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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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Urban Biking Advice from Copenhagen, Portland and Beyond

Fri, 2017-01-20 20:28

WRI’s Andrew Steer and Claudia Adriazola on the Pennsylvania Avenue biketrack. Photo by WRI/Flickr

Does the future of city transport roll on two wheels?

After a nearly three-mile bike ride from World Resources Institute to Washington’s National Press Club, advocates of city cycling offered advice on how to make bicycles a healthy, economical, environmentally sustainable mode of urban transportation.

This is already a reality in Copenhagen, where half of all workers commute by bike and biking accounts for 17 percent of all trips and 50 percent of all work commutes around Denmark’s capital, according to Klaus Bondam, Copenhagen’s former technical mayor, who participated in the panel discussion on January 11. The typical worker in Copenhagen spends only 4 percent of income on commuting, compared to those in Houston, where the cost is 14 percent of a typical worker’s pay. In Washington, a relatively bike-friendly U.S. city, only 4 percent of commutes are by bicycle.

Panelists offered five steps cities can take to persuade more commuters to trade four wheels for two.

1. Create Political Buy-in

Let city leaders know that bike riders can mobilize as a political force. Sam Adams, WRI’s U.S. director and former major of Portland, Oregon, noted that cyclists were consistently ignored until they formed a Bike PAC which endorsed candidates and made donations. Even though the sums involved were small, politicians began to pay attention to the cyclists’ concerns about safety and the need for better infrastructure.

Finding common concerns among all stakeholders is key, and a good place to start is the urban economy. Traffic can drag down economic growth, at a rate ranging from 1.1 percent in New York City to 15 percent in Beijing.

“One of the key strategies in Denmark has been the National Bicycle Strategy, which brought together all different stakeholders and created a common language in the field,” Bondam said. Building public support for urban biking requires the same tools used to raise the public health hazards of smoking.

In order from left: Klaus Bondam, Danish Cyclists Federation; Leif Dormsjo, District Dept. of Transportation; Greg Billing, Washington Area Bicycle Association; Sam Adams, WRI; Craig Iscoe, Cycling Without Age; Jason Margolies, PRI (moderator). Photo by WRI/Flickr

2. Invest in Infrastructure

Encourage cycling by making room for cyclists. New bike-friendly infrastructure brought a 24 percent rise in Copenhagen ridership, with a 63 percent increase in a feeling of safety, Bondam said. When choosing where to build, prioritize use and accident reduction, as well as linkage of cycletracks to create full networks.  Building “cycle superhighways” that link suburbs with inner cities can be particularly effective. Shared bike platforms, like the Bikeshare system in DC, also play an important part in increasing ridership.

3. Combine Modes of Transit

Biking needs to be integrated with other modes of transport. That means ensuring that buses have bike racks, and making it easier for riders to bring their bikes on trains – a measure that helped expand the commuting range for cyclists in Copenhagen.

4. Emphasize Practicality and Benefits

In Copenhagen, a poll showed that only 5 percent of respondents said they bike for environmental reasons – 56 percent said it’s faster, and another 27 percent said it’s more convenient.

More than a quarter of respondents said they bike because it’s healthier. Bondam jokingly said that Danes like biking because it flatters their Viking roots—“there’s a sense of conquest when you get to the office”—but there’s plenty of research that suggests employees are happierhealthier and more productive when they get in a bit of exercise on their morning commute.

And it’s not just healthier for the cyclists. More bikes on the road means fewer cars, which decreases pollution. Lars Loese, the Danish ambassador to Washington who also attended the event, said 50,000 Americans die every year from pollution, a problem biking can help alleviate.

Bondam also emphasized the degree to which biking is an activity through which families bond in Denmark; more than a third of Danish families bike with their children. Danish kids start learning cycle games in kindergarten.

5. Have Patience

Nothing happens overnight. When asked how long it might take for residents of a U.S. city to embrace biking as Copenhagen has, Bondam responded cautiously: “A long time. Fifty years, maybe.” Not only do investments in infrastructure need to be made, but it takes a long time to internalize the culture of biking into a city’s DNA.

Progress is Possible

Sam Adams takes off from the WRI headquarters, leading our bike convoy. Photo by WRI/Flickr

The ride to the National Press Club showed that progress has already been made in the U.S. capital: the route followed bike-specific infrastructure most of the way, including a specific bike track and bike lanes down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. It was a glorious ride, in unseasonably pleasant January weather, and recalled perhaps the best argument of all for biking, which Bondam quoted from President John F. Kennedy: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.”

Protecting Our Water Sources Brings a Wealth of Benefits

Fri, 2017-01-20 01:25

River divides the urban landscape of Shanghai, China. Photo by ThalesEGO / Flickr

The journey of our water from source to tap is long, and not one we think much about. For most of us, our water starts high in the mountains, hundreds of miles away. From there, water flows across natural and working lands until a portion is channeled to water pipes that move water to our faucets, to farms and to various types of businesses. Most often we think of those pipes as being our main water infrastructure, but upstream lands play a key role in capturing, storing and moving our water. By conserving these lands, we can better protect our water and generate additional benefits for people and nature.

Today, approximately 40 percent of the land in urban source watersheds of the world’s largest cities show high to moderate levels of degradation. This degradation impacts the present and future quality and reliability of water flows. But by investing in nature, we can reduce these impacts.

A new report released by The Nature Conservancy, Beyond the Source: The environmental, economic and community benefits of source water protection, shows that forest protection, reforestation and the use of cover crops can help four out of five of the 4,000 cities analyzed reduce sediment and nutrient pollution in waterways by a meaningful amount. For one in six cities analyzed in the report, the cost of implementing source water protection activities could be recouped through savings in annual water treatment costs alone. For half of the cities analyzed, these activities could be implemented for about US$2 per person annually.

These nature-based solutions also provide a number of co-benefits, including improving the health and well-being of people, preserving biodiversity, capturing and storing carbon and building more climate-resilient communities. When cities “stack” the value of these co-benefits on top of the savings realized in water treatment costs, they can derive even greater value.

Infographic: © The Nature Conservancy

Maximizing the benefits of conservation activities will require collective action. Water funds, which enable downstream water users to jointly invest in upstream land conservation and restoration, are a successful mechanism for securing improved water quality and, in some cases, more reliable flows.

For example, in Nairobi, Kenya, high sediment levels in the Tana River from agricultural run-off and development in the mountains catalyzed the development of Africa’s first water fund. Partners in the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund jointly invest in providing upstream farmers with the training, resources and equipment they need to help keep the river healthy, conserve water and reap the benefits of higher crop yields and more stable farms. The fund also has downstream projected benefits including improved water yields and reduced sediment in the river. An analysis of the water fund structure showed that even by conservative estimates the selected watershed interventions could deliver a two-to-one return on investment on average over a 30-year timeframe. During a recent trip to Kenya, the message from water fund investors and participants was clear: it’s in their best interest to make this work. Taking care of the land will ensure the longevity of the agricultural community and create a more sustainable water future throughout the watershed.

As cities and populations grow, and climate change adds undue pressure on vulnerable freshwater systems, maintaining healthy lands around our water sources will be increasingly vital to the future of our water security. By investing in nature, we also invest in our future.

Download the report at or visit to explore the data using an interactive map.

Urban Water Governance in the Developing World: Accountability and Affordability Are Keys to Water Access

Thu, 2017-01-19 21:06

A woman carries water home in urban Mozambique. Photo by: John Hogg / World Bank / Flickr

In 2015, the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there are 663 million people around the world without access to safe drinking water, with nearly half of these people living in sub-Saharan Africa. While Africa’s urban areas had a slightly higher rate of access to piped water than rural areas, this access decreased from 43 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2015. Seeing as Africa’s urban population doubled from 2000 to 2015, access to water remains a critical issue in the region, growing even more urgent.

How people in developing countries access water and what access entails are often mysterious notions for countries where clean water from the tap is pretty much automatic. To illustrate water scarcity and the emotion behind access to water, NGO and donor publications often feed the public with images of happy children playing in or putting their hands under clean water from a standpipe, like the image below:

A young woman drinks from water pump in Mali. Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank / Flickr

Solving the problem of access to water for 600-700 million is easy, right? Just give it to them, no? Sadly, this is not the case. Promising water projects can fail for a whole host of reasons—financial, economic, social, institutional, technological or hydrological. Pumps break, wells run dry, get polluted, projects don’t get finished…things fall apart.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of failure in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. Anyone who has worked in the sector, myself included, can list an instance where a project failed for some reason or another. The Playpump story is well-known. Others, such as this IIED studied example, are not. My doctoral research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania documented a national infrastructure scandal that forced the resignation of the prime minister, unnecessary cholera outbreaks and institutional dysfunction in the water sector in the wake of a failed private sector participation effort.

In my view, failure—and potential success—will always be a factor of economics and governance. Economics is relevant because not only does infrastructure take funds to build, but water services also cost money to maintain. Governance is relevant because decisions about where services are built and maintained are often a factor of political, economic and administrative choice.

Service Delivery Models

If one takes a step back and thinks about what access to water is, whether one is getting water from the private or public sector, one often pays taxes and/or per unit purchase costs. An excellent exposition of this sort of service delivery model is the 2004 World Bank World Development Report – “Making Services Work for the Poor”. As seen in Figure 1, this simple model of WASH governance shows the “short route” accountability that is associated with purchasing water or sanitation services from the private sector. The “long route” of accountability is the more complex interaction that includes pressure on the government (central, regional or local) to either provide WASH services or regulate private sector provision.

Figure 1: Long and Short Route Accountability- 2004 World Bank WDR.

The realities of service provision are, of course, not as black and white as this simple model suggests. There are many WASH management models that have some permutation. While I acknowledge that the complex interactions implicit in any specific management model are critical, stripping down the analysis to the bare-bones basics is useful for messaging and conceptualizing the challenges.

Household Agency, the Enabling Environment and Project Sustainability

The take-home message is effectively one based in human geography. Individuals and households have certain levels of economic wherewithal and ability to exert political pressure on their government to provide WASH services, and these abilities (or inabilities) determine how and to what extent they are able (or unable) to access water. All too many times, those who lack access to water are those who are disenfranchised economically or politically.

Rather than constantly react to the myriad instances of failure, the WASH sector should proactively build on sustainability efforts through better analyses of country, regional and local enabling environment issues and through individual project design.

Fortunately, many of these systems of sustainability analysis exist. The problem is a lack of uniform agreement on how to implement them.

At the country level, these decision tools are numerous. My favorite is the set of FIETS criteria. Additionally, UNICEF has created an excellent Bottleneck Analysis Tool (BAT) to address enabling environment challenges in the WASH sector. At the level of the individual project, I believe that every single water project should have to pass some sort of sustainability test— giving donors, NGOs and governments a better sense of whether those new sources of water will even be there in five or ten years. USAID’s Sustainability Index Tool (SIT) is one potentially useful tool in this regard.

While improving the financial means of households and accountability of governments are two of the biggest imaginable challenges, these two concerns are critical to sustained increases in access to water. Acknowledging the more complex and country-specific service delivery frameworks and employing country-level and project-specific analytical tools are the only ways out of patterns of repeated failure.

What Does This Mean For Urban Populations? 

At minimum, it is essential to emphasize the importance of the governance and economics of access to water. Even more so, as David Satterthwaite rightfully asserts, access to clean and regular water, along with high rates of urbanization, increases disease and other environmental risks. The informal and unplanned settlements in the largest developing country megacities house a complex set of economic and governance factors. These areas are home to some of the most disenfranchised vulnerable populations. Water projects need to understand and account for this context.

