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When President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions out of the Paris Agreement, there was understandable concern. But much of the United States pledged to continue moving forward with climate action anyway, and a report finds their commitments could be very significant.
According to new analysis, more than 2,500 non-federal actors representing more than half the U.S. economy – including cities, counties, states, businesses, colleges and more – have pledged their support for the Paris Agreement goals.
If these cities and states were their own country, they’d be the world’s third-largest economy.
This research is presented in a report by America’s Pledge, a new initiative led by California Governor Jerry Brown and UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Michael Bloomberg to quantify the climate actions and recent commitments from non-federal actors. WRI, along with the Rocky Mountain Institute and CDP, conducted the analysis for the Phase 1 America’s Pledge Report released at COP23 in Bonn, Germany.
Here are some other key findings on the progression of U.S. climate action:American States, Cities and Businesses Are Reducing Emissions
In addition to the 10 states with cap-and-trade programs and 96 U.S. businesses using internal carbon prices, our analysis shows that non-federal actors are already reducing emissions from major sectors. For example:
- Electricity Generation: Twenty-nine states, representing more than half (56 percent) of retail electricity sales in the country, have mandatory renewable portfolio standards, with nine others setting voluntary renewable energy goals.
- Transportation: Thirty U.S. cities have committed $10 billion to purchase 114,000 electric vehicles (EVs) for their municipal fleets – a number roughly equivalent to all the EVs sold in the country in the first eight months of 2017.
- Building and Industrial Energy Use: More than 400 companies, representing more than 13 percent of total U.S. commercial building space, and almost 2,600 industrial facilities have voluntarily committed to reduce their energy use through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings / Better Plants program.
- Methane Emissions: Methane is up to 36 times more potent than CO2, and is emitted from several sources, including landfills. Twenty states have bond, grant, loan or rebate programs that support development of landfill gas-to-energy projects, which capture methane to use for electricity generation.
- Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) Emissions: HFCs are up to 12,000 times more potent than CO2 and are used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation and other applications. Forty-three supermarkets have committed to reducing their HFC emissions, with 533 individual stores certified under this program since 2008.
- Land-use and Forestry: More than 3,000 communities are implementing urban forestry measures through Tree City USA, including maintaining a tree board or department, and having a community tree ordinance.
Cleaner energy and electric transportation are emerging as not just emissions-reduction leaders in the United States, but cost-savings leaders as well. Within the electricity sector, coal is no longer competitive with cheaper renewable energy and natural gas, thanks to state-level clean energy mandates, declining clean technology costs, low-cost and cleaner-burning natural gas, citizen mobilization against dirty power plants and Congressionally approved renewable tax credits. For example, in August 2017, the Department of Energy announced that its “SunShot” target to make solar power cost competitive with conventional forms of energy had been met three years early.
Within the buildings sector, energy efficiency gains have outpaced most official projections: since 2005, the Energy Information Agency’s estimate for 2025 total energy use by U.S. buildings has dropped by more than 20 percent.
The transportation sector has overtaken electricity as the largest source of U.S. emissions, but is also potentially on the cusp of major change. For example, electric vehicles are widely anticipated to be less expensive and have lower lifetime costs than conventional vehicles by 2025-29.Decarbonization and GDP Growth Are Happening Simultaneously
Falling clean technology prices, emerging innovations, and actions by states, cities and businesses have helped reduce U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the economy grew by 15 percent over that period. This has allowed states, businesses and cities to take on steeper emissions-reduction targets and accelerated renewable energy commitments.
For example, nine northeastern states have implemented the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to create a market-based system that reduces electric sector emissions 2.5 percent a year through 2020. RGGI has reduced power sector CO2 emissions more than 45 percent since 2005 while the region’s per-capita GDP continued to grow. In August, RGGI announced that it will accelerate emission reductions over the next decade to provide an additional 30 percent cap on 2030 power sector emissions, compared to 2020 levels.We Still Need More
Across the United States, governors, mayors and business leaders are acting to fill the climate action void created by current federal policies. With public support and effective collaboration, they can drive U.S. climate action forward.
Indeed, sustained action by U.S. states, cities and businesses can help maintain momentum and lay the foundation for future re-engagement by the federal government after 2020 – which is needed in the long term.
In its next phase of work, the America’s Pledge initiative will aggregate and quantify the full range of potential U.S. non-federal actions, including how they affect the country’s ability to reach its emissions-reduction target. In the meantime, expect to see more and more non-federal actors stepping up for climate action.
Kristin Igusky is an Associate in WRI’s Global Climate Program.
Kevin Kennedy is Deputy Director of the U.S. Climate Initiative in WRI’s Global Climate Program.
On September 29, the Mumbai suburban train services saw one of the worst catastrophes in its history when 23 commuters lost their lives in a stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station. An enquiry committee of the highest level was formed, and the entire railway system is mobilizing to review and rework the way it provides passenger amenities and safety facilities.
But this incident was about more than overcrowding a narrow foot bridge. It should compel policymakers to rethink transportation integration at a larger level.
Much of the focus after the deadly accident has been on adding more capacity. But if adding more train service was such an easy solution, then the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP), which has cumulatively invested more than $1.4 billion to upgrade and enhance suburban railway infrastructure, would have had a bigger impact by now. Instead, despite more than 2,800 suburban train services a day reaching some 8 million Mumbaikers, the average commuter still faces “super-dense crushed load” conditions, with up to 16 hapless commuters per square meter of train space.
In initiatives like MUTP, it is frequently assumed that new capacity will bring more comfort to riders. The first phase of MUTP aimed to bring down the number of passengers per train on the Western Railway during peak periods from 4,500 to 3,600, but could only achieve 4,016. The next phase started from a baseline of 5,400 peak hour passengers per train on the Western Railway route and set a more realistic target of 4,000, but could only achieve 5,257.
And herein lies the reason why project after project has failed to decongest Mumbai’s notorious rail system. Commuters are like water, always flowing through the path of least resistance. As long as the rail system is the only option for many people, more capacity will simply be filled with more demand. In the case of Mumbai suburban, the extra capacity created during peak hours was easily occupied by those who previously used other modes of public transport, private vehicles or previously traveled during non-peak hours. Indeed, after phase two of the MUTP, the World Bank’s independent evaluation group acknowledged that “better services increased demand more than had been expected.”
Yet, some policymakers have yet to learn these lessons. The third phase of MUTP is currently focused on quadrupling the length of track and adding additional train services.
To truly reduce congestion on suburban trains in the medium to long term, planning must take into account the bigger picture and become much more integrated.
Some 22 percent of commuters on Mumbai suburban trains travel less than 10 kilometers. Many could easily be shifted to non-motorized transport modes, like walking and cycling, if they had access to adequate and safe infrastructure. The example of congestion at Elphinstone Road is pertinent here. A large chunk of Central Railway route passengers get down at Dadar to catch the slow local to the next two stations, Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel. If there was well-developed cycling infrastructure integrated with the railway system, many commuters could easily cycle the 2.5-kilometer distance from Dadar to these stations instead.
It would take just a fraction of the $1.4 billion invested in MUTP projects to date to develop robust, sustainable cycling and walking infrastructure. Such changes would decongest trains far more effectively than adding more service. If needed, further mode shifts could be encouraged through fare changes to balance congestion and encourage healthy, sustainable modes of transport.
Why hasn’t this been done already? Fault lies with the institutional structure of the transport sector. India is the only country among the top 100 economies of the world where responsibility for transportation is segregated by mode across multiple government agencies. There is the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Shipping, and Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. Each handles some aspect of transport policy, but barely talks to the others. Add in the various state governments and you have a complex labyrinth of departments with virtually no convergence. There could be millions invested in a project within one ministry, but when an issue requires inter-departmental or inter-ministerial coordination, then no matter how beneficial the resolution might be for citizens, departmentalism makes it difficult to achieve. The case of universal ticketing for trains in Mumbai is a glaring example. After more than two years of futile attempts by the railways, Maharashtra Government and Mumbai Metro, there is nothing to show.
What Mumbai needs is not just more foot bridges, escalators and trains but a more mature and nuanced treatment of the transport policy landscape. Developing multiple modes of citizen-centric, integrated transport, with a focus on cheap and sustainable options, would go much farther toward preventing the next Elphinstone Road disaster than more tracks and more trains.
Vineet Abhishek is a civil servant working with Indian Railways.
A steady drumbeat of events has set the stage – and thrust into the spotlight – the importance of sustainable urban mobility at this year’s climate conference, COP23. The Climate Action in Transport Conference in Berlin, part of the annual European Mobility Week and the first Transport and Climate Change Week, demonstrated the large and growing interest in the transport sector’s potential to deliver significant emissions reductions earlier this fall.
As the world increasingly looks to subnational actors for climate leadership, major global agenda-setting gatherings, like this year’s COP and the World Urban Forum in February, have wide ramifications for urban transport. Transport contributes 23 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and cities account for more than 60 percent of all kilometers travelled globally.
The most urgent question for transport now is how to increase the ambitions of national governments to decarbonize the sector and ensure implementation comes through at the local level.Moving Toward a 1.5-Degree World
Global climate discussions are focused on the integration of national and local policymaking in an effort keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial averages. Transport policy similarly needs to be adjusted at multiple levels.
Transport is currently included in 75 percent of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the voluntary commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement (see Figure 1). But most – 79 percent – do not include any specific, transport-related targets. Subnational actors can and should play important roles in creating appropriate targets.
