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Chinese Cities Aim to Rein in Bike-Sharing Boom

Sat, 2018-01-13 00:14

Dockless bikes swarm the streets of Shenzhen, China. Photo by Chris/Flickr

Dozens of “dockless” bike-sharing startups have emerged in the past few years, offering apps where riders can locate bicycles, unlock them and leave them wherever their ride ends. The result in some Chinese cities has been more than a million bicycles piling up in public spaces, blocking entrances to buildings and public transit stops, and obstructing sidewalks. Not only is the situation disorderly, it’s dangerous: Discarded bikes can block pedestrians’ paths, causing them to trip or forcing them to walk in the road.

But the chaos may be coming to an end: New regulations aim to restore order to the city’s streets while still allowing bike-shares to thrive.

Chinese Cities Look to Regulate Dockless Bike-Sharing

In May 2017, China’s national-level Ministry of Transportation drafted the first country-wide framework for regulating dockless bike-sharing, issuing a formal regulation in August. Since then, nearly 30 Chinese cities have passed regulations to guide bike-sharing’s production, operation and maintenance, adhering to the national guidelines.

Shanghai claims to be the largest bike-sharing city in the world, with roughly 1.7 million bikes at the of the end of September 2017. The city drafted one of China’s first city-level bike-sharing regulatory guidelines in  April 2017, issuing it in October. The guidelines push local authorities to integrate bike parking with city planning requirements. It requires operators, government officials and agencies to control the city’s bike fleet, such as by requiring bike plate registration, banning shared electric bikes, and guaranteeing more standardized parking by using Geo-fence technology, which uses a Bluetooth-based sensor to detect if bikes are parked in the proper area.

At the urging of these guidelines, Mobike and Ofo, China’s two biggest bike-sharing companies, have made more of an effort to remove bikes in poor conditions from the fleet and relocate bikes during peak use hours. As of the end of October, the total number of shared bikes in Shanghai had dropped to fewer than 1.1 million.

The regulations also protect consumers financially. The city appointed an independent financial institute to oversee bike users’ deposits, assuring that they’ll receive their money back if a bike-share operator goes bankrupt.

Many Chinese cities have become overrun with dockless bikeshare bikes due to lack of regulations. Photo by David Ing/Flickr

Bike-Sharing Challenges and Solutions Go Global

Shanghai’s regulations show a great level of versatility and detail in terms of management of cycling safety, fleet control, parking, maintenance and data sharing. Other cities are now following suit around the globe, such as Seattle.

Both Shanghai’s and Seattle’s regulations set a cap for the number of bikes allowed in the city. Seattle also required its fleet control to be carried out in phases, requiring operators to introduce no more than 500 bikes in their first month of operation, and no more than 1,000 by the second month. From the third month onwards, if an operator satisfies all of the city’s regulations, it can introduce more than 2,000 bikes, so long as there are fewer than 130 bikes in 1,000 square miles.

In terms of bike parking, the Seattle Department of Transport also suggested that dockless bikes should only be parked on the edges of the sidewalk or on a bicycle rack so as not to obstruct pedestrians. Bike parking is forbidden in certain areas, including narrow areas on the outer side of sidewalks, corners and more. If a dockless bike hasn’t moved for seven days or the bike is not parked standing upright, city workers will remove it and only return it to operators once they’ve paid a fine.

A More Orderly Bike-Share System

Everyone benefits if bike-sharing thrives. Bikes cost-effectively make cities more accessible for citizens, and can complement more traditional mass transport. They’re also vitally important in the global battle against climate change: About 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cities.

Bike-sharing’s evolution will be more orderly and effective with a balanced regulatory framework. Only through proactive regulation can urban bike-sharing systems flourish without jeopardizing public wellness.

This article first appeared on WRI Insights.

Hui Jiang is a Research Assistant, WRI China Sustainable Cities.

Live From Transforming Transportation 2018: “A New Idea of Liberty”

Fri, 2018-01-12 05:33

Photo by Valeria Gelman/WRI Ross Center

“We are seeing in cities around the world and transport systems around the world, the beginning of a revolution,” said World Resources President and CEO Andrew Steer in Washington today.

Welcoming more than 800 transport experts, policymakers, researchers and private sector representatives to Transforming Transportation, a two-day summit co-organized by WRI and the World Bank, Steer pointed out that the sector faces a paradox.

There is incredible technological change occurring – driven by smartphones, networked sensors, data analytics, electric and autonomous vehicles, and other innovations. But despite these advances, and unlike in other development arenas like poverty and health, things are actually getting worse. There is more congestion, more pollution and more people dying on roads every year.

The negative trends are not universal; we are seeing positive change in some places. But, said Steer, “in today’s world, quite frankly, changing isn’t enough – you need to scale it.” 

“We know it can be done, we’re seeing it being done in hundreds of places around the world,” Steer said, “but the scale of the challenge is growing greater and greater every single year.”

What’s needed to expand these isolated success stories, according to Steer, is more high-level commitments and cooperation. “What we haven’t done in transportation is what leaders have managed to do in other sectors: we haven’t created the kind of coalitions that have political power, that have access to finance, that have technical knowledge so that we can cross that tipping point.”

Laura Tuck, senior vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, who joined Steer during the brief but provocative opening session, agreed that the transport systems we have today are not the ones we need. But she pointed to movement in the right direction.

“We have managed to position transport at the core of sustainable development goals through SuM4All,” Tuck said, referencing the World Bank-led Sustainable Mobility for All initiative. The program launched its first report this year, a worldwide assessment that includes “mobility snapshots” of 190 countries. “We know where we need to go,” she said.

It's difficult for people to focus #transport work on many things. @rmchase says we should work toward #shared mobility #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

The sense that transport, or mobility more generally, faces an inflection point of some kind was present throughout the day.

“Zipcar changed the way people use cars, Uber changed the way people used taxis, [and] Mobike is trying to change the way people use bikes,” said Davis Wang, the CEO of Mobike, one of the world’s largest dockless bike-sharing companies. Mobike and its competitors provide bikes for rent that don’t need to be returned to a central depot and can be parked and unlocked almost anywhere via smartphone. Almost 30 million people ride its orange-hewed bikes daily. In Beijing, Wang said 4 million people rely on the service everyday – twice as many as who use taxis.

D.S. Mishra, who at India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development leads the development of metro rail and other transport projects in more than a dozen cities, said leaders need to begin understanding specific solutions not just as a mobility systems but as “urban transformation systems.” Sustainable mobility, ultimately, is universally accessible, affordable, safe and convenient, Mishra said. Achieving these goals is a major challenge that entails change far beyond the realms of engineering and design.

Urban #congestion limits urban #productivity. According to Mayor @EnriquePenalosa, it is also #undemocratic #TTDC18

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

Inequity – and the role transport can play in either exacerbating or alleviating it – came up again and again.

The Mayor Enrique Peñalosa of Bogotá said simply that inequality was “the biggest challenge to sustainability in developing countries.” Why should someone taking public transit have a slower commute than someone with a private vehicle, he asked. “Having buses sit in traffic is almost as undemocratic as having women not vote.”

“We’re leaving behind a lot of people because we aren’t able to map them, to see them,” said Nicolas Estupiñan of the Development Bank of Latin America. The data revolution that has helped make services like Mobike and Uber possible has produced tremendous amounts of information – but that doesn’t mean we know everything.

People working informal jobs and relying on informal modes of transport, like walking or riding minibuses, leave little digital trace. Just 50 percent of people in Latin America use the internet on a regular basis, Estupiñan pointed out.

"To Dar es Salaam, #BRT is a great option because it is #inclusive in nature," says @rlwakatare at #TTDC18 #DART

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 11, 2018

In Nairobi, minibuses are the primary form of shared mobility and yet, until recent efforts, “we had no idea where they were going,” said Jackie Klopp of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

“The power of data is accountability for decision-makers,” said Estupiñan. But until we improve the prominence of some modes of transport and the people who use them, we won’t achieve that potential. In this way, access is about visibility – and a major political issue.

“We are just now figuring out how to harness data for good instead of holding it back to the detriment of cities,” said David Adelman, vice president for business development at Via, a for-profit ride-sharing service and operator. A major difference between Via and its competitors, he said, was that they license their services and data to other operators, like public transit agencies. “We need to think big and embrace new technology, as opposed to being afraid of it,” he urged.

The political imagination is still focused on the car, said Klopp, but there is something stirring, an idea to challenge it: that the user can be the focus, with options changing depending on the best fit for the moment and place. “This is a new form of liberty,” she said. “There is an opportunity for a new narrative.”

Transforming Transportation is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is “Realizing Sustainable Mobility for All in the Digital Era.” Tune in to the livestream and follow the conversation on Twitter following #TTDC18.

We Know How to Save Millions from Dying on the World’s Roads

Thu, 2018-01-11 20:30

Streets in Mexico City were redesigned to increase pedestrian safety. Photo by SEDEMA CDMX

Fewer than 3 people per 100,000 are killed in road crashes in Sweden every year, less than almost anywhere else in the world. In contrast, it’s 11 per 100,000 in countries like India and the United States.

One reason for the difference? A “Safe System” approach.

Preventing Road Deaths with a Safe System

In 1999, the Swedish Parliament established a road safety program known as “Vision Zero.” Moving beyond the usual driver-focused methods of improving road safety—such as seat-buckling and sober-driving campaigns—the country adopted a Safe System approach. The premise of this approach is that while human error is inevitable, traffic fatalities and serious injuries should not be. Rather than expect humans to behave perfectly, the Safe System makes all parts of the mobility system safe, to reduce the opportunity for a fatal or severe crash to occur.  The focus is on reducing people’s exposure to fatal crash forces by keeping speeds to survivable levels and separating transport modes where necessary.  The strategy worked—Sweden’s road fatality rate fell 55 percent between 1994 and 2015.

Other countries such as the Netherlands and Norway have taken similar approaches.  As documented in a new WRI report, countries employing a Safe System have achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reductions in fatalities over the past 20 years. More than one million deaths could be avoided every year if the rest of the world achieved levels of road safety comparable to these best-performing countries.

The approach holds particular promise for low- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world’s traffic-related deaths occur.

What Does a Safe System Look Like?