In another blog post, Ed Bourque describes some of the most intractable barriers and constraints to increased access. It must be noted that markets for water do not always function fairly or perfectly, and in this blog post, he points to a classic case of “water mafias” who sabotaged and rendered a water supply project pointless. To read more about Ed Bourque’s work, click here.

Live from Transforming Transportation 2017: How Do Cities Make Disruptive Technologies Work for All?

Sat, 2017-01-14 04:16

Day 2 of Transforming Transportation 2017 explored disruptive technologies and their impact on mobility. This panel featured experts in mode sharing, electrification and automation of road vehicles. Photo by Luca Lo Re / WRI

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC17) is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and the EMBARQ mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. This year’s conference is themed Beyond Commitments: Sustainable Mobility for All, and takes place on January 12 and 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC17, by following @WRIcities and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

New kinds of mobility—ride sharing platforms, electric cars and buses, autonomous vehicles—are creating disruptions in the transport sector. Thanks to big data and the widespread use of smart phones, personal transport planning around the world is increasingly becoming a continuum, where people can use a number of different integrated modes to make seamless, efficient trips, as Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, explained. While the evidence is still mixed on the current impact, the hope is that all this will get people away from personal car ownership.

Emily Castor, Director of Transportation Policy at Lyft, pushed back against the idea that one technology alone will create positive economic and social impact. Instead, she pointed out, technologies need to be integrated to ensure that they work in a way that creates public good. When it comes to mobility, disruptive technologies like automation, electrification and on-demand ride-sharing need to be integrated in order to mitigate the individual technologies’ potential downsides, like greater congestion and traffic fatalities.

As Sam Parker, Director of Shell Foundation, noted, there are barriers to making new mobility technologies achieve social good. For many low-income populations, ride-sourcing apps like Uber and Lyft are prohibitively expensive given their scale. “We’re going to need to think about how we reach this population so that innovation works for them. Don’t assume the technology will do everything—success depends on the business model.” Emily Castor added to this by pointing out that personal vehicle ownership is currently cheaper than shared mobility, which will need to reach a viable price point in order to create benefits for all.

Getting to this point is going to require smart regulations and public policies. This is a huge challenge given that decision makers will need to balance a legitimate concern for safer and public good while also providing the private sector with the right enabling environment for investment and entrepreneurship. One of the biggest challenges here is the status quo—the lack of collaboration thus far between the private and public sectors to improve urban mobility for all.

 Heaven or Hell? Weighing Opportunities and Challenges in New Mobility

Are shared, autonomous, electric vehicles the silver bullet to a sustainable future? Referencing Robin Chase’s notion of “Heaven or Hell,” the following panel highlighted the opportunities and challenges of these mobility revolutions. While advances in mobility pose many benefits to the future of urban transport, they also call much into question. “There could be many efficiencies gained by autonomous mode shares,” said STEPS Director at UC Davis Lewis Fulton, “but we could also end up with single or zero occupant vehicles, leading to increased congestion and sprawl.” Furthermore, “automation is going to lead to lower per-trip costs,” he explained, but “if the cost comes down a lot, the appeal for sharing might drop as well.”

Peter Jones, Professor of Transport and Sustainable Development at Imperial College, additionally discusses the notion of “Heaven and Hell,” as he describes many of the challenges associated with autonomous vehicles. “Many cities are concerned that this development in technology will swamp the city unless people start thinking now,” cautioned Jones. These problems can been mitigated with early and comprehensive planning initiatives. These are political issues and that need to be discussed now: “If we think ahead,” concludes Jones, “there can be many real benefits.”

Will the mobility transformation have an impact on traditional transportation? Toni Lindau, Director of WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities, seems to think it will. Lindau believes that autonomous vehicles will pose a great challenge the current transit market: conventional buses, bus rapid transit routes and other feeder systems will be at risk.

How Will 2017 Shape the Transport Agenda?

Moderator Melinda Crane opened the final plenary session of Transforming Transportation 2017 with a look at the year ahead. 2016 was the year of global agreements and shaping the agenda on climate, urban development and sustainable development. 2017, on the other hand, will be the year for joint action. According to Daniel Günther: “2017 needs to be about starting action on the ground, scaling up and implementing these agendas… Let’s start some transformative action.” Portugal’s Secretary of State Jose Mendez believes that “in 2017, we will get to know how strong the Paris agreement will be.” Like the global protocol, transforming transportation requires a global approach: “When you transform a sector,” said Mendes, “it isn’t a task for a country or a city. It is a task for many stakeholders.”

While global coordination may be difficult, Secretary General of SLoCaT Cornie Huizenga draws our attention to areas of progress on global coordination, proving that it is possible. “If we want to get the focus that our topic requires, to get the political attention and make the changes we need,” he said, “we will have to speak with one voice.”

In their closing remarks, EMBARQ Director Holger Dalkmann and Director of Transport and ICT at the World Bank Jose Luis Irigoyen emphasized the need for joint action as we enter the year of implementation. “The various goals have to be seen as one,” said Irigoyen, “you cannot have sustainable mobility unless you champion climate resilience, access, efficiency and safety and for all.”

Live from Transforming Transportation 2017: Leadership and Private Finance Drive a Safe Mobility Shift

Fri, 2017-01-13 05:08

Andrew Steer, CEO and President of World Resources Institute, and Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank, opened Day 1 of Transforming Transportation 2017 with moderator Melinda Crane. Photo by Luca Lo Re / WRI.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC17) is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and the EMBARQ mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. This year’s conference is themed Beyond Commitments: Sustainable Mobility for All, and takes place on January 12 and 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC17, by following @WRIcities and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in live for video streaming of select sessions.

Why do some issues rise to the top of the global agenda while others struggle to become part of the mainstream? Look at climate change, which has taken center stage through the COP process and played a role in local and national elections throughout 2016. What did the climate community get right?

As Andrew Steer, President and CEO of World Resources Institute, explained, a lot of this has to do with the clarity of the narrative and the extent to which its messengers have pushed its message to the public and onto the international agenda. We can learn from the successes of climate negotiations, but so far transport hasn’t been able to rally around a common, compelling narrative. The evidence is there—1.25 million people die from traffic crashes per year, 23 percent of all GHG emissions come from transport—and the commitments have been made—the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more—but we need to be politically and psychologically smarter. Only a radical shift in the discourse will get us to a tipping point for transformative change.

Key Leadership in Changing Transport Trends  

The first plenary session highlighted the importance of leadership in catalyzing transformation within the transport sector. “This is a moment of unique responsibility for political leaders,” said Jose Viegas, Secretary-General at ITF, “countries have the right to say what they want to do on transport.” Through each country’s Nationally Determined Contributions, national governments have the great opportunity to dictate how to shape their national agendas. In addition to national leadership, “local governments are more in power than ever, for transport,” said Secretary General of UITP Alain Flausch. Due to heightened technological advancements, city authorities have access to real-time, robust datasets on mobility. Through analyzing this data, local governments can take action through regulation, engaging governments on all levels.

While the opportunity for strong governmental action resonated throughout the panel, Mayor of Santiago Carolina Toha also directed attention to everyday citizens. “It is a priority to view transportation through the eyes and hearts of the people,” she said. After all, residents have the power to drive change in the transport sector; people elect how they move about their cities. Mayor Toha emphasized the need to get the minds people on board to achieve city goals. Similarly, Patrick Oliva, Senior VP of Michelin Group, turns to the people for results: “If you want to achieve something, you need to know where you’re going, and then you have to unleash the creativity of the people to meet the objectives.” By syncing the transport agenda with the needs of its residents, cities can build efficient, connected and sustainable cities. “If we have serious politicians and goodwill, we have a chance,“ said Alain Flausch, “we need goodwill.”

Cities Must Leverage Private Funds to Have a Voice

Financing is one of the greatest challenges for urban mobility worldwide. The problem, however, does not result from the lack money, bur rather from the proper investment and application of those funds A business as usual model creates significant economic costs that could be applied to other sectors. Research from the New Climate Economy indicates that investment in public transit can save $11 trillion in energy savings by 2050.

Liberating the transit sector from the status quo requires action. “Transit solutions will never pay for themselves through the fare box,” said Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank Paul Romer. What must be prioritized, described Laura Tuck in her opening statement, is increased private funding, which requires immense changes in the financial sector and mobilizing private finance at scale. But how do cities leverage private funding? According to Carlos Mier Y Teran, Director of Ports, Airports and Gas Pipelines with Banobras-Mexico, if a project is well planned, there is lower technical, environmental, economic and social risk, and therefore, banks will feel more comfortable providing funding. This financial shift is imperative for cities to transform their transportation sectors. For now, however, “if they don’t have access to finances, cities won’t have a voice,” said Mayor Toha.

Moving the Narrative Forward on Road Safety

What needs to happen to move the narrative forward for road safety, a health crisis taking the lives of 1.2 million people a year? David Ward, CEO of Towards Zero Foundation, put it directly, “we need to stop blaming the victim. This isn’t about human error—this is about a failure of the system.”

The safe systems approach to road safety is all about flipping this line of logic and making road safety a shared responsibility. The safe systems approach emphasizes designing roads to be safer in the first place rather than relying on behavioral measures like education and enforcement. But as Soames Job, Director of Global Road Safety Facility at the Work Bank, explained, “road safety advocates have not done a good job of communicating this approach to non-road safety advocates.” The next step in updating the narrative will be about mainstreaming this message.

So how can low- and middle-income countries—where 92 percent of fatalities are concentrated—leapfrog the problems experienced by developed countries? Too often the true social costs of the road deaths are not factored into the financial costs of road projects, noted Walid Abdelwahab, Director of Infrastructure Department at the Islamic Development Bank. This leads to investors and decision makers choosing the road that’s cheaper in the short term, but costly in the long term in terms of fatalities and social costs. Updating the global road safety narrative means also mainstreaming an approach to cost accounting that takes into consideration the full costs.

Lastly, panelists discussed the need to move people into safer modes of transport like mass transit instead of onto roads. Motorcycles, which move at high speeds in congested conditions, are on the road in many cities around the world. A comprehensive, safe systems approach to road safety needs to address this trend and push for a fundamental paradigm shift. As multiple speakers concluded, we can’t settle for reducing or even halving fatalities—zero is the only acceptable number.

Transforming Transportation: Toward Sustainable Mobility for All

Thu, 2017-01-12 02:55

São Paulo, Brazil Offers a Variety of Mobility Options. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities / Flickr

From taxi apps to car sharing, from buses to the metro, from bike sharing to walking, not to mention personal cars, there are more transportation choices than ever before for that staple of modern life: the daily commute. The same goes for the transport of goods, which can get from A to B by road, air, rail, waterways and soon drones. There are currently more than 12,600 km (nearly 8000 miles) of metro or urban rail and 5,400 km (3,300 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT), collectively providing 154 million trips a day in 250 cities. Increased access to transport and enhanced connectivity decreases travel time and generates higher rates of direct employment, keys to elevating overall economic opportunity.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the increase in mobility options comes at a high price. The challenges associated with growing traffic, especially in cities, are significant and threaten to become insurmountable. And despite the wide range of ways to get around, there have never been so many people who lack access to transportation or the means use transportation.

