This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.
Sara Vélez got an ultimatum from her boss one day: either find a way to arrive on time or look for another job. She lives in Cuautitlán Izcalli in the State of Mexico, more than 30 kilometers away from her job as a musician in Mexico City. Like thousands of others, she used her car to commute, some days reaching work in less than an hour, other days taking up to four hours, thanks to the unpredictability of the city’s notorious traffic.
Today after a series of projects by Mexico City, Sara has more options, more predictability and has kept her job.
Mexico City’s cycling policies and infrastructure are models for their financial and design decisions and impact on urban sustainability and health. Sara’s case and many others demonstrate the social, health and environmental benefits of investing in active mobility.A More Active City
From 2008 to 2016, Mexico City introduced a host of new policies and projects. A bike-share system, ECOBICI, brought segregated bike lanes and massive bike hubs. In eight years of operation, ECOBICI has accumulated over 265,000 registered users with over 35,000 daily trips. Bicycle trips in the city have increased 500 percent.
Open street programs, like “Muévete en Bici,” have encouraged people to think about how they could replace car trips with walking or cycling. Madero Street, a main avenue that runs a kilometer through the city’s historic center, was permanently closed to cars in 2010. Today, around 200,000 people traverse Madero each day, increasing the strip’s commercial activity by at least 30 percent and reducing criminal activity by 96 percent. It is currently one of the safest, most accessible and most valuable avenues in the country.
In October 2017, Mexico City received the Global Model of Urban Renovation Award for creating mass bicycle parking in public transport terminals. The city has implemented three bicycle stations, benefiting the 190,000 registered users. One of the most attractive features of bike-sharing system is the ease of drop-off at the destination. This infrastructure similarly has proven vital for those that own their own bikes – quick, accessible and easy drop-off – making ownership more attractive and convenient.
These active mobility changes benefit more than just Mexico City residents. In fact, half of ECOBICI users live outside of the area of operation and 15 percent live outside of the capital. Many residents now use cycling to get to public transport stations, what’s called “last-mile” connectivity. Ninety percent of users combine ECOBICI with other transport systems such as metro, bus rapid transit or suburban trains. Connecting these elements of the city’s transport system increases the reach of mass transit, decreases street traffic, improves local economic productivity, and provides public health benefits.
For Sara, these changes have given her access to a whole new commute. She now rides a foldable bike to a suburban train station, takes it with her and rides it again to get to work downtown. Her travel time is much more regular and she’s been able to consistently show up to work on time.Remarkable Gains
In 2009, Mexico established a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050. In 2012, the National Development Plan for 2013-2018 included, for the first time, the promotion of dense, compact and connected cities, as well as the development of public and non-motorized transport projects. Mexico City’s active mobility investments are achieving remarkable progress towards these objectives and more.
The city has seen public health and economic benefits in the last seven years amounting to an estimated $109 million. More than 170 kilometers of bike lanes constructed in this period have a summed potential benefit of more than $65 million, a return on investment of almost six times compared to the cost of construction. During its first seven years, ECOBICI monetized benefits of $26 million in health, replacing close to 24,000 kilometers in automobile travel.
Additionally, 16 percent of ECOBICI users swapped their automobiles for public bicycles, representing a reduction of up to 3,900 tons of carbon dioxide over the last eight years, equivalent to planting 9,000 trees. Finally, thanks to the ECOBICI open data platform, we know that the average use of these bicycles represents between 31 and 55 percent of the weekly recommended amount of exercise by the World Health Organization.For Little Cost
Globally, there are many more cycling projects waiting to be implemented, but financial and political support is often lacking. What’s perhaps most remarkable about Mexico City is that investment in active mobility is still relatively minor compared to the public funds devoted to car infrastructure.
The vast majority of trips in metropolitan areas consist of public transport, walking or cycling, with costs averaging close to 30 percent of the typical monthly salary. However, more than 80 percent of public infrastructure investment goes toward car infrastructure.
The challenge of financing active mobility improvements is not exclusive to Mexico City. In Latin America, 60 percent of mobility investments are concentrated in projects for private vehicles. In some places, civil society is starting to reverse this dynamic – Sara was part of a campaign to collect signatures urging the city to expand ECOBICI to the south of the city, for example.
We need to see more investment in active mobility to “bend the curve” in cities and achieve global goals for the environment and poverty reduction. Mexico City’s gains to date are impressive, but some 200,000 cars are being added to its streets every year, compounding congestion, air pollution, climate change and connectivity issues.
Improving the experience of walking and cycling is an essential element of making the streets safer in fast-growing cities and improving quality of life and sustainability. As Mexico City shows, they are good investments too.
Iván de la Lanza is Manager of Active Mobility in the Cities Program at WRI México.
A steady drumbeat of events has set the stage – and thrust into the spotlight – the importance of sustainable urban mobility at this year’s climate conference, COP23. The Climate Action in Transport Conference in Berlin, part of the annual European Mobility Week and the first Transport and Climate Change Week, demonstrated the large and growing interest in the transport sector’s potential to deliver significant emissions reductions earlier this fall.
As the world increasingly looks to subnational actors for climate leadership, major global agenda-setting gatherings, like this year’s COP and the World Urban Forum in February, have wide ramifications for urban transport. Transport contributes 23 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and cities account for more than 60 percent of all kilometers travelled globally.
The most urgent question for transport now is how to increase the ambitions of national governments to decarbonize the sector and ensure implementation comes through at the local level.Moving Toward a 1.5-Degree World
Global climate discussions are focused on the integration of national and local policymaking in an effort keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial averages. Transport policy similarly needs to be adjusted at multiple levels.
Transport is currently included in 75 percent of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the voluntary commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement (see Figure 1). But most – 79 percent – do not include any specific, transport-related targets. Subnational actors can and should play important roles in creating appropriate targets.
In the next round of NDCs, which will begin with the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 and result in new “enhanced” NDCs by 2020, experts are also looking for countries and cities to identify specific actions in the transport sector in order to prioritize those with the highest mitigation and development impacts. Previous analysis of transport-related NDCs has shown that global initiatives are missing outstanding opportunities for effective local climate action.
NDCs that currently include action for the transport sector disproportionately concentrate on technological measures, like electric vehicles. For example, reducing energy use and changing how and when people travel can be more effective, since electric vehicles have little effect on climate change as long as the power sector remains profoundly reliant on carbon-heavy fuels.
A more comprehensive implementation strategy specifically designed for the transport sector is “Avoid-Shift-Improve,” which simultaneously encourages higher system, trip and vehicle efficiency. “Avoid” refers to minimizing motorized trips through changes in land use or policies like congestion pricing. “Shift” refers to tilting the modal split toward more public transport and non-motorized travel. “Improve” focuses on technological advances to reduce emissions, such as improving fuel quality and vehicle electrification.Transport Priorities at COP23
Urban transport is an area where cities and states can act as policy architects and showcase their huge potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve quality of life. Indeed, at COP23, there is more focus on subnational actors than ever before.
While negotiators meet in Bonn, a series of transport side events are scheduled throughout the conference, including on the thematic transport day, November 10, and during high-level focus on SDG 11 on November 13. The Paris Process on Mobility and Climate and Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport are also hosting a daily talk show on transport and climate change at 6:00pm CET from November 7-16.
Cities can create better outcomes through infrastructure for electric vehicles, bus rapid transit systems and innovative bike-sharing schemes, to name a few transport interventions with potentially large impacts on climate emissions. Such changes could be replicated quickly and bring other benefits, including safer streets, more economic productivity and reduced pollution.
But change does not happen by itself; cities and national governments need to step up to the challenge. These actions make most sense in close coordination with regional and national planning. And in some cases, cities need assistance with technical capacity and funding. National leaders should recognize and support mayors and other subnational climate champions as partners on the road to 2020. Recognizing the potential of actors at all levels is crucial for tracking and raising climate ambition across the board.
Angela Enriquez is a researcher and program coordinator for the Energy and Climate Team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Linus Platzer is a climate and energy intern at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.
Have you ever been intrigued by the artistic design of a metro station? Have you stopped to watch a street dancer perform on a metro platform? A metro station can be more than a place where you impatiently wait for the next train to arrive. It has the potential to be more aesthetically pleasing, more interactive; an experience. Incorporating various art forms into the design and operation of metro systems gives each station unique character. Around the world, metro stations are transforming into art expositions, concert halls and museums to improve passengers’ experience and connect them to the city above ground, turning their mundane commutes into anything but ordinary.Designing Metro Stations to Connect Culture and Transit
Cities around the world are exposing metro passengers to creativity and culture, transforming stations into microcosms of the city. Some stations create artistic scenes, while others embed city culture and history in station design. Famous for Ancient Chinese gardening, Suzhou, China created a number of garden scenes in its metro stations. These displays not only expose visitors to the city’s profound cultural heritage, but they also emanate a tranquil atmosphere in the busy metro station.