In the next round of NDCs, which will begin with the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 and result in new “enhanced” NDCs by 2020, experts are also looking for countries and cities to identify specific actions in the transport sector in order to prioritize those with the highest mitigation and development impacts. Previous analysis of transport-related NDCs has shown that global initiatives are missing outstanding opportunities for effective local climate action.
NDCs that currently include action for the transport sector disproportionately concentrate on technological measures, like electric vehicles. For example, reducing energy use and changing how and when people travel can be more effective, since electric vehicles have little effect on climate change as long as the power sector remains profoundly reliant on carbon-heavy fuels.
A more comprehensive implementation strategy specifically designed for the transport sector is “Avoid-Shift-Improve,” which simultaneously encourages higher system, trip and vehicle efficiency. “Avoid” refers to minimizing motorized trips through changes in land use or policies like congestion pricing. “Shift” refers to tilting the modal split toward more public transport and non-motorized travel. “Improve” focuses on technological advances to reduce emissions, such as improving fuel quality and vehicle electrification.Transport Priorities at COP23
Urban transport is an area where cities and states can act as policy architects and showcase their huge potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve quality of life. Indeed, at COP23, there is more focus on subnational actors than ever before.
While negotiators meet in Bonn, a series of transport side events are scheduled throughout the conference, including on the thematic transport day, November 10, and during high-level focus on SDG 11 on November 13. The Paris Process on Mobility and Climate and Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport are also hosting a daily talk show on transport and climate change at 6:00pm CET from November 7-16.
Cities can create better outcomes through infrastructure for electric vehicles, bus rapid transit systems and innovative bike-sharing schemes, to name a few transport interventions with potentially large impacts on climate emissions. Such changes could be replicated quickly and bring other benefits, including safer streets, more economic productivity and reduced pollution.
But change does not happen by itself; cities and national governments need to step up to the challenge. These actions make most sense in close coordination with regional and national planning. And in some cases, cities need assistance with technical capacity and funding. National leaders should recognize and support mayors and other subnational climate champions as partners on the road to 2020. Recognizing the potential of actors at all levels is crucial for tracking and raising climate ambition across the board.
Angela Enriquez is a researcher and program coordinator for the Energy and Climate Team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Linus Platzer is a climate and energy intern at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
In climate negotiations, as elsewhere, the question of money takes center stage. How will existing and future commitments be paid for, and who will invest in potentially capital-intensive infrastructure projects?
Estimates vary depending on a range of factors, but aggregating across sectors and regions reveals a large investment gap. A low-emission future has been estimated to cost an additional 9-27 percent on top of existing, business-as-usual infrastructure costs in the range of $4.1-4.3 trillion per year. How this plays out varies depending on the sector. In transport, for example, a low-carbon transition may be achieved through deep shifts in existing investment portfolios, while climate adaptation will likely require an increase in absolute volumes of funding.
What is clear is that much of these investments will be in cities, especially the fast-growing cities of the global south where the urban form is still taking shape. The momentum and ambition from mayors is there, but we need more to finance sustainable cities. As UN member states, their negotiators and the international community meet in Bonn for COP23 to discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement, here are three ways to unlock financing for urban climate action.1. Localize Climate Financing
By October 2017, more than 2,500 cities and 2,000 companies had committed to undertaking climate actions and the numbers keep growing. Known as “non-Party actors” in UN parlance, cities, states and private companies have the potential for huge emissions reductions and resilience contributions. Even if the federal government withdraws from the Paris Agreement, the United States could be halfway towards achieving its NDC by 2025 if all of the existing mitigation commitments are realized.
Cities and other non-Party actors need national governments and administrators of climate finance to find more ways to pass climate monies down the line. Notwithstanding their differing interests, capacity and resources, non-Party actors need support in realizing their commitments. Cities, for instance, often need support formulating investable projects and managing their typically constrained financing capabilities. In general, climate-smart investments benefit from support for experimentation with new technologies, new contract design and funding approaches, and broad cross-sector capacity- and coalition-building.2. Use Limited Funds Intelligently
The term “climate finance” itself covers a broad range of money flows that help countries cut their emissions and adapt to climate change. Climate finance typically includes development aid and grants (which are non-reimbursable), as well as reimbursable types, such as equity, debt, and credit-enhancing guarantees and insurance.
The role of climate finance must be seen in the context of the task ahead. The combined resources of international climate funds – about $23 billion today – are actually small relative to the trillions needed globally every year to adjust consumption patterns, reorient economic incentives and more that is required to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
We will need strategic and purposeful deployment of limited funds, particularly those originating from public sources. Cities and other non-Party actors should tell their country representatives at the UN to use funds to leverage and unlock resources that would otherwise not be spent on climate-smart investments.
Within current debates, three ways of using climate financing more intelligently stand out:
- Blending: Blended finance consists of the strategic use of development and philanthropic funds to mobilize private capital flows. This approach is particularly important for unlocking investments in emerging markets as it mobilizes much-needed private sector capital while gradually building confidence in the market.
- Direct access: For the past few years, climate funds such as the Adaptation Fund have been allowing developing countries to access funding directly by accrediting national institutions. This allows national entities to surpass international intermediaries, which could in turn improve their ability to attract future investments. A similar arrangement could be developed for cities and subnational actors, for example through the Green Climate Fund.
- Financial aggregation: In sectors where climate-smart investments are small and spread across many individual transactions, as in the case of building efficiency, aggregating projects into a portfolio allows for risk-sharing and economies of scale. Intermediary organizations and dedicated investment vehicles are useful in this process, simultaneously mobilizing private investment while reducing risk, which is paramount for enabling private sector involvement.
Official numbers put global climate finance flows at $741 billion in 2014, but we have little idea of how much is channeled to the local level. Despite recognition of the importance of non-Party actors by both the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, there is no common framework that donors and financiers can use to track the magnitude or destination of subnational climate finance flows.
The existence, and consistent application, of such a global tracking framework for subnational climate finance flows would enable a deeper discussion of how much climate finance should reach the local level, including cities.Empowering Cities and Non-State Actors
Reaching the scale of investments required to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the Paris Agreement envisions, requires countries to mobilize and empower non-Party actors. As in sustainable development more generally, local governments and civil society should be recognized as essential partners in climate-smart development.
Indeed, when thousands of non-state actors from more than 50 countries gathered at the Climate Chance Summit in Morocco last September, how to finance action by non-state and subnational actors was one of the foremost questions from participants.
The investments required are substantial and the timeframes to deliver them are short. This means countries need to focus intently on localizing climate financing, finding the most appropriate use of limited public funds, and ensuring a balance between short-term, rapid gains through local projects and building capacity that sustains momentum in the longer term.
For more on COP23, read our full coverage.
Anne Maassen leads WRI’s work on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, a partnership between WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and C40 Cities, funded by the Citi Foundation, focused on helping cities develop business models to accelerate the implementation of sustainable urban solutions.
Christopher Moon-Miklaucic is the Urban Innovation and Finance Research Assistant at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
At this week’s climate conference in Bonn, Germany, the pressure is on many national governments to continue implementation of the Paris Agreement despite the United States’ intention to withdraw. But they’ll have help from the world’s cities.
Bonn is shaping up to be one of the most urban-centered climate summits yet. America’s Pledge, an effort led by Governor Jerry Brown of California and former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg to aggregate climate commitments from cities and other “non-Party actors,” will launch its first report, informed by analysis from WRI. The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which counts more than 7,400 cities among its members, or 9 percent of the global population, will announce its 2030 goals. And the Urban Leadership Council, a group of representatives from city networks, the private sector and urban think tanks including WRI, will meet for the first time. These events and more are expected to climax with the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders and the Global Covenant of Mayors Day on November 12 and 13.
It’s fitting that cities are stepping up for climate action – they account for more than half the global population and about 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But despite their prominence and power, cities can’t do it alone. They need support from leaders at the national and international levels.Connecting Cities to National Goals
COP23 will prepare the way for next year’s “Talanoa” dialogue, where nations will assess progress towards the targets of the Paris Agreement and countries’ national climate plans, known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs. But while the diplomatic machinery of NDCs was built with national governments in mind, much of the implementation required to see them achieved is at the subnational level, where cities play a big role. How national implementation agendas incorporate individual cities is a major open question.
This kind of cooperative planning between cities and national governments can already be seen in a few places. In China, the central government assigns goals for provinces and cities to achieve the national carbon dioxide intensity reduction target. In Brazil, a new national law will help implement the NDC at the subnational and sectoral levels, too. But these examples are exceptions to the rule.
There is also a limit to how much cities can do on their own. While cities consume and emit a great deal, they do not have full control over their emissions sources. According to a report by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, only a third of a typical city’s assets and functions are directly owned or operated by city government. Cities are sometimes able to manage energy consumption through mechanisms such as transport plans and building codes, for instance, but vehicle fuel efficiency and the carbon intensity of the electrical grid are under the jurisdiction of the national government.
Finance is another example. There are wildly varying degrees of coordination between national and city governments, which sometimes prevents climate funds from reaching municipalities or supporting their priorities. To change this, national policymakers need to recognize the growing role of cities in climate action and formally address it. Finding more ways to fund city-level work on a large scale is critical.
Cities also need technical capacity to put added attention and funding to good use. In the rapidly growing cities of the global south, most of the infrastructure, housing and other services needed to absorb new residents have yet to be built. Decisions made now will influence the sustainability of cities for decades – not to mention economic and social outcomes, which are inextricably linked.Why It Matters to Get Cities Right
Critics have pointed out that there were similar calls for independent subnational implementation after the United States chose not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and after climate negotiations failed at COP15 in Copenhagen. The result was that emissions didn’t decline. Mere touting of climate leadership by mayors and advocates will not turn emissions trajectories by itself. Things need to be different this time around.
To successfully implement the climate agenda in cities, we need better coordination between city and national planning that produces specific actions, agreement on how to fund them at a large scale and capacity to see them done. It is time for national and city governments to work together, hand-in-hand, to bend the global emissions trajectory towards sustainability.
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.
Wee Kean Fong is a Senior Associate at WRI who leads the GHG Protocol for Cities as part of the broader effort to promote data-driven city climate actions.
Linus Platzer is the Climate & Energy Intern at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Dubai is blazing a new path for cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by calling attention to energy consumption in buildings and highlighting the lack of data available to benchmark usage rates and measure progress.
In 2016, Dubai joined the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a global network of cities led by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and proposed a new policy on energy performance labels for existing buildings. The city government launched a pilot project in February 2017, led by the Emirates Green Building Council and Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, to measure the performance of 100 buildings. The Word Green Building Council is a delivery partner for the BEA, supporting its Green Building Councils involved in the program.
To learn more about this endeavor, the first of its kind in the UAE, we sat down with representatives of the Emirates Green Building Council – Operations Director Lora Shrake, Technical Manager Majd Fayyad and Communications Officer Maha Khogali – to gain a better understanding of the project’s progress to date and the collaborative nature of their work. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)Why is building efficiency important for Dubai?
Majd Fayyad: Buildings account for 70-80 percent of energy consumption in the UAE, where we face high temperatures much of the year. There is therefore a great deal of potential around reducing energy demand and shrinking the carbon footprint of buildings. The government of Dubai has identified 30,000 inefficient city buildings in need of retrofits. Initially, in alignment with the government’s energy saving targets, the BEA project aims to benchmark the energy performance of 100 buildings in three focus groups: hotels, schools and shopping malls. In line with Dubai Plan 2021, the government aims to make Dubai one of the most sustainable cities in the world with a primary focus on green buildings, renewable energy and sustainability.Who are the stakeholders involved in the project, and how do they work together?
Fayyad: We created a team that consists of key city developers who are leading the charge on energy efficiency and will provide case studies for the benchmarking project. The advisory committee includes consultants and industry leaders, such as companies and utility providers, who can provide expertise by reviewing the benchmarking methodology and reports.
Lora Shrake: At the launch of the project, we held a stakeholder engagement workshop to ensure that attendees were updated on project progress and technical scope. Participants identified the energy labeling policy and energy benchmarking projects as the important issues to address while working with the BEA. Stakeholders also discussed facilitating comparisons of individual buildings and measuring progress toward targets for the entire city.How do the different areas of stakeholder expertise strengthen the project?
Fayyad: The Emirates Green Building Council is offering technical benchmarking expertise based on an existing hotels benchmarking project, and the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy is offering expertise through an energy intensity mapping tool. Through the advisory committee and stakeholder engagement, we are asking industry consultants to evaluate the technical methodology for benchmarking, while the Council focuses on regulation and policy implementation for existing buildings. Developers benchmark their own properties against others, helping drive the market toward retrofits.Why did Dubai choose to work on a benchmarking project?
Fayyad: There are currently no benchmarks for existing buildings in Dubai, no measure of performance that could easily be used to compare buildings or align building energy performance with goals for the whole city. The 100 buildings analyzed during the pilot project will contribute to a baseline that will allow us to create better targets and policies.
The project supports the city government in developing strategies and targets around energy efficiency for existing buildings in line with the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy and the ongoing efforts at demand-side management and energy diversification. The project will also help developers benchmark their properties and evaluate performance, allowing them to go further with audits and retrofits, contributing to the city’s sustainable development.
Maha Khogali: The stakeholder engagement workshop provided valuable feedback from industry leaders and was necessary to begin the process. It showed that there is demand for benchmarks. This could be a milestone toward an energy labeling policy, which reflects the vision of the UAE at large.What are some challenges associated with the project?
Khogali: We are currently in the beginning stages, but we anticipate overcoming two general challenges: funding the development of a sophisticated online portal that will help with benchmarking, and collecting enough information about all 100 buildings to produce accurate comparisons and baselines.
However, we are already addressing these potential challenges by working with our strategic partners and members. The Emirates Green Building Council has a substantial number of partners who are working toward a shared vision for a sustainable city. We have invited them to support the initiative through data contribution or sponsorship of the online tool. And, as Lora mentioned earlier, we are making a concerted effort to attract global stakeholders involved in the BEA to help.How has this project helped you understand the different views and roles of stakeholders involved in building efficiency in Dubai?
Khogali: This project has emphasized the key roles of the different stakeholders and strategic partners. The partnership gains significant value from the contribution of different players. We also recognize the government’s high ambition in achieving energy efficiency.
Fayyad: The BEA project was created to help facilitate public-private partnerships. The Emirates Green Building Council, as an organization that represents industry, reaches out to our members and provides technical expertise. The Dubai Supreme Council of Energy represents the city and is driving local energy targets. Through engagement with BEA, WRI, and the benchmarking project, the Council will be better informed to develop policy that the market is ready for and will achieve Dubai’s energy efficiency targets.
Elspeth Holland is a Junior Project Manager with the World Green Building Council.
Shannon Hilsey is Project Coordinator for the Building Efficiency Initiative within WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
This article was first published in TechCrunch.
In late September, London made headlines when it stripped popular ride-hailing app Uber of its license to operate in the city. The wall-to-wall coverage that followed the decision was a sign, if any more were needed, that we are on the cusp of an urban mobility revolution.
Ride-hailing systems, car- and bicycle-sharing networks, trip-planning apps and other innovative services that capitalize on advances in mobile communications, cashless payments and remote monitoring are increasing in popularity around the world. Users appreciate – and in many places have grown to depend upon – the convenience and flexibility these services offer at a range of prices. The most basic smartphone now means that getting to work or play or an airport at 5am is as easy as tapping the screen.
Faced with this new wave of transportation options enabled by mobile and network technologies, however, many local governments have struggled to adjust. Critics rightly point out that issues with regulations, safety and congestion are far from resolved. And multi-billion-dollar valuations or massive job potential make for exciting headlines, but they obscure the real possibilities of the urban mobility revolution.
Simply put: new mobility may be exciting enough on its own, but where it can be more effectively combined and leveraged with existing public transport options, its potential can be truly transformative.
Indeed, there are clear opportunities to integrate these new mobility services into existing urban transportation systems for more affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly transport for all. There are already more than 70 cities partnering with new private mobility services in part to bolster public transit offerings, while also easing the pressures of rising public transit costs, aging assets and rapidly increasing ridership.
Cities and their residents stand to benefit from new mobility services – if they can understand and avoid the potential pitfalls. In the first-ever global survey of new mobility services, led by the Coalition for Urban Transitions, new analysis shows how cities can evaluate new mobility options and integrate them into their urban transportation systems. There are three specific applications that could benefit from such collaborations.
First, partnering with the developers of dynamic trip-planning and ticketing apps could offer passengers a fully integrated platform for planning and paying for rides. This would make it much simpler for passengers to access whatever may be most convenient, appealing or cost-effective – all through one device. The GoLA app, for instance, helps residents of Los Angeles compare cost, time, calories burned and emissions saved for various transit options ranging from bicycling to bus to private cars. A total of 24 transport service providers are covered, with some already allowing for payment through the app, as well.
Second, integrating electric, on-demand minibuses operated privately with other forms of public transit could help cities maintain or extend coverage in underserved areas while lowering the cost of service. Minibuses play an important role in many fast-growing cities, and companies such as RideCell and TransLoc offer routing platforms that transit agencies could use to run their own on-demand fleets. Doing so would give cities the capability to change routes and capacity on the fly according to fluctuations in passenger demand.
Third, subsidizing shared rides to and from transit hubs in neighborhoods where residents may lack good access to transit options, including lower-income residents or individuals with disabilities. Several programs of this kind are up and running already. A town in New Jersey, for example, expects to save as much $5 million across 20 years by subsidizing shared rides instead of building more parking lots near train stations.
New mobility services have the potential to complement public transit, but they could also lead to worsening traffic congestion, more vehicle accidents, additional air pollution and other unwelcome effects if not managed carefully. And more attention must be paid to ensure that new mobility services meet the actual needs of residents. Overall, though, integrating them properly into existing transit systems is an opportunity cities should seize. We may still be in the early days of the new mobility revolution, but instead of banning the future, we should be creative about how we embrace it.
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.
In 2008, Brenda Medeiros joined WRI Brasil as one of its first interns. Today, she serves as its Urban Mobility Director, focusing on the optimization of public transport systems.
With degrees in both civil and transportation engineering, Medeiros earned her Ph.D.in public transportation regulation at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brasil). In this interview, she talks about the challenges of creating integrated transit networks and the importance of listening when planning public transport systems.How did your academic work lead to your current position?
Brenda Medeiros: When I was working on my master’s degree, I focused on a very technical area: operational issues for BRT (bus rapid transit), centered on performance, capacity, speed and traditional engineering. I was eager to apply all my academic knowledge on cities, but I also realized that this was something very difficult to do―even our most basic knowledge is sometimes problematic to apply. So I asked myself: “Why is it so difficult?” That’s when I started to get interested in understanding the relationships among stakeholders, the people, the way organizations are structured and how they interact with each other. Of course, as an engineer, I wanted not only to understand, but to improve and establish values. Who are the most relevant stakeholders? What is the strength of their relationship? From these questions, I started to model and map these relations.Who are the stakeholders involved in public transport systems?