Personal cars were a 20th century’s symbol of prosperity, but in the 21st century, they contribute to three pernicious trends:

  • Congestion
    There are one billion cars already on the road, and experts forecast a doubling of that number by 2050. Cities like São Paulo and Nairobi are so clogged that low-income populations struggle to get to work, schools and health care facilities. In Cairo, only 15 percent of jobs in the metropolitan area are accessible in less than an hour.
  • Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    Transport accounts for 23 percent of carbon dioxideemissions from the burning of fossil fuels and is a significant contributor to the air pollution in urban settings. Urban air pollution is estimated to cause about 9 percent of lung cancer deaths and 5 percent of cardiopulmonary deaths.
  • Road Accidents
    Globally, about 1.25 million people die each year because of road traffic crashes. Ninety percent of the world’s road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have only about 50 percent of the world’s vehicles. Half of these global road fatalities occur among the most vulnerable populations: pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. As if a fatality in itself is not devastating enough, road traffic fatalities cause economic losses to the victim’s family and society: traffic crashes cost countries between 3 and 5 percent of their GDP.

In 2015 and 2016, the international community has made a series of global commitments, which provide a clear vision of what sustainable transport looks like: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the New Urban Agenda at Habitat III, the Brasilia Declaration on road safety, and the Ashgabat Declaration. These commitments frame the space within which governments, the private sector and civil society will have to act on transport for the next 15 years.

Sustainable transport, as envisioned in those commitments, is defined by the following:

  1. Accessible to all
  2. Safety and secure
  3. Efficient and reliable
  4. Green, clean and resilient

To transform this vision into a reality, all actors in the international transport community must come together. 2017 is a year of opportunities to shape the implementation of the global agenda. The policy vehicles of each agreement, like NDCs and SDGs, are more effective when implemented with an integrated vision, creating a strong, cohesive and resilient future.

To make best use of these opportunities, we need to act now. Articulating and implementing that vision requires from the leadership of governments, cities, the private sector, civil society and international organizations that will together galvanize action. This involves reaching a consensus among all actors around a set of common and ambitious goals, a global tracking framework to monitor progress and a global program of actions. The solution is not to reinvent the wheel, but to create an umbrella initiative that can bring together existing programs and partnerships and that also can fill the gaps, where no program exists, for example on the key issue of accessibility.

Overall, countries need strong policy guidance, and the private sector needs better visibility on the evolution of regulatory frameworks  to drive tangible change. Concretely, this global program of actions should include a strong push for carbon pricing, urban sustainability action plans in medium and large cities, and climate finance reform – getting more Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding for climate-friendly transport projects in developing countries can leverage public and private investment.

We are excited to convene global leaders and experts this week at Transforming Transportation in Washington, discussing avenues to align transportation with the global agendas for climate and urban development. Co-hosted by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, the central theme is Sustainable Mobility for All.

The goal is to channel governments, the private sector and individual transport choices in the right direction. It is not about optimizing one form of transportation over another, but rather it is about increasing the opportunity for all to live in a more prosperous, healthy and safe environment.

This piece was also published on the World Bank’s blog.

WRI Ross Center at the Transportation Research Board 96th Annual Meeting

Thu, 2017-01-05 03:22

Santiago, Chile is looking for ways to close the public transport funding gap through Transport Demand Management measures. Experts will discuss this case study at the 96th annual TRB meeting in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Claudio Olivares Medina / Flickr

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) 96th Annual Meeting will be held in Washington D.C. on January 7-12. The meeting program will cover all modes of transportation, with more than 5,000 presentations in over 800 sessions and workshops, addressing topics of interest to policy makers, administrators, practitioners, researchers and representatives of government, industry and academic institutions. This year’s spotlight theme will be “Transportation Innovation: Leading the Way in an Era of Rapid Change.”

WRI has been an active TRB participant in the past, presenting multiple papers in lectures and poster sessions, including two award-winning papers. This year is no exception; we will have a strong presence in multiple workshops, sessions and committees. Below we highlight events in which WRI researchers will be present:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Nexus of Transportation and Environmental Health Governance: Intersections and Collisions Across and Within Borders

Sunday, January 8, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Convention Center, 147A, Workshop 101

Claudia Adriazola-Steil and Amit Bhatt, WRI

Presentation: Mobility Patterns, Physical Activities and Safety: Case Studies from Ahmedabad and Mexico City

This research explores the nature of implementing a bus rapid transit (BRT) lane in an arterial street in Mexico City and its impact on traffic safety, air quality and physical activity. The results show positive impacts for health and also provide cues for further research and design adjustments to have a greater positive impact.

Performance Measures and Targets Across the Pillars of the Decade of Action for Road Safety

Sunday, January 8, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Convention Center, 101, Workshop 136

Claudia Adriazola-Steil, WRI and Natalie Draisin, FIA Foundation

Presentation: Global Update and SDG 3.6

This session will review the progress achieved in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3.6: “Globally, the United Nations has set a sustainable development goal to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from traffic accidents by 2025.”

Innovations in Financing of Urban Public Transport and Non-motorized Transportation Infrastructure

Sunday, January 8, 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM, Convention Center, Salon B, Workshop 155

Dario Hidalgo, WRI

Financing Sustainable Mobility in Bogotá and Cali, Colombia and Santiago, Chile. Analysis of how Bogotá has financed its BRT, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure networks as well as how it is looking for ways to cover the public transport funding gap through Transport Demand Management measures, also replicated in Cali, Colombia and Santiago, Chile.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Transportation in the Developing Countries Committee

Monday, January 9, 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM, Marriott Marquis, Marquis Ballroom Salon 10 (M2)

Adriana Lobo, Amit Bhat, Adriana Lobo and Madhav Pai, WRI

This session highlights the research and activities of multilateral, bilateral and non-government organizations, including WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Transit Capacity and Quality of Service

Tuesday, January 10, 1:30 PM – 3:15 PM, Convention Center, Hall E

Luis A. Lindau, Mariana Barcelos, Maria Beatriz Berti da Costa, Carla ten Caten, Cristina Albuquerque Moreira da Silva, Brenda Pereira, WRI Brazil

Poster: Benchmarking Focused on Satisfaction of Bus Transit Users

This session discusses the results and lessons from standardized user satisfaction surveys applied in several Latin American Cities.  

Sustainable Transport Award Ceremony 2017 honoring Santiago, Chile; Windhoek, Namibia and Curitiba, Brazil

Tuesday, January 10, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Convention Center, Ballroom C

Holger Dalkmann, WRI; Clayton Lane and Michael Kodransky, ITDP

The Sustainable Transport Award recognizes profound leadership, vision, and achievement in sustainable transport and urban livability. Established in 2005, it has been given annually to a city that has implemented innovative sustainable transport projects in the preceding year. These strategies improve mobility for all residents, reduce transport greenhouse and air pollution emissions, and improve safety and access for bicyclists and pedestrians. Award committee members represent the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), The World Bank, WRI Clean Air Asia, Clean Air Institute, Codatu, Despacio, GIZ, ICLEI and the BRT Center of Excellence.

Free registration here

Bikesharing and Electric Bikes and Trikes in Asia and Latin America

Tuesday, January 10, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM, Convention Center, 103A

Ajay Kumar, The World Bank and Dario Hidalgo, WRI, presiding

This session discusses research from applications in Indonesia, China and Mexico.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Public Transport, BRT and Innovations Subcommittee, ABE90(2)

Wednesday, January 11, 8:00 AM – 9:45 AM, Marriott Marquis, Marquis Ballroom Salon 13 (M2)

Dario Hidalgo, WRI, presiding


Juan Pablo Bocarejo/Claudia Diaz, Secretary of Transportation, Bogotá Colombia, Plans and Progress for Making Bogotá the Bicycling Capital of the Americas

Jyot Chada/Amit Bhatt, WRI India. “Gender and Innovation in Public Transport, India Perspective”

Clayton Lane/Aimee Gauthier, ITDP, “Evaluating Country Performance in Meeting Transit Needs of Urban Populations”

Juan Carlos Muñoz, CEDEUS, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, “Free Transit: Uthopian or Practical?”

Commentary from:

Andrea Monje/Isabel Granada, Inter-American Development Bank (Gender and Transport)

Jorge Kogan/Harvey Scorcia, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America (Urban Mobility Observatory)

Holly Krambeck/Roger Gorgham, World Bank (Innovation, Big Data/Africa)

Current Research on Bus Rapid Transit Planning, Design, and Operations

Wednesday, January 11, 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM, Convention Center, 103A

Pablo Guarda, Juan M. Velasquez, Thet Hein Tun, WRI; Xumei Chen, Zhong Guo, China Academy of Transportation Sciences

Presentation: Comparing Chinese and Non-Chinese Bus Rapid Transit: Evidence from Evaluation of Global BRT Based on BRT Design Indicators

Benchmarking study on design features and performance of systems compared with Chinese applications.

Urban Stories 2017: Brazil’s Top Issues to Watch in the Year Ahead

Wed, 2017-01-04 20:20

Metropolitan areas in Brazil will have to deliver development plans by January 2018. Photo by: Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

As the year comes to an end, Urban Stories explores the emerging trends, key decisions and major changes on the horizon for cities around the world in 2017. With a new installment each day from India, Brazil and Washington, D.C., our series will provide an insightful overview of what’s happening in cities globally.

2016 will go down in history as a year of unexpected outcomes, including Brexit, Donald Trump’s election and presidential impeachments in South Korea and Brazil. In addition, 2016 will be remembered for unprecedented innovation in transport and technology. The way residents move about cities changed with the rise of on-demand transportation services, like Uber and Cabify, and with merges between Original Engine Manufacturers (OEM) and innovative technology companies. This new mobility, however, is not going to extinguish the necessity for high-quality sustainable public transportation (and the challenges of financing it), safer streets designed for people and meeting climate commitments.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities established an important partnership this year with FNP (National Association of Mayors) that will accelerate the scaling up of our work in the year ahead. This partnership will leverage our capacity to disseminate knowledge and replicate successful projects. The role of mayors will play an important role in building upon our momentum in 2017.

On January 1, 2017, newly elected mayors will take office in more than 5,500 cities, home to more than 200 million people. The new city administrations will provide a fresh start, at the local level, for a four-year cycle of city transformation. In Brazil, the vision of mayors is key to determining the development path of a city, since they are politically empowered to invest in infrastructure.

A Shifting Financial Strategy

The federal government recently reshaped its financing strategy; it is now focused on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and in tune with the New Urban Agenda, the document that came out of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. As a result, Brazil’s new mayors will face the challenge of advancing PPPs, instead of counting on loans for implementing infrastructure projects.

To access new opportunities, Brazilian cities need to improve their capacity to develop bankable projects that are sustainable. Traditionally, mayors seek access to non-refundable assets from the federal or state governments or try to contract loans from multilateral or Brazilian development banks. There is a current lack of knowledge regarding the use of alternative financing mechanisms, including green financing, which open new and important perspectives for urban mobility projects.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities urges new city administrations to engage with sustainable and smart urban principles. Mayors will have to establish a long-term vision for new infrastructure projects that need to be economically and environmentally sustainable to attract private partners and access green financing. We will support municipalities to improve new urban projects and heighten their capacity to do so.

Smart Cities Focus on People

Brazilian Cities are late to the game in adopting new technological innovations and exploring the potential benefits of a data revolution. Existing regulations need to be adapted to account for the rapid growth of disruptive technology that is impacting many services, especially urban mobility.

Brazil has been lacking visionary mayors that can drive a transformation toward a contemporary model of the city—one that replaces last century’s car-centric culture. Implementing projects for cyclists and pedestrians, with a focus on road safety and elevating the quality of public transportation, is critical not only for mobility but also for public health. Residents are taking on a more empowered role in the decision-making process, to ensure that new mayoral agendas reflect the true needs of the cities; people want their cities to be smarter.