Similarly, metro stations in Athens, Greece, strive to connect passengers to the city’s deep, historical culture by housing archaeological treasures. The Akropoli Station, which opened in 2000, has replicas of Parthenon friezes to greet passengers as they enter. Similarly, in the Syntagma Station, impressive archaeological displays turn the upper concourse into a museum.Interactive Railcar Art Exhibitions Engage the Public
Stations are not the only aspect of metro systems where art and culture transcend museum and canvass. Railcar exhibitions encourage local artists to unleash their talents and creativity. The well-known School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) launched a project in 2008 that transformed railcars into portable galleries. One of their projects turned a railcar into a “mobile garden,” with sod floors, hanging vines and various plants. While simply traveling in the car provides a unique experience, the artists intended to create a more interactive metro ride; passengers were encouraged to pick hot peppers from the plants and take them home. Decorated railcars are not only a unique outlet for artists, but they also stimulate future and increased ridership. In September 2013, the mobile garden attracted over 2,000 riders in a five-hour period.
Additionally, each December, a six car, Chicago Transit Authority train transforms for the holiday season. Complete with thousands of twinkling lights and sleigh bells, the train attracts visitors from near and far. While Santa and his slay guide the train, elves wander the corridors, passing out candy canes and holiday cheer. Throughout the month, the holiday train makes its way up and down each rail line, providing families from all over Chicago with the opportunity to ride and share in the holiday spirit.Street Art Performances Create Vibrant Public Spaces
Transforming metro stations does not exclusively fall on the shoulders of architects and interior designers. As public places, metro stations also provide platforms for street artists to showcase their talents. Paris metro stations are known to attract street artists to exhibit their work. Singers, instrumentalists, dancers and graffiti artists can all find a place in metro life and interact with a broad range of audiences. The video below shows how musicians and dancers collaborate with each other and perform for passengers.
Although the quality, price and convenience of transport services are important considerations for choosing mode of transit, the arts play a complementary role in enhancing passenger experience. Diversified forms of art make metro stations and railcars attractive and culturally-enriching places. The next time you take the metro, you may step into a work of art.
Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS), or bike share, as it is more popularly known, was first introduced in Amsterdam in 1965. While the concept spread to various European cities, it remained largely experimental in nature and small in scale. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s—with the incorporation of advanced smartcards and progress in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)—that bike share came to be viewed as an innovation with significant potential to promote cycling and sustainable urban mobility.
Since then, bike share has witnessed tremendous growth and widespread adoption. As of 2013, there were 639 bike share systems across 53 countries, with a combined fleet of nearly 650,000 bicycles.
Studies have shown that bike share increases modal share for cycling, creates safer roads, improves health, and reduces gender disparities. Bike share also wields benefits for traditional modes of transport, as it has the potential to reduce stress on congested systems in dense urban areas and increase access to public transport in less dense regions by acting as a last mile connector. Around the world, bike share has come to be seen as an effective instrument in the sustainable urban mobility arsenal.
India, however, remains behind the curve in bike share. Several small scale pilots have been attempted in cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai. Unfortunately, these attempts have failed to scale-up into large city-wide systems, and are no longer active. While they were primarily led by well-intentioned individuals, the lack of significant government support prevented the expansion of these initiatives beyond the pilot stage.
In the future, it is essential that the planning of these systems incorporates both the lessons learned from Indian pilot initiatives and the best practices from successful systems around the world.
The 5 key lessons for Indian cities looking to implement bike share systems are:1. Go Big
The utility of a bike share system increases exponentially with its scale and coverage. If a system is too small – with too few locations or too few cycles – it is unlikely to serve as a convenient mobility option for most people. Small bike share pilots are largely unsuccessful precisely because they are small, rather than due to any inherent problem with the concept. Therefore, a serious implementation of a city-wide bike share system must commit to a sufficiently large scale.2. Invest in Quality
Bike share systems are among the cheapest public transport systems to deploy; however, excessively focusing on cost minimization can be counter-productive. Skimping on the quality of hardware and software impacts both operational efficiency as well as the image of the system. Bike share systems with high-quality components, comprehensive ICT capabilities as well as cohesive communications and branding strategies are most likely to be successful.3. Get the Business Model Right
There are a wide variety of business models and contractual arrangements for procuring and operating bike share systems. While cities must choose the model that works best for them, it is critical that the motives of the operator align with the interests and goals of the city. In many cases, poorly structured contracts have led to situations of moral hazard, where the financial outcomes for the operator are not strictly tied to the quality and performance of the bike share system.4. Adapt to the Indian Context
As with any new concept, unique aspects of the Indian urban context which may impact the utility and performance of bike share systems need to be identified and addressed. Some of these include, for example, the lack of familiarity with automated systems, a predominantly cash-based economy, and the wide range of socio-economic backgrounds of potential system users. Local governments will have to closely evaluate the social and economic landscape in their city and adapt system features to ensure maximum inclusivity and access.5. Build Interest
Modal shares of cycling have been falling across Indian cities over the last decade. For a bike share system to be successful, it is necessary that people be willing to consider cycling as a viable mode of transport. Thus, it is vital that any city striving for a successful bike share system undertake awareness, interest, and incentive building exercises of various forms. These exercises should encourage people to initially try the system and later work to convert casual users into regular users.
While slow to start, many Indian cities are now expressing a strong desire to implement large, city-wide bike share systems, with Delhi, Mysore, Gandhinagar, and Bhopal at the forefront of this movement. These cities would do well to follow these principles, as the success of this ‘first wave’ of city-scale bike share systems in India will be critical for widespread adoption across the country.
Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.
Poorly planned urban expansion is increasingly distancing people from jobs, services and the opportunities that enable them to live a high quality life in cities. There are currently 170 million Brazilians in urban areas living with the consequences of decades of car-driven development. To reverse this trend and ensure a more sustainable future for all, integrating land use policy and transport planning is essential.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population and land area, but its pattern of urbanization has been sprawled, uncoordinated, and disconnected. The present situation not only demands motorized trips, but also causes congestion and harmful environmental impacts, and burdens citizens, especially those with lower incomes who spend significant time using transport.
Fortunately, we know how to bring cities onto a more sustainable path with transit-oriented development (TOD). This model of urban planning focuses on dense, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods with vibrant streets and safe public spaces for social interaction.
TOD is the key to more efficient, sustainable, and equitable communities because it prioritizes the “3Cs”: compact, coordinated and connected. By following a TOD approach, decision makers and urban planners can strengthen their communities.
Cities can ensure TOD by focusing on the following seven principles :1. Quality Public Transit
Public transit is strongly linked to urban development. High quality, convenient transport depends on dense and connected neighborhoods. The goal of a transport system is to connect a high number of riders with the city in a comfortable, efficient, and affordable way.2. Active Transport
The interests of pedestrians and cyclists should be at the heart of urban planning. Decision making should shift residents—particularly car users—to active transport. Many commuters already take two non-motorized trips on a daily basis by walking to and from transit hubs to their homes or cars. It is important to build on this and encourage non-motorized transport holistically.3. Car Use Management
Car use and parking policies play an important role in creating a safe, human-oriented urban environment. Since the 1980s, cars have dominated Brazilian cities. Despite individual car trips accounting for 27.4 percent of all urban trips (or 36 percent in cities with over one million residents), car infrastructure is supported with four times the amount of investment that public transit receives.4. Mixed-Use Neighborhoods with Efficient Buildings
A mixture of land uses enhances the local economy by densifying and diversifying the design of the community. Mixed-use neighborhoods favor short trips by foot or bike. Similarly, buildings should minimize how much energy and water they consume and require for building and maintenance.5. Neighborhood Centers and Vibrant Ground Floors
A built environment with adequate public space promotes social interaction between residents. Sustainable urban communities must be sufficiently dense and contain a variety of uses that are complementary to residential life. Public spaces should be connected to the urban transport network and serve as vibrant, human-centered places of activity.6. Public Spaces
The purpose of public space is not only to enhance public life and social interaction, but also to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Public space is the place of encounter, exchange, and circulation within a community. All individuals have the right to access public spaces, regardless of personal, social, or economic condition.7. Community Participation and Collective Identity
Community participation is essential to building a vibrant, inclusive neighborhood that is safe and equitable. Stimulating community participation creates a more equitable, harmonious relationship between varying social groups living in the same area. Respecting the unique identity of local communities results in a higher share of residents engaging in civic, cultural, and economic activities, generating a sense of belonging and ownership of the city.Making TOD a Reality in Brazilian Cities
WRI Brazil | Brazil EMBARQ recently developed a report called “DOTS Cidades” (Portuguese for TOD)—a guide for policy makers and urban planners for creating cities based on these seven principles. The guide outlines concepts, design strategies, and best practices in public management, planning and urban design, and the transport sector, as well as information about accessibility and environmental requirements.