Medeiros: Transportation involves different actors: city Hall or the mayor, the operators (because transport systems in Brazil are generally run by private companies) and the public. I concluded that it was vitally important to include people in the decision-making process regarding public transport. People are not obliged to use public transport―they are customers. They have needs and desires, and they want to have them met. They want to be well informed and receive good service, and they need a good reason to use public transport.
Other services have improved their performance after considering that people don’t use them by obligation, but by choice. The same is true for public transport. We need to see people as important stakeholders when it comes to the operation of a public transport system.What do you believe that city administrators still don’t do – but need to – in order to guarantee popular participation in public transit?
Medeiros: Governments and administrators should listen to people, because it’s people who use public transport every day and know its qualities and inefficiencies. Often, a planner or a technician who is developing a project has a different view from a person on the other end, the one who receives the service. It’s essential to establish a connection and open communications channels with people to understand what they need, what they don’t like, what their complaints are and what shortcomings they see. When a new system is planned or when improvements are implemented, people are impacted.
At WRI, this is a vision that we have worked for some years to build: to understand the quality of public transport not only in technical or operational terms, such as average speed and travel compliance, but from the perspective of who is served.One of the challenges in developing countries like Brazil is to build integrated transport networks. What are the key steps in this process?
Medeiros: A fundamental requirement is that all the stakeholders involved in the operation of the system must have a common vision. Of course, all the parties will have their specific objectives: bus operators and private companies have a business to run; mayors must respond to the public demand for good, reliable service. But these interests need to be combined for a greater vision: an integrated transport network. And that’s when the conversation begins. What kind of transport network does a city need to operate in a clean, safe and efficient way to meet people’s needs? This is the network we want, and we need to work together to do it.How is WRI contributing to this process?
Medeiros: Organizations like WRI can apply academic knowledge to ignite positive change. There’s a lot of research and knowledge being generated that needs to reach our cities. Our task is to build bridges that transform theory, data and models into applied actions, into changes that actually improve urban mobility and quality of life in cities. Because that’s our goal: to change reality in cities. Not to do research for the sake of research, but to offer a real change and create a better world for people.
A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese at wricidades.org
Priscila Pacheco is a Communications Analyst at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.
In August 2017, Uber passed the 500 million rides mark in India. In under four years, the company has expanded to 29 cities and worked with close to half a million drivers. India’s homegrown competitor, Ola Cabs, is growing just as rapidly. But despite the sheer volume of attention – and business – that these companies have garnered, the disruption in urban mobility today goes deeper than the taxi industry.
According to Tracxn, a start-up tracking platform, 2,436 companies were founded globally in the transport technology sector in 2016. Of these, only 125 operated in the on-demand taxi space. A recent evaluation conducted by WRI India confirms the diversity of the field, finding that so-called “new mobility” companies are making an impact in four broad categories.Mapping New Mobility
New mobility is a loose term that refers to models using technology to deliver transport in new ways. The most talked about disruptions have centered on re-inventing ownership and delivery, using data and connectivity in new ways, and reducing or even eliminating the use of non-renewable resources.
As is true of all markets amid a major disruption, there is little clarity today on how these models will impact cities tomorrow. What is clear, however, is the need to understand the change, indeed to “count it” – to track its evolution, evaluate its impact, and identify risks and opportunities.
WRI India recently reviewed the business models of 150 companies that applied to our accelerator programs between 2014 and 2017. We also interviewed representatives from 60 companies, including start-ups and business units within larger companies. Based on these reviews, we then classified the companies into 21 categories based on different criteria, including target audience, services offered and business model. The 21 categories were grouped based on additional factors such as area of disruption, technology employed and potential impact to arrive at four major areas of activity.
These categorizations can help us understand the various ways new mobility is changing urban transport:
- Shared mobility refers to models in which transportation options are shared among users, like Uber, Lyft and Ola Cabs, and was indeed the largest sector. While all mass transit and public transit modes are essentially shared modes, the term “shared mobility” is often colloquially used for models in which the sharing aspect has been accelerated by the use of mobile technology and smartphone apps. There are a further three categories of shared mobility models:
- Ride sharing is the simultaneous sharing of transport services among commuters travelling in the same direction at the same time. It includes carpool, taxi share, auto-rickshaw share and bus aggregator
- Ride hailing or ride sourcing refers to for-hire-vehicles setup using the internet that are used consecutively by commuters, such as taxis, motorcycle taxis and auto-rickshaws. These companies are referred to as aggregators and on-demand companies in India.
- Vehicle sharing is the consecutive use of assets without ownership. These models allow commuters access to vehicles such as bicycles, cars and motorbikes for short periods of time.
- Seamless information and payments includes models that give commuters scheduling, trip planning and congestion information across modes and the ability to pay digitally for public transport and privately provided ride services.
- Commuter safety and security covers models or technologies that provide support for drivers, vehicle diagnostics, ride monitoring and crowdsourced safety perceptions, with a focus on women’s safety.
- Alternate engines and fuels are mostly technologic innovations across electric auto-rickshaws, two-wheelers, compact vehicles, hybrid buses and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
- Bicycle innovation includes the recent emergence of early stage companies manufacturing electric bicycles.
- Autonomous technology for vehicles is a segment generating buzz in India as well, led by a driverless car challenge by leading automobile manufacturer Mahindra.
- Insights for businesses, including models using data to support better fleet management and driver safety, vehicle maintenance, and routing analytics.
- Insights for city administrators like models helping city agencies with traffic management, road maintenance and integrating services.
Advocates of new mobility credit the kinds of business outlined in the survey with a host of positive changes, including improving access to transport services and shifting people from “just in case” vehicle ownership to “just in time” vehicle access. On the flip side, sceptics have raised concerns about the impact on vehicle kilometers travelled, emissions and congestion.
The uncertainty and high stakes of the new mobility transition for cities and people are described by Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar and WRI board member, as a “heaven or hell” scenario.
“We get hell by taking a wait and see approach,” she says. Autonomous vehicles replace the private car and it becomes cheaper to have yours circle the block or drive home instead of parking. Autonomous delivery vehicles replace store fronts. Drivers of all kinds lose their jobs, despite more cars than ever on the road. And tax revenues that support road infrastructure plummet.
If most autonomous vehicles are operated in shared fleets and offer shared trips though, things could be different. “Instead of spending $9,000 a year on your own car,” Chase says, “when we combine car sharing and ride hailing and buy a seat in a shared autonomous vehicle, we can get door-to-door transport at the speed of private car travel for the cost of a subway ticket. This transforms people’s access to opportunity.”
City administrators everywhere are struggling to craft appropriate responses in this rapidly shifting landscape. In their quest to be more equitable, productive and sustainable, cities must set a vision for what they want to achieve (e.g., the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities), rather than letting technology set the agenda. They must also use all the policy tools at their disposal to shape outcomes: regulatory, infrastructural and financial. This will require convening and coalition building, re-thinking investments, and leveraging new technologies to upgrade formal and informal transport systems.
Jyot Chadha is the Director of the Urban Innovations Program at WRI India.
Jon Kher Kaw, a senior urban development specialist at the World Bank, believes the most pressing challenge for urbanization in South Asian cities is accommodating the overwhelming number of new residents.
Reflecting on his wealth of experience working with cities in South Asia, Kaw recently spoke with WRI during a workshop for WRI’s flagship World Resources Report (WRR), “Towards a More Equal City.” He spoke about the region’s acute challenges and potential opportunities. The World Bank projects that around 250 million more people will be living in South Asian cities by 2030. “How we manage that [growth] to make cities continue to be productive and livable centers for people will be very, very important,” Kaw says.
Of course, South Asia isn’t a monolithic region, and cities need diverse solutions tailored to their local context. Nevertheless, Kaw sees patterns in how cities transform and says there are common solutions that have proven environmental and economic benefits.
Improving intra-city connectivity through bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and containing urban expansion through land use policies are two opportunities for tackling common challenges across the region, according to Kaw. BRTs can improve access to jobs, reduce time lost to congestion and make people more productive at relatively little cost. Managing sprawl, likewise, can help reduce a city’s carbon footprint and improve resource efficiency, although cities will need to address affordability concerns with more compact development.
As for cities that show progress, Kaw points to the example of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. “The city has transformed quite dramatically over the last 10 years. Today, [it] is a very different city from five years ago; it has very much improved in terms of connectivity as well as how land is managed within the city. There’s a lot of improvements in the urban space and freeing up land for productive and livable uses.”Clearer Governance for More Efficiency and Accountability
For promising and innovative ideas to translate to change on the ground, there should be clear responsibilities outlined for each level of government, Kaw says.
City-level decision makers need to be responsive to immediate city needs and ensure basic services for all residents. “On the national government front, I think it’s important to set the urban agenda up front, thinking in terms of being very clear on their role on issues such as creating a system of cities [and] coordinating how cities come together,” he says. “Also, things like fiscal transfers and empowering local governments to make decisions on how to manage cities will be very, very important.”
Getting the relationship right between municipal and national governments is not easy, but it is imperative to making cities more financially effective and accountable to their residents.
Kaw suggests that cities should be empowered to leverage local assets. “What I mean is not only to just invest in capacity building but also to think about how to leverage on, for example, land value capture,” he says. “Only then can you think about how cities can be sustainable in the longer term.”
Alex Rogala is a former editor of TheCityFix and currently a master’s student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
While cars and trucks are often blamed for air pollution, it’s time to bring ships into the equation. The maritime sector—mainly ships and ports—contributes a large share of air pollutant emissions in coastal cities and casts a deathly pall over coastal communities. Ships are the particularly noxious sources of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter and other air pollutants that are bad for human health. Shipping represents about 15 percent and 13 percent of global nitrogen and sulfur oxides from anthropogenic sources.
China has taken notice by incorporating maritime emissions into its national five-year-plan for transportation. As the world moves toward a cleaner economy, port cities and coastal nations will watch closely to see if China’s policies are effective at reducing maritime emissions.Ship Emissions Hurt Coastal Communities
In major port cities, shipping activities represent a substantial share of total emissions—for example, around half of sulfur oxides in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Shenzhen. Ships also contribute to more than 8 percent and 11 percent of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, respectively, in Chinese coastal cities. It is significant enough to raise the awareness of coastal emission control.
These emissions put a city’s development at risk. Increased illness and premature death caused by air pollution reduce quality of life, as well as labor productivity. Pollution also makes cities less attractive to talented workers, thereby reducing cities’ competitiveness.
There is a strong link between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Children, the elderly and the poor are the most vulnerable groups. Air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide in 2013, costing $5.11 trillion in welfare losses around the world—and that may be a conservative estimate.
The ship pollution has taken a toll on global coasts. In 2013, ship emissions led to more than 24,000 premature deaths in East Asia, with 18,000 fatalities in mainland China alone. However, studies of the health impact of global shipping are still limited.China Moves Toward Green Ships and Ports
Greening ships and ports is a plank of the Ministry of Transport’s 13th-Five-Year Plan. It declares that by 2020, ship sulfur and nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions should be reduced by 65 percent, 20 percent and 30 percent respectively, relative to 2015, in China’s three most prosperous coastal regions – Pearl River Delta (PRD), the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and Bohai Rim.
- Introduce domestic emission control areas (DECAs): China is setting DECAs in its three major coastal regions, requiring ships to use marine fuel of no more than 5,000 parts per million sulfur content through 2019. From 2020, the government will consider stricter requirements of 1,000 parts per million sulfur content, and to extend the geographical scope of DECAs. However, it is still behind the schedule of the existing DECAs set by the International Maritime Organization.
- Draw cleaner power from the shore: China has been encouraging shore power—the provision of electricity to a ship at berth from a source on land—in recent years. This allows ships to shut down dirty engines while drawing cleaner electricity while they can. 493 berths will be equipped with shore power by 2020, and the government is subsidizing implementation.
- Switch ships to cleaner fuels: Right now, most ships are powered by heavy fuel oil. But, by 2020, China aims to double its LNG-fueled vessels, a move supported by adding LNG facilities to port terminals.
- Connect seaports with railways: Freight right now is unloaded from ships and carried inland mostly by trucks. Trucking, an emissions-intensive process, could be avoided if railways were directly connected with ports and operations synced for greater efficiency.
In recent years, WRI China has focused on promoting low emission zones not only in urban land areas, but also in coastal areas, researching how to reduce emissions from ships. What we see so far is that this not only requires better policies, technologies and financing solutions, but also knowledge and awareness from China’s government, industry and the public.
As the first step, we have developed guidelines to evaluate emission inventories and the social impact of maritime air pollution. By working with partners, we are conducting a training program in several Chinese cities, such as Qingdao and Guangzhou, with the aim to test our methodologies and influence policies with science-based evidence, and finally seek to scale our efforts regionally among maritime stakeholders and achieve a healthier coastal environment.
Su Song is a Research Associate in the WRI China Office.
The world’s great public transit systems: Tokyo’s Metro, London’s Tube, Honk Kong’s MTR…and Mexico City’s bus rapid transit corridors? Trains are often seen as the pinnacle of modern urban transport infrastructure. They’re green and efficient, supported by permanent, complex track infrastructure. Bus rapid transit systems, on the other hand, are less flashy and often associated with their slow cousins, the local buses.
But in a new study published in Transport Reviews researchers Jesper Ingvardson and Otto Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark point to data that suggests there’s little that separates the two approaches in many contexts.
Ingvardson and Nielsen compare 86 metro, light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors using several variables: travel time savings, increase in demand from riders, modal shift, and land use and urban development changes. In some cases, the much more economical BRTs matched and even outperformed rail.Travel Time and Ridership
The study starts by looking just at whether BRT can reduce travel times and improve mass transit ridership on its own.
There are large variations across BRT systems regarding travel time, making it difficult to draw broad conclusions, but overall they saw declines. While Metrobüs in Istanbul produced travel time savings of 65 percent compared to previous commutes, the Bus-VAO lane in Madrid led to 33 percent savings and the South Miami-Dade Busway just 10 percent.
Ridership gains after a new BRT corridor also varied: 150 percent in Istanbul, 85 percent in Madrid and 50 percent in Miami. Ridership gains are associated with travel time savings, but also derived from other factors such as the frequency of buses, station quality, vehicle type and user information systems.Converting Drivers to Mass Transit
An interesting impact of mass transit implementation is its effect on drivers. In the 13 cities where Ingvardson and Nielsen studied BRTs, the number of riders who shifted from car trips ranged from 5 percent (Stockholm) to 40 percent (Adelaide), with a simple average of 17 percent. This figure is similar for the 24 LRTs (average 16 percent) and slightly lower than for the two metro systems included in the study (average 23 percent).
One caveat to these conclusions is that BRT and LRT corridors tend to be much smaller than metro corridors in terms of total volume of riders. The notable exception is Istanbul’s Metrobüs, which serves more than 600,000 passengers a day, 4 to 9 percent of which would otherwise be car users.Land Values and Development
Despite the permanence of train tracks, Ingvardson and Nielsen found no significant difference in how BRTs, LRTs or metro impact land value. Land value increases ranged as high as 30 percent for BRT corridors; 32 percent for LRT; and 20 percent for regional rail and metro corridors. In several BRT and LRT cases, no increase in land value was observed; for the Coaster rail corridor in San Diego, a negative value was recorded.
Land value comparisons are difficult, however, because of varying assessment methodologies, distances to stations, and before and after time periods. It’s likely these conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt. The particular mass transit mode is less important than other factors, like access conditions, the urban environment, and service characteristics (e.g., frequency, speed, comfort and pricing). For the 41 projects with quantitative data, the differences in land values achieved by the different modes are not significant.
BRT, LRT and regional rail also show increased residential and commercial development around stations. Nevertheless, the improved access provided by transit is an insufficient driver of better land use. Other complementary activities, like changes in regulations, government support for investment in real estate, and investment in pedestrian connectivity, are required to achieve urban development goals. The most recognized case is Curitiba, Brazil, where 45 percent of the long-distance motorized trips in the BRT vicinity use the buses. There is also evidence of positive urban development impacts from the BRTs in Ottawa, Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles.There Is No Superior System
Ingvardson and Nielsen recognize that there are limitations in the data collected, analytical methodologies and even in the distinction between transit modes. There isn’t always a clear difference between light, regional or metro rail, for example, or between bus rapid transit and bus priority corridors.
Despite these limitations, the researchers conclude that BRTs can improve travel times, modal share and urban development at rates similar to those reported for light rail and metro. This evidence contradicts conventional wisdom. It is not possible to categorically say trains have greater benefits than BRT; they are not always superior. Context matters, not just the material of the wheels or the permanence of the tracks.
Dario Hidalgo is Director of the Integrated Transport Practice for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Who has the right to the city? While giving priority to pedestrians may seem obvious, many cities have been built around reliance on the automobile and now struggle to reclaim streets for pedestrians or fail to see the value in doing so. Temporary and short-term redesigns are one low-risk way some cities are experimenting with taking back streets for pedestrians.
Following a growing trend, last month, Brazil converted two car-dominated areas of Fortaleza and São Paulo into pedestrian spaces, demonstrating the benefits of more human-centric urban development.‘City of the People’
Cidade da Gente, or “City of the People,” is the first traffic-calming street transformation intervention in Fortaleza. In Cidade 2000, a residential neighborhood with local markets by day and a bustling restaurant district by night, the project reversed traditional road priority from vehicles to pedestrians. Cars were not completely excluded – one lane of traffic and parking spots were still available – but Cidade da Gente turned 1,200 square meters of parking space and traffic lanes into a pedestrian area for 15 days.
The city wants to involve residents in shaping their public spaces and measure how people interact with the new space. The transformation used paint, potted plants, benches and cones to create a bigger and improved area for pedestrians, expanding previously narrow sidewalks and adding street crossings and curb extensions to improve safety. One traffic lane was removed and the speed limit was also reduced. During the first weekend, the city administration used the area for musical performances, professional workshops and health screenings.
The goal of the initiative was to cultivate champions of human-oriented urban design and to show residents and cities what can be done to enhance public space. For two weeks, residents were able to provide feedback on the new urban design through an online platform developed by the city in partnership with the University of Fortaleza. Public opinion was overall positive, petitioning for the intervention to remain after the pilot period. Initially planned for 15 days, the city is now continuing the changes indefinitely.
“This is the first place in the city that we transformed from a car area into a large square,” said Mayor Roberto Claudio. “We took advantage of the flat infrastructure and put in a number of facilities to create a high-quality public space. We started with a pilot project so everybody can experiment and evaluate; then we will listen to the population. If we have support, our obligation will be to expand the policy. We believe this idea will thrive and go to other places in Fortaleza.”
WRI Brasil, as part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, partnered with the Global Designing Cities Initiative and Vital Strategies to provide technical support for the project. “It was incredible to see people getting back that space,” said Rafaela Machado, a road safety specialist for WRI Brasil. “Just after the initial paintings, people were already using the street furniture, taking pictures and asking if it would be permanent. It is a pleasure to see a place that used to be a parking lot turn into a joyful and vibrant public space.”A Safer São Paulo
In São Paulo, another temporary intervention caused residents of the Santana neighborhood to reconsider the way they relate to urban design. In response to a challenge posed by the 11th São Paulo Architecture Biennial, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and Citi Foundation conducted a temporary urban intervention in partnership with WRI Brasil, the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, Global Designing Cities Initiative, and city-run Traffic Engineering Company, CET-SP.
The intervention near Santana subway station and bus terminal, a very busy commercial area, included bright patterns and colors on street surfaces, with different types of traffic-calming measures, such as widening the pedestrian refuge medians, curb extensions and creating a mini roundabout. Two parking areas were turned into active areas, and obstacles like potted plants and traffic cones were positioned so people could not cross the street in dangerous places. Together, these changes organized traffic flows and reduced vehicle speeds, improving pedestrian safety.
The goal of the São Paulo project was to show residents how road safety can be improved through impactful design solutions and demonstrate the enhanced experience of walking through more “complete” streets.
Diogo Lemos, a road safety analyst at WRI Brasil, said that after a bus stopped for two ladies to cross the street, one of them said, “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 82 years, and a bus has never stopped so promptly for me to cross.”
“As the design of the street changes, so does the behavior of people – pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and all other users,” Lemos said.
The WRI Brasil team took advantage of the transformation to interact with pedestrians and analyze their flow around Santana metro and bus station. The residents marked on a map how they traveled to and from the station and highlighted high-risk areas in the neighborhood.
Both interventions show that building better, safer and healthier urban environments does not require large and costly new infrastructure. Spaces like these can be built with minor investments in any city and residents quickly recognize their benefits. Though both projects were well-received, the experience in Fortaleza in particular catalyzed a bigger change. The city expects to incorporate feedback from residents into the Cidade 2000 low-speed area project and implement similar interventions in other parts of the city.
Bruno Felin is a Communications Specialist at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.
Amazon’s recent announcement that it is seeking to build a second headquarters in a major North American city has sent cities from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Toronto scrambling to outbid each other in an attempt to woo the corporate behemoth. Interestingly, as part of its request for proposals, Amazon explicitly expressed a preference for cities with access to good public transit.
Amazon is just one of a series of companies explicitly targeting urban locations with good access to public transit. Companies as diverse as GE, McDonalds, Caterpillar and Aetna are relocating from less easily accessible suburban office parks to downtown office buildings. This corporate migration to cities mirrors the overall population globally, as cities become ever more important centers of economic growth and activity.
In developed markets, in particular, generational preferences and economic imperatives in an increasingly competitive digital economy are driving the current wave of urbanization. While the baby boomer generation was known for its suburban migration, Generation Xers initiated the surge of youth into developed markets’ city centers, and the millennial generation has followed suit thanks to their preference for living in close proximity to work, public transit and entertainment. In the United States, for instance, the share of 25-34 year-olds who prefer close-in neighborhoods (within three miles of a city’s central business district) quintupled from 1990 to 2010. And young adults as a percentage of the total urban population in the United States rose from just 25 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2015.
Corporations have followed millennials into the cities as it allows them to take advantage of network effects and recruit a more highly educated workforce, both of which are crucial for continued success in today’s digital economy. Researchers have shown that innovators are more productive when living in proximity to other potential collaborators, highlighting the reason that innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York, London, Tokyo and Toronto have remained among the most innovative cities for years. In fact, all of these cities are among the “global elite” on A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Index, in part as a result of their strong ecosystems for businesses and innovation.
Amazon’s clear preference for quality public transportation highlights both the challenges and opportunities for cities during this ongoing wave of urbanization. In many cities around the world, rapid urbanization has resulted in increased congestion and strained public transit services. The New York City subway system, for instance, has experienced dramatic service challenges over the last few years as ridership has risen rapidly. Overcrowding on the London Underground has also increased steadily year over year, leading to warnings by public officials that the city’s growing population could overwhelm the system within the next 15 years.
To address congestion challenges, cities will increasingly need to implement innovative transportation solutions that meet the needs and preferences of growing urban populations. As discussed in the Global Trends 2017-2022 Report, “The Centrality of Governance,” cities are increasingly exploring the use of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, ride sharing and drone delivery.
Cities are also repurposing older technologies to help reduce congestion and improve public transit. For instance, bus rapid transit – the use of dedicated lanes and specialized on- and off-boarding stations – is currently enjoying a popular resurgence. Dockless bike-sharing has also taken off, combining innovations such as sharing platforms and mobile devices, with the traditional transportation mode of the bicycle. Ofo and Mobike, two leading bike-sharing companies, are both worth over $3 billion and have aggressively expanded across China, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
There is no single answer to growing urban congestion; a mix of new technologies and systems will help cities cope with transport challenges. Those cities that are able to address their congestion issues in locally appropriate ways will gain a competitive advantage, attracting top talent and major corporations, bringing jobs, prosperity and enhanced quality of life to residents.
Paul A. Laudicina is a Partner and Chairman Emeritus of A.T. Kearney, and Chairman of the Global Business Policy Council. In addition to more than 40 years of private-sector experience, Paul has served in the public sector, including as legislative director to then U.S. Senator Joseph Biden from 1977 to 1982.
Metrolinx, the provincial government agency that oversees public transit in southern Ontario, including Toronto, recently found itself under fire for spending upwards of a quarter of a million dollars to refresh its brand. The agency says the primary impetus for the project is a lack of public understanding of what it does.
Research Metrolinx conducted in 2016 found that nearly half of the residents the agency serves don’t know what Metrolinx is or what role it plays. Still some charge that the transit agency is wasting taxpayers’ money on a mere stylistic logo change that has no connection to any real-world service improvements.
The uproar around this branding exercise raises some interesting questions. What is the role of branding in a public organization like Metrolinx? And are the benefits of a strong brand sufficient to justify this kind of expense?More Than a Competitive Edge
For many organizations, brands provide an important competitive advantage. Brands make one kind of soap or soda feel different from the others – more compelling, more attractive, more memorable.
This motivation may seem less important in the world of public transit, where there is generally less direct competition between systems. After all, it’s not like there’s another company with a sexier brand running buses and trains around Toronto.
But brands can perform other functions besides competitive differentiation. And some of these functions are actually very important for public transit.
A strong brand can create a sense of consistency, continuity and trust. In the world of public transit, trust is critical. Without trust in the system – and in the entity that operates it – citizens are less likely to leave their cars at home and choose the bus or train instead.
When that happens and ridership drops, the results go well beyond the financial impact of declining fare revenues. After all, public transit is essential to an environmentally sustainable urban future. Increased ridership delivers many benefits to cities: less traffic, less pollution, better public health and safety. Decreased ridership has the opposite effect.
This problem isn’t just theoretical. In Washington D.C., declining trust in the Metro transit system, from maintenance and safety issues that negatively impacted its brand, led to 40,000 fewer riders between 2010 and 2014. Three years later, efforts to reverse the drop continue to be hampered by a lack of public trust.More Than a Logo
The logo is the most visible element of any brand. But a brand is more than a logo, and a brand refresh like Metrolinx’s, if done well, generally encompasses much more.
A solid brand strategy connects isolated products or experiences to a bigger story with greater meaning. A bigger vision of the world and the brand’s place within it. We pay more for Nike shoes, for example, based on more than just the design and features of the shoes themselves. Nike’s simple swoosh logo contains layers of meaning and associations that connect to our own beliefs, desires and self-image.
Metrolinx isn’t selling shoes, but it is selling a vision. The organization is about to embark on what Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has called a “once-in-a-generation, once in a lifetime” opportunity to expand transit in the region. This expansion will cost upwards of $34 billion. And Metrolinx can’t do it successfully without the cooperation and support of the community. The best way to earn that support is with a clear vision and a compelling story.
Oh, and it’s also helpful if more than half the people know you exist.
One more bonus: A compelling brand can galvanize employees and bring new value to the organization on multiple levels. Improved engagement can boost employee retention, lessening recruiting and training costs. Stronger alignment between departments can help teams focus better and improve operational efficiency. A greater sense of purpose and meaning can inspire employees across the organization – from front-line staff to executive leadership – to go the extra mile to help realize the vision.From Research to Empathy
Public statements from Metrolinx have made it clear that the brand project also includes a significant research component. This is typical in projects like this. In addition to the functions mentioned already (differentiation, telling a bigger story), brands also help organizations better understand and align with their customers.
Brand research, done well, creates empathy within the organization – a deeper understanding of what customers truly need and care about. This is especially important today, at a time when many public service organizations, including transit authorities, have been given new mandates to be more customer-centric.
Historically, transit authorities have been run by engineers with something of a “trust us we know best” attitude. Today, these organizations are being forced to come to grips with the high expectations of modern customers empowered by digital and mobile technology.
This difficult shift typically begins with efforts to create a customer-centric mindset within the organization at large. In the best-case scenario, customer research done in support of a brand refresh would accelerate these efforts, increasing customer empathy and, eventually, leading to better experiences for millions of riders.Risks Remain, But Not Acting May Be Worse
Of course, the best-case scenario doesn’t always come to pass. The truth is, many brand refresh projects fall short of the ideal. Some of them are less about solving real problems and more about a new coat of paint. A few even do more harm than good, distracting the organization from real, pressing problems instead of helping to solve them.
But for transit systems in particular, the risks of not acting may be even greater. If ridership declines due to a lack of trust or ability to keep pace with the needs and expectations of modern, digitally enabled citizens, cities will face more pollution, more traffic and more health and safety risks. And if community support declines in absence of a compelling story, planners will be unable to address these problems by improving transit infrastructure.
John Ounpuu is co-founder of Modern Craft, a Vancouver-based consultancy focused on helping brands keep pace with modern customers.
Addis Ababa’s light rail transit system (LRT), launched in October 2015 as the first LRT in sub-Saharan Africa, serves some 120,000 passengers a day. The LRT may help reduce travel times for some, and lead to a safer, cleaner transport system. But in a city of 4.5 million that’s still growing and facing many development challenges, there are growing pains.
As a partner city with the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, WRI Ross Center recently conducted a road safety inspection of Addis’s LRT corridors to improve pedestrian safety and station accessibility. The inspection covered all 39 stations on the green and blue lines. Following the inspection, WRI Ross Center provided recommendations and guidance to the city on making the station areas more accessible, safer and geared toward pedestrians.Dangerous Crossings, High Speed Traffic
The findings from the study can be summarized in two main safety challenges.
First is the lack of safety measures in street and station designs. The 19.6-mile (31.6-kilometer) LRT passes through the city center and extends to the east, west and south of the city. It passes by open air marketplaces, bus terminals, stadiums, industrial zones and residential complexes. To facilitate last-mile connectivity, other modes of transport run alongside and feed into the LRT corridor, creating congestion and dangerous conditions.
Poor sidewalk conditions and road markings, lack of safe medians and traffic islands, poorly constructed ramps and stairs, and insufficient night lighting make accessing stations dangerous. In many cases, pedestrians are expected to cross four lanes of traffic in each direction with minimal protection from oncoming traffic.
The second major safety issue is speed. Ultimately, reducing road traffic speeds makes the biggest impact on pedestrian safety. The risk of pedestrian death from vehicle impact decreases rapidly at vehicle speeds below
In Addis, most pedestrian crossings to LRT stations are “at grade,” or street level. To better protect pedestrians, we recommended the city create raised crossings. These both reduce the speed of traffic, as cars needs to slow down to pass over them, and provide better protection to users.
While overhead crossings may seem safer as pedestrians are not coming into direct contact with traffic, research has shown that many people simply continue to cross at-grade because of the convenience, all while the city assumes safety protections have already been put in place because of the bridge.
In addition to the raised crossings, WRI Ross Center also recommended lower speed limits around stations during peak hours.Safer Streets for Safer Cities
In June 2017, WRI Ross Center shared its recommendations in detail with different transport agencies in the city. The Transport Management Agency, the leading agency on road safety in Addis Ababa, has developed a plan to implement the recommendations and WRI Ross Center is working very closely with them to provide technical expertise.
Research from WRI Ross Center demonstrates that mass public transportation systems can reduce motor vehicle use, significantly improve traffic safety, and reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities. However, as the LRT system in Addis shows, seemingly small design decisions can make a big difference. It’s important to understand the interaction between different transport modes, in particular, to provide sustainable, safe and accessible transport for all road users.
As Addis Ababa develops an integrated transportation system for its growing population, road safety should be at the center of all projects.
Celal Tolga Imamoglu is the Road Safety Projects Manager at WRI Turkey Sustainable Cities.
Iman Abubaker is a Health and Road Safety Project Coordinator for WRI Africa.
By 2050, the global population is expected to soar beyond 9 billion people, 66 percent of whom may live in cities. Accompanying this stunning pace of urbanization will be a complex web of challenges related to consumption, pollution and water and energy stresses.
Recently, the concept of a circular economy has gained traction as a solution that would ameliorate the burden on natural resources while still encouraging economic growth. The concept is simple: minimize the disposal of waste and the need for raw materials by keeping existing materials and assets in the production cycle. This alternative economic system transforms our current linear economy, which “takes, makes and wastes” into one that reuses, recycles and repairs.
Though China embraced the circular economy from the mid-2000s, conversations about the circular economy are now taking place in many countries around the world, in particular developed countries. Large corporations, foundations and local governments have gotten behind the CE as the new way forward. But given that most of urban growth will take place in less developed countries, their rapidly urbanizing cities need to be included, and even prioritized.Circular Solutions in Developing Countries
People in developing country cities use “circular economy” principles every day – picking through waste, using less and repairing more. As Deputy Director for the UN Environment Programme, Ibrahim Thiaw, noted, “repairing is part of the DNA of developing countries.”
These practices are, by and large, driven by poverty: necessity is the mother of invention. But as these countries develop, the challenge will be to find ways to deploy systematically circular solutions that drive economic, environmental and social value. Here are three examples of CE in practice.
- In Xiangyang, China, government and business leaders came together to implement a sludge-to-energy program. Through this public-private partnership, the city built a biorefinery on the site of an existing wastewater treatment facility. The refinery takes sludge from the wastewater treatment process and combines it with local food waste to produce biochar and compressed natural gas. The project is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 95-98 percent and financially breaking even by including sales of biochar and natural gas.
- The Integrated Waste Exchange in Cape Town, South Africa is a free online system that connects individuals, schools and businesses that wish to exchange their waste or excess materials. Developed by the city, this peer-to-peer exchange platform facilitates a circular flow of materials like batteries, textiles, metals and other materials while saving users money, conserving energy and reducing pressure on already constrained landfills.
- In Kolkata, India, several stakeholders came together to launch a bus service that runs entirely on renewable biogas. The firm that produces the biogas (from animal and plant waste) worked with the government to place biogas pumps around the city and partnered with Ashok Leyland, a major vehicle manufacturing company, to produce the buses. Riding the bus isn’t just sustainable, it’s cost-effective: because biogas is significantly less expensive than other fuels, bus fares will begin at just Re 1 (less than $0.02), a twelfth the cost of the next-cheapest bus.
These case studies illustrate three core principles often associated with successful CE programs:
- Collaborate outside your comfort zone. The circular economy often begets solutions that are cross-sector by nature. Implementing these solutions will require business models that are prepared to consider and involve stakeholders from various sectors throughout a supply chain.
- Work at the appropriate scale. In the example of an Integrated Waste Exchange, success at the city level is only possible through the development of an effective household program. Projects could be aimed at businesses, households or public services. Ultimately, the circular economy will transform each of these areas.
- Establish priority sectors. Inadequate waste management, energy access and food are persistent problems in developing country cities, making these sectors logical entry points to begin implementing a circular model.
While these instances of circular projects are encouraging, they remain largely isolated and disjointed. For developing cities to fully participate in the circular economy, they must be able to extend informal repair networks and isolated projects to a more intentional approach, systematized through policies.
The first step will be recognizing the circular economy as an opportunity that could offer a better path for development. Once incentives are established, cities should plan to enact the three lessons above – establish priority sectors, choose the right scale and collaborate. City governments in both developed and developing countries play a significant role in facilitating projects, and the circular economy is no exception.
Lastly, the emerging global network of circular economy experts should expand its horizons to include more work among developing-country cities. Securing funding for pilot projects will be crucial, as it was in the sludge-to-energy example. With this support network in place, developing cities can increase the pace at which they are able to pilot projects and scale them to a systems-level circular economy.
Juan-Carlos Altamirano is an Economist on World Resources Institute’s Economics Team.
Anne Maassen is the Energy, Climate and Finance Associate for Energy and Climate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Olivia Prieto was an intern with WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
There has perhaps been more attention paid to affordable housing this year than any in recent memory, but it took a tragedy to make it so. The horror of Grenfell Tower touched off a national conversation in the United Kingdom about inequality and the ways urgent community feedback gets lost in government bureaucracy. But more broadly, it is symptomatic of the insufficient attention given to affordable housing everywhere as the world becomes more and more urban.
A third of all urban dwellers worldwide – 1.2 billion people – lack access to safe and secure housing. The gap is worst in lower- and middle-income countries, where some cities are growing so quickly that governments cannot build out services and infrastructure fast enough to accommodate new arrivals. The result is millions living in inadequate conditions and fraying trust in governments.
In the same week that more than 80 people died in West London earlier this year, a Nigerian court ruled the government had acted unconstitutionally when it forcibly evicted more than 5,000 people from waterfront slums in Lagos. The population of Lagos has nearly doubled in the last two decades and is on track to surpass 24 million people by 2030.
Similar stories play out every day in cities around the world. In March, a landslide at Ethiopia’s largest dumpsite killed at least 65 people as it flattened precarious houses built on top. And during the run-up to the 2016 Olympic games, Rio is estimated to have displaced up to 60,000 people to make way for new facilities, highlighting the vulnerability of people in Brazil’s favelas.
If current trends continue, by 2025 as many as 1.6 billion people around the world will lack access to affordable, adequate and secure housing. As urban populations grow, the housing gap will widen, exacerbating inequality and threatening the traditional view of cities as reliable drivers of economic growth. These are the conclusions of our WRI Ross Center working paper on the housing crisis, part of a larger report on how to make cities more equal, safer and healthier places to live. This is an urgent challenge that will affect cities in all countries as we trudge towards a world of more than 9 billion people, 60 percent of whom will live in urban areas.
But there are solutions available that can improve the lives of people in cities – and improve cities at the same time.
The most critical recommendation is that city officials should not look to relocate people, but rather they should improve and secure existing areas of informal housing – and, critically, they need to involve communities in the process.
The conventional approach in too many places is to displace poor residents and destroy their homes to make way for new development. But this has an adverse effect on these populations. Many informal settlements and slums have strong social fabrics, home to people with economic and cultural ties to one another. These elements contribute to the kind of well-functioning neighborhoods that define great cities and could be harnessed by to accommodate people where they already are.
City leaders should encourage neighborhoods to develop from the ground up and build on this knowledge and energy rather than discarding it.
In Pune, a metropolitan area of more than 6 million people in India, the government began a redevelopment program in 2005 designed to improve conditions in slums. Three methods were used: relocation to new housing without community participation, upgrading of existing housing without community participation, and upgrading of existing housing with community participation. Those communities that took part in the participatory upgrading process experienced substantially better results, including improved living conditions and more functional neighborhoods with higher degrees of self-governance. In turn, they became less reliant on government assistance and had the organizational foundation to better address other problems, like insecurity and poverty. In the cases where communities were not involved in the process at all, many newly constructed facilities were eventually abandoned.
Even as it may look different from place to place, a bottom-up approach to fixing the housing gap and other related urban problems is one to be emulated. Organizations like Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) are working on similar participatory approaches elsewhere in Asia and Africa. SDI helps organize a network of thousands of urban poor “federations,” giving them access to lines of micro credit, stopping evictions and generally helping them voice community concerns in crowded and contested political spaces. Other examples include the Baan Mankong Collective Housing Program in Thailand, led by the Community Organizations Development Institute, and the Orangi Pilot Project in Pakistan, which has developed low-cost, community led-approaches to sanitation.
In cities, the reality is that the well-being of the under-served impacts the well-being of everyone, and housing is only one of the elements critical to the integrated approach that we need to create healthy, equitable and thriving cities. Forcibly relocating the poor will produce more inequality, higher infrastructure and transportation costs, higher carbon emissions and decreased productivity.
Context matters. The precise approach will be different for each geography, but we must find ways to preserve and encourage community and embrace everyone’s right to the city. These lessons are salient in neighborhoods and cities throughout the world, from Lagos to London, Paris to Pune.
Robin King is the Director of Knowledge Capture and Collaboration at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Rit Aggarwala says we should think of the city as a machine. “It requires capacity to handle the people, the traffic, the throughput, the sewage, the garbage, everything that a city is there to handle. And if it is overcapacity, it inevitably breaks down. That’s where we get traffic congestion, that’s where we get environmental degradation.”
Aggarwala, co-head of labs at Sidewalk Labs and former head of New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, recently visited WRI to discuss the opportunities for technology to add to capacity and improve urban life worldwide.
Many cities in the global south simply are not prepared for the number of new residents they are seeing. Technology and big data can help, Aggarwala argues, but only if they are part of a larger plan for managing growth.
“If you plan for growth, you can make it okay,” he says. “If you don’t – if you ignore it, if you pretend it’s not going to exist, if you pretend that you can stop it by neglecting it – you actually get a terrible environmental catastrophe and you get a city that does not provide opportunity for its people.”Data for Decision-Making
“The millions and billions of activities and decisions and interactions that are going on in a big city at any given moment, humans can’t really keep track of all that,” Aggarwala says. “What technology offers is the opportunity to gather all of that information and process it and make available what’s necessary, what’s useful.”
Big data doesn’t necessarily mean big government, with centralized decision-making powers, he cautions. Big data can also enable decision-making at the individual and local level through user-oriented technologies like self-configuring transit networks and automated permitting and approval systems. “You can think not only about streamlining government, but in fact about driving government decisions down to the public in a way that’s responsive and also doesn’t just empower one group that might be advantaged in terms of interacting with government,” he says.
Accountability and equity are key, and urban decision-makers have an important part to play, Aggarwala says. From wi-fi access to car-sharing services, city governments can help ensure that technology benefits everyone, not just those who can pay the most.
“We know from cities all over the world that poorer people have longer commutes than wealthier people,” he says. “If we can improve traffic congestion, that will actually have a disproportionately greater impact on the poor people who are coming from longer distances.”Lessons from New York
From 2006 to 2010, Aggarwala worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg where among other tasks he was responsible for “PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York,” which helped reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 19 percent from 2005 to 2013. He had three takeaways from the experience.
First, it’s important to include a wide range of stakeholders. “You can’t do this as a top-down plan,” he says. The Sustainability Advisory Board brought together a group of 17 leaders from different organizations to advise the city, and Aggarwala’s team met with more than 50 community groups through private and public meetings to collect ideas and feedback.
Second, it’s essential to tie decision-making to data and analysis. “‘If you can’t analyze it, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,’ as Mike Bloomberg always said. And what decision-makers need to do is provide evidence both for what they want to do and how they are doing as they progress.”
Lastly, Aggarwala believes that government should be ambitious and aggressive – but also focused.
“I think one of the things that the Bloomberg administration did very well was focus on policies that the city government had the power to determine, rather than trying to have programs and other things where it was trying to make up for the shortcomings in policy areas that it did not actually have authority over,” he says. “I think if every mayor in the world, if every city government in the world actually used all the tools at its disposal and thought creatively and aggressively about how to do that, cities would be more empowered and you would have more responsive cities that served their citizens better.”
Alex Rogala is a former editor of TheCityFix and currently a master’s student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
The renaissance of bike-riding is a welcome development, so let’s improve conditions for the users.
Orange, yellow, blue, green, rainbow … bike lanes in Chinese cities are quite colorful these days.
Thanks to the new bike-sharing business, one of the greenest and healthiest ways to travel – cycling – is experiencing a surprising renaissance in China. The new bike-sharing companies, such as Mobike and ofo, have placed more than 16 million shared bikes in at least 150 cities. They are changing the way people commute.
While cycling is becoming more fashionable than at any time in the recent past, there are more fundamental improvements in infrastructure that cities should make to create a safe, convenient and enjoyable cycling experience.
According to the World Health Organization, about 8 percent of traffic deaths in China are cyclists (excluding motorized two-and three-wheelers). Another survey in 2013 found that 85 percent of Chinese residents are not satisfied with their cycling environment. The reasons can be attributed to traffic safety, bike lane design and network coverage.
The World Resources Institute has conducted research on the relationship between vehicle speed and crashes. It found that higher speed contributes to more traffic incidents. Moreover, a crash speed of 50 kilometers per hour could put the fatality rate of vulnerable road users as high as 80 percent.
Cyclists are exposed to greater dangers when they share the roads with heavier, high-speed vehicles. Wide intersections are the blackspots for traffic safety in China because the complex traffic and conflict points create a hostile environment for cyclists to cross and turn.
Another safety issue is at bus stops, especially when cyclists find themselves obstructed and trapped by approaching buses. Lowering the speed limit of vehicles where bike users are present, narrowing the width of intersections and installing protected bicycle lanes with traffic-calming measures – especially, in suburban or peripheral areas where heavy vehicles roam the streets and cars travel at high speeds – can improve safety for cyclists.
Moreover, designing more friendly cycling spaces is important. Cyclists are forced to share limited space with parked cars, mopeds and delivery vehicles. In many places. Those vehicles block the bike lane and force cyclists to ride in the traffic lane or on sidewalks. This creates conflicts between bicycles, vehicles and pedestrians and has negative impacts on safety and comfort.
Cities have yet to formulate proper regulations and enforcement to manage this issues.
For cycling, a systematic approach is the best way to improve safety and comfort. For example, although Chinese cities are building extensive bike lanes, some are one-ways that end abruptly without connecting to other transport networks.
Piecemeal interventions can improve a section of road or an intersection but will not have much impact on the safety and further development of cycling. This suggests that cities should create cycling network plans linked with greater transportation infrastructure.
Some innovative cities have already proposed such plans. Shanghai, for example, is working on plans that will improve the safety of its cycling network.
Such networks, sometimes called “greenways”, not only connect bike lanes on urban roads, but also integrate them with recreation areas and multiple modes of transportation, such as subways and buses.
In addition to bike lane design, other bike facilities are also important to a safe and enjoyable cycling experience. Because of the overwhelming popularity of bike sharing, existing facilities cannot meet the demand. As a result, sidewalks are clogged with parked bicycles, especially around transit stations. This has created conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
Some policymakers have begun to think bike sharing is a nuisance. However, the issues can be mitigated by careful planning. Dedicated bike parking should be carefully designed to be meet the needs of bicycle users. Moreover, other facilities can help create a safe and enjoyable cycling environment – bicycle traffic lights, street lighting, bike lane pavement and shade, for example.
It is exciting to see that cycling is making a comeback in China. However, the growing demand has put a strain on the system. The decision-makers should respond to the increasing demand by providing new cycling facilities and upgrade the existing infrastructure to provide safe, convenient and enjoyable facilities for the cyclists.
However, it is still common to see policies that prioritize motor vehicles over bicycles. The decision-makers should put people at the heart of the process and utilize this opportunity improve the livability of cities.
The writers are researchers with the World Resources Institute. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Kim Lua is a Senior Associate for the Health and Road Safety Program in the WRI China office.
Wei Li is a Research Analyst and Transport Planner in the WRI China office.
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