Citizens are often blamed for traffic collisions – for not paying attention or driving too fast– but this mindset fails to assess whether roads are safe to begin with for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. Humans will always make mistakes, and they should not have to pay for these with their lives. The Safe System approach views road safety as a public health issue, rather than one of personal responsibility alone. It thus shifts responsibility away from people using the roads to the city planners and officials designing them. It involves holistic strategies such as:

1. Designing streets for safety

The way that streets are designed has a powerful impact on how people behave. This may sound obvious, but the reality is that many roads around the world are designed primarily to maximize speeds or improve traffic flow, creating dangerous spaces for road users. Bogota, Colombia recently implemented a Vision Zero Safe System, with the first phase targeting street design around schools and hospitals. “Traffic-calming” measures such as speed humps, reduced lane widths, improved road markings, and protected medians for pedestrians reduced vehicle speeds and increased visibility for people walking. Preliminary results show that this strategy and other Safe System actions have helped Bogota’s road fatalities drop 8 percent in just one year.

2. Improving options for mobility

Research shows that the more private vehicle miles traveled, the greater the exposure to risk for drivers, passengers and other road users. So if more people walk, bike and take public transport, road safety overall improves. As an added bonus, this can also increase physical activity and reduce emissions.

In Bogota, officials reformed the city’s chaotic public bus system by implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with dedicated lanes, covered bus stops and high quality buses, while also improving walkways and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. As a result, the city saw a significant drop in traffic fatalities. When infrastructure expansion slowed, so did reductions in traffic fatalities. Ambitious plans to further expand the city’s BRT system and install a metro are expected to make the mobility system even safer.

3. Managing speed to reduce fatalities

At lower speeds, drivers can see more of their surroundings, have more time to react to unexpected events, and can stop in a shorter distance. Furthermore, survivable speeds in collisions are generally much lower than people expect. For example, if hit by a vehicle moving at 30 kilometers per hour (kph) a pedestrian has a 90 percent chance of survival, but if hit at 50 kph, they have only a 15 percent chance of survival. Mexico City, which recently implemented a Safe System-based road safety strategy, reduced its speed limits and updated its fine system for traffic infractions. This and other strategies, such as improved street design, have helped reduce the city’s road fatality rate by 14 percent over the past two years.

4. Coordinating institutions

A Safe System begins with the premise that mobility planners, operators and decision makers must guarantee the safety of citizens and provide road users with the best opportunity to behave safely. That takes strong coordination with a lot of different actors. Sweden’s Vision Zero plan involves traffic engineers, law enforcement, vehicle designers, medical specialists, educators, journalists, social scientists and government officials.

The Human Cost of Inaction

A Safe System can be applied anywhere, but it’s especially urgent in the developing world. Ninety percent of the 1.25 million annual traffic fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries. It’s a human health crisis and an economic one: Traffic collisions cost these nations an estimated 5 percent of their economic productivity. That’s like living in a permanent recession—the United States lost 5 percent of its GDP during the 2008 Great Recession. Safe roads are not a luxury, but a necessity, and the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.

The stunning thing is that we know how to prevent road deaths. The guidance in Sustainable and Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths lays out how. Now it’s up to decision makers, technical experts and communities to start saving lives.

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

Ben Welle is a Senior Associate for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Claudia Adriazola-Steil is Director for Health and Road Safety at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Transforming Transportation 2018: To Craft a Digital Future for All, We Need Transport for All

Thu, 2018-01-11 19:23

By harnessing the power of technology, new mobility services can lead to greener, safer, more inclusive and efficient transport for all. Photo by World Bank/ Flickr

Exponential progress in how we collect, process and use data is fundamentally changing our societies and economies. But the new digital economy depends fundamentally on a very physical enabler. Amazon and Alibaba would not exist without efficient ways to deliver products worldwide, be it by road or ship or drone. The job you applied for through Skype may require travel to London or Dubai, where you’ll expect to get around easily.

In fact, as the backbone of globalization, digitization is increasing the need to move people and goods around the planet. Mounting pressure on transportation as economies grow is leading to unsustainable environmental and safety trends. Transport needs are increasingly being met at the cost of future generations.

Can the digital revolution, which depends so much on efficient global and local mobility, also help us rethink transportation itself? To be a part of the solution to issues such as climate change, poverty, health, public safety, and the empowerment of women, the answer must be yes. Transport must go beyond being an enabler of the digital economy to itself harnessing the power of technology.

The dominant transport systems in use today rely on inventions born during the industrial revolution. As WRI research shows, new digital technologies are beginning to change this, creating entirely new business models and disrupting the market. In many cities, it’s possible to request a taxi or shared car with the push of a button. Commuters can switch seamlessly from buses to trains to trams and back again. Bicycles can be found on every corner, unlocked remotely and keyed to your phone. And sometime soon, autonomous cars will join the fray, perhaps even delivering goods to your front door. Collectively these “new mobility” services are radically reshaping the transport landscape.

But not everywhere. Even as new transport options come to residents and businesses in some cities, rapid growth has overwhelmed others, especially in the global south. The most rapid urbanization rates are in Africa and Asia, where 90 percent of the 2.5 billion new urbanites expected by 2050 will live.

Unplanned, disconnected growth is not only leaving many out of the new digital economy, but exacerbating other problems. Road accidents claim 1.25 million lives every year – drivers and pedestrians – with numbers rising in developing countries, which already account for 9 out of 10 deaths. The transport sector pumps out 23 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and this may reach 33 percent by 2050. The number of deaths caused by air pollution worldwide has increased 20 percent since 1990, to 4.2 million a year.

New mobility services can help address these challenges, leading to greener, safer, more inclusive and efficient transport for all.

Shared mobility powered by digital technologies can increase vehicle occupancy, reducing per capita carbon emissions. Affordable, user-friendly bikeshare and ride-hailing systems can help commuters travel the “last mile” to and from transit stations more easily, enhancing the attractiveness of public transport.

In both passenger and freight transport, digital platforms are improving efficiency by providing new ways to match supply and demand. New platforms to share and dispatch freight trucks more efficiently are significantly reducing empty backhauling, for example.

Autonomous vehicles are smarter and lighter, promising the potential for better efficiency, fewer vehicles on the road and a sharp reduction in crashes. Traffic accidents are not the only type of risk: violence and harassment are serious concerns for many commuters and pedestrians, especially women and other vulnerable groups. Smartphone alert systems and apps to report incidents and educate transport users and providers are presenting new solutions to old problems.

Similarly, open data is allowing many to see comprehensively what transport options are available to them, evaluate those choices and make informed decisions – or advocate for change. In Haiti, the World Bank is using big data to understand the mobility patterns of the population, and plan more inclusive and integrated public transport systems that address the needs of the poor and reduce travel time and costs to users. In countries where transport data has traditionally been scarce, this is a radical shift, potentially allowing greater access to jobs and essential services.

This progress creates countless opportunities, but technology alone will not be enough. The world needs ambitious policies that keep transport demand under control and create the right incentives for people and business to embrace sustainable mobility.

Without careful planning, self-driving cars could increase congestion, pollution and sprawl, dockless bike sharing could lead to mountains of waste, and app-based taxi services could price public transit out of the market. We must help policymakers carefully manage the adoption of new mobility services in order to maximize benefits and avoid pitfalls – and find more ways to bring these benefits to the most vulnerable.

There is a tremendous economic prize for getting this right. The recently released Global Mobility Report, using data from the International Energy Agency, finds that, when considering full costs – including vehicles, fuel, broader expenses and losses – more efficient and sustainable mobility could deliver global savings of up to a staggering $70 trillion by 2050.

In the years ahead, we have a unique chance to create transport systems and cities that bring housing, jobs, services and all the promises of the digital economy to everyone. To do that, smart digital solutions need to be a core element of any sustainable mobility strategy. With urban areas expected to house 70 percent of the global population by 2050, it’s not only the promise of better cities and transport on the line, but a better world.

Transforming Transportation is the annual conference co-organized by the World Bank and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. This year’s theme is “Realizing Sustainable Mobility for All in the Digital Era.” Tune in to the livestream and follow the conversation on Twitter following #TTDC18.

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

José Luis Irigoyen is Senior Director for the Transport and Information and Communications Technologies Global Practice of the World Bank.

Financing Sustainable Infrastructure: A Tale of Two Cities

Tue, 2018-01-09 13:59

The Hyderabad Metro under construction, July 2017. Photo Credit: Rajesh Pamnani/Flickr

Investment in infrastructure is vital for cities to function and prosper. But many local governments struggle to finance large infrastructure projects while a huge proportion of their residents live in poverty. Two pioneering cities – Hyderabad and Kampala – have successfully experimented with new ways of raising money, offering promising lessons for cities around the world.

Hyderabad has long struggled with congestion. Regularly paralyzed by gridlock, commuters are stuck for hours while the city’s air pollution has exceeded the notoriously toxic Delhi. To clear the roads and the air, the city is urgently trying to move people out of private vehicles and on to public transport.

In November 2017, Hyderabad opened its new metro. The decision to build it was both crucial and brave.

Railways are notoriously expensive and difficult to construct. The Hyderabad Metro was expected to cost ₹14,132 crore ($2.2 billion) – a steep bill to pay in a city where one in four people live in informal settlements without clean drinking water, reliable toilets or decent housing.

With these pressing demands on the public purse, the government had to find creative ways to finance the new railway.

Its solution? An innovative public-private partnership using mechanisms to capture land value.

L&T, an Indian conglomerate, is covering most of the costs of constructing and operating the new metro. In return, the government has granted the company right of way along the rail corridors and 109 hectares of land around the planned metro stations.

L&T will make about half of its revenue from train fares. The remaining half will come from developing this land into commercial real estate and renting it out. Since everyone wants an easy commute into work, the new metro stations will make L&T’s new land holdings much more valuable.

The government has used the rising land prices associated with this new infrastructure as a way to finance the investment: an ingenious solution to its cash shortfall.

Financial Maturity

The Hyderabad Metro is only possible because of sophisticated financial systems at every level of government.

Not many low- and lower middle-income countries can set up such complex financing arrangements. They need to improve their financial maturity if they are to successfully set up public-private partnerships or land value capture projects.

A new working paper from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, “Financing the Urban Transition,” explores how countries and cities can enhance their financial maturity. It shows how countries need to undertake different reforms and activities to build their skills and credibility with investors. This is essential for governments to raise money for essential public services, such as electricity, housing, transport and sanitation.