To read and down the publication (in Portuguese), click here.
In cities around the world, urban residents want to live well, with access to jobs, education, healthcare and public space. However, because many of our current practices are inflicting burdensome social and economic costs on our cities, we need to increase our focus on efficient solutions and sustainable urban development.
Cities play the role of laboratories, experimenting with innovative solutions to mobility challenges that have arisen due to widespread car reliance. METROPOLIS—a global association of major metropolises—hosted its annual conference, Live the City, this year in Buenos Aires from May 18-21. In a session on sustainable urban mobility, public transit representatives from Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Johannesburg, and Barcelona presented stories of how their cities are experimenting with sustainable transport solutions.
Here are five stories of cities making steps toward a people-oriented future, committing to moving people more efficiently and equitably.Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Preparing to host the Olympics in 2016, Rio has been developing low-carbon solutions to urban mobility challenges and is looking to become a globally recognized leader in the field. A multi-modal system of transport is constantly expanding to serve the city’s 6.3 million residents—including quality bike infrastructure, a cable car system, and a bus rapid transit (BRT) network. The BRT system alone serves nine million people and saves people 7.7 million hours in travel time every month, replacing an average of 126 cars and reducing carbon emissions by 38 percent in some corridors. This year, Rio also won the Sustainable Transport Award for its work in sustainable mobility.Buenos Aires, Argentina
Winner of the Sustainable Transport Award in 2014, Argentina’s capital has developed a sustainable urban mobility plan that prioritizes active transport and road safety. One of the measures, for example, targets 36 city intersections to reduce the risk of accidents. The city has also developed an urban design manual, the Street Design Guide for Buenos Aires, which outlines methodologies for planning pedestrian-friendly streets and implementing traffic calming interventions.Seoul, South Korea
An iconic park lies in the heart of South Korea’s capital. The Cheonggye Stream Park provides the city with valuable public space that was once the site of an urban highway. Returning the city back to citizens and revitalizing the local community, the park was developed because the highway was costing the city economically and socially.Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona’s urban mobility plan—which includes a series of reforms between 2013 and 2018—prioritizes pedestrians. Some of the plan’s measures include expanding sidewalk access and comfort, improving pedestrian infrastructure near school areas, and targeting public perception of active transport with outreach initiatives and communications campaigns. In addition to the pedestrian, the city is focusing on cyclists and public transport. Barcelona’s plan also includes air pollution targets below those set by the European Union and 20-30 percent reduction targets for traffic fatalities and injuries.Johannesburg, South Africa
The South African city will make history this year by hosting the second-ever EcoMobility World Festival. For an entire month, one of Johannesburg’s districts will go car-free. The first Festival took places in Suwon, South Kore in 2013, and now the South African city of 1.4 million residents is about to spur transformation at a local level. The initiative demonstrates courage and determination on behalf of the city to further the movement toward low-carbon mobility and better quality of life.
Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.
Flipping on the TV might seem like an innocent way to unwind after a hard day of work. But for the first time in history, a sedentary lifestyle is reducing the average life expectancy in Brazil by five years. Already, 48.7 percent of the adult population is sedentary. This number is projected to increase, causing physical, social, and economic damage to society.
While encouraging healthy habits is essential to combatting this trend, urban design also plays an important role in fostering healthy lifestyles. Ultimately, how we design our cities influences how people live in them.
The concept of active design is key to understanding how cities can improve public health. Championed by New York City’s Center for Active Design, active design prioritizes walking and cycling, and mass transport like buses, in the built environment. In Brazil, Cidade Ativa (active city) promotes changes to the urban environment that encourage a more active and healthy lifestyle.
So how are these ideas implemented on the ground? The Center for Active Design recently created the “Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design” , which contains several recommendations that may be used by cities and planners for designing urban spaces that foster active transport.
Below, we explore some of these tactics that urban planners can use to get people off their car seats and onto the sidewalk:Mixed Use Neighborhoods Are More Vibrant
A diverse mix of land uses—homes offices, schools, shops, and cultural sites—in one neighborhood encourages more people to walk. A diverse mix of land uses and buildings can make for an interesting walk, and can stimulate people to live near their offices. Devoting space for social and economic activities can fill a neighborhood with people and life.
- Residential areas should be located near parks, squares, and recreational areas. Connected streets are conducive to walking. Quality public spaces within 10 minutes of home also encourage neighborhood walking.
- Neighborhoods with grocery stores and markets close to home and work are associated with healthier diets and lower rates of obesity, according to several studies. In contrast, areas with fast-food restaurants tend to have higher rates of obesity.
- The Center for Active Design found an inverse relationship between obesity and urban density along transit stops and bus lanes. Residents who use public transportation tend to walk more, which is correlated with lower rates of obesity.
- Public transport should be located on connected streets. This expands access to pedestrians and makes public transport more convenient.
- Quality transit stations: protection from sun and rain, comfortable seating, and wide sidewalks all make public transport and public spaces more friendly and accessible.
- Parking spots can have a major impact on walkability. Planners should consider the effect that parking spaces can have on an individual’s decision to walk, bike, or use public transit. Generally, when parking is available, drivers will use it. The greater the supply of parking, the less motivation that people have to be active.
- Plan public spaces on a large scale. When people have greater access to parks, physical activity levels tend to be higher.
- When routes are visible and safe in parks and public spaces, pedestrians and cyclists are more likely to use them.
- Squares and parks should haves drinking fountains, playgrounds for children, bike paths, sports fields, or other types of public facilities.
- Planners should also consider the cultural preferences of the local population. Public space should be designed for all ages equitably. Placing facilities for physical activity of children and adults in the same place means that everyone can participate in public spaces equitably.
- Cities should establish partnerships with organizations and volunteers to maintenance public spaces. When volunteers and organizations commit to taking care of public spaces, they become meaningful to those communities.
People who walk and bike regularly are better off physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and financially. The city can be a powerful facilitator of physical activity, encouraging people to walk, bike, and take public transit by design. Rethinking the role of urban design in transport decision making not only can help cities become more efficient and improve quality of life, but can also make communities healthier.
Growing physical inactivity at a global scale is causing more people to suffer from chronic diseases every day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 31 percent of adults 15 years old and older were insufficiently active in 2008, leading to 3.2 million deaths worldwide. Furthermore, the top five leading chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity cost the global economy $6.2 trillion in 2010.
However, an active design approach to architecture and urban planning has the potential to make daily physical activity an ingrained feature of city life. By focusing on the role that parks, sidewalks, and walkable public spaces play in healthy communities, active design encourages physical activity. Cities that adopt active design have been shown to increase residents’ physical activity and improve public health.Istanbul Embraces Cycling for an Active City
Many cities have recently focused on integrated transport planning, walking, and cycling as elements of active design. In Turkey, both the central government and local governments have been supporting cycling culture and infrastructure. For example, in recent years, cycling projects have become more important and popular in Istanbul. With 14 million people living in dense communities, the city has faced intense traffic congestion and low air quality. To improve livability and public health, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM)—the agency responsible for cycling projects— is turning to active design targets, pledging to build 1,050 km of cycle lanes in Istanbul by 2023.A Comprehensive Manual for Decision Makers
EMBARQ Turkey’s Safe Cycling Design Manual for Istanbul addresses the challenges of cycling planning in Istanbul and provides guidelines for improvements. The report gathers input from NGOs and cyclist associations, creates standardized tools for developing safe and accessible cycling infrastructure, and provides recommendations for how district agencies can improve cross-coordination.
One challenge of cycling in Istanbul is a lack of integration with other modes of transport. While there is bicycle parking at several ferry ports, subway, and bus rapid transit (BRT) stations, they are not adequate, given Istanbul’s size. Furthermore, overcrowding makes it prohibitively difficult to carry a bike on public transport. There are 20 buses currently equipped with bike racks, but bike space needs to be expanded across all modes of transportation.