It is important to engage city staff, designers and consultants all over Brazil. Infrastructure projects in the country are lagging far behind the state of the practice in cities around the world. Working closely with the Ministry of Cities, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities has identified knowledge gaps that are now being addressed by guidelines and criteria, such as the Seven Steps – How to Build an Urban Mobility Plan and the set of criteria for designing smart and people-friendly urban mobility infrastructure.

Time for Change is Now

New city administrations have to be engaged with sustainable and smart urban principles to mitigate emissions and adapt urban areas. The conversation around clean energy needs to become more present in Brazil, from the electrification of vehicles to the efficiency of buildings and public infrastructure. We believe that city dwellers are going to be the catalyst toward a zero-carbon reality, since 85 percent of Brazilians live in cities.

In addition to cities, metropolitan regions will play a key role in new Brazilian development. The recent law that requires each metropolitan area in Brazil to create a development plan by January 2018 established the opportunity to advance mobility and sustainable development beyond the limits of a particular city. Metropolitan areas host around 45 percent of the Brazilian population. As a result, embedding long-term, climate-smart policies into development plans can lay the foundation for a zero-carbon future.

Increasing expert and civilian awareness and engagement on these issues can make governments, on all levels, react. According to Pew Research Center’s Spring 2015 survey, 90 percent of Brazilians say climate change is harming people now. If Brazil is to become an innovative country in Latin America for climate-smart development, individual behaviors, laws and practices much change. Technology can make cities climate-friendly by improving public services that impact public health, social equity, road safety, urban mobility and the economy. It’s time for climate change to be on the agenda for every decision in the public and private sectors.

2017 Is the Year for a Fresh Start

In 2017, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities will focus on scaling up the work it has been successfully deploying at the city and national level since 2005. We will capitalize on opportunities created from the new mayors’ agendas, a solid relationship with the Ministry of Cities and the recent partnership with FNP. Brazil is one of the world’s main players in climate discussions and had a leadership role in Quito, working to include the “right to the city” in the New Urban Agenda. Now is the time to bridge the gap between discourse and action.

Urban Stories 2017: India’s Top Issues to Watch in the Year Ahead

Wed, 2017-01-04 02:23

In 2017, India Will Enhance its Public Bicycling Infrastructure as a part of the Ministry of Urban Development’s Smart Cities Mission. Photo by Benoit Colin / EMBARQ / Flickr

As the year comes to an end, Urban Stories explores the emerging trends, key decisions and major changes on the horizon for cities around the world in 2017. With a new installment each day from India, Brazil and Washington, D.C., our series will provide an insightful overview of what’s happening in cities globally.

Public Outcry Grows in Response to Local Problems

Over the last year, Indian cities have witnessed growing conflict over issues related to urban growth, development, transport and the delivery of other public services. Poor service delivery, inadequate access, deteriorating urban infrastructure and ineffective decision making have resulted in public outcry in several cities.

For instance, in Bangalore, the government’s decision to construct a 6.72 km, INR 1791 crore (4.18 mile, USD 263 million) steel flyover was met with intense public opposition. Tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets in protest, mobilized online campaigns and demanded that the local authorities rethink the project. In Delhi, air quality has been a much-discussed issue, with pollution readings hitting hazardous levels. Various citizens’ groups, supported by celebrities, staged protests demanding that the government take immediate and effective measures to curb the rising pollution levels. And in Mumbai, questions around open public spaces and affordable housing were triggered by the new proposed city Development Plan, forcing the city government to order a revision of that plan.

India’s politics and administrative structures are undergoing a significant transformation with growing urban populations. Experts in the field, academics and the general public have recognized that current governance structures and the resulting decisions are not adequately addressing the issues cities are facing. The debates and discussion of significant issues, like devolution of power to local governments, housing and tenure for new immigrants and the adoption of participatory planning approaches, will take another decade or two to fully resolve. In the meantime, we will continue to see more conflict as we go into 2017.

100 Smart Cities: From Good Proposals to Great Projects

In early 2016, the Government of India’s Ministry of Urban Development launched the Smart Cities Mission, inviting applications from cities to participate in a competitive process that would award INR 100 crore (USD 14.7 million) in funding for urban transformation projects. The Mission is aimed at improving governance, promoting equitable growth and access to services and ensuring public participation in urban development, resulting in an enhanced quality of life for residents.

Several innovative proposals were submitted for projects, ranging from public bicycling, pedestrian-friendly streets, public spaces, e-governance, use of technology to improve transportation systems, water and waste management and others. Many of the winning cities are tier 2 cities—cities with populations between 1 and 10 million. In 2017, we will see several of these proposals starting to get implemented into projects that have the potential to improve lives. Ahmedabad’s transit-oriented zone project in Wadaj, a fully automated public bicycling system in Bhopal and Kochi’s redevelopment of its heritage district are some excellent examples.

What Do Indian Cities Need to Succeed in 2017?

So, what do cities need to do in order to leverage investment and ensure change on the ground in the coming year in a way that is equitable and sustainable? One, there needs to be a focus on capacity building; two, governments should leverage private sector investment and innovation; and three, cities need platforms to share learnings from pilot projects and ensure a transfer of knowledge.

Greater Capacity Building

There is a growing need for capacity building across several layers, including the political classes, bureaucrats, practitioners and implementation bodies. The entire process of public service delivery, including planning, financing, tendering, implementation and gaining public support requires specific intervention and capacity at different stages. It is important that Indian governments have a current, common understanding of how things have evolved in this space around the world, and how Indian cities can localize and adopt global best practices.

Improving Private Sector Involvement

Secondly, the private sector needs to be more effectively engaged. Although private sector involvement in public services has been growing over the last five years or so, there have been several challenges. Most importantly, the private players haven’t been able to fully meet the requirements that cities need. Indian decision makers need to actively think of ways in which the public sector and the private sector are not competing but complementing each other, and that risks taken on either side are safeguarded. On the other hand, it is important for these private sector leaders to adequately equip themselves to participate in discussions with civil society and government leaders. This participatory approach will allow cities to grow with a focus on catering to the needs of all groups of people.

After all, India has witnessed private sector-supported innovations at various levels and the development of alternative service delivery models to better meet people’s needs. For instance, through public-private partnerships, in Indore, the bus rapid transit (BRT) system has changed the way people commute. In Surat, renewable energy production and distribution has been transformed, and in Pune, the city has successfully piloted a waste-to-energy project. These projects have tremendous potential. Regulatory and legislative changes will be required, and new models of financing are needed, which will afford an enabling environment for the scaling-up of these projects.

Shared Learning

Cities need to learn from one another. Through national-level convenings and platforms that allow for the exchange of best practices, the successes and lessons learned from innovative projects, like effective public transport operations, urban governance structures, building efficiency, waste management and the development of safe public spaces, can be shared. Since 2012, WRI India’s Bus Karo initiative has brought together representatives from public bus operators from around the country, resulting in the transfer of best practices across cities. For instance, an event in Visakapatnam in 2012, which showcased the city agency’s work around driver training and fuel efficiency, resulted in this training being transferred to 14 other cities over the next two years. Cities would benefit from similar platforms in other sectors, such as water and waste management, urban infrastructure, electricity planning and distribution and other areas of public service delivery.

The Year Ahead

While the cities of 2016 have witnessed the start of positive changes, in the form of the Smart Cities Mission and greater public voice in matters concerning urban planning and development, 2017 will be the year when cities will take concrete steps towards realizing those changes. Growth and expansion are inevitable, and it is now time for local governments, the private sector and citizens to make deliberate and concerted efforts towards sustainable and equitable growth.

Green Transit as a Tool for Social Equity

Fri, 2016-12-23 20:55

Addis Ababa Light Rail Train. Photo by Ben Welle / Flickr

Bike-sharing services, electric bus fleets, restored sidewalks. There are plenty of examples of how cities around the world can use improved transportation and mobility infrastructure to address climate change. But according to the new report, Cities100, released by sustainability think tank and consultancy Sustainia, cities are increasingly harnessing these same types of green transportation initiatives and using them as tools to alleviate and mitigate ingrained social inequalities.

Socioeconomic inequality takes very real and physical shapes in cities around the world. Poor and minority communities tend to be more physically cut-off from economic hubs, educational institutions and healthcare, making access to these opportunities and services more time consuming, expensive and all around more challenging. This trend only threatens to worsen in coming years, as cities will hold more than two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050, putting more pressure on housing and transportation infrastructure. But if distance is part of the equity issue, then innovative approaches to transportation can be the solution.

One city featured in this year’s Cities100 that is acutely aware of the devastating consequences of segregation is Cape Town. In an effort to alleviate the lingering physical and social effects of Apartheid, Cape Town’s Transit Oriented Development Strategic Framework seeks to make transit-oriented development (TOD) the centerpiece of future land-use management and growth. TOD ensures that residential and commercial development take place alongside transit systems in a strategic effort to build compact and walkable cities and promote affordable access to public transport. The city hopes this strategy will lead to a 23 percent reduction in passenger kilometers traveled by 2032, as well as decreased transport costs, particularly benefiting low-income groups who currently spend 43 percent of their income on transport.

Another city using transport overhauls as a tool in catalyzing upward mobility is Mexico City. The Comprehensive Mobility Program represents a paradigm shift in the city’s approach to urban planning, prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists and public transit-users. One of the program’s key goals is to reduce traffic congestion. Cutting gridlock via greener and better connected transportation networks, including the construction of 110 km (68 miles) of bike lanes, will have a particularly profound impact on the city’s low-income and peripheral residents, who can spend as much as three hours commuting – each direction. For many, this adds up to a full 26 days a year spent travelling to and from work. As studies in the U.S. have illustrated, commuting time is the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. Therefore, by shrinking commuting times for low-income earners, Mexico City aims to not only tackle CO2 emissions, but also boost social and economic prospects for vulnerable citizens.

In another corner of the world, the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa is just starting out on its path toward sustainable and equitable transportation. In 2015, the city inaugurated Sub-Saharan Africa’s first light-rail train (LRT) network, covering 34 km (21 miles) and carrying 15,000 people each hour. With fares as low as $0.30 per trip, the LRT is designed to cater to middle- and low-income commuters who would otherwise take minibuses on congested roadways or walk long distances to reach their destinations. This low cost is crucially important for the city’s job seekers, as new research shows that access to cheaper transport in Addis Ababa helps unemployed residents search more intensely for new jobs and increases their probabilities of finding stable employment. On top of offering low-cost, high-quality transit, the LRT is laying groundwork that can sustainably and equitably accommodate the city’s growing population, by providing major transit corridors, which can foster future transit-oriented development.

These cases demonstrate how connected and cohesive urban transportation is not only a critical element for cutting CO2 emissions, but also a necessary tool in mitigating socioeconomic disparities in cities around the world. By taking a holistic approach to urban planning, and viewing transportation infrastructure as an avenue toward equitable growth and development, more cities will be able to reconnect and revitalize poor communities and give access to the kinds of economic opportunities that can lead to social change on a larger scale.

Explore more sustainable urban solutions that tackle social inequality in the new Cities100:

As Mexico City Writes Its Constitution, Why Should the City Embrace Land Value Capture?

Fri, 2016-12-23 19:34

As a result of pedestrianization, Madero Street in the Historic Center of Mexico City, increased its land value significantly. Photo by Reskiebak / Flickr

In 2017, Mexico City will have its own constitution for the first time—the next step in a process that will make the city more autonomous and function like a federal state of Mexico. Beyond highlighting residents’ cherished rights and freedoms, the new constitution will touch on the importance of land value capture.  As a result, land value capture has entered the public sphere, even mass media—a very uncommon place for urban development discussions. Unfortunately, many large, misinformed arguments, such as “the end of private property” or “the first step toward becoming Cuba or USSR during the peak days of communism,” have overwhelmed the conversation.

Contrary to popular belief, land value capture does not seek to eliminate private property, impose a new tax or steal anybody’s property; It seeks to recover, and give back to the city, part of the revenue from public investment in urban services and equipment, which is currently retained by private individuals. Mexico City’s Draft Constitution discusses land value capture from “urban infrastructure, public space, changes in land use and building intensity,” understanding that the increase in land values of housing and commerce, due to public investment, would have to be part of the wealth of the city.

Land value capture represents an unbeatable opportunity to move toward compliance with an elementary principle of social justice in cities: the equitable distribution of burdens and benefits among all residents. Land value change is not something that is simply generated by the individual actions of property owners, but by the whole society. Land values primarily change from two state actions:

1. Changes in regulations that modify land-use or increase permitted building intensity

2. Investment in public infrastructure or improvement of the public realm

These actions have a direct impact on the market value of real estate not because of private intervention, but because of actions taken by public actors who represent the whole of society.

How Does Land Value Increase?

Imagine a neighborhood in the city where the government invests—with public money—in the construction of neighborhood infrastructure, equipment or public space. This could take form in constructing a new Metrobus or Metro line, rehabilitating the neighborhood market or creating a new public square. Imagine, on the other hand, that a plot of land is modified from residential housing to commercial space, or it is authorized to have a greater construction potential. The homes, businesses or offices benefiting from these actions will increase their market values from public expenditure, without their owners having made any investment. Of course, at the same time, the owner can make improvements to the property to increase its market value. These actions, however, cannot be attributed to the whole of society, but merely to the effort of the individual, therefore the profits cannot be subject to any recovery process.

In Mexico City, however, large real estate speculators “capture” the land value. They typically buy cheap land and wait, or push, for a regulation change or for the development of public infrastructure in order to build their houses, offices or commercial spaces and sell the property for a much higher price. They do all of this without paying the city back for the extra value derived from these changes.

In this case, why does the benefit of something built with public taxes get to be enjoyed by only a few property developers? The land value add would solely impact the wealthy, real estate spectators; The low-income and middle-class owners and tenants, who are the great majority, would not benefit from this value add.

Land value capture usually applies only in two instances: when there is a purchase and when the owner  takes advantage of a land-use change or the increased building intensity. As long as this does not happen, land value capture will not affect city residents. Therefore, recovering the land value generated for society as a whole is an important mechanism toward creating more equitable cities. If we promote land value capture—which, ultimately, is a partial recovery of what we all contribute—it would be possible to invest in additional projects, financing neighborhood infrastructure, quality public spaces and urban services—a virtuous circle that would benefit all.

Colombia, Brazil, England, the U.S. and France all use land value capture in some way. It is even being contemplated in the legislatures of seven Mexican states and mentioned in the new Mexican General Law of Human Settlements, Territorial Ordering and Urban Development. Furthermore, land value is also one of the principles that the Mexican government pledged to support as part of the New Urban Agenda, which came out of Habitat III.

Land value capture presents an opportunity to limit real estate speculation without affecting housing production or the construction association, promotes affordable housing for the entire population, consolidates the built environment and reduces incentives for uncontrolled expansion. It is an opportunity to create an efficient and equitable urban development model: the opportunity to recover the city for all.

Originally published in Spanish on TheCityFix Mexico

7 Women Voice the Need for a Gendered Perspective in Urban Planning

Sat, 2016-12-17 00:01

Woman Biking in Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. Photo by: Benoit Colin / EMBARQ / Flickr

While women represent more than half of the Brazilian population, they occupy only 10.7 percent of the seats in Congress and only 5 percent of CEO positions in the country’s companies. The general absence of women’s voices in the processes that define a large part of their daily lives contributes to cities becoming hostile and unfriendly environments. Without a gendered perspective in urban planning, women often feel afraid to walk around their cities because their unique needs are left out of the conversation.

On the other hand, initiatives and projects that empower women and transform the urban reality, are on the rise. For example, on December 5, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities joined partner organizations—Cidade AtivaCorrida AmigaSampaPéthe Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Pé de Igualdade and the National Association of Public Transport (ANTP)—to discuss urban mobility from a gender perspective. The event’s women-led discussions were attended by at least 18 panelists, experts from the mobility and planning sectors, women active in contemporary debates on the urban environment and an audience of about 100 people.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities sat down with seven of these women to discuss two key points that took center stage during the event: 1.) Why increasing female representation in decision-making is fundamental to building more humane cities 2.) And the nature of a woman’s relationship with her ideal city.

Meli Malatesta, from the blog Pé de Igualdade

Diversity of thinking is essential when it comes to planning the city’s public spaces. In comparison to men, women tend to behave in a more cautious and anticipatory manner, which can contribute significantly to urban planning processes. In the ideal city, we would have the effective participation of women in decision making. I would love to see women occupying more senior positions— as mayors and mobility secretaries. I’m sure that positive effects would be felt in practice, with more well-planned environments.

Marina Rara, Journalist

Having a voice in decision making is a matter of securing our rights. It is necessary for women to occupy these spaces, so that we can help make important decisions that directly affect us. Violence, disrespect, abuse—none of this can be fought from only a man’s perspective. Lack of security, sexual violence, difficult access, all this limits the autonomy of women. We need to fight against what limits us.

The balance is not in ensuring a one-to-one gender ratio— the balance is thinking from the point of view of the other; to think about the distance each person has to travel from his/her starting point to the finish line. In an ideal society, everyone would be able to reach this finish line together. Not only in terms of living conditions but also regarding our rights.

Kamila Gomes, from the Participative Council

We are the majority in almost all spaces, so it is not fair that we do not have a voice in the decisions about them. When we are not part of decision making, these decisions, that greatly impact us, are solely made by men. In public hearings, councils, different types of meetings, we need to make our voice heard to secure our rights.

In an ideal scenario, women would be in all different governance structures. What we usually see is that a man holds the position of power, and the woman is his assistant—the one on the side, who takes notes and does not speak. Occupying representation and decision making spaces is to have a voice.

Jamile Santana, from the bike-café La Frida

Equity—this is the word that sums it up. Gender equity, social equity, racial equity. By achieving fairness, we can reach the main goal in all discussions. If we talk, for example, about feminism or racism—if we talk about urban mobility and create an event to discuss it from the perspective of women— this happens because there is a need to talk about this subject because there is an inequality of rights in our society. There is a very significant drop in women’s rights in urban mobility, and we need to change that. It is an ongoing process of struggle and resistance: in mobility, in gender discussions, in access to the city, in equal rights, in health and in education. Including gender in discussions about urban mobility is not just important; it is essential. This holds true for mobility and all other social spheres.

Ana Carolina Nunes, from SampaPé

It is not possible for the city to represent its residents when the actors involved in all decision making processes are always the same. There are problems that only we—women—go through and from which, consequently, we have our own understanding. Solutions have to be built together, considering the perspective of women. Specifically in cases of violence and sexual harassment; we are the main victims; we live this experience. Therefore, in order to reach a truly effective solution, we must have a voice in this process.

In my ideal city, leaving the house should not be a question for women. It should not be something that requires special care. A city where both my husband and I—my father, my grandfather, my son (if I ever have one)—we could think in the same way about our commuting. This is my ideal city: where we are not afraid. And that includes fear of everything—sexual harassment, assault, being run over. A city where we can choose the time and the route of our commuting.

Gabriela Vuolo, from the City of Dreams project

As long as we do not effectively participate in decisions about how the city is planned, designed and built, it will not be a city that meets the needs of women.

In an ideal world, we should feel safe and welcomed, enjoy the spaces we walk through, and our commutes should be carefree. When I think of an ideal city, I think of a city where I can move without having to worry—where I can leave my house and walk in my city without being at risk.

Mila Guedes, from the Milalá blog

Without women, the city does not exist. We need to participate, so our city can be more humane and safer. Our relationship with the city can and must be more active and stronger. We need to have a voice and occupy both the urban and the decision-making spaces.

Between moments of reflection and smiles, resistance and positivity, the messages of these women are an example for all of us: together we are stronger. “We are many, we are strong, we have the right and the power to fight so that urban mobility and cities as a whole are designed to guarantee our safety and dignity,” said WRI Brasil Communications Analyst and author of this blog, Priscila Pacheco.

Originally Published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil

Combatting Traffic Congestion with Transport Demand Management in China

Thu, 2016-12-15 01:42

Infrastructure Incentivizes Use of Non-motorized Transport in Beijing. Photo by Benoit Colin / EMBARQ / Flickr

China has experienced unprecedented urbanization over the past 30 years, leading to rapid mobilization and a seven fold increase in the nation’s urban area. According to the Ministry of Housing’s China Urban Construction Statistical Yearbook, China’s built urban area grew from 7,438 square kilometers (2,872 square miles) in 1987 to 49,773 square kilometers (19,217 square miles) by 2014, a 570 percent increase. With the vast expansion of urban areas, the average travel distance for city residents rose significantly, triggering a higher demand for vehicle use. As a result, private car registration soared, reaching an annual growth rate over 20 percent, from 2004 to 2014 (see Figure 1). In 2015, private vehicle ownership reached an all-time high, with 124 million cars in China and 5.6 million in Beijing alone.

Figure 1: Private Vehicle Ownership. Graphic by: China Academy of Transport Science

The increasing rate of cars on the road has contributed to worsening traffic congestion, which has been a big challenge for local governments. To mitigate congestion, the government turned to creating new roads, incentive programs and car-sharing. They soon learned, however, that the pace of constructing new infrastructure never catches up with vehicle growth—newly developed roadways induce more vehicle travel demand. Additionally, although vehicle registration lottery policies and license plate auction schemes aim to limit the growth of vehicle ownership, they stimulate existing owners’ aspiration to use their vehicles more frequently. Furthermore, internet-hired taxi companies, like Uber and Didi, which provide subsidies and discounts for drivers and passengers, respectively, bring more spare and un-used cars on the road. To find a new solution to China’s persistent congestion challenges, the government is starting to prioritize moving people, instead of moving individual vehicles.

Transport Demand Management Takes Center Stage at World Forum

In order to lessen dependence on private vehicles, address the needs of the people and create a more efficient mobility system, Chinese transport experts, innovators and governmental officials are turning to transport demand management (TDM). TDM focuses on reducing travel demand by changing people’s travel behavior, encouraging a modal shift away from personal motorized transport and unlocking additional capacity from the existing networks.

Due to TMD’s importance for the future of sustainable mobility, it was one of the focal points at the third World Metropolitan Transport Development Forum (WMTD). On October 24 – 25, over 500 participants gathered in Beijing to discuss challenges and solutions for sustainable transport development. Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport (BMCT), Beijing Transport Institute (BTI) and WRI China co-organized the forum, striving to encourage city leaders and transport professionals to address challenges in urban mobility.

WRI side meeting with Vice Mayor of Beijing Jiandong Zhang at the WMTD Forum. From left to right: Sam Adams, Jiandong Zhang and Holger Dalkmann. Photo by Ying Wang / WRI China Sustainable Cities

During the forum, Vice Mayor of Beijing Jiandong Zhang noted that congestion is always ranked the number one transport issue on the government’s agenda. In response, decision makers and professionals from around the world highlighted TDM as one of the most efficient solutions to mitigate traffic congestion. Jorge Macias, Director of Urban Development at WRI Mexico, explained that TDM is not intended to limit mobility, and that TDM policies without mobility is similar to exercising without a diet. TDM cannot only reduce the need for motorized transport, especially in urban areas, but it can also create better use of existing transport facilities. The incentive of TDM measures provides a sustainable solution for urban planners to rejuvenate existing public spaces for more efficient mobility use.

Putting TDM Measures on the Agenda

Upon acknowledging that expanding the road network is not the best method to decrease congestion, the Chinese government set new goals to 1) adjust the structure of transport and travel mode share by prioritizing public transport development and non-motorized transport systems; 2) enhance more economic incentives to manage travel demand and limit the use of private vehicles.

WRI China is working with Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport and Ministry of Transport to promote a package of preferred TDM measures, with congestion charge as a core policy, to alleviate traffic congestion and promote low-carbon and sustainable mobility. The Ministry of Transport‘s (MOT) 13th Five Year Plan for Urban Public Transport Development is the first time that congestion charge is identified as a key measure to ease urban traffic congestion. Managing traffic congestion is a systematic project that depends on integrated measures and coordinated government frameworks. The government’s TDM goals aim to enhance urban transport systems with less congestion and more efficient mobility. As the long-term benefits of policies, like a vehicle registration lottery, are called into question, the Beijing government is considering the introduction of more market-based mechanisms, like congestion charge and differential parking fees for administrate vehicles, to help meet the government’s goals.

Urban Freeways: Putting Out Fire with Gasoline?

Wed, 2016-12-07 21:48

Traffic Lines the Highway in Bogotá, Colombia. This Roadway Shares Space with Bus Rapid Transit System, TransMilenio. Photo by EMBARQ / Flickr

The construction of urban highways continues in many places. In Latin America, we see ongoing projects in Santiago (Américo Vespucio Oriente), Lima (Línea Amarilla), Quito (Solución Vial Guayasamín), São Paulo (Rodoanel Mário Covas) and Mexico City (Segundo Piso a Cuernavaca), to name a few.

In Colombia, the National Government just announced a new program for improving access to urban areas during the Thirteenth Congress of the Colombian Infrastructure Chamber. In the words of the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, “our purpose is also transforming access to cities. It is not useful to save time in intercity trips if it is lost in urban areas.” With this, President Santos alludes to the great challenge of urban congestion. Constructing impressive highway systems doesn’t lead to more efficient and better transport infrastructure if, within urban areas, traffic prevents the easy navigation of city streets.

Colombia has a large road construction program, which aims to complete 5,803 km (3,414 miles), investing close to 40 trillion Colombian pesos (USD$13 billion). This not only impacts the economy and employment in the short term, but it helps in catching-up with a decades-long backlog in national connectivity. The last link, urban access, complements this effort, particularly in the country’s capital, Bogotá.

Urban access is helpful in improving national logistics and trips between cities, but it may result in induced demand for automobiles and negative effects that should be mitigated: congestion, urban sprawl, traffic incidents, air pollution and social exclusion.

Increased Congestion

Since the 1950s, experts have recognized the negative effects of increasing urban road capacity. The explanation is rather simple: reducing automobile travel time with freeways is equivalent to reducing cost. Similar to any good or service, cost reduction results in increased demand, and, in this case, increased trips. As Lewis Mumfurd, a technology philosopher, said in1955: “Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity.” Induced demand, or rebound effect, has been well-documented; new trips absorb between 50 and 100 percent of new road capacity in just three years (see also The Life and Death of Urban Highways).

According to Anthony Downs, from Brookings Institution, “traffic congestion is here to stay… and will get worse.” He suggests mitigating congestion with dynamic tolls: higher cost in peak hours and lower costs off-peak. He also recommends complementing toll roads with high-quality, frequent and reliable public transport. By utilizing tolls and devoting space to public transit, highways can be a good use of scarce space; one lane for light rail or buses, for instance, can carry up to 15,000 passengers per hour, while the same lane for cars can carry up to 7,200 people (with four occupants per vehicle), but typically, on average, cars only carry 1.1 people per car—1,980 per hour.

Urban Sprawl

Probably the most direct impact of freeways is urban sprawl, and this has been known for a long time. In 1974, Yacob Zahavi, a researcher from the U.S. Department of Transport, found that commute times were very consistent across urban areas (around one hour per day). The anthropologist C. Marchetti, qualified this average value as a “basic instinct” of human nature. This means that if travel time is reduced (for instance with the construction of an expressway), people would tend to live farther away, keeping their “travel budget” fairly constant. The good thing about houses in the periphery is that they usually have outdoor green space. The bad thing is that the resulting low-density development occupies agricultural or protected land. Low density also makes public transport, walking or bicycling infeasible, making residents car dependent, even for the simplest errands.

One way to mitigate sprawl is through urban planning: managing urban expansion with compact and mixed-use development, with good quality access to public transport. This is exactly the opposite of what is happening in Latin American cities, where low-density, gated communities proliferate at the urban periphery.

Managing urban planning is outside the mandate of road construction agencies, and in many cases, it is not a concern for city mayors. Municipalities around large cities prefer high-income residential dwellings in their territory, as this brings additional tax base. As a result, national planning authorities and metropolitan coordination may be required to help mitigate sprawl.

Traffic Safety, Air Pollution and Social Exclusion

Another impact of urban freeways may be an increase in traffic deaths and injuries (see Why Reducing Speeds Is Key to Improving Traffic Safety). A few ways to improve road safety are to separate road users, control road-access and keep pedestrians and bicyclists outside high-speed lanes. It is a matter of design.

There are also impacts on air pollution, resulting from increased vehicle-km (mileage). An economist’s approach to this would be to charge for these externalities; not only have congestion tolls but also emission charges. While this is politically difficult, it is progressive, as revenues can be used to improve the quality of public transport, which is used by the majority of people in Latin American cities.

Last, to make urban freeways inclusive, it is necessary to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and public transport. Road infrastructure is not only about making fast lanes for cars, but it is about complete avenues, with wide sidewalks and safe bicycle and transit lanes.

Opportunities for Change

There are good opportunities in the announcements by the Colombian Government to invest in urban access, but there are also challenges. National and local governments can confront these challenges by considering road-use planning, dynamic tolls, controlling access to fast lanes and providing for all road users, particularly the most vulnerable. Otherwise we will be putting out fire with gasoline.

This article was originally published in Spanish on El Tiempo

Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Narrow Traffic Lanes Make Cities Safer

Wed, 2016-12-07 02:44

Traffic in Tokyo Reveals Narrow, Safe Traffic Lanes. Photo by Raphael Desrosiers / Flickr

In Beijing, Chennai and Fortaleza, the rate of fatalities from road crashes is 20-27.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. What do these cities have in common? They have traffic lanes wider than 3.6 meters (11.8 feet). A long-standing belief among transportation planners and engineers is that wider traffic lanes ensure safe and congestion-free traffic flow. Recent academic research, highlighted in Cities Safer by Design, a WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities publication, shows that wider lanes are more dangerous than narrower lanes. To further investigate how cities are stacking up against the existing evidence, the Health and Road Safety team of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities decided to compare typical lane widths in selected global cities with reported traffic fatality rates.

How Wide Should a Traffic Lane Be?

WRI’s research shows that cities with travel lane widths from 2.8 to 3.25 meters (9.2 to 10.6 feet), such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tokyo, have the lowest crash fatality rates per 100,000 residents. However, many cities, specifically in the developing world, have wider lanes and higher fatality rates (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Comparative illustration showing travel lane widths of different cities, their fatality rates per 100,000 population and Safety Index. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

New Delhi, Mumbai and São Paulo have wider lanes, ranging from 3.25 meters to 3.6 meters (10.6 to 11.8 feet), which leads to a fatality rate of 6.1-11.8 residents per 100,000, while Beijing, Chennai and Fortaleza have the highest fatality rate, 20-27.2 deaths per 100,000, with lane widths of 3.6 meters (11.8 feet) and higher.

But Why Are Wider Lanes Misinterpreted As Safer?

For decades, transport engineers and planners have considered wider lanes safer, as they provided higher maneuvering space within the lane and were said to help prevent sideswipes among cars. Yet, in an urban setting, this means cars may go faster, and, when cars go faster, the likelihood of crashes and injuries increases. For example, if a car is traveling at 30 km/h (18.6 mph), pedestrians have a 90 percent chance of survival, but, if the car is traveling at 50 km/h (31 mph), there is only a 15 percent chance the struck pedestrian will survive (See Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pedestrian Death Risk declines at lower vehicular speeds. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Narrower travel lanes, coupled with lower speed limits, can foster a greater sense of awareness among drivers. Narrower lanes also ensure shorter crossing distances for pedestrians at intersections, which reduces the risk of an accident.

Do Wider Lanes Help to Reduce Congestion?

In 1963, Lewis Mumford said: “Increasing road width to reduce congestion is the same as loosening your belt to fight obesity.” In fact, increasing road space by having wider lanes doesn’t reduce congestion due to rebound effects. More road space results in generating more traffic. Research shows that 3 meter-wide lanes have 93 percent of the road capacity of 3.6 meter lanes—not a noticeable difference. In addition, if narrower lanes reduce speeds, this should not put great strain on vehicle movement. A recent study from Grenoble shows that private vehicles take only 18 seconds longer to travel a kilometer on a road with speed limit of 30km/h as compared to a road with a speed limit of 50km/hr. Moreover, signal delays at intersections create congestion—it rarely depends on mid-block traffic flows.

How Would Road Dieting Help?

Road dieting is a technique of narrowing lane widths to achieve sustainable and safer pedestrian and cyclist environments. If cities embrace narrower lanes, there are a range of possibilities for re-designing city streets to make them safer and more accommodating for pedestrians and cyclists.

Scenario 1: Narrowing lanes may provide space for a pedestrian refuge island or median

Figure 3. Before intervention: 12 meter-wide, two-lane roadway. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Figure 4. After intervention: 12 meter-wide, two-lane roadway. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Scenario 2: Narrower lanes may provide space to install protected bicycle lanes

Figure 5. Before intervention: 24 meter-wide street section. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Figure 6. After intervention: 24 meter-wide street section. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Scenario 3: Narrower lanes can provide wider sidewalks

Figure 7. Before intervention: 32 meter-wide street section. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

Figure 8. After intervention: 32 meter-wide street section. Graphic Credit: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Health and Road Safety

But Why Aren’t 3 Meter Lanes the Norm?

Most cities in developed countries, like the U.S., follow road design guidelines from standard-setting bodies like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, commonly known as the Green Book, which actually allows lane widths to vary between 10-12 feet (3.0 to 3.6 meters). While the book provides a range, engineers tend to design streets with the maximum lane width, due to the ill-informed notion that wider lanes are safer and can help reduce congestion. Many cities in low- and middle-income countries have adopted this same approach, erring on the supposed side of caution.

Today, with new research showing the opposite of the status quo and a rising interest in cycling, walking and bus systems, it is time for cities to reassess how their own standards foster a safer and healthier city.

Video: “What Are You Waiting For, Brazil?” Jan Gehl Calls Cities to Action

Tue, 2016-12-06 02:49

Jan Gehl. Photo by Bruno Felin / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

At 80 years old, Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl shares his ideas on how to build a better future for global cities. Gehl has spent more than 50 years in academia and the professional world becoming a different, and unconventional, architect. Upon graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark in 1960, he felt ready to put into practice what he had learned from the modernist school. It wasn’t until he met his wife, the psychologist Ingrid Mundt, however, that everything changed. Gehl and Mundt organized weekly meetings with colleagues in sociology, psychology and architecture to identify opportunities for joint research, when Gehl came up with a simple but vital insight that defined the rest of his career: Urban planning should create cities for people at the human scale. Instead of prioritizing form, architecture must create the best habitat for people.

In 1965, Gehl and his wife traveled to Italy to investigate the interaction of people with public spaces. They studied cities by counting the number of people walking, noting their movements and their habits. “My wife and I realized that the great gap between architects and sociologists was that no one was on the streets observing how the format of cities was impacting people,” he said at the Frontiers of Thought event in Porto Alegre.

Jan Gehl during his talk on the Frontiers of Thought. Photo: Bruno Felin / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

Gehl’s consulting firm, Gehl Architects, founded in 2000, has already completed projects in New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Moscow, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and many other places. In addition to having a successful business, the architect has published several books, among them Life Between Buildings, How to Study Public Life and Cities for People, already translated in 32 languages. “They told me I could continue to criticize and write books, but I should also go to the cities and show what should be done,” he said.

In Cities for People, Gehl formulated 12 criteria for the creation of public spaces, including space to walk, sit, things to see, aesthetic quality and protection from traffic. The Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy, is one of the places Gehl identifies as perfect, as it meets all 12 criteria. On the other hand, the worst urban form is exemplified in Brasilia. The architect even coined the term “Brasilia Syndrome” to criticize modern practices that epitomize the “worst” that can be done in a city: streets and avenues created only for cars, low density and what he calls “bird shit architecture.”

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities met Jan Gehl on his way through Porto Alegre and discussed challenges in Brazilian cities: active transport, bicycles, density and people-centered infrastructure. The team asked him the following questions:

What are the main challenges in Brazil for building better people-oriented cities?

The challenge in Brazil, in my opinion, is the same challenge as anywhere else. Around the world, we have a growing population, particularly in cities. This urban shift is a good thing—we can live in a much more sustainable way in cities than in rural areas. In the countryside, services are more expensive, there is a greater demand for resources and for mobility—one must travel miles for any singular need. So in cities, we can have a more sustainable lifestyle.

As a result, it is very important that we rethink the way we organize cities. I know that many cities already direct much of their agendas to build more sustainable cities, which means getting rid of cars as quickly and efficiently as possible. The role of automobiles is outdated; they are made for specific needs a hundred years ago. We now know that the bigger cities are, the more unnecessary it is to have individual cars as a means of transportation. It is interesting that, in 2009, global cars-use reached its all-time peak, even in America, Australia and Canada. In my view, it is a good thing that we reconsider how we move because the current prevailing view of mobility is about cheap oil—its endless supply and other resources. But neither resources nor oil are infinite, and both are very dangerous and damaging to the climate.

In my opinion, we need to make smarter neighborhoods and city centers, based on the idea of increased walking and cycling. Many cities have decided to do this. In my city, Copenhagen, 50 percent of people go to work or school on a bicycle. This was not so ten or twenty years ago—it has gone up and up. With more infrastructure, the safer it becomes and the more people cycle. It’s good for the climate, good for you, good for the economy, good for pollution and good for noise. It’s actually quite good.

In Brazil, and in many other places, people still ask for wider streets and complain about bike paths that take road space from motorized vehicles. Is it possible to change this?

Asking for wider streets is just completely stupid. We know, based on examples from all over the world, that the wider the streets and the more streets you have, the more traffic, the more fat people and the more pollution you get. That is a “no-no” road. In smart cities and countries, they narrow the roads, limit the number of streets, and they do everything to promote other forms of mobility—to promote public transport, cycling and walking as much as possible. We need to develop much smarter modes of public transportation because the old buses that still circulate in many places are not 21st century technology.

We really need to think of future cities as pearls on a string. The string should be a very fast, smart and secure public transportation system. Then we will have neighborhoods as pearls on a string, where most people are within walking or cycling distance from transit stations. There you have fantastic neighborhoods where you can work, live, where your children can grow up and the aging population can get even older.

One way to accommodate more people in less space is to build high-rise buildings, which goes against your idea of human-scale development. How can we find a balance for this?

What is different about Paris? Barcelona? Both have high densities, but their buildings are only six or seven stories. I sometimes say that lazy architects respond to density with towers. But if the same architect works harder, he can create the same density with shorter structures. The quality of life at the top of a tower and the quality of life below are very different. On top, you are completely isolated; the only things you can see are airplanes coming and going from the airport. Down below, you are part of the city. These two lives are completely different. I really think that tall buildings are outdated, and by studying the density issue closely, we can build much better cities.

Looking at Porto Alegre, we see the sad example of developers who erect high-rises everywhere. They are what I call “bird shit architects” [Gehl uses a bottle to demonstrate the analogy. According to him, these architects simply look at the city from above and blindly place tall buildings. See the explanation in the video]. They look from above without any insight into what quality of life should be in the city.

How does shape of a city affect people’s lives? What is the role of architecture in today’s society?

In fact, I see the big cities of the future made by a large number of villages and neighborhoods where one can be a child, have fun and go to school; where you can be old. Doctors say you need to walk a lot, so you should be on the street and not sitting at home watching television. For this, you need a very nice neighborhood, where you love to walk; where you have reasons to go to places: a library, a cultural center or anywhere else. You need to have a good quality of life, whether you are young or old, but quality of life and cars cannot exist together; we are sure of that. We have lived this model for 50 years; it does not work.

How can cities already built outside the human scale be rethought and rehabilitated?

My own city, Copenhagen, has two very strong city strategies. One is: “We will be the best city in the world for people,” we will make a fantastic city for walking, for all regions and for any age. We will also do our best for community living, so people can meet naturally in squares and parks.

The other strategy is that we will be the best biking city in the world. We know that if we construct more streets, we will have more cars, more traffic. If you provide better conditions for pedestrians and public life, ten years later, you will have more pedestrians and more life on the streets. If you offer better conditions for bicycles, ten years later, you will have more cyclists. So it’s a question of what strategy you have. In a city like this (Porto Alegre), you can easily establish strategies that favor people and bicycles instead of just having strategies that favor cars, traffic and automobiles.

Is Brazil uniquely guilty of the “Brasilia Syndrome,” or are other countries having the same problems?

Brazil is no different from anywhere else. In all the countries where I worked for 30 years, they always started by saying: “You need to understand that it is different here—we have different climate, different culture, we have a different tradition; we love our cars more than other places. That’s how we are, and we cannot be changed.” In the end, they changed, and no one remembers who said “this can never be done.” I heard this in New York, especially. “The Big Apple cannot be changed. You can never come to New York with European ideas.” Then it changed. In Moscow: “This can never be done in Moscow.” It was done; it happened. What are you waiting for, Brazil?

When given the choice, everyone—rich, poor, young or old—would choose to live in a good, healthy habitat. That desire comes from within.

This piece is a transcription of an interview with Jan Gehl and does not necessarily reflect the views of WRI

Originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFixBrasil

India Can Save Up to $1.8 Trillion Per Year with Smart Urban Growth

Fri, 2016-12-02 19:48

A Mother and Her Child Wait to Board Ahmedabad’s Bus Rapid Transit System, Janmarg. Photo by Meena Kadri / Flickr

India is at a crossroads, and how its cities develop in the coming several years will shape its future for generations.

While only about one-third of Indians currently live in cities, that number will nearly double from 420 million to 800 million by 2050. Whether those people live in safe, productive and clean communities will depend on how India’s leaders guide urban growth.

A new report released today by the New Climate Economy called Better Cities, Better Growth: India’s Urban Opportunity finds that more compact cities experienced faster economic growth from 2002-2012 than cities that are more dispersed or “sprawled.” In fact, the report shows that smart urban growth can save India between $330 billion and $1.8 trillion (₹2-12 lakh crores) per year by mid-century – up to 6 percent of the country’s GDP – and create significant savings for households.

The Costs of Getting It Wrong

India isn’t “sprawled” in the traditional way—Indian cities are among the densest in the world. But the problem is that it is not productive density. Instead of multi-level buildings organized into accessible neighborhoods, many Indian cities are filled with short, overcrowded buildings, and lack public transit and pedestrian spaces. So for each square mile of space, there’s a lot less room to live. One of the key reasons for this is India’s relatively restrictive land regulations like building height and zoning restrictions that prevent efficient, productive development. Smart urban growth in India therefore will require ensuring compact development without overcrowding and connecting people to places with a variety of transportation options, from bus rapid transit (BRT) to safe cycling.

The cost of getting urbanization wrong is tremendous. Dispersed, low density cities with inadequate mobility options require a lot more money to sustain. When communities are spread out over large distances, infrastructure and services become significantly more expensive to provide, and many people are often forced to spend a lot of money and hours in transit. The New Climate Economy report notes that providing public infrastructure and services like water, sewerage and electricity is likely to be 10-30 percent higher in dispersed, automobile-oriented developments than in more compact, connected neighborhoods. Furthermore, traffic congestion, air pollution, traffic fatalities and poor health are all outcomes of poorly planned cities, creating additional costs both for residents and governments. Owning and operating a car in India costs 12 times as much as using public transport; 30 times more than using a bike.

Delhi, India’s capital, is a stark example of how car-driven growth has led to traffic congestion that costs the economy an average of almost ₹5 (7¢) per kilometer for cars and ₹10 (15¢) per kilometer for buses during peak hours as a result of air pollution, wasted fuel and lost time. Considering the city already has more than 7 million cars—more than 300 cars per 1,000 people—the impact is significant. The recent air pollution crisis has brought global attention to how Delhi’s reliance on polluting vehicles has created a livability crisis that affects all residents.

The new report uses satellite data of night-time lights to investigate the relationship between urban form and economic growth, and finds that cities had increased economic growth if development occurred within existing city limits rather than expanding beyond them. Graphic by New Climate Economy.

3 Target Areas for Changing Course

But as the new report points out, India has an opportunity to save tremendously by planning cities that are compact, connected and coordinated. By pursuing reforms in three key areas, the country can tap into the potential of urbanization to create social and economic benefits for everyone:

  1. Reforming land regulations can help India better manage its expanding urban footprint. Doing so will help make land use patterns more efficient and effective so that people can live in dense urban communities that work for them. The kinds of regulations in need of reform include restrictive maximum building heights and parking space requirements, but additional measures to the legal system will be essential, like determining property rights and conducting equitable public land acquisitions.
  2. Expanding sustainable urban infrastructure such as efficient, low-carbon public transport systems like bus rapid transit (BRT) is critical for ensuring that cities adequately meet the needs of their residents.
  3. Strengthening urban local governments, accountability and financing can be key to creating a system of governance that works for sustainable cities. Currently, it’s unclear how responsibilities for managing urban issues are divided between national, state or local governments, and technical capacity for city-led action is low, for example due to a lack of formal training for professionals in urban management. The national government should undertake reforms to clarify the evolving responsibilities of local governments, strengthen their administrative capacity and expand their fiscal resources.
A Sustainable Urban Future for India

With 400 million new urban residents by 2050 and 75 percent of national income coming from cities by 2031, there is a lot at stake for India’s urban future. The country’s national and local leaders should recognize the urban opportunity and build on the momentum of newly created central programs like the Smart Cities Mission that aim to get urbanization right. Doing so will ensure that India’s urban future is one of inclusive and sustainable growth where all people can live in cities and have a high quality of life.

From Quito to Marrakech: Towards an Inclusive 1.5 Degree Pathway for Sustainable Mobility

Thu, 2016-12-01 01:00

Global Leaders Discuss the Future of Sustainable Transport at COP22. Photo by UNclimatechange / Flickr

More than 35,000 people from around the world gathered in Quito in October to celebrate the adoption of a New Urban Agenda, and an estimated 20,000 people convened in Marrakech two weeks ago for COP22. The events and dialogue that took place in Quito and Marrakech brought to light the crucial role mobility and transport must play to reach a sustainable future. Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda brought significant attention to issues of equality, inclusion, gender and participation, making the case that the international community will not be able to achieve its aspirations without true inclusion. COP22 convened nearly 200 countries to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement, reached at COP21 in Paris last December.

Like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in particular Goal 11 on sustainable cities—the New Urban Agenda reflects the need for greater access to mobility for all people. During Habitat III, the transport sector factored large, organizing more than 30 events to raise awareness of the importance of investing in low-carbon infrastructure and creating enabling policies and projects. These events centered around making transport more equitable and accessible, in particular for the urban poor, women and for those with disabilities. COP22 saw a similar commitment to the transport sector, with over 30 transport-oriented events, including a high-level ministerial round table and Transport Day, hosted by the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) and SLoCaT.

Linking Transport to Climate and SDGs

One key message that resonated throughout the events in Quito and Marrakech was the need to link the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda to the global climate agenda, particularly the Paris Agreement. Ensuring that everyone benefits from progress made in sustainable development will prove to be the next challenge for these global agreements. Given the rapid urbanization occurring across the planet, acting on climate commitments will be inseparable from making cities more environmentally sustainable and socially equitable, where all people have access to mobility options that connect them to opportunity.

A clear illustration of how climate and mobility are interconnected can be found in social housing that is built outside of cities, in locations with low access to jobs, services and livelihood opportunities. For example, in recent decades, more than four million houses were built in the outskirts of Mexico City, leading to long travel times, and, in some cases, forcing the poor to abandon new developments because of the lack of access to any economic opportunity. These vulnerable groups have also been most affected by air pollution and road fatalities, as almost fifty percent of the 1.25 million road fatalities that occur every year are pedestrians from low-income countries. If we continue down this path of pushing poor people further and further out of the city without affordable transport options, then the world will not be able to achieve its goals to cap global temperature rises and eradicate poverty.

Now that Habitat III and COP22 have come to a close, there is an opportunity to continue the conversation about linking these agendas and create a greater sense of urgency. From a sustainable mobility perspective, there will be three key elements where integration needs to happen: The Global Climate Action Agenda (formerly known as the Lima-Paris Action Agenda), the development of National Climate Action Plans (National Determined Contributions – NDCs) and the creation of a mechanism to track and report progress on implementing the Paris Agreement.

Last year in Paris, the transport community launched PPMC in partnership with SLoCaT and Michelin Bibendum, which brought together a number of initiatives from civil society organizations, NGOs and business associations to announce their commitment to act on climate change. Many of these initiatives were present in Quito and Marrakech and renewed their commitment by acknowledging the New Urban Agenda during Transport Days at both events. It is vital to continue tracking these initiatives in terms of their impact on reducing greenhouse gas as well as poverty and inequality.

Secondly, as of August 1st, 160 countries have committed to action through their NDCs. While more than 75 percent of countries included transport actions in their initial commitments, less than a tenth of them included investments in walking and cycling infrastructure. The majority focused on improving fuel and vehicle efficiency. While fuel efficiency is certainly important for tacking climate change, there is a risk that focusing solely on this area—particularly in poorer countries—will draw attention and investment only to individual motorized vehicles, which a minority of the population actually uses. In order to achieve the SDGs, Paris Agreement and New Urban Agenda, more investment will be needed for walking, cycling and public transit infrastructure.

These three agreements all contain requirements to measure and report on future commitments and actions— crucial steps toward realizing a vision for better and more inclusive development. The transport sector has and should continue to serve as a model for other sectors on how to align actions and report on progress. Initiatives including Decarbonizing Transport from the International Transport Forum, the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between SLoCaT and UN-HABITAT to track the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the follow-up on the report of Ban Ki Moon’s UN High-level Panel on Sustainable Mobility should make sure that emissions, as well as safety and accessibility, are integral parts of a future tracking framework.

Translating Global Agendas into Action

While there is certainly momentum on the global level to take action and responsibility towards sustainable and low-carbon mobility, the ultimate litmus test will be how these translate into real, on-the-ground progress covering all three dimensions of sustainability. Now, the world looks to see whether the international community and national governments will move to create new policies and stronger investment, empowering sustainable transport infrastructure and services, as they’ve committed to on the global stage. Only if we see progress towards an integrated approach which provides a pathway for more people becoming empowered through low-carbon sustainable mobility and have access to safe and affordable jobs, education and health services, we can assess if Quito and Marrakech have been successful.

Planting Healthy Air: A Natural Solution to Address Pollution and Heat in Cities

Tue, 2016-11-22 22:59

© The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Can nature help cities address the twin problems of air that is too dirty or too hot? Based on a new report released by The Nature Conservancy – in collaboration with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – the answer appears to be a qualified “yes.”

The Planting Healthy Air report identifies the potential return on investment from tree planting in 245 global cities, which currently house about a quarter of the world’s urban population. By collecting and analyzing geospatial information on forest and land cover, particulate matter, and population density and leveraging existing literature, the study estimates the scope of current and future street trees to make urban air healthier. The benefits that trees could afford to cities will be even more crucial in the future, the study finds, as a quarter million people could die each year because of urban heat by 2050, unless cities take proactive steps to adapt to global warming.

Urban Trees, Cooler Cities. © The Nature Conservancy (Erica Simek Sloniker)

While existing city trees already clean and cool the air for more than 50 million people, a global investment of $100 million per year in tree planting and maintenance could provide as many as 77 million people with cooler cities and offer 68 million people measurable reductions in fine particulate matter pollution. New city trees offer great potential impact, but maintaining existing city trees is critical, as many global cities are losing tree cover over time, due to development, pests and pathogens, and lack of budget for maintenance.

Urban Trees, Better Air Quality. © The Nature Conservancy

The Planting Healthy Air report and the accompanying website, with an interactive map and case studies for the report’s top ranked cities, provide resources for those interested in using nature to make air healthier. These findings can help urban leaders and public health officials address outstanding issues about trees and air quality, such as which cities and which neighborhoods can be helped most, the fraction of the air quality problem can trees solve, how much investment is needed, and where are trees a cost-effective investment. In many cities, an individual neighborhood may offer a much higher return on investment (ROI) than the city’s average, and the report’s maps can be a useful tool for city leaders deciding where to make an investment in city trees.

For those searching for ways to address the challenges of air quality and heat, urban trees are the only solution to simultaneously address both. Trees also provide a range of co-benefits, including wildlife habitat, flood control, carbon sequestration, and recreational opportunity, which can have significant value for a city. While urban trees alone can’t solve the challenges of urban heat and air pollution, they’re a solution that can be put in place today and are comparable in cost and effectiveness in many neighborhoods to such solutions as limiting automobile traffic in cites, painting roofs white or installing scrubbers on smokestacks.

In the right spot, trees can help make our air healthier and our cities more verdant and livable.

Visit to learn more and explore the interactive map.

Urban Sanity: Understanding Urban Mental Health Impacts and How to Create Saner, Happier Cities

Tue, 2016-11-15 02:57

Woman waiting for her train at Mumbai Suburban Railway Western Line Church Gate Terminal, Mumbai, India. Photo by Benoit Colin / EMBARQ / Flickr

Does urban living threaten our sanity and happiness? Popular culture is rife with stories which suggest that living in a city increases loneliness and unhappiness, and some scientific studies indicate that urbanization increases mental illness and depression. Are these claims credible? How can communities maintain mental health and happiness?

These are important and timely questions. The human experience is increasingly urban; transitioning from rural to more urban areas. Decision-makers and individuals need practical guidance on how to maximize sanity and happiness when planning cities and choosing where to live.

A newest report from Todd Litman, “Urban Sanity: Understanding Urban Mental Health Impacts and How to Create Saner, Happier Cities,” examines these question. It indicates that city living has mixed mental health impacts.

Some research suggests that urban residency may increase psychosis and mood disorder risks, certain types of drug addiction and some people’s unhappiness, but it tends to reduce dementia, some types of substance abuse and suicide rates, and generally increases happiness, particularly for people who are poor and alienated. Urban living also tends to increase mental health by increasing economic opportunities, fitness, health and access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Self-reported happiness (also called life satisfaction) tends to increase with education and income, and therefore with urbanization since cities tend to offer better economic opportunities than rural areas. Urban areas tend to have much lower (about half) the suicide rate of rural areas, which suggests that city living increases overall mental health and happiness. The table below summarizes these effects:

Urbanization Mental Health Impacts

Overall, this research found little credible evidence that urban living significantly increases overall insanity or unhappiness and lots of evidence that most people are, overall, mentally better off living in compact, mixed, walkable urban neighborhoods. Scientific studies which indicate that urban living increases mental illness and unhappiness tend to be incomplete and biased; they consider a limited population and fail to account for important confounding factors. In this regard, they cannot differentiate between association (cities attract mentally ill and unhappy people) and causation (cities make people mentally ill and unhappy).

There is plenty of empirical evidence that most people are happier living in cities, including huge worldwide rural-to-urban migrations; these would not occur if billions of people did not consider themselves overall better off in urban conditions. Some consumer surveys indicate that, given unlimited resources, most households would prefer a large suburban home and automobile commuting over an urban apartment and public transport commuting; in fact, if resources were unlimited, most would probably prefer a castle located  in a private game reserve and commuting by helicopter, but when confronted with realistic trade-offs, a major portion of households will choose compact urban housing. Much of the evidence that consumers dislike cities, and that cities increase mental illness and unhappiness, are specific to North American conditions, where public policies are anti-urban and cities have severe social problems. As a result, such evidence does not apply to economically successful, well-designed urban neighborhoods.

The table below summarizes various mechanisms by which urban environments can affect mental health and happiness, considers whether these are actually caused by urbanization, and identifies specific response strategies.

Urban living can affect mental health and happiness in several ways. Some are inherent to urban conditions, but many are associations related to confounding factors.

This analysis suggests that better policies and design strategies can increase urban mental health and happiness. These include policies that improve mental health services in urban areas, more affordable urban housing and transportation, improved walking and cycling conditions, improved social programs that integrate visible minorities and welcome newcomers into urban neighborhoods, and appropriate public parks and recreation facilities. Such policies are important in both developed countries, where public policies currently favor suburban over urban living, and in developing countries, where rapidly developing cities can incorporate design features to maximize mental health and happiness.

This is not to suggest that everybody should live in dense cities; some people are unsuited due to their lifestyle or temperament, for example, because they own large pets or engage in noisy activities. However, because cities tend to improve economic and social opportunities, many people benefit overall from urban living; their economic and social gains more than offset any additional mental stress, particularly over the long run, as they become accustomed to urban environments. Since urban living reduces per capita land consumption and transport costs, it tends to provide additional, indirect benefits.

Urban planners should find this research reassuring; it suggests that most people can take advantage of urban living benefits without sacrificing their sanity or happiness. Good urban planning can help create saner and happier cities.


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