The working paper identifies three different stages of financial maturity:

  • Foundation countries need to get the fundamentals right. They have to establish clear regulations that are enforced consistently. They need to collect revenue in a transparent and systematic way, and improve the systematic planning and management of new infrastructure projects. While acquiring these skills, foundation countries are likely to depend on a small tax base and development assistance.
  • Transition countries need to introduce sophisticated financing instruments. They can borrow money, set up public-private partnerships, and pilot land value capture projects. National governments can also support states, cities and utilities to build their financial capabilities.
  • Established countries have a wider range of options, and can combine these to balance economic, social, environmental and private returns. Even cities in these countries can use complex financing mechanisms: Stockholm has introduced congestion pricing, Beijing has established a carbon price, and Johannesburg has issued green bonds.
Beginning With the Basics

It’s not just about building big infrastructure. Uganda’s capital Kampala, for example, does not have a metro. But action taken by the city government to improve tax collection shows what’s possible.

Kampala’s public transport system is primarily based on matatus, privately-owned minibuses that follow informal routes around the city. Matatu drivers have to pay about 120,000 Ugandan shillings ($35) a month in tax. For years, they avoided paying this tax. They were frustrated by the long queues for paying in person and the poor tax records that led many to have their vehicle impounded whether or not they had paid.

But in the last few years, the municipal government transformed its tax collection system. Kampala invested in a new software called eCitie, which allows matatu drivers to pay their fees using their mobile phones. It’s quick, easy and provides proof of payment to any passing inspector.

But it isn’t only matatu drivers who are benefiting. The city government can now collect payments for business licenses, hotel taxes, ground rents, property rates and market charges online. In five years, it tripled revenue from its own sources.

The local government is using this money to pave roads, improve drainage and install street lights. Kampala might not yet be able to afford a metro like Hyderabad, but it is rapidly building crucial foundational financial skills. More importantly, its commitment to more accountable, efficient revenue collection and expenditure is already making a real difference to the lives of its residents.

This original version of this article was published on Zilient.

Sarah Colenbrander is a senior researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and senior economist with the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Denise Chan is a senior associate in PwC’s cities and urbanization team.

The working paper, “Financing the Urban Transition,” was prepared for the Coalition for Urban Transitions by the London School of Economics and PwC.

Ride-Hailing: Great for Users, But Sustainability Is an Open Question

Sat, 2018-01-06 00:34

Photo Credit: Alper Çuğun/Flickr

“Ride-hailing” or “ride-sourcing” companies like Uber, Easy Taxi, Ola and Didi have made it much easier for passengers to get around cities everywhere, providing real-time location data, increasingly accurate arrival times, seamless payment and customized services. Goldman Sachs estimates the industry was worth $36 billion in 2017, with 15 million trips a day globally. They expect a growth to $285 billion by 2030, with 97 million trips a day.

That these services are good for most customers seems undeniable, but whether they are good for cities remains unclear. One line of thought is that ride-hailing services can help reduce congestion and pollution by making it easier to not own a car and encouraging shared rides. Fewer cars means fewer emissions and less congestion, also fewer collisions, a major challenge in developing countries, which account for 9 out of 10 road-related deaths worldwide.

But a recent study by Regina R. Clewlow and Gouri Shankar Mishra of the University of California Davis shows that ride-hailing services might not be taking cars off the road at all.

More Vehicles on the Road

Clewlow and Mishra surveyed 4,100 people using Uber and Lyft in six large U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. They found most users took a car instead of taking public transit, biking or walking, and 91 percent of users still own their cars. While some users combined their trips with bus and rail, the net result was an average reduction in public transit use of 6 percent.

How ride-hailing users in six large U.S. cities would travel if Uber or Lyft were unavailable. Source: Regina R. Clewlow and Gouri Shankar/University of California Davis

Buses and light rail lost demand, while commuter rail saw increased ridership. The authors conjecture that for major American cities, ride-hailing has increased total vehicle kilometers – a common measure that can stand as a proxy for other related effects like congestion, emissions and road crashes. Clewlow and Mishra found that between 49 percent and 61 percent of trips would not have been made at all in the absence of a ride-hailing service or would have been made by walking, cycling or public transportation.

These results are consistent with other emerging evidence, compiled in a synthesis by Andrés Gómez-Lobo and Alejandro Tirachini of the University of Chile. Alejandro Henao estimated an 85 percent increase in vehicle kilometers traveled due to ride-hailing in Denver, based on 308 trips driven and surveyed by the author himself.

Another study found mixed results. Using data from the U.S. National Transit Database, Jonathan D. Hall et al. estimate that Uber reduced public transportation ridership by 5.7 percent in smaller U.S. cities but increased public transit ridership by 0.8 percent in larger cities.

Other reports, not included in the list reviewed by Tirachini and Gómez-Lobo, such as those produced by a consortium of southern Los Angeles municipalities and independent consulting firm, suggest similar conclusions: ride-hailing services may increase congestion and shift travel from public transit and other modes.

Beyond the States

Uber and Lyft’s ubiquity, the large amount of data available, and interest from researchers and funders has led to many studies in the United States, but what about other contexts?

Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo developed a sophisticated model in an attempt to answer that question for Santiago, Chile. In a working paper, they use a multimodal model and data from 1,600 surveys to simulate the effect of additional Uber trips on taxi, car and bus use. Under a base case scenario, with existing occupancy rates and other parameters as currently observed, the authors found the probability that ride-hailing reduces vehicle kilometers traveled in Santiago is zero. They ran 20,000 simulations and ride-hailing services never produced fewer vehicle kilometers traveled than the same simulation without them.

The result is explained in part by the substitution of trips previously made by public transportation, by the addition of new trips, and, to a lesser extent, by the substitution of Uber rides for other modes of transport, like walking and cycling. Most Uber users in Chile come from taxis (41 percent) and public transportation (33 percent). About 12 percent of riders come from cars, 2 percent from walking and 1 percent from cycling. Five percent would have not have traveled at all. Higher income households substitute more from taxi and private car use while lower income households substitute more from public transportation. Half the public transit conversions would have ridden a bus otherwise.

Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo adjusted other parameters and found there need to be at least 2.9 occupants per vehicle – up from the actual rate of 2.0 – in order to have an even shot of reducing vehicle kilometers traveled per trip.

What’s Next?

While not definitive, the conclusions of Tirachini and Gomez-Lobo provide an indication that ride-hailing may be beneficial for users but, in its current form, is not sustainable for the planet or helping to solve congestion and road safety problems.

In their Santiago survey, they found the most important reasons people used Uber were the ease of payment, cost, transparency of the charging system compared to taxi-meters, and the possibility of identifying the driver and rating his/her performance. Other important motives included short wait times, lack of convenient public transportation, not wanting to drive after drinking alcohol and the perception of the service being more secure than other modes. These motives are consistent with other studies and suggest ride-sharing isn’t going away anytime soon.

Making ride-hailing or ride-sourcing services effective at reducing vehicle kilometers traveled, and thus reducing emissions, congestion, and other related negative effects, may require combined approaches.

Finding ways to increase the number of occupants is one way to shift the calculus. Shared services like UberPool and Lyftline grew to 20 percent of all the ride-hailed services provided by Uber and Lyft in 2016. Another is linking ride-hailing services more closely with public transit through subsidized rides to stations to encourage increased transit use, rather than replace it. Congestion charging for low occupancy vehicles is another approach, which has worked to reduce traffic in some cities.

Dario Hidalgo is Director of the Integrated Transport Practice for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Jyot Chadha and Diego Canales contributed to this blog.

If Cities Are to Lead, National Transport and Housing Policy Needs to Change

Thu, 2018-01-04 20:48

Car ownership is increasing in India. Moving forward, the government must align transport agendas with environmental policies. Photo by Adam Cohn/ Flickr

Across the world, it’s becoming clearer that development goals must be urban goals. As their populations and global connections grow, cities account for an ever-growing portion of the global economy. But despite their prominence, cities can’t do it alone.

Local authorities are often constrained in pursuing sustainable development by national governments, which exert considerable but fragmented influence over critical policy areas. National governments often unknowingly implement urban policies that are not aligned across different sectors or ministries, and in fact run counter to local agendas.

In order to capitalize on the current rapid pace of urbanization and build thriving cities for all, national governments must ensure that transport and housing policies, in particular, support and enable cities, rather than hold them back. Doing so is not only key to achieving the New Urban Agenda, but the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement too.

A new paper from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, London School of Economics, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development explores the ways in which urban transport and housing policies are integrated – or fragmented – in 10 case study countries. The paper finds that compact, connected cities require many different policy areas to work well together. By uniting urban policies across ministry boundaries, the outcomes in each area will be more effective.

Policy integration is difficult because many governments don’t have enough capacity to coordinate across ministries or they silo their administration in a way that makes it harder to do so. In Colombia, for example, the national government is responsible for setting transport, housing and urban policy, but regional governments are responsible for implementation. In Nigeria and South Africa, responsibilities for urban development and planning are shared across levels of government, but in ways that overlap or create policy conflicts.

The paper finds that of all the sectors, the weakest link between local and national policy is in transport and housing. A third of all urban dwellers worldwide – 1.2 billion people – lack access to safe and secure housing. The gap is worst in low- and middle-income countries, where some cities are growing so quickly that governments cannot build out services and infrastructure fast enough to accommodate new arrivals. In some countries where increasing housing is the primary objective, like China, Nigeria and Ethiopia, transport integration gets left behind.

Mexico highlights the disadvantages of focusing exclusively on housing policies when intending to bridge the housing supply gap without considering other implications. The country’s urban growth has occurred largely on the periphery of metro zones at the expense of de-densifying center-city locations. Mortgage lending and housing subsidies contributed to sprawl by facilitating the construction of new housing on the periphery of cities. Between 2006 and 2013, in 46 of Mexico’s 59 metropolitan zones, more than 70 percent of new homes were built either on the outskirts or periphery. The high level of urban sprawl has made coordinated land-use and transport planning across neighboring jurisdictions a challenge.

Going forward, the national government has adopted a more qualitative approach, limiting the construction of new houses in remote areas. When the focus shifts from quantity to quality, housing can be better linked to infrastructure, services and employment.

Beyond housing, many countries have successfully linked transport policies and economic development strategies. Countries like India and Nigeria have focused on transport playing a key role in economic growth plans, as infrastructure expansion is seen as critical to enabling businesses to grow. And in the United States and Germany, fast and efficient transport networks are seen as important for economic competitiveness.

Successful policy alignment can also improve social development objectives, such as education and accessibility. Countries like Colombia, China and South Africa view transport as a tool for territorial equity and national integration, helping to make economic opportunities, social spaces and services more available to everyone.