The exact number of cyclists in Istanbul is not known, and collision data is unreliable. This can make planning difficult. To decide on the route of a bike lane, planners and designs need know about the estimated number of cyclists in a given area, their preferences and safety expectations, as well as the slope, width, and conditions of the street. Since the IMM rarely has this granular information, district agencies and NGOs need to come together to work on cycling projects, as they are more familiar with the experiences of local cyclists.
According to surveys in the Manual, cyclists in Istanbul prefer to ride short distances (5-6 km). The majority of respondents stated that their bicycle trips were no longer than 60 minutes and that their trips generally end within the same district or an adjacent district. 90 percent of respondents believe that there are major problems with cycling infrastructure. 50 percent feel unsafe, as unconnected bike lanes can lead to dangerous contact between cyclists and cars. Lastly, 35 percent of cyclists think that there is a lack of signs on the road, making it difficult to navigate the city safely.
Bike lanes should be designed with this data in mind. They should both serve neighborhood life and integrate with public transit systems. Additionally, routes for cyclists should be coherent, direct, and continuous. Improvements to current roads and safe bike parking are necessary to ensure convenience and safety.Making Istanbul a City Designed for Cycling
In order to combat a growing rate of physical inactivity, local decision makers need to raise awareness about cycling as a viable transport option and implement accessible infrastructure across Istanbul. This will require better coordination between the IMM, district authorities, NGOs, and cyclist associations. The manual, which was awarded an Excellence Honorable Mention from the Center for Active Design in New York, provides valuable guidance for local authorities, planners, and designers to create integrated, connected, and accessible bike infrastructure throughout the city. With strong management and active design, Istanbul can make cycling safer and more convenient for all residents.
TheCityFix had the chance to sit down with Jan Gehl, renowned architect and urban designer, and Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. Their conversation explored why rapidly growing cities worldwide need to prioritize moving people over cars, and how a safer city for children is ultimately a safer city for all.A big focus of Road Safety week is saving the lives of children. Why are children important for creating safer cities?
Jan: I would like to open with a story. I was recently in Hanoi, Vietnam and I met a woman Ms. Lan who had just been to Copenhagen. She asked me if we had a baby boom in Copenhagen. I said ‘no it’s actually the opposite–we won’t have any Danish people left in 200 years’, but she couldn’t believe it. There were kindergarteners walking around on the sidewalks, bicycles with several children, young children bicycling on the bike lanes with their parents, and there were children walking to school. My granddaughter who is 7 can stay on a continuous sidewalk. This is an important change for the life of children. I always say if you come to a city and see many children, it’s a sure sign of city quality.
Ani: I grew up in India. Nearly all Indian cities, whether its Chennai, Delhi, or Mumbai, are scary places to be. You could be pushed over, run over. Our motivation is sustainable cities, but we think a city can’t be sustainable if people can’t raise their children safely and thrive as a family. Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death for children in cities worldwide.
This is the kind of policy that is needed. In Copenhagen, we have been talking about fostering walking and cycling for 50 years, so it’s become part of the general mindset from the mayor down to everyone. When you change the mindset, people will be in favor of certain policies.
Ani: I totally agree, but the problem is that we don’t have 50 years. We have a short window to avoid large lock-in effects. In Kolkata, India where I visited recently, I was told that they are banning bicycles and expanding roads. But car drivers are only a small percentage of the population, so this is highly inequitable. How do we accelerate this transformation?
Jan: People can never ask for something they don’t know about or haven’t seen. A best practice is very strong medicine, so we need to be sure people are informed about the alternatives that exist, and be inspired by what they have seen elsewhere, like in Curitiba, or Bogota, for example.
Also, once people are aware of the costs involved, they can see: Every time someone rides a bike 1 km, society gains 42 cents. Every time someone drives a car 1 km, society loses 20 cents. If you put all this together, it’s much cheaper to bicycle, and it’s very good for society to save on health costs for people in their old age.
Ani: It’s also a problem of capabilities. I’ve visited many of these rapidly developing cities and I’ve spoken with the mayors there. Many just don’t have the capacity to build new transit options fast enough to keep up with the demand.
Jan: I know that there are great problems in overcoming the political system and corruption. But even in China, we recently worked in Shanghai and found that they are in the process of realizing there is no future in the car-oriented policies they pursued in the past.How can we apply the successful ideas from cities in Europe, like Copenhagen, to rapidly growing cities that face different challenges?
Ani: In the cities where we work, like in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Turkey, the parents of middle class families (like my parents) grew up without cars. The car is a social aspiration. We have to be aware of that reality as we work to convince cities of the benefits of reducing cars.
Jan: This is true, but we can use these cities as inspirations to show that it can be changed by clever policies. The South American mayors are good examples of this. In all my work, I take man as universal: we are built the same way—we have the same senses, so solutions can be universal. What is good quality in Copenhagen is also good quality in India.
Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists at EMBARQ Brasil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.
To walk in our cities is more than just a simple act of transport. Walking represents an appropriation of urban space for daily life. It means being an active part of the urban environment by learning, understanding and shaping the city on a personal level. Walking is one of the most democratic and equitable ways of getting around, but it’s also one of the ways most linked to factors outside an individual’s control, like social or physical abilities and the presence of infrastructure to walk comfortably and safely.
These are the factors that define walkability, which refers to how safe, convenient, and efficient it is to walk in an urban environment. Walkability has a direct impact on urban residents’ mobility, as the term is often used to communicate how likely the average person is to choose walking over other modes of transport in a given area.
The first thing to consider when measuring walkability is people’s foot access to recreation, commerce, and entertainment—areas like parks, shops, restaurants, museums, and more. Then, we can consider the conditions of the routes walkers must take to reach these destinations. One’s perception of walking—his or her willingness to choose walking over other modes of transport—is influenced by the quality and safety of sidewalks. Public spaces that incorporate best practices for designing sidewalks encourage more walking and improve quality of life in cities.
Urban planners in major cities around the world have been rethinking how we travel and many believe walkability should play a fundamental role. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Zurich, and Hamburg are all walking towards a future in which their streets have more people and fewer cars. Here’s how these five cities have been working to encourage travel by foot and improve the daily lives of urban residents.Helsinki, Finland
The more people there are in a city, the fewer cars there should be allowed on the streets. This is the logic of the Finnish capital as detailed in a new plan that hopes to make car ownership “obsolete” by 2025. The city plans to develop a network of dense, walkable and interconnected neighborhoods and prioritize active transport. The idea is to make work, home, leisure, commerce and school close enough to one another to make daily travel on foot or by bicycle viable, and travel by car unnecessary.Copenhagen, Denmark
Anticipating the future of sustainable mobility, Copenhagen first created areas exclusive to pedestrians in the 1960s. Today, the city is famous for its bicycle network, and the many pedestrian areas scattered throughout the city are connected by a variety of different modes of transport. Guided by the work of Jan Gehl, Copenhagen’s transformation represents a shift in understanding—a recognition that enhancing pedestrian paths for walking and active transport can be one of the first steps to improving mobility and building a better city for people.Zurich, Switzerland
In Zurich, 34 percent of trips are made on foot or by bike. Delivering efficient, integrated, multimodal mobility that allows people to get almost anywhere without a car has been one of the hallmark achievements of the city. Plans to strengthen active transport began in 1996 with the so-called History Commitment. The document established that no new parking spaces could be built in the city unless they replaced old ones—limiting the use of cars in urban areas. Since then, building parking lots has taken place mostly underground, as ground-level space has been designated for creating parks, public spaces, and pedestrian-exclusive areas.Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg was named European Green Capital in 2011 for its integrated planning strategies and ambitious goals. The city’s primary goal is to make urban space fully accessible by foot or bike, with 40 percent of the city’s land dedicated to green public spaces. This Green Network aims to reduce not only the movement of cars in the central region, but also the need to use them, showing that large cities can be walkable and designed for people.
Amsterdam moves at the pace of a bike. In most areas of the city, speed limits barely reach 30 km/h, giving priority to people and active transport. While walking is somewhat on the decline in the city due to more and more people cycling, the city is working to balance this with new investments in walkability. Amsterdam is currently developing new public spaces that will have two features: 1) a low speed limit creates equitable conditions for all modes of transport; and 2) segregated tracks between modes, ensuring that pedestrians are not restructured to isolated sidewalks.
Walking is the most democratic way to get around. It is the oldest mode of transport, the most common in the world, it’s free, and it may even help you burn a few calories.
Nevertheless, people are walking less and less. As cities have become more sprawled, highways have replaced sidewalks, creating significant obstacles to walking safely. Sidewalks with broken concrete, narrow widths, and illegally parked vehicles on them are further evidence that walking has is slowly being suffocated by other modes of transport that are less healthy for both people and cities.
We need a shift back to pedestrian-friendly streets. Enhancing the quality of city sidewalks not only attracts more pedestrians, but also helps to create enjoyable public spaces where people want to spend their time.
While they’re decreasing in number, these places do exist already. Living sidewalks can be found in many cities in Brazil and around the world where city leaders have made active transport a priority. Instead of just paving a small strip along broad avenues dominated by automobiles, these cities have decided to enrich their walkable public spaces, emphasizing interaction between people.
To support make walking both accessible and safe, sidewalks should be constructed with these eight complementary and interconnected principles in mind. Together, they not only make for vibrant sidewalks, but contribute directly to the development of active and healthy cities.
Meet the eight principles of the sidewalk:1. Proper sizing
Sidewalks are made of up three zones: the free zone, where people actually walk; the service zone, where street furniture like benches or trashcans are located; and the transition zone, which gives those on the sidewalk access to buildings lining the street. Understanding the relationship between these components is key for designing appropriately sized sidewalks.2. Quality surfaces
The material used to construct sidewalks needs to be consistent, firm, stable and slip-resistant. In order to ensure that a sidewalk functions properly, designers must be aware of how the sidewalk is being constructed and the quality of the handiwork.3. Efficient drainage
Waterlogged streets, paths, or sidewalks are unsuitable for walking. Sidewalks that accumulate water become useless, as pedestrians will likely end up diverting their route through car-filled roads, risking their safety.4. Universal accessibility
The sidewalk, as a public space, should be accessible to a wide spectrum of users—including those with limited mobility. This means designing spaces that serve those in wheelchairs, on crutches, pregnant women, the elderly, and others with special mobility needs. Listing out the different potential users and their mobility limitations during the design process can help ensure the final product will meet the needs of all pedestrians.5. Secure connections
Pedestrians often transition to other modes of public transport, and need to be able to safely access stations. It’s important that sidewalks are connected and integrated within larger transport networks.6. Attractive spaces
Streets are a fundamental part of the urban environment. Sidewalks can play an important role in making the urban experience more enjoyable. Interesting, vibrant sidewalks that can captivate people and make walking more attractive will ultimately facilitate more physical activity while reducing traffic congestion.7. Permanent security
Day or night, weekday or weekend, sidewalks are always open for us. However, there are fewer people out on foot during certain times of the day and week, leading to potentially unsafe situations given the lack of friendly eyes on the street. Adopting strategies to positively influence safety and security can further encourage walking and help all city dwellers feel more at home in their city.8. Clear signage
Just like drivers of motor vehicles, pedestrians need clear information so that they can both orient themselves in the city and understand the rules and guidelines of particular sidewalks.
In 2003, London adopted a program of congestion pricing that now places a roughly $17 (£11.50) daily fee on motor vehicles entering central London. The effort was expected to reduce car traffic, air pollution, and emissions in the area, and has since been lauded as a major success.
Beyond these benefits, congestion pricing has also saved lives by reducing the number of fatal traffic crashes caused by cars, increasing physical activity from cycling and walking, and limiting exposure to air pollution.
A new study by researchers in the United Kingdom shows that, since the introduction of the congestion charge, there have been 30 fewer monthly traffic crashes in central London—a 40 percent decline—and a comparable fall in fatalities and injuries. This reinforces the conclusions of a previous study from 2006 as well as global research that transport pricing policies can bring important safety benefits.Reinvesting in safe, sustainable urban mobility
Cities considering congestion pricing should ensure that the revenue generated is used wisely. EMBARQ research suggests that congestion pricing initiatives should include complementary projects within the pricing zones that enhance mass transport, walking, bicycling and public spaces, as congestion fees can be a consistent source of revenue. Without adequate support and investment, programs may not prove successful or may even result in less safe conditions, like if fewer cars end up driving faster.
London has smartly dedicated revenue from its congestion pricing program to finance mass transport and infrastructure upgrades. According to a report on road pricing from the United States Federal Highway Administration, of London’s $222 million net revenue in 2008, 82 percent went to bus improvements, including exclusive bus lanes, electronic fare payment, stricter enforcement of bus lanes and parking restrictions, public transportation signal priority, and low-floor and accessible vehicles. Another 9 percent went to roads and bridges, and the last 9 percent to road safety, pedestrian and cycling facilities, neighborhood planning, and green infrastructure.
The investments have clearly paid off. According to Transport for London, the London Underground now runs 5 percent more train-miles on the Tube, and bus usage reached a 50-year high in 2011, with a 30 percent service increase and a 20 percent waiting reduction.
London has added new cycling infrastructure downtown—taking space away from cars—and plans for expansion are currently in development. While the amount of vehicle traffic has fallen by 25 percent over the last decade in central London, the number of cyclists has doubled, and now account for a quarter of all traffic during morning rush hour. Mayor Boris Johnson also recently announced a ban on the type of Lorries (trucks) considered most unsafe to bicyclists and cyclists.Beyond London
The positive results seen in London are akin to the experiences of other cities taking on car traffic. Stockholm—another city with a congestion charge—has also seen improvements in safety and air quality and has also dedicated revenue to public transport and street redesign. In Seoul, South Korea, though not congestion pricing, the city knocked down an elevated expressway, replaced it with a linear park, and implemented a network of dedicated busways. There, traffic crashes went down by a third and air quality improved as well.
In Beijing, where restrictions on vehicles entering the city based on license tab numbers are already in place, discussions of congestion pricing are currently underway, and include the possibility of dedicating revenue to mass transport, walking, bicycling, and public space improvements.
An excessive number of high-speed vehicles on our roads puts people’s lives in danger. This is simple physics. Effective tools like congestion pricing, traffic calming, street redesign, and limiting vehicle usage can strengthen road safety and improve quality of life of all residents.
Why are the two most sustainable forms of transport missing from the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Walking and cycling may be the two most basic modes of transport, but they may also be the most promising for a sustainable future. In a car-filled world, it’s the people who use their own two feet or two wheels that are making efficient use of space in crowded cities while creating health and environmental benefits for themselves and others.
Yet in a forthcoming international agreement that will steer development policy and funding for the next 15 years, the question remains whether these active transport modes will be recognized as a proven way of creating more sustainable cities.
The United Nations will host negotiations later this month on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new set of globally agreed-upon goals by national governments to replace the existing Millennium Development Goals. These negotiations will culminate in a meeting in late September to adopt this new post-2015 development agenda.
In the current proposal for adoption, cities are taking a larger role, with a stand-alone goal to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” A set of targets within this goal address specific issues, and one of them mentions transport, stating, “by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.”
This is no doubt a promising opportunity to raise the profile of cities, transport, and traffic safety to unprecedented levels of public awareness. Yet while the target for sustainable transport specifically mentions expanding public transport, it leaves out walking and bicycling.Why active transport is integral to sustainable urban mobility
Enhancing active transport is a necessary step toward improving overall urban mobility, as it is a broad category that includes, for example, taking a walk to public transport or a nearby store, commuting by bike to work, or using a bike share system for short trips.
Active transport produces the least pollution, requiring no use of fossil fuels. There are significant health benefits to regular walking and cycling. Given that the world is facing steep declines in physical activity that harm health and result in severe economic burdens, prioritizing active transport can be a necessary tool for making the world a healthier, safer, and more sustainable place. Additionally, investing in walking and cycling infrastructure helps address traffic safety by protecting these vulnerable users, who bear a significant brunt of traffic deaths. Lastly, moving around by walking and cycling can provide mobility not bound to the kind of congestion caused by motor vehicles.
Walking and cycling levels in low and middle-income countries are on par with or surpass those of public transport. In Latin American countries, walking and bicycling comprises around 30 to 40 percent of all trips in most cities. In Mumbai, walking and cycling represent 51 percent of the city’s mode share. Walking represents 70 percent of total trips in Addis Ababa and nearly 50 percent in Dar es Salaam. And currently, bicycling in the city of Copenhagen accounts for nearly 36 percent of all trips to work or education, demonstrating the bicycle’s potential to become a staple of city life.How to internationally recognize the value of active transport
The current Sustainable Development Goals proposed could be revised to include not only mass transport, but walking and cycling as well—capturing the three most impactful forms sustainable transport. In his commentary on the Sustainable Development Goals in the SAIS Review of International Affairs, the World Resources Institute’s Dario Hidalgo notes that “the means to provide better mobility, notably through public transport, may also need to include the concept of quality and the inclusion of infrastructure for walking and bicycles. Sustainable urban mobility involves not only public transport, but incorporates all three sustainable modes.”
Hidalgo suggests a small edit that could accommodate active transport: “By 2020 provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding QUALITY public transport and infrastructure for walking and bicycling with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”
For cities wishing to provide sustainable urban mobility that increases residents’ quality of life, active transport must be a priority. Expensive rail projects and new highways may be attractive to some, but recognizing basic human needs and quality of life are more important in the long term. As for the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s a major step forward that cities in general—largely excluded from the Millenium Development Goals—are a focus of the new post-2015 agenda. Whether walking and bicycling will ultimately be included in the goals is yet to be seen, but they would certainly strengthen an already ambitious agenda to shape a more sustainable, prosperous planet.
Streets perform a necessary function in the life of cities, like the arteries of a complex, urban organism. As the Project for Public Spaces notes, city streets “animate the social and economic life of communities” by serving as primary sites for community interaction and exchange. However, many cities have historically developed their streets merely as passages for moving cars, and have neglected the vital role of streets as public places.
Cars do a great job of transporting people and goods when they figure into a greater system of transport that’s efficient and doesn’t depend excessively on any single mode. When unrestrained, however, car use can become toxic to city life, depressing economic activity, hurting public health, and directly threatening the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. While cars will remain a necessary component of urban transport for years to come, it’s worth asking whether they should be the dominant means of mobility on every city street, or even have a presence on some streets at all.
Some cities are rethinking their streets by developing “green corridors” that (re)incorporate elements of the area’s natural ecosystem into the urban environment. The goals and purposes of these greening projects are diverse, ranging from enhanced social cohesion to environmental restoration, though they almost always aim at creating a sense of place that is human-oriented, not car-centered.Global concept, local context
The vision for Cali, Colombia’s car-less green corridor, for example, combines a need for low-income housing and a desire for ecological balance. The project will be built on 15 kilometers of old railway and will offer bus rapid transit (BRT) connectivity, bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and cultural facilities for concerts, art exhibitions, sports, and outdoor festivals, while also preserving indigenous plant life. What makes Cali’s green corridor particularly compelling, however, is its recognition of access to transport as an enabler for social mobility. The city’s goal is for every resident to be within 300 meters of a BRT station.
Similarly, Curitiba, Brazil has transformed its once-congested urban fabric into a vibrantly green paradise, but has done so with a different perspective on development. Instead of overhauling entire sections of the city, Curitiba has approached greening at a much more granular level, redeveloping small patches of land into pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The city currently has 16 parks, 14 forested areas, and more than 1,000 smaller plots designated for trees and vegetation—all of which amounts to an impressive 560 square feet of green space per person. Furthermore, the city has integrated these green spaces into the urban streetscape by designating large portions of the downtown as car-free. Rather than causing residents to abandon the downtown due to inaccessibility, Curitiba has been successful in making these green public spaces walkable and popular. This is due largely to the city’s investment in creating a BRT system that is integrated, reliable, and relatively cheap. 70 percent of Curitiba’s residents use public transit.
And in China, the western city of Chengdu is currently exploring ambitious ways to mitigate car-oriented sprawl in its surrounding suburbs. One proposal currently in development is the complete creation of an entirely new city in which “cars will be essentially unnecessary.” Like Curitiba and Cali, this new city will ensure that its residents are minutes from public parks—green areas that protect natural wildlife habitats as much as they facilitate social interactions. These green spaces should be easily accessible by foot, as the city will likely be entirely walkable and half of all road space will be designated for non-motorized traffic. However, Chengdu’s new urban project goes beyond other green corridors in its progressive approach to waste management. The city will also develop an eco-park to treat wastewater and solid waste, generating power for the city. The architects of the project expect to cut energy use by 48 percent, water use by 58 percent, and waste by 89 percent, compared to other, similar developments.
Green corridors aren’t feasible everywhere and represent just one of the ways that cities can reimagine their underlying structure to be more people-oriented by design. But, generally, by prioritizing green spaces and overall car reduction, cities can become more sustainable, economically vibrant, and socially cohesive places to live.
The first step? Reimagining city streets as places for people.
Two weeks ago, the World Bicycle Forum in Medellín, Colombia brought together more than 4,000 attendees from across the globe to discuss the challenges and opportunities of urban cycling. Many have praised the event for its ability to bring a wide swath of constituencies together and identify key outcomes.
Cities and citizens are turning to the bicycle for good reasons. The bicycle offers a healthy form of mobility that cuts the need for car travel and reduces emissions. But there remains a major obstacle to establishing cycling as key mode of travel: designing safer infrastructure that all people feel comfortable using.How urban design at the street and city levels enables safer cycling
A workshop co-hosted by EMBARQ and the Cycling Embassy of Denmark at the World Bicycle Forum focused on the design principles and conditions that enable safer cycling. Participants drew lessons from global research on urban design, road safety audits and inspections in cities on the ground, and academic research on safety and cycling.
At the city level, a cohesive network of bicycle facilities that connects parks, streets, waterfronts, and other vital corridors is necessary for ensuring safe cycling conditions. Copenhagen’s well-known network is a great example of this kind of comprehensive planning. A similar network is emerging in Minneapolis, where on-street buffered and protected bicycle lanes are expanding the city’s already renowned off-street trail network. Bogotá, Colombia has nearly 392 km of bicycle lanes, 232 km of which were built during the Enrique Peñalosa administration from 1998 to 2001. According to the recently released bicycle account for the city, cycling in Bogotá has steadily increased from around 0.5 percent of daily trips in 1996 to 6 percent in 2014. Overall, in fact, Latin American cities actually have some of the most extensive cycling infrastructure outside of Europe. A recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank and Despacio indicates that Latin America’s 56 largest cities have a combined network of 2,513 km of bicycle lanes between them.
At the street level, physically segregating bike lanes—with bollards, curbs, or raised tracks—can create safer conditions for cyclists. These concepts have already been put into practice and their successes are documented in city and national guides, like Copenhagen’s Focus on Cycling and the Netherlands’ CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Increasingly, these guides are becoming more popular at a global scale, from the United States to Turkey. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has helped reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists by raising the bike lane and moving it behind a bus stop refuge. This design strategy is also recommended in a guide on cycling design prepared by EMBARQ Brazil.Unsafe intersections still often pose a threat to cyclists
Yet with protected lanes, problems can arise at intersections and access points where motor vehicles turn or enter into areas with pedestrians or cyclists. In Mexico City, a prime example of safer street design can be found on Avenida Eduardo Molina, where 20 km of one-directional protected bicycle lanes line both sides of the street, across from a center-median bus rapid transit (BRT) and rebuilt sidewalks. Although some cities have installed bi-directional lanes, the one-directional lanes are usually preferable, as they do not induce unexpected counterflow bicycle traffic at intersections. Mexico benefits from having both a city-level bicycle strategy, developed by the Secretary of Environment, and a national level guide called Ciclociudades, led by ITDP.
Another way to improve safety at intersections is to provide two-step turns, in which cyclists do not actually make a left hand turn in one move, but move instead to the intersecting street and wait for the signal to proceed. A study from Beijing shows that the introduction of two-step turns led to a 24 percent reduction in conflicts and crashes. Moreover, efforts that raise visibility between bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers will reduce the chance of impact.
These aren’t the only tools that can help produce a safe, comfortable environment for cyclists, but they do represent an important starting point. While other strategies should be considered, cities should recognize that lowering traffic volumes and speeds is essential to ensuring greater safety and higher rates of cycling.Using the World Bicycle Forum as a springboard for global action
Ultimately, safe cycling design is about developing a system that people will use. Considering the engagement and energy at this year’s World Bicycle Forum, and the expected progress we’ll see at next year’s forum in Santiago, Chile, this vision may not be that far off from becoming reality.
A century of car-centric urban development has left our cities polluted, congested, and searching for sustainable solutions. Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies can provide these solutions by combining public policy and private sector innovation to reverse over-reliance on private cars. The Moving Beyond Cars series—exclusive to TheCityFix and WRI Insights—offers a global tour of TDM solutions in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, providing lessons in how cities can curb car culture to make sustainable transport a reality.
More people in cities means more cars. By 2050, cities will add more than 2.5 billion people and global car ownership could reach 2 billion, nearly double today’s level. By focusing on what makes us drive in the first place, transport demand management (TDM) can improve mobility and quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing world.
The social, economic and environmental costs of auto-dependent cities are already high. Traffic crashes worldwide claim more than 1.2 million lives every year and are on track to be the fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. In the United States, commuters waste 4.8 billion hours in traffic each year, translating to $101 billion in lost economic productivity. And in Beijing, the costs of congestion and air pollution are an estimated 7-15 percent of GDP.
Urban mobility solutions have traditionally focused on the supply side, particularly on expanding roadways. By contrast, TDM focuses on strategies to reduce travel demand, especially from single-occupancy vehicles, and make mobility more efficient and sustainable by disincentivizing unnecessary driving and stimulating long-term behavior change.Local governments take the lead, but private sector catches up
The majority of existing TDM measures have been driven by the public sector, accelerating success in cities around the world. Parking pricing in San Francisco now adjusts in real-time with demand to ensure enough available parking spaces to reduce cruising and double-parking. As a result, miles travelled by cars in areas with dynamic parking pricing have decreased by 30 percent.
In London, congestion pricing has reduced vehicle travel by 17 percent, saved 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and created a reliable funding stream for public transport improvements. Other examples of TDM around the world include vehicle quotas in Singapore and Beijing, license plate restrictions in Latin America, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in the United States and low-emission zones across Europe.
Local governments set TDM policy, but the private sector also has an important overall role to play in improving mobility for employees and cities. Commuting trips comprise a high percentage of total city trips—accounting for more than 45 percent of all trips in São Paulo, for instance—and most commuters travel during peak hours when transport systems are most saturated. Employers can wield significant influence over their employees’ preferred modes of transport by facilitating sustainable mobility options and setting the right incentives to discourage private vehicles.Transport demand management is good for business, too
Companies can implement a range of TDM options according to their needs and local context. They can encourage active transport like walking, jogging and cycling to work by providing bike parking, lockers and showers on site. Similarly, they can organize commuting groups to use vehicles more efficiently through carpooling, car sharing, ride sharing or bus shuttles. Other alternatives include allowing flexible work hours and telework. Financial incentives encourage sustainable commuting through measures like employee parking costs, tax benefits for using active transport or providing public transportation vouchers.
All of these strategies benefit employees by reducing the time they spend sitting in congestion while improving their health and saving money. At the same time, cities benefit from reduced congestion and traffic crashes, improved air quality, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, employers benefit from operating in a more competitive city with a more satisfied and productive workforce, while saving on costly investments such as parking infrastructure.
These measures have been successful in some cities, and are becoming more common worldwide. In the United States, Seattle Children’s Hospital’s TDM programs have reduced the rate of employees driving alone to work from 73 percent in 1995 to 38 percent today. Companies in the developing world have also had success applying TDM measures. For example the PEMS network—which coordinates corporate sustainable mobility among large companies in Bogotá—held a week-long carpooling event in 2014 that removed more than 80,000 cars from city streets.Smarter driving for an urbanizing world
TDM creates concrete opportunities for cities to use existing transport infrastructure wisely, while generating funds to improve sustainable transport options. At the same time, it helps companies boost their bottom line and their employees’ well-being. Still, TDM is nowhere near the finish line in terms of being mainstreamed into policymaking or corporate sustainability strategies.
Even so, the innovative efforts already underway help governments and private companies reap the benefits of TDM while trailblazing a path to sustainable cities. Over the next two months, this blog series will explore TDM strategies in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico to show how cities worldwide can orient themselves around people, not cars.
Last week, over 4,000 people gathered for the fourth World Bicycle Forum. This citizen-driven event was created by bike activists in Porto Alegre, Brazil after a car plowed through a group of bikers at a critical mass event in March 2011. Fortunately, no one died, but the resulting media attention sparked solidarity and the urge to take action among bike activists worldwide. After two years in Porto Alegre, the Forum moved to Curitiba, Brazil in 2014, and this year to Medellín, Colombia.
Urban cycling culture is a powerful instrument for building sustainable, healthy, and equitable cities. Bikes’ utility for cities and citizens goes well beyond transport, recreation, and sport. As Pedro Bravo—author of Biciosos—says, “Bikes are a weapon of mass construction.” The fourth World Bicycle Forum showed us multiple examples of how cycling can catalyze widespread change in cities. These include the impressive transformations of cities like Bogotá and New York City— led by former mayors Enrique Peñalosa and Michael Bloomberg—to advances in Almaty, Kazakhstan; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; and Curitiba and São Paulo, Brazil.
But the challenge is still huge. Despite a century of auto-centric urban development, we have not been able to build happy cities around cars. Instead, most car-dependent cities are segregated, gridlocked, dangerous, and polluted. Cars and car users themselves are not the enemy, but the social, environmental, and economic drawbacks of over-reliance on private cars have become overwhelmingly clear. To paraphrase São Paulo’s Ciro Biderman, “We are not against cars, we are against injustice.”
This is why the bicycle, a vehicle invented more than 100 years ago, is the true vehicle of the future. Its benefits include flexible mobility, increased physical activity, and integration with public transport and bike sharing systems. With a little innovation or an electric booster, bikes can even provide mobility in hilly terrain and for people of different ages and physical conditions.
With these benefits in mind, these six approaches from the fourth World Bicycle Forum can help build cycling culture and increase the prevalence of cycling in cities worldwide.Invite others to try
You can’t say you don’t like it if you don’t try it! The first step in building cycling culture is to change the way non-cyclists perceive cycling. Sometimes this means thinking out of the box, like these cyclists dancing the “Cumbia Cachaca” during Bogotá’s annual car-free day:
//Post by El Parche de la Bici. Implement and extend ciclovías and car-free days
While mostly intended for recreation and health, regular car-free days—known in many cities as ciclovías or Sunday Streets—are an exceptional vehicle for building urban cycling culture. Pioneered in Latin America, these events have spread around the world and are now held in over 400 cities. Local governments can support car-free days by implementing new programs or extending those already in existence, either by increasing their frequency or increasing the amount of urban space free of cars.Increase budget for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure
Budget is the most powerful public policy instrument, and where political rhetoric and campaign promises become real. Increasing the budget for active transport infrastructure means city leaders are ‘walking and biking the talk.’ For instance, bike activists in Mexico are asking politicians to set aside 5 percent of national and local mobility budgets for active transport.Develop national bicycle policies
Explicit policies for enhancing capacity, regulation, infrastructure, and finance for cycling help advance the agenda at all levels. A great example is the German National Cycling Plan, which has four pillars: a joint working group of federal government and provinces/states; an online portal for sharing cycling expertise; a cycling academy that helps spread best practices; and a federal aid program for promoting cycling.Explicitly include bicycles in the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The current draft of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—expected to be finalized in September 2015—includes a goal on sustainable cities and urban transport, but does not explicitly mention pedestrians or cyclists. Including active transport in the SDGs can make cycling safer and cities more sustainable, something activists should stress to their governments in order to influence UN negotiations.Continue building facilities for biking
Many cities are advancing plans to expand cycling infrastructure, and there are quality guidelines they can use to design safe, accessible bike networks. Nevertheless, the pace of change is too slow. Santiago, for instance, is planning for 900km of added bike lanes over 15 years, but a full expressway can be completed in just two.It’s time to take the bicycle seriously
Judging by the enthusiasm displayed at the World Bicycle Forum, cycling advocates are not going to let ideas to scale up urban cycling fade to the background. Born out of a public massacre, this event demonstrated its power to create change when 2,000 people joined in a safe, peaceful critical mass ride last Friday night.
Building on the ideas and momentum from this event, citizens and city leaders can unlock the potential of urban cycling to build healthy, sustainable cities for people.
As cities worldwide grow and evolve, so too is the urban landscape changing for cyclists. While congested and chaotic streets still remain a persistent challenge for some cities, many others have recognized the need for robust cycling infrastructure and are actively supporting cycling culture. At the same time, the perception of urban cycling is changing: what was once viewed as sport or recreation is now an efficient, accessible mode of transport that city dwellers rely on.
What does all this mean for the individual cyclist? TheCityFix sat down with author and cycling guru Yvonne Bambrick to discuss her upcoming book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, and explore how all cyclists—from aspiring to experienced—can make the most of their urban environment.1. What would you say is unique about your approach to urban cycling?
I’ve tried to cover pretty much everything you would need to know for biking in a city context. I’m pretty practical and straightforward. I incorporate my own experience as someone who’s grown up on a bike, was a driver for a time, and then came back to the bicycle. I’ve also brought in about 30 other voices—not only experts who ride regularly, but also just everyday folks—to share their experiences as well. I’ve got sections about riding with kids, riding for seniors, and even riding with dogs. I’ve also included points for drivers about what they should remember about sharing the road with people on bicycles.2. For you, what makes cycling is a form of mobility that’s accessible to everyone?
Based on experience, it’s clear to me that just about anybody can bike. Every type of person is riding now—just watch people passing you on city streets and you see people in suits, dresses, ski goggles in winter, sports clothes, you name it. It’s not just guys in high-end gear. This book provides all the key insight needed to give cycling a try. It opens up a window into this form of transportation for a lot of people who may have just watched from behind the wheel or from the sidewalk.3. How do you think cities can build strong communities to support cycling culture?
Community is interesting—it can be hard to create. It usually happens organically, but if a city is interested in encouraging more people to ride, certainly creating and promoting free events for people to come out and ride is a great option. Ciclovía events—in which the city closes some streets to motorized vehicles and invites people to bike, walk, skateboard, and run together—have been very successful. Big community events create safe spaces to congregate and try something new which certainly helps allow community to develop. However, the number one way to encourage more riders is to create networked on-street bike infrastructure like bike lanes and cycle tracks, and to provide bike parking. These are the fundamental things that make it obvious bikes are welcome.4. Biking can be a different experience depending on the city you’re in. What are some lessons someone in, say, Mexico City can learn from your guide?
I’ve included a ton of information just about how city roadways work, how to navigate the various obstacles you could encounter, and the things you need—like lights, a bell, fenders, and carrying racks, for example. The book explains how to be part of traffic on a bike and addresses how to reduce risks and anticipate traffic scenarios. Also, I address what to wear and how to deal with different weather. I’ve aimed at North America in terms of the laws and rules, but the book is much more comprehensive than that and can apply in just about any urban context. In different cities, there are of course varying cultural norms and expectations about public spaces and gender relations. So you’d want to look at it through your cultural and urban lens, wherever you are.5. What are some ways that employers can encourage and better support bike culture?
Encouraging employees to arrive by bicycle, if they’re within a certain proximity, can really make for happier employees. Having a Bike to Work day at the office in the spring (if you’re in a winter city) can be great for getting people back in the habit. And then having a mechanic on site for that is helpful so that everyone can get their bikes tuned up and do a refresher course on bike maintenance and bike education. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re riding to work and there are colleagues to do it with. Additionally, make sure that there is bike parking at your place of business: is it secure, easily accessible, and well lit?6. Personally, what do you like most about biking?
I love the autonomy and the sense of freedom that comes with a bicycle. You make your own schedule, you take the route you want, you’re under your own steam, and it’s really fun. Sometimes it can get stressful depending on the traffic scenario, but I just love being independent and active.
Yesterday, Bogotá, Colombia celebrated the 15th anniversary of its annual car-free day. Between 5am and 7:30pm, residents left their cars behind and turned to a variety of other modes of transport—a symbolic act that 63 percent of citizens institutionalized through a public referendum in October 2000. This year’s car free day, however, introduced a restriction on motorcycles as well, removing a major source of traffic fatalities and air pollution from the roads for a day. In a city of over 7 million people, the absence of 600,000 private vehicles from the streets made a visible difference.Bogotá’s bike and bus infrastructure provide real alternatives to cars
Like many other growing cities, Bogotá has grappled with air pollution and car-related traffic fatalities. According to Americas Quarterly, the number of registered private vehicles has risen 76 percent in the past seven years, and respiratory illnesses are the number one cause of infant mortality in the city, with a staggering 600,000 children under the age of five treated annually for breathing-related problems. Furthermore, 322 pedestrians and 56 cyclists were killed in 2014 to car-related accidents, and drivers lost an average of 22 days from waiting in traffic.
However, designating an entire day as car-free means that the city needs to provide dependable alternatives so that residents can still reach their normal destinations.
Fortunately for residents, Bogotá is a global leader in supporting transport infrastructure that is sustainable and people-oriented. The city is home to a number of urban mobility innovations, many the result of former mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s time in office. For example, Bogotá boasts the TransMilenio—one of the world’s most successful bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. TransMilenio opened in 2000—the same year as the city’s inaugural car-free day, currently employs 40,000 people, and indirectly supports another 56,000 jobs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by almost 250,000 tons annually.
Bogotá has also long been a haven for bike enthusiasts, daily commuters, and casual riders alike. Since 1974, popularity has exploded for the city’s traditional “Sunday Ciclovías.” Every Sunday, the city closes its streets to cars so that people can both ride in safety and also participate in a symbolic event centered on public health and community building. For this year’s car-free day, the city expanded its bike lane network to 392 kilometers (244 miles) and added 2,700 new bike parking stations near TransMilenio stations—a great step in making Bogotá’s public transport more multi-modal and integrated.A symbolic move forward
What would the future look like if Bogotá and other cities made the car-free idea not just an exception for one day, but a normal fact of urban life? Recently, we explored this question and took a look at EMBARQ and IDEO’s thought-provoking project to reimage urban mobility around the world. In the meantime, cities like Jakarta, Indonesia, Chengdu, China, New Delhi, India, and Mexico City, Mexico among others are beginning to experiment with car-free days and other ways of decreasing our unsustainable reliance on cars.
Making long-term sustainable mobility a reality is about not only embracing people-oriented planning and design, but also changing the image of cars and the public’s perception of alternative modes. Single car-free days may not always have a significant environmental impact in the short term, but they have the power to spark discussion, raise awareness, and gradually change transport norms and attitudes. Bogotá’s annual car-free day isn’t just about getting people out of their cars for a day—it’s about showing that other possibilities for urban mobility exist.
Previously on TheCityFix, we took you through the initial steps of EMBARQ and IDEO’s project to explore how human-centered design thinking can be put to work for sustainable urban mobility. We’re asking a bold question – what if there were no need for cars in the world’s biggest cities? – and looking for bold solutions. Taking this question to the field in Mexico City, Mexico and Helsinki, Finland revealed key insights for how we can make mobility systems more responsive to peoples’ needs.Gathering insight through human-centered design
The key to human-centered design is asking the right questions to the right people. To do this, we searched far and wide for inspiration and ideas, no matter how eccentric or seemingly impossible. We started in Helsinki, which last year set the ambitious goal to be car-free by 2025. The city is using technology and consolidated services to build a “mobility on demand” system, greatly reducing the relative convenience of personal cars.
From there, we went to Mexico City and interviewed both everyday commuters and mobility experts. The people we met reflected a wide range of attitudes towards urban transport. We spoke with Beatriz, a busy mom who runs errands all day and needs a car to get from point A to B and even point C; Mitzy, who is afraid of public transport because she does not know how to use it; Abril and Erick, who commute five hours to work each day so they can drop off their children in a community they trust; Fernando, who had enough of public transport, bought his first car, and loves it; and Mercedes, who makes all her life choices based on avoiding car trips to give her kids a different city experience.
Now, we’re working to translate this understanding about mobility needs at an individual level into game-changing transport solutions at the city level.Trust, community, and mobility: What we learned about people-oriented mobility
The search for trust guides people’s mobility choices: Whether you decide to drive alone, share your ride, or use mass transport, how we use transit systems depends on whether they make us feel safe.
Social validation is the starting point for people to adopt new mobility services: With new mobility services, people need to see them in action, see others using it, and have the right information to understand how they might work for their own needs.
Life changes force people to make adjustments in mobility habits; these changes are rarely proactive: Changing jobs, moving homes, having a child, becoming a student, or getting a first job are moments when people re-evaluate their mobility options. Current systems are not designed to capture those moments and match them to options.
People reward quality service with care in use: Loyal users come from good service design and operation. If transport services demonstrate they care about the human experience, they are rewarded with consistent users.
Barriers to using public transport present themselves before the journey even begins: Commuters need information to understand how to incorporate transit in their door-to-door travels. Having a system that is responsive to their needs is important. Furthermore, long, complicated rides with multiple transfers push people away from public transport.
While there are a variety of transport services, people mainly receive one service experience: In Mexico City, transport systems such as the Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT), the metro, the suburban train, traditional bus systems, and the Ecobici public bike-sharing system are disconnected. Rather than providing an integrated, multimodal experience, they have diverse entry points, payment methods, user information, and quality of service.Opportunities to reimagine transport services
Learning from these on-the-ground observations, a few opportunity areas emerged for more people-oriented mobility systems:
- Reimagine the commute: How might we build infrastructure and services that support connections between formal and informal transit? How might we help companies help their employees get to and from work energized and safe?
- Reimagine the errand: How might people access goods and services? How might we facilitate more efficient route diversions or eliminate them all together? How might we expand existing circles of trust to drive new shared mobility solutