBARQ’s other road safety work in cities across the globe, offers strong examples for how to make this safe, connected, sustainable future possible.

Hailing autos everywhere: Entrepreneurial ideas transform Chennai’s auto-rickshaw sector

Mon, 2014-04-28 22:30

New services are venturing to transform the way the auto-rickshaw sector is managed in Chennai, India – to the benefit of users. Photo by Matthieu Aubry/Flickr.

Chennai, the capital of the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has long been infamous for the poor quality of its auto-rickshaw services. Until recently, it was best known for delinquent drivers fleecing passengers as they refused to use fare meters. However, a long unmet desire for reliable last-mile connectivity has catalyzed private entrepreneurs to venture into the auto-rickshaw sector. These private entrepreneurs, such as the new Makkal Auto service, have in the past month improved the quality of transport for their own passengers through transparency and smart use of technology. Combined with state government’s reforms aimed at ensuring fair pricing, the hope is that the actions of Makkal Auto and other entrepreneurs will spark a paradigm shift in the efficiency and quality of the city’s auto-rickshaw services.

Makkal Auto brings entrepreneurial mindset to auto-rickshaw sector

Makkal Auto’ means “people’s auto” in Tamil. While another private auto-rickshaw service with the same name exists in Coimbatore, Mansoor Ali Khan, the founder of Makkal Auto (Chennai) and the co-founder of Namma Auto, believes this is a good thing. A familiar name, he hopes, will bring credibility and an emotional connection with it.

Namma Auto, meaning “our auto” in Tamil, was launched in May 2013 as the first private company providing metered auto-rickshaw services in Chennai. It provides hassle-free, metered rides and allows users to both call to book an auto-rickshaw or flag one down on the roadside. Besides using a digital meter and providing courteous service, Namma Auto rickshaw drivers give printed receipts of the fare to passengers. One unanticipated challenge is that Namma Auto’s strong branding makes it easier for unions and other more scrupulous drivers to stop them from gaining customers at traditional rickshaw stands. This issue has not been formally resolved, but despite lingering tensions,  the owners of Namma Auto are learning from such obstacles, and hope to make Makkal Auto a better venture.

Learning lessons on leveraging resources

One of Makkal Auto’s biggest strengths is its use of technology. Each of the rickshaw drivers has a tablet with software developed by Singapore-based company Terratech. The software presents information to the passenger – information about the driver, advertisements for local stores, and in the future possibly documentaries and television series to watch. The tablet also acts as a GPS system, allowing the company’s owners to see where the rickshaws are most needed and monitor the movement of the autos.

Since the tablet is a big investment (each one costs INR 20,000 or USD 330), the use of the tablets is being rolled out slowly. The tablet is currently being used in 100 auto-rickshaws, of which 25 are owned directly by Makkal Auto. So far, the technology seems wildly successful, with a list of 800 drivers who are willing to use this meter in their vehicle, and several companies wanting to place their advertisements on the rickshaw’s tablet.

Along with the tablet, Makkal Auto also offers a “help” button. When pressed, it alerts the traffic police control room and the Makkal Auto regional office. Pressing the help button also initiates the camera in the tablet to start recording automatically, providing passengers an extra layer of security. However, since the meter runs on the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) system, it is necessary that the infrastructure is in place for the tablets to work. Makkal Auto has also started providing cashless payment options to passengers.  Currently, this capability is only being used in 15 rickshaws, but it would be surprising if the practice did not expand. Cashless payment gives the company’s owners better tracking of their business, and gives customers less of a reason to carry around large sums of money, and in turn, more security.

Makkal Auto’s new auto-rickshaw meters attach tablets, enabling passengers access to GPS and even entertainment during their ride. Photo by Roshan Toshniwal.

Placing importance on safety and courtesy

Makkal Auto has also seen immense success for its female only auto-rickshaw services. Inspired by the Pink auto initiative in Gurgaon, Makkal Auto provides auto rickshaws driven by women to cater to women, children, the elderly, and men accompanying female passengers. Currently, there are 25 trained female drivers in their service. The company helped these women to obtain their driver’s license and also helps them grow their customer base. The company also provides the women auto-rickshaws on a rental basis.

In addition to this increased concern for women’s safety, Makkal Auto has placed a central emphasis on courtesy. Makkal Auto’s drivers have been instructed to charge as per the meter, and not ask for tips. If the commuter is happy with the driver’s service, there is an option to leave a tip in a donation box where the passenger sits. This is a more dignified approach, as it creates a more relaxing environment for the user and prompts the driver to deliver better service.

Makkal Auto’s strategic use of technology and increased courtesy is likely to be successful, but it is not simply this singular company’s success that is incredible. As Indian citizens recognize how a rickshaw service can be safe, comfortable, and tech-savvy, user’s preferences are likely to force other rickshaw companies to deliver the same calibre of service. By increasing the expectations of auto-rickshaw drivers, and giving the drivers the technological tools to deliver on those expectations, it has the capability to transform the auto-rickshaw sector and significantly improve mobility in Indian cities.


Subscribe to our mailing list

Register to receive news and announcements from WRI Cities Hub

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.