One area of deficit found by the research is integrating environmental sustainability with transport planning. In India, priority is given to constructing inter-city highways while the environmental implications receive minimal consideration. High levels of sprawl create economic inefficiency and dependence on motor vehicles, leading to higher carbon emissions. Between 2009 and 2014 alone, car ownership in India increased by 73 percent. As national governments work towards the New Urban Agenda, achieving the SDGs and implementing the Paris Agreement, it is important that they begin aligning transport and other urban agendas with environmental policies.

From housing to transport and more, urban form greatly affects the economic, social and environmental performance of cities and countries. Better integration between local and national policies requires strong leadership and cross-sector collaboration, but can produce tremendous economic and social benefits. National governments must recognize the value in more compact, connected and coordinated development and understand how important policy integration is to capturing that value.

Download “Integrating National Policies to Deliver Compact, Connected Cities: An Overview of Transport and Housing” from the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Rachel Spiegel is the Communications Assistant for the New Climate Economy. WRI is the managing partner of the global partnership of research organizations that makes up the New Climate Economy project.

Jenna Davis on Why Policy Reform Can Do More for Clean Water Access Than Technology

Tue, 2018-01-02 14:13

There were 663 million people without access to safe drinking water in 2015, according to the United Nations and World Health Organization. Many of those going without are from low-income households in cities across the global south. Jenna Davis, associate professor and Higgins-Magid senior fellow at the Woods Institute of the Environment at Stanford University, says this problem is an economic burden and strain on development.

“By reducing exposure to fecal pathogens, you not only help reduce child mortality associated with those illnesses, but we’re starting to understand that the health and productivity effects can actually include stunting and impaired cognitive development,” Davis says, in an interview for the Cities Research Seminar Series. “So if you think about the long-term effects of removing those fecal pathogens from the environment, you could actually be talking about measurable impacts on the economy of cities and countries.”

Improving urban water and sanitation, however, is no simple task.

Focusing Further Upstream for Sanitation

In the past, practitioners have focused on “point-of-use” approaches, which try to empower households to manage their own water quality through chlorine products, filters and similar user-driven technological solutions.

Davis says that these can be effective, if used correctly and consistently, “but it’s a pretty tall order to ask a low-income household to consistently, day-in and day-out, use those technologies.” Additionally, in a neighborhood with poor sanitation services, the first household to improve its condition bears the cost of the improvement but creates benefits for its neighbors. This creates a disincentive to act, as some seek to freeride on the public benefit produced by others.

“An alternative approach we’ve been thinking about is to move up one scale and think about intervening at a shared water point, like a public tap or a hand pump,” Davis says. Especially for waste management, “in most low-income countries, responsibility for construction, financing, operation and maintenance all fall to the end users.” That can be an overwhelming task for low-income households in the absence of government support. “We really need to be thinking about what is the proper role of government in subsidizing.”

Better Pricing Schemes to Increase Supply

When it comes to the supply side, Davis says practitioners should carefully consider how different pricing structures for water impact households at different income levels.

For example, a common tariff structure is the increasing block tariff, in which households pay more per unit volume of water the more they use. While this might make sense initially, it turns out that low-income households end up paying the most because a single tap is often shared among several households.

“This is not a new insight,” says Davis, “we’ve known about this for a while. But it’s been slow to take root in terms of tariff reform for cities of the global south.”

One city that is experimenting successfully with water supply reform is Maputo, a city of 1.7 million and the capital of Mozambique. The city recently decriminalized the resale of water between households, allowing individuals with private water taps to sell or give water to their neighbors without threat of prosecution.

“This decision was based on some really good research that demonstrated that this type of service provides time savings,” Davis says. “It’s not exploitative, in terms of the monetary costs and actually could represent, because of volumetric pricing at the utility level…a costless expansion of the pipe network to the urban poor.”

Policy solutions like subsidizing community sanitation projects, adjusting tariff structures, and allowing water resale, can have significant impacts for the urban poor, and Davis is optimistic about the prospects for change. “I think in general this is feasible, if you can muster the political will to do it, because there is relatively high demand even among low-income households for safe and reliable water supply services.”

Alex Rogala is a former editor of TheCityFix and currently a master’s student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

TheCityFix’s Top 10 Blogs from 2017

Thu, 2017-12-28 14:13

What is a sustainable city? What can cities do to reduce their carbon footprints while expanding transit networks and economic growth? In 2017, TheCityFix addressed some of the most burning questions in urban development, informing city leaders and decision-makers on what it means to create sustainable, equitable, thriving cities for all.

Nearly 100 thought leaders and city experts, from within WRI and without, contributed their ideas to the blog in 2017, shaping the global discourse on how cities can take the lead in making the world a better place. This diversity of voices informs our widespread global impact and reflects how important collaboration is to success in this space.

Our top 10 blogs from 2017 feature experts and thought leaders from around the world ringing true the importance of efficient and safe transport, accessible public spaces, evidence-based policy and active involvement in the urban landscape:

10.  5 Key Lessons from 10 Cities at Transforming Transportation 2017, Anna Bray Sharpin, Ben Welle, Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Subha Ranjan Banerjee

9. The Need for Safe Speeds: 4 Surprising Ways Slower Driving Creates Better Cities, Anna Bray Sharpin, Ben Welle, Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Subha Ranjan Banerjee

8. Amazon’s Challenge Shows Importance of Good Transit for Cities, Paul A. Laudicina

7. Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Better Urban Renewal (Hint: Think Community Engagement), Paula Tanscheit

6. Urban Trees: A Smart Investment in Public Health, Robert McDonald

5. What About the People? Unlocking the Key to Socially Sustainable and Resilient Communities, Robin King, Cathy Baldwin

4. Fortaleza and São Paulo Experiment with Street Transformations, Bruno Felin

3. Do Bus Rapid Transit Systems Improve Equity? A Look at the Evidence, Dario Hidalgo

2. Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets, Priscila Pacheco

1.  Are Trains Better Than Bus Rapid Transit Systems? A Look at the Evidence, Dario Hidalgo

Thank you to our many excellent contributors for a great 2017! We look forward to expanding our impact and working with you in the year to come.

Read more about WRI Ross Center’s 2017 Impact here.

Talia Rubnitz is the Editor of TheCityFix and Communications Assistant at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Nairobi’s Dangerous Streets Set to Become Safer for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Tue, 2017-12-26 14:13

A new Non-Motorized Transport Policy is designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Photo by Jacqueline Klopp

This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.

In 2015, 447 pedestrians were killed from traffic-related incidents in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital of more than 3 million people. Amidst cars and minibuses (“matatus”), pedestrians are forced onto the street when sidewalks end or are missing or damaged. Poor markings, signage and traffic management make crossing the road a gamble with death. One young girl who was hit by a car described vehicles as “traffic monsters” haunting her daily walk to school.

Nairobi, like many other cities, has invested heavily in car-centric development, building highways and expanding road networks. Little attention to the safety of other road users has led to high crash rates and dangerous streets. Promoting combinations of more public transit, cycling and walking is helping some cities not only become safer but reducing congestion, obesity, pollution and climate change.

In 2017, Nairobi took the first steps to redress this problem, passing the Non-Motorized Transport Policy for Nairobi. The new policy puts the city on the path toward more inclusive design, but it still has some way to go.

Dangerous by Design

Nairobi’s historic focus on roads stands in contrast to how people actually get around the city; just 12 percent of households own a private vehicle and most people use public transit. Pedestrians and cyclists must be courageous. One 2013 study found that in a 3-month period in 2011, 59 percent of all road traffic injuries in the city were pedestrians; another 5 percent were cyclists.

There are growing cycling clubs, despite the danger, and a major ride once a month. Around a third of Nairobi adults would consider cycling if there were safe, segregated lanes, according to a 2015 survey. A crowd-sourced map of cycling lanes shows that a nascent network already exists and a few new links could create the beginnings of a city-wide system.

A crowd-sourced bike lanes map demonstrates that a city-wide system could exist. Source: CSUD/C4D with thanks to David Kanyari

Design problems lie behind much of the city’s road safety problems. Nairobi’s footbridges, used by cyclists and pedestrians alike, are a prominent example. The bridges that cross over busy roads are so poorly designed that many people simply avoid them because they’re inconvenient, instead trying to cross at street level, leading to crashes and congestion. A recent study showed many pedestrians in Nairobi are struck within 500 meters – or a 15-minute walk – of a footbridge.

Accidents near footbridges. Source:

While there is much to be done to make Nairobi a safer, more pleasant place to get around, the Non-Motorized Transport Policy is an important first step.

The policy calls walking the dominant mode of transport in the city and aims to build a framework and set of interventions to prioritize pedestrians. These include developing a new street design manual with complete streets principles, mandating at least 20 percent of the transport budget goes toward supporting non-motorized modes, stronger regulations on developers to provide foot pathways, traffic-calming measures, and rules to discourage the blocking of non-motorized networks, like sidewalks and cycling paths.

The Next Step

Future steps to strengthen this policy could include well-designed non-motorized infrastructure being required for every road, rail and bus project. This would be a city-shaping rule given how much Nairobi is expected to invest in infrastructure in the years ahead. Audits could be done to ensure that new infrastructure is built to certain standards and linked to existing modes of public transit as well as walking and cycling networks.

Most critically, support should also be given to non-motorized infrastructure that is not connected to roads. Nairobi has considerable green spaces and pedestrians and cyclists often feel safer when they are segregated completely from road traffic. Linking the city’s green areas through walking and cycling paths could have multiple boons, helping to preserve ecologically important areas, reducing congestion on roads and improving the health of residents.

The development of a street design manual, required by the new policy but not completed, is the first practical step the government – a new government, now – faces in achieving the vision of a safer, greener, more connected Nairobi. Currently, the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development has no proper urban road standards and guidelines. Engineers in the ministry are asking for these guidelines so that no road is built with problematic and incomplete sidewalks or cycling paths as an afterthought.

The United Nations Environment Programme has developed helpful guidelines – piloted in Nairobi, where the agency is based – that should be used in this effort. Additionally, the City of Nairobi officially endorsed global guidelines for urban street design developed by the National Association of Transportation City Officials in the United States, which include non-motorized transport and could be adapted for local conditions.

The Non-Motorized Transport Policy for Nairobi offers an important way forward for the city, but much work remains to push for implementation of the strategy, especially with a new government in charge. However, it is encouraging to see growing civic engagement around walking and cycling in the city. Additionally, parts of the Central Business District have already been pedestrianized through earlier efforts, showing what can be done when the city works with citizens and businesses to transform for the better, creating a more walkable, active and enjoyable place for all.

Jacqueline M. Klopp is an Associate Research Scholar at the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. She works with the University of Nairobi and Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations on non-motorized transport issues in the city.

Toward Thriving Cities for All: Our 2017 Impact

Fri, 2017-12-22 14:13

Analysis by WRI Brasil helped lead to a new federal law in 2017 regulating the construction of 600,000 homes over the next two years. Photo by WRI Brasil

2017 was a tumultuous year in some respects. We’ve seen major natural and man-made disasters, disruptive new politics in many countries, and an upswing in carbon emissions. But it was also a year that strengthened the role of cities at the UN climate summit and we saw countless reminders that there are many good people working to build a better tomorrow.

Our work as a global organization working in more than 60 cities gives us a unique opportunity to see this is true. I am constantly amazed at the many projects and initiatives underway to make cities more sustainable, more equitable and more prosperous places. WRI Ross Center is committed to helping cities become the best version of themselves, and we’re committed to the time and teamwork we know is required to reach that goal. This is not an easy process or a linear one.

That said, there were remarkable stories of urban change around the world in 2017. Please find below our top outcomes as a program, none of which would have been possible without close collaboration with governments, partner organizations and engaged citizens. These are significant changes that will positively impact the lives of millions of people, help avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of the entire country of Panama, and encourage billions of dollars in new investment. (For more, see our Impact page, recently updated for the last year.)

Major highlights include:

India Adopts Landmark National Transit-Oriented Development Policy

WRI India contributed technical expertise to inform the Indian Ministry of Urban Development’s new National Transit Oriented Development Policy. This policy represents a paradigm shift in the way the government approaches urban development, investing $30 billion in mass transit systems across the country. It highlights the government’s resolve to address sprawl and unplanned growth and the associated negative environmental and human consequences.

Bhopal Introduces India’s First Fully Automated Public Bike-Sharing System

Bhopal launched India’s first fully automated, public bike-sharing system with 500 bicycles and 60 docking stations. Within three months of operation, the system had more than 20,000 riders, and its estimated to have mitigated 5,325 kilograms of CO2 emissions to date. WRI India spearheaded system design, business model development, and tender documentation and hosted workshops to engage technology suppliers, financing institutions and public agencies.

Chinese and Indian Cities Reimagine Waste and Wastewater

Waste-to-energy technologies capture clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and have added economic benefits. WRI India and WRI China engaged with government agencies, city leaders and service providers using a circular economy methodology to help cities reimagine waste and wastewater. The teams analyzed methods; shared knowledge of the risks associated with untreated sludge and the benefits of its reuse; and established relations between decision-makers, government agencies and the private sector in multiple cities.

Safe System Approaches Adopted in Colombia, India and México

WRI Ross Center teams played crucial roles in introducing and advancing Safe System approaches to road safety in three countries adopting innovative new policies. Bogotá (Colombia), Mexico City, and the state of Haryana (India) are pioneers for Safe System, or Vision Zero, approaches, which put forth the idea that although human errors on the road are inevitable, deaths and injuries should not. Each year, 1.25 million people die in road traffic crashes, nearly 90 percent in low and middle-income countries, half of those in cities.

Brazil Commits to More Compact, Connected Development for Largest Social Housing Program

WRI Brasil conducted a country-wide investigation evaluating the social, economic and environmental costs of the design principles of Brazil’s largest social housing program, Minha Casa, Minha Vida. Analysis and a pilot project in Rio Grande showed the added benefits of more compact, connected and coordinated planning – at no added cost – and helped lead to a new federal law regulating the construction of 600,000 homes, benefiting more than 1.8 million people over the next two years.

Belo Horizonte Launches First Citywide Corporate Mobility Plan

After partnering with the State Government of Minas Gerais to improve the commute of its 17,000 government employees, WRI Brasil developed a guide to creating corporate mobility plans. The success of this partnership led Belo Horizonte to develop a citywide policy that encourages large companies, schools and universities to take action in fostering sustainable mobility and help the city reduce car dependency.

Mexico City Commits to Scaling-up Energy Retrofit Efforts

WRI Mexico won a national bidding process to prepare terms of reference for Mexico City to carry out energy audits for public buildings and retrofit them. WRI Ross Center provided strategic direction and facilitation through analytical work and a series of meetings with stakeholders. As an active member of the Building Efficiency Accelerator network, Mexico City has also received support from global partners.

Congratulations to all of these cities and all of those involved in making these projects a success. We look forward to many more in 2018!

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

WRI Ross Center Wins Prince Michael International Road Safety Award

Thu, 2017-12-21 14:13

Each year, the Prince Michael International Road Safety Award recognizes the most outstanding achievements and innovations to improve road safety and save lives worldwide. On December 12, 2017, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities was named a winner of the Prince Michael Award for its inspired and significant work to reduce traffic fatalities in low and middle-income cities through sustainable transport and urban design.

“The road safety challenges facing developing countries remain considerable,” said HRH Prince Michael of Kent during the award ceremony. “All will be as impressed, as I have been, by the ingenuity and resourcefulness shown.”

More than 1.25 million people are killed around the world each year in traffic accidents – more than 3,400 a day – and projections show that there will be nearly 2 million traffic fatalities annually by 2020. To help prevent and reduce this tragic toll on lives and livelihoods, WRI Ross Center is working to change the paradigm by designing cities for people, not cars. Road safety has long been perceived as the sole responsibility of users – drivers and pedestrians – but the Ross Center’s evidenced-based research shows that shifting the focus to mobility systems rather than users has a far greater impact on saving lives.

“We are honored to receive this esteemed award for our work to make cities and roads safer by design,” said WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta. “WRI Ross Center was among the first organizations to make the case that designing cities and new infrastructure for people rather than for cars – and prioritizing safer modes like walking, cycling and public transport – saves lives and prevents injuries. Long-term change comes from shifts in local and national policies. We will continue to work with governments around the world to improve laws, support decision-makers and bring greater attention to the global agenda on road safety.”

WRI Ross Center-supported road safety transformations in São Paulo. Photos by WRI Brasil

WRI Ross Center works with policymakers and urban planners at the local and national levels to transform cities and transport systems. The Health and Road Safety program’s approach has three central tenets: to help cities avoid increased motorized travel, prioritize safer modes of travel such as public and non-motorized transport, and improve existing mobility systems and infrastructure to maximize safety. WRI Ross Center experts also provide technical support to influence design and investments in new infrastructure through road safety audits, inspections of projects and technical guidance on implementation.

“Our most important work is with communities in developing countries, which are seeing far too many traffic fatalities, especially among the most vulnerable members of society,” said Claudia Adriazola, director of health and road safety and interim director of mobility. “To achieve sustainable and equal cities, we need to make walking, biking and public transport much safer. By working to redesign streets and public spaces, expand mobility options and improve mass transit, WRI is helping cities save lives, improve health and safety, and reduce emissions. We’ve already seen positive and replicable achievements in India, Asia, Africa and Latin America, and look forward to taking the lessons learned to many more cities around the world.”

WRI Ross Center’s road safety work is made possible by the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, with additional funding from FIA Foundation, FedEx Foundation, and Stephen M. Ross Foundation.

Since 1987, the Prince Michael Road Safety Awards have given public recognition to those who have improved road safety throughout Britain. Now the Prince Michael International Road Safety Awards recognize outstanding achievement and innovation worldwide. The awards are organized and managed by RoadSafe.

BRTData Adopts New Standards to Classify Bus Corridors Worldwide

Tue, 2017-12-19 14:13

New ranking system ensures a quality and uniform BRT service globally. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

Global BRT Data, an international platform managed and updated by WRI Brazil Sustainable Cities, began a new partnership last week with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and its tool, BRT Standard, which defines criteria for a true bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

The BRT Standard is a highly technical resource that scores BRT corridors in more than 30 categories, including off-board fare collection, a dedicated right-of-way, infrastructure quality, service planning and communications. The quality of the systems is awarded a basic, bronze, silver or gold ranking. The standard creates a common definition for BRT systems, setting systems apart for quality and reliability. This new standard will serve as a guide for cities to model new systems after.

“The BRT Standard began as a global effort to very clearly define, from a technical perspective, what makes a world-class BRT corridor, but with Global BRT Data, it’s easier to relate that to what’s happening on the ground,” says Jacob Mason, transport evaluation manager for ITDP. “Having these easily accessible examples and aggregate data aligned with the rigorous approach of the BRT Standard will help us expand the benefits of BRT to even more cities. It’s a win for everyone.”

In addition to the BRT Standard, BRTData will also feature a new, separate indicator that will classify all non-BRT bus corridors. Soon, all bus corridors in the platform, including those that aren’t BRTs, will receive a rating.

“Global BRT Data was developed as a way for the transport community to track and measure the progress of bus priority systems all over the world. With this partnership and the new indicators, it will be possible to easily identify which corridors are BRTs and which are not,” says Cristina Albuquerque, WRI Brasil urban mobility coordinator.

Cities around the world have found BRT systems a financially responsible and practical answer to demand for better and safer transit services. The most prolific region for BRT is Latin America, with systems from Mexico to Argentina serving more than 19 million people a day. BRT systems in Asia serve around 10 million people a day, half in China. And in Africa, BRT systems reach half a million people daily – a number that continues to grow as more are developed. One-hundred and sixty-five cities in the world have bus priority systems, reaching over 32 million riders a day.

Launched in 2012, BRTData is made possible through a partnership between members of BRT + CoE and ITDP and is recognized as one of the most comprehensive online database of bus corridor systems worldwide, listed as one of the 10 best websites for transport planners in 2017.

What the Zika Epidemic Means for Gender and Urban Climate Planning

Mon, 2017-12-18 14:13

Women living in Brazil’s favelas are particularly vulnerable to Zika. Photo by Danielle Pereira/ Flickr

Almost exactly two years ago, South America was swept up in a public health crisis that affected hundreds of thousands of women. In Brazil, more than 2,600 children were born with microcephaly – an abnormally small head – and other health complications resulting from the viral infection Zika. Brazilians became accustomed to the unfamiliar name of the disease, which spread fast through the northeast of the country and across borders to Colombia and Venezuela. But even as the disease became an international concern, it quickly became clear that it was a much bigger problem for some than for others.

As someone who works on climate change adaptation, I was particularly struck by the climatic and systemic elements of the epidemic.

In the northeast of Brazil, the area most affected by Zika, droughts are not uncommon and are intensifying with climate change. Substandard or absent water and sanitation services are common in Brazilian cities. In 13 of the 27 state capitals, less than half the population has access to municipal sewage collection services. Thirty-four million people do not have access to treated and clean water in their homes. Many households, particularly among the poor, store water themselves to deal with shortages. In 2015, abnormally high temperatures in the northeast combined with the amount of stored water and poor urban infrastructure provided fertile breeding ground for the mosquito that carries Zika, Aedis aegypti. Thus poor, under-served, urban households faced the brunt of the epidemic.

The most devastating impact, however, was reserved for yet a smaller subset of the population. As a middle-class, white woman living in São Paulo, I felt far removed from the crisis. Despite the incessant national and international media coverage and messages from my friends abroad, I was not concerned with my exposure. Many other Brazilian women faced a different experience.

Six percent of Brazil’s population – almost 12 million people – live in informal settlements known as favelas. Among this population of slum dwellers, roughly half, or 6 million people, are women. Zika spreads not only through Aedis aegypti but through unprotected sex. Most adults with the disease show no symptoms but it can spread to an unborn child and have life-altering effects.

Access to family planning and reproductive health information is limited in Brazil, especially in the favelas. Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, 20 percent of all pregnancies are in teenagers, and abortions are illegal. Throughout the Zika crisis, even as the dangers to poor women and their children became clearer, these basic risk vectors remained unchanged. Abortions were not granted to infected women and reproductive health information and resources remained scarce. The initial government response advised women only to withhold sex and delay pregnancy. The onus to prevent Zika was placed solely on the shoulders of those most affected.

The gender disparity of the crisis was emphasized by University of Brasilia law professor Debora Diniz. “Lost in the panic about Zika is an important fact: The epidemic mirrors the social inequality of Brazilian society,” she wrote in a New York Times editorial. “It is concentrated among young, poor, black and brown women, a vast majority of them living in the country’s least-developed regions.”

Ask the Other Question

A recent and excellent report by Human Rights Watch, “Neglected and Unprotected,” analyzes the long-term impacts of the Zika epidemic on poor, urban women, with far-reaching implications that go beyond climate change and gender inequality. It makes technical recommendations that address public health emergency responses; access to health information; education and awareness raising; child support; people’s rights to water security and sanitation; sexual and reproductive health care; decriminalization of abortion; climate change adaptation policy; and urban development policy.

Seeing the complex ways the crisis affected some and not others, I developed a sense of urgency that the epidemic had afforded us an opportunity to better understand how climate change might affect cities from a systemic and intersectional approach. How can cities ensure their most vulnerable citizens are protected from and prepared for climate change? More importantly, how can cities account for the varying impacts on diverse groups of people, identities and individuals?

The term “intersectionality” was coined by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw and is defined as “the interaction between gender, race and other categories of difference in individuals’ lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these intersections in terms of power.” In disasters risk management research, for example, intersectionality helped develop the understanding that although vulnerability to extreme weather events is gendered, it is “also shaped by ability, family type, cultural/racial group and class.”

Adopting intersectional approaches can help reveal otherwise hidden information about groups of people or individuals that are useful for climate change adaptation planning and extreme weather events. The American law professor and activist Mari J. Matsuda employs a method called “ask the other question” that could be used by urban adaptation planners too. “When I see something that looks racist, I ask, ‘Where is the patriarchy in this?,’” she says. “When I see something that looks sexist, I ask, ‘Where is the heterosexism in this?’ When I see something that looks homophobic, I ask, ‘Where is the class interests in this?”

The end of Zika doesn’t begin with the eradication of a mosquito: it requires urban planning through an intersectional lens.

With a better grasp of the realities that poor, black and brown young women face, urban planners could have identified the need to reduce risks of mosquito proliferation and developed long-term support structures for families affected by the disease.

Zika teaches us that solutions to climate change-related problems in cities will come through better governance, planning, and efforts to increase participation and social inclusion. City managers and planners need to internalize and promote awareness of intersecting structures to identify needs and vulnerabilities that aren’t immediately obvious and develop plans accordingly. As cities build capacity to plan for and manage climate change impacts, these processes should be accountable to different life experiences, resources, and levels of agency and power – or they risk missing those most likely to be affected.

Adapted from an article that originally appeared on The Nature of Cities.

Katerina Elias-Trostmann is a Senior Research Analyst at WRI Brasil and is based in São Paulo. She works closely with the Climate Resilience Practice.

Financing Mass Transit Projects Through All Beneficiaries, And Not Just Users

Fri, 2017-12-15 14:13

Increasing metro fares is a highly contested topic in Delhi’s government. Who should pay? Photo by Sudhir Deshwal/ Flickr

For some time now, there has been an ongoing tussle between the Government of Delhi and the National Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs about increasing fares for the Delhi metro. Under the existing law, a fare fixation committee reviews the fares for the Delhi metro and periodically suggest revisions. This committee is an apolitical body, includes representatives from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Delhi government and is, typically, chaired by a retired judge. It considers the operating costs, possible revenues at different fare levels, and then makes recommendations on fares. In October this year, the committee proposed a fare increase.

The Government of Delhi objected to this increase and were unwilling to allow its implementation. The Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, rightfully, asked the Delhi Government to be prepared to pay an amount of INR 3600 crore to the Delhi metro if they did not want the fares to be hiked. The fare increase has since been implemented, but the Delhi government has now stated that there is a significant drop in ridership due to the fare increase.

This dispute warrants a closer look at how the operating costs of any metro system need to be recovered. Globally, there are very few metro systems that recover their operating costs entirely from fare revenues. While Hong Kong, Singapore and London recover the full operating costs, most others don’t. Paris recovers only around 30 percent, Chicago 42 percent, Boston 40 percent, Madrid 41 percent, Beijing 59 percent, and Vancouver 28 percent. A look at the Delhi metro’s annual accounts for 2016-17 shows that fare revenues were around 60 percent of the operating costs. This means that metro rail systems need other forms of revenue to break even.

Who Benefits from a City’s Metro System?

There are two very different issues that are getting mixed up in the current war of words. On the one hand, there is a cost incurred in operating the metro system and the operator needs to be compensated this amount. On the other hand, there is a fare that a user needs to pay.

The key question is this: are the users of the metro system its only beneficiaries, and should the cost of operating the system be recovered solely from them? If fares were the primary source of revenue to pay for the operation of the metro system, it would imply that users are the only beneficiaries of the metro system. However, this is not true. There are several others who benefit from the system, even if they don’t use it, and therefore, should also pay for it.

For example, people who use cars benefit from reduced congestion on the roads; people who own property near metro system benefit from increased property values; and employers benefit from having employees with easy access to work. Unfortunately, under the present arrangement these beneficiaries do not contribute to the operating cost of the metro.

It needs to be recognized that fares cannot be fixed in such a manner as to pay for the cost of operations. An exercise of fixing fares needs to consider many other factors including the ability to pay, benefits accrued to non-users and the contributions they need to make, and the benefits accrued to society by way of decreased vehicular congestion, cleaner air, and savings in the use of non-renewable fuels.

Several cities around the world have adopted a system whereby revenue from non-user beneficiaries contribute to the cost of metro operations. High fuel taxes, a tax on the wage bill, land value capture are some examples of additional revenues from non-user beneficiaries that can contribute to the operation of a metro.

Cost Sharing Via Positive Policy Action

The operating cost is a technical issue which is determined by factors like the cost of energy, the fuel efficiency of the engine, and staff salaries. The role of the fare fixation committee needs to be redefined such that they are able to determine fair operating costs, after considering operating efficiencies and input costs. Thereafter, public policy should determine how to allocate these costs to different beneficiaries.

It is for this reason that the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs was absolutely right in advising the Government of Delhi that they need to pay INR 3600 cores if they do not want to implement the fare increase. In effect, this action would force them to think about who else should contribute to the costs.

Fares are a public policy issue which is to be determined based on political considerations of who should pay for the metro. It would be perfectly legitimate to say that all beneficiaries, and not just users, should pay for the metro. Public policy would determine who pays what share of the costs, provided the operator is reimbursed the full cost of operations.

O.P. Agarwal is the CEO of WRI India.

This blog originally appeared on WRI India. 

4 Opportunities for U.S. States, Cities and Businesses to Step Up for America’s Pledge

Wed, 2017-12-13 14:13

Cities like Chicago are stepping up on climate action. Photo by Josh Koonce/Flickr

Ultimately, the work on climate change is done on the ground and is up to each of us. That is why America’s Pledge on climate is so important, as former U.S. President Barack Obama told city leaders in Chicago last week at the inaugural Global Covenant of Mayors North American Climate Summit. Policymakers from around the world met at the conference to look for ways to do more to tackle climate change, a drive we’re also seeing from states and businesses.

At a time when the Trump administration is abdicating the U.S. position as a climate leader, a growing number of U.S. states, cities and businesses are stepping up to take strong climate action.

report released this fall from America’s Pledge, an initiative co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy on cities and climate, and California Governor Jerry Brown, shows how these non-federal actors can do more, including these four key opportunities:

1. Boost Renewable Energy

States can boost renewable energy by setting tougher renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to generate an increasing share of their power from solar, wind and other renewable sources. New York and California have already done so. Utility customers – including cities, businesses and other consumers – can go beyond what’s required by participating in the voluntary clean power market. This market accounts for more than a quarter of all renewable energy sales in the United States. States can encourage cities and businesses to buy more renewable power by investing in grid infrastructure to benefit wind and solar producers. In states with Community Choice Aggregation, which allows individual customers to pool their purchasing power, cities can choose to buy clean energy for entire communities. Big energy buyers such as large tech companies and universities can also send strong market signals to utilities by investing in clean energy to power their operations. There’s plenty of room for growth in this area, since voluntary purchases – those made beyond what regulations require – still only represent about 3 percent of total annual electric utility sales.

Voluntary renewable PPAs signed by sector, by year (MW)

The tech industry has led the PPA market (with the largest purchases coming from Google, Amazon, and Apple), with a spike occurring in 2015 amid uncertainty over federal tax incentives for renewables. (Source: NREL 2017).

2. Tighten building energy codes

While building energy codes have improved the efficiency of new and modified buildings, there’s potential to do more. For new buildings, stronger codes to foster energy efficiency need to be put in place, implemented quickly – most states now rely on less rigorous, outdated codes – and effectively enforced. Existing buildings need to be brought into the mix, with building energy codes tailored to them. Taking the lead, New York City recently announced a plan to reduce emissions of its existing buildings by 7 percent by 2035 through mandated energy standards.

3. New Policies to Cut Vehicle Emissions

Private sector innovation and a movement toward zero-emission vehicles could shift the growing transport sector away from fossil fuels, and auto-makers are already on board. States can help accelerate this trend through stronger mandates for zero-emission vehicles and support for development of next generation technologies and recharging and hydrogen refueling stations. Policies now on the books in eight states could put an estimated 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road in 2025. If all 50 states followed these policies, there could be more than four times that many.

4. Capture Methane

To help cut down on methane emissions, which contribute approximately 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, states could offer financial incentives to encourage methane capture from landfills and dairy and hog farms to produce renewable natural gas through landfill gas projects and biogas recovery systems.

In addition, states could encourage research and development to find better ways to curb livestock emissions. To ease repair of methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, cities are starting to use data gleaned by Google Street View Cars fitted with special air quality sensors that show where the leaks are. Public-private collaboration lets gas utilities identify and prioritize the leakiest sections of their infrastructure, with benefits for customers and the environment.

Example output of a methane-sensing technology for the City of Boston created by the Environmental Defense Fund, Google, and Colorado State University (Source: Environmental Defense Fund).

Other Opportunities to Step Up
  • Boost efficiency and distributed generation for manufacturers through financing, regulation and other support to enable U.S. industries that rely mostly on fossil fuels to upgrade facilities with more efficient equipment, renewable energy and lower-carbon energy.
  • Cut back on hydrofluorocarbon use and emissions by banning sales of refrigerants, foams and aerosols that contain these climate-warming chemicals, using less harmful alternatives where available and encouraging development of alternative technologies.
  • Expand carbon pricing networksby adopting policies in individual states or joining  existing markets such as California’s or RGGI’s, as Virginia has recently proposed. Existing carbon markets can expand to cover emissions from more sectors, and private companies can adopt internal carbon pricing to manage climate risk.

States, cities and businesses are already tackling GHG emissions and the opportunities listed above show that non-federal actors can go even farther.

Over the next year, America’s Pledge will build on these opportunities by analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions reduction potential from both existing and more ambitious non-federal actions.

This article has been adapted from a version that appeared on’s Insights.

Kristin Igusky is an Associate with WRI’s Global Climate Program.

Karen Chen is an America’s Pledge Intern with WRI’s Climate Program.

Tom Cyrs is an America’s Pledge Intern with WRI’s Climate Program.

What Makes a Complete Street? A Brief Guide

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:13

Complete Streets Section. Graphic by WRI

This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.

Many cities have streets that make life difficult for pedestrians in ways that are not always obvious – uneven and disconnected sidewalks, dangerously long crosswalks, and pathways too close to fast-moving traffic, to name a few. To remedy this, a movement has emerged to encourage a new way of designing urban roadways called “complete streets.”

The concept of complete streets places the same priority on pedestrians, bicyclists and public transport users as on motorists. The initiative aims to improve the quality of life for all users by designing streets that are both safe public spaces and enable high-performance, sustainable transportation networks.

The U.S. states of Oregon and Florida were among the first to elevate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians during roadway projects in the 1970s and 80s. Later, the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation included elements of complete streets in its guidance. The National Complete Streets Coalition was founded by a coalition of advocacy groups, as well as the AARP, American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects. They launched the complete streets movement in 2004, to promote the development and implementation of relevant policies and professional practices.

To date, more than 1,140 agencies at the local, regional, and state levels have adopted complete streets policies in the United States, totalling more than 1,200 policies nationwide. The success of these initiatives, in terms of promoting more active transport modes, more functional and attractive streetscapes, and reducing traffic fatalities, has led other countries to adopt similar concepts. They are the so-called calles completas in Mexico, ruas completas in Brazil, and “streets for all” in India.

Global Examples of Complete Streets; Graphic by WRI

So, what do complete streets, in their various forms, look like? While the approach varies from place to place and it is crucial to understand a roadway in the context of the area around it, there are key elements that tend to appear in the mix.

1. An Active Streetscape

A community where people share experiences and interact on a day-to-day basis tends to be a safer community. A mix of interactive uses such as commercial, retail and food service can encourage an active streetscape. Commercial and retail facades not only encourage foot traffic but add colour and diversity to the street. Residential and office spaces, which receive less foot traffic, are better situated above the first floors.

Plazas can also attract crowds and encourage pedestrian use. In terms of specific design features, transitions between sidewalks and plazas should allow easy access for all users, and in an era where people rely on smartphones for navigation, communication and socializing, public wi-fi can be a boon.

2. Pedestrian-Scale Lighting

Well-lit environments are just as important, if not more so, for pedestrians and cyclists as for motorists. Street lighting provides a safer and more secure environment in terms of both traffic safety and crime. Lighting also affects the way spaces are experienced. The lighting and ambience it contributes to can vary substantially for a plaza compared to an outdoor café or green walkway, for example, just as their users do.

Public lighting adds to a city’s total energy consumption, so energy costs and sustainability should factor into designs. Many newer projects, like the Boulder Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, use solar panel technology and motion sensors to save energy and reduce environmental impact.

3. Green Infrastructure

Areas with trees, shrubs and grasses, often referred to as “greenscapes,” benefit cities environmentally, socially and economically. Rain gardens and bio-swales capture stormwater runoff so it infiltrates into the soil rather than flooding over concrete surfaces. Greenscapes help replenish groundwater reserves, provide relief from the “heat island” effect and filter polluted air. Some plants provide phytoremediatve properties that naturally clean hazardous pollutants in the soil.

Green infrastructure also adds visual quality, character and health-restoring properties to a street. Studies show that even a short walk through a green space can reduce stress levels and improve people’s mental well-being.

4. Street Furniture

Street furniture has the potential to improve the experience of a public space and make it more active. It can take shape as benches and chairs or be integrated into walls, buildings, tree beds and planters. It serves as space for pedestrians to relax, enjoy and rest, encouraging foot and sometimes bicycle traffic. Bicycle racks, trash bins, bollards, community kiosks, art installations and transit shelters are forms of street furniture that have additional utility.

5. Bicycle Facilities

Making streets more bicycle-friendly is often a central tenet of complete streets projects. The number of people choosing bicycles for short commutes tends to rise significantly after the introduction of protected bike lanes, for example. Various facilities, like bicycle parking, shelters and repair stations, also help improve the experience for cyclists and broadcast safety and comfort to users. They can also improve density and encourage compact development. In the space occupied by a single car parking space, it is possible to accommodate up to 14 bicycles.

6. Signage

Traffic signs are designed to ensure the safety of all road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike. They serve as an important traffic management tool and should minimize the potential for errors by users. In terms of priorities for pedestrians, it’s important that signage clearly warns motorists where to expect crossings and indicate preferred crossing locations for pedestrians. Signage for cyclists can ensure they are on the right track if they are sharing a road or have the lane to themselves. It can also prepare users for changes in traffic and road conditions.

7. Accessibility for All

Navigating a busy city can be challenging for anyone, let alone users with disabilities. Like buildings, roads should be designed to accommodate all people, regardless of their ability, disability or age, without the need for special assistance. In addition to accessible sidewalks and crossings, attention should be paid to design details such as guide strips for the visually impaired; sidewalk materials and tactile markings to avoid slips and falls; clearly marked parking bays for people with mobility constraints; compliant Braille signage; wheelchair ramps; and markings for motorists near special needs schools and similar zones.

8. Surface Types

Finally, material selection for streets and public spaces can have an impact on durability, sustainability, safety and the experience of users. In general, permeable paving materials such as porous asphalt, permeable concrete and soft paving are more desirable over non-permeable ones. They aid in reducing stormwater run-off, require less maintenance and improve water quality. They can also provide grip and ensure pedestrian safety even during difficult weather conditions. Other factors include road function, type of traffic, vehicle and pedestrian flows, site topography, type of subsoil, functionality and cost.

Complete streets designs ensure mobility to road users of all types by designing facilities that are safe, accessible, and welcoming. They can improve the efficiency of a space, reduce congestion as well as improve the performance of transport networks. Keep an eye out for elements of complete streets in your neighbourhood – and if you don’t see them, help make cities better for everyone by getting involved or speaking to your local government.

Nikita Luke is a Sustainable Transportation Intern with the Health and Road Safety Program of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate in the Road Safety and Health practice area of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Ben Welle is the Global Health and Road Safety Manager for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Mayors: Don’t Let Food Waste Be a Wasted Opportunity

Wed, 2017-12-06 14:13

More than 1 billion tons of food goes uneaten each year. Photo by Geraint Rowland

An Open Letter to the World’s Mayors:

Welcome to Chicago! As you gather this week at a major climate summit, I hope you will make the most of your time in one of the world’s best food cities. Try the popcorn, the Chicago dogs, the deep-dish pizza and the haute cuisine. While you’re savoring, it would be fitting for you to discuss how to fight climate change.

That’s because food  –  and the amount we let go to waste  –  presents a real opportunity for mayors. More than 1 billion tons of food (about a third of all that is produced) goes uneaten each year. Food that is lost or wasted is responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the world’s third largest emitter, right after China and the United States.

Helping households, businesses and others get a handle on food waste doesn’t just make sense for the planet. It can also be a money saver for cities. Earlier this year, a report from Champions 12.3 –  a group of CEOs, government ministers and other leaders, including myself, who are all committed to halving food loss and waste  –  presented a case study from London’s experience. In 2012, six London boroughs began an initiative to reduce the amount of household food waste. Efforts included radio and print outreach, tips on correct food storage, community events, food waste measurement and monitoring, and more.

For every £1 the boroughs spent on the initiative, they saved £8 in avoided waste management costs, and households saved £84 on food they otherwise would have purchased and eventually thrown away. In total, some £15.5 million was saved. The success was apparent quickly. After just six months, household food waste dropped 15 percent, an environmental impact equivalent to taking 9,000 cars off the road.

London has continued to tackle food waste through the TRiFOCAL project, which aims to engage households, businesses, schools and community groups to promote healthy and sustainable eating, prevent food waste, and recycle more unavoidable food waste. Among other targets, the project looks to reduce avoidable food waste by 20 percent, increase the amount of unavoidable food waste that’s recycled by 5 percent, and save Londoners £300 million by 2019.

London’s experience indicates that other cities might also reap significant financial and environmental returns from reducing food loss and waste, and the TRiFOCAL project will provide valuable insights and lessons that others can learn from. These lessons and those from seven other European cities that are replicating the project  –  including Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Milan and Oslo  – will be made available in an online resource platform open to city leaders worldwide.

The landmark Paris Agreement rallied the world to urgently address climate change. To have a likely chance of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels and for the least cost, global greenhouse gas emissions must hit their peak by 2020 and be cut in half by 2050. Cities, as population centers and hubs of innovation, must lead the way.

Mayors, please don’t let reducing food waste be a wasted opportunity.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Liz Goodwin is Senior Fellow and Director for Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute. She is also Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board.

In a Global First, Shenzhen Steers Toward 100% Electric Bus Fleet

Mon, 2017-12-04 20:00

Shenzhen is set to become the first city in the world to have a fully electrified bus fleet. Photo by Jo./Flickr

From a small collection of fishing villages 40 years ago to a metropolis on track for a global milestone, Shenzhen has come further, faster than most cities. Already home to the largest fleet of electric buses in the world – roughly 14,500 at the end of May – the city is expected to electrify 100 percent of its public transit bus fleet by the end of 2017. If successful, it will become the first in the world to do so.

Battery-powered electric buses can provide environmental and health benefits, such as zero tailpipe emissions, energy savings, less noise and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Besides helping large cities struggling with poor air quality, this type of technology can reduce fuel costs, improve energy security,widespread adoption in cities around the world.

Members of the global WRI Ross Center vehicle efficiency team, facilitated by WRI China, recently visited the Shenzhen Bus Group, one of Shenzhen’s three major bus operators with around electric 5,700 buses, to learn about their experience transitioning from diesel and adapting to new technologies.

Overcoming Barriers

Shenzhen’s electric bus fleet is composed of 10 to 12-meter local buses (left) and 8-meter buses (right), which run as connecting shuttles or provide suburban services. Photo by Anqi Zhao.

Despite its promise, many city bus operators around the world have run into barriers adopting and operating electric buses. There is often concern about high capital costs, uncertainty about battery performance, and a lack of incentives from local and national governments.

Shenzhen began adopting electric buses in 2009, under a national electric vehicle demonstration program that challenged 10 cities across China to deploy at least 1,000 electric vehicles each year for three years. Since then, the city has released multiple policies and targets supporting the industry and brought more electric buses into its own fleet.

To alleviate high capital costs and other potential risks, Shenzhen adopted several different business models. The city experimented with different leasing mechanisms for vehicles and batteries to avoid long-term lock-in, and it distributed operational risks among stakeholders – between bus operators, bus manufacturers, utility companies and other service providers. For example, electric bus manufacturers are currently responsible for maintaining batteries and scrapping old diesel buses, as opposed to the operators.

Drivers waiting for buses to charge. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

Aside from financial risks, battery range and charging issues are common concerns. Sometimes batteries don’t support a full route per charge, which reduces operational efficiency and increases costs. Shenzhen Bus Group’s solution was charging between driver shifts, which usually take 30 minutes, and charging overnight at depots, which usually takes around two hours. Also, if there are charging facilities at the initial and final stops of certain routes, managers told us no additional charging time is needed to maintain regular service.

To further improve efficiency, Shenzhen Bus Group developed an “octopus” charging station that can connect to four buses at a time. Though the model doesn’t support simultaneous charging, the buses don’t need to maneuver around the charger, saving time and reducing the need for additional charging stations.

The Shenzhen Bus Group depot. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

The Shenzhen Bus Group depot we visited can house around 20 buses at the same time. They are parked underneath overhangs equipped with solar panels and shared charging facilities. While the solar panels provide electricity to power depot lighting, there isn’t actually enough capacity to recharge buses, a goal that will require more innovation. In Marrakech, a GEF and UNDP supported one megawatt solar farm contributes to charging a small number of vehicles in the city’s bus rapid transit fleet, but the amount of solar panels needed per bus makes scaling difficult currently .

Buses park under overhangs with solar panels. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

Shenzhen Bus Group also operates electric taxis and other commercial vehicles, as part of the city’s plan to improve air quality. These projects provide additional lines of revenue, enabling the company to expand and enhance its electric fleet.

The Global Climate Challenge

Beyond reducing air pollution, Shenzhen’s buses are a crucial part of the city’s – and the nation’s – efforts to reduce carbon emissions. China’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement prioritize public transport and encourage the development and adoption of new energy vehicles. The public transit buses in Shenzhen account for only 0.5 percent of the city’s vehicle stock, but , according to the Transport Commission of Shenzhen Municipality.

Despite the fact that coal power plants still account for 66 percent of electricity generation in China, local researchers estimate Shenzhen’s electric buses can reduce 48 percent of CO2 emissions, compared to diesel buses, and up to 100 percent of other local pollutants. Gains could be even greater with a different energy mix.

The WRI Ross Center vehicle efficiency team and our hosts at the Shenzhen Bus Group. Photo by Lu Lu.

In addition to environmental benefits, the Shenzhen Bus Group reported financial benefits, including fuel cost savings, less maintenance, and reduced or no overhaul. Operators said they expected labor costs to increase due to the uncertainties of the technology and unexpected breakdowns, but these costs have yet to materialize. One electric bus can replace 0.95 diesel buses, according to their estimates, with operating savings compensating for higher initial capital and financial costs.

Shenzhen’s experience is a model for others. The city managed to innovate in procurement, operation and maintenance, all framed inside broader national and local policies and targets. It’s a powerful example of diverse urban stakeholders accelerating the adoption of cleaner technologies in the transport sector.

Shenzhen is likely to be the first city to pass the 100 percent electrification milestone – but it won’t be the last.

We would like to especially thank the WRI China team for their efforts arranging this visit.

Xiangyi Li is a Research Analyst at the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Sebastian Castellanos is an Associate with the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities where he leads the low carbon transport offer.

Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Toward Car-Free Cities: Beijing Seeks an Inroad to Sustainable Transport

Thu, 2017-11-30 19:46

Traffic overwhelms an intersection during peak hours in Beijing. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.

Through the different lenses of New York City, Bogotá, Stockholm, Beijing and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world.

In 2016, vehicle ownership reached 5.7 million in Beijing, roughly equal to the total number of registered vehicles in all of Sweden. The soaring number of cars and trucks on the roads have made Beijing one of the worst cities to commute in. According to Gaode Map, commuters spend an average of 31 minutes per hour in traffic jams during peak times.

Having realized that expanding capacity can simply induce more travel demand and worsen congestion, Beijing’s government is experimenting with a number of TDM strategies.

A Plan to Decentralize  

While most jobs are distributed evenly between the five major ring roads of Beijing, half of all residents live outside of the Fifth Ring Road. This skewed balance between jobs and housing, a result of disordered urban sprawl, has led to unevenly distributed traffic patterns and congestion during rush hour. Additionally, the city center is incredibly dense, for both jobs and housing, imposing high transport and environmental costs on the area.

Beijing’s city center has a high density of jobs and housing, leading to high congestion. The city is intentionally working to move businesses outside the central district to reduce traffic and pollution. Graphic by WRI

One way to curb traffic is to reduce the number of residences and jobs in the city center. To this end, the municipal government is planning to decentralize the city into four main areas serving political, cultural, international communication and scientific functions.

Additionally, government agencies and affiliated organizations are being moved to Tongzhou district, a satellite town 20 kilometers southeast of the city. Following government-related jobs, some 400,000-500,000 residents are expected to move from the city center to Tongzhou by 2030. The central government also plans to move non-state owned companies out of Beijing in the hopes of reducing population and job density in the city center.

Growing Support for Congestion Charging

In addition to decentralizing Beijing, the government is considering implementing congestion charging to reduce traffic. Congestion charging is one of the most effective TDM measures, with demonstrated success in London, Singapore and Stockholm. The idea is to alleviate congestion by curbing travel demand without increasing infrastructure. Serious discussion about the possibility of congestion charging in Beijing started in May 2010, when former Deputy Minister Qiu of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development published an article in a Chinese academic journal suggesting it could be an effective solution.

A key element in the success of congestion charging is public support. Partnering with Beijing Jiaotong University, WRI China recently carried out a social media analysis of congestion charging from 2010 to 2017. The project provides a preliminary understanding public sentiment toward congestion charging.

In addition to social media, WRI China partnered with Beijing Jiaotong University to conduct two public opinion surveys in 2016 and 2017, each involving more than 10,000 residents. One result of the surveys is that people tend to be more supportive of congestion charging when they are better informed. WRI China is dedicated to promoting public education and communication around congestion charging to help residents understand how it works and what it can do. The team has assisted the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport in engaging with residents in the policymaking process, utilizing multiple channels to reach residents, including brochures, blogs, TV programs, trainings and seminars.

The results seem to be positive. Following the second survey, public acceptance of congestion charging increased from 23 to 26 percent, and there was a 15 percent shift from opposing to neutral.

A TDM Playground

Beijing has experimented with other TDM measures, including regional traffic and vehicle ownership restrictions.

In May 2016, the municipal government suggested dynamic tolls, an increase in parking fees, and consideration of congestion charging and dynamic fees for public transport and taxis (higher cost in peak hours and lower costs off-peak). In April 2017, the department released a draft of new parking regulations, which require dynamic parking fees according to parking location, length of stay and arrival/departure time of parking. Four months later, the government announced a new low-emission zone for trucks within the Sixth Ring Road, covering most of the built-up area of the city. The government is also investing in non-motorized transport infrastructure, flexible working schedules and early bird subway discounts, to discourage the use of private vehicles.

The results of these TDM efforts have been mixed so far. In the first quarter of 2017, the traffic delay index increased by 2 percent from the year before, but in the second quarter, the index decreased by 9 percent.

The city is still searching for the right measures. This year, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport created a high-tech research and development team to work with universities and research institutes to explore new solutions, and the rising palatability for congestion charging bodes well for more options in future years. Beijing’s challenges are not unique; what’s clear is that Beijing’s experience will provide a valuable roadmap for other cities seeking to reduce congestion and improve the sustainability of their transport sectors.

Shiyong Qiu is a Research Analyst for WRI China.

Ying Wang is a Research Associate for WRI China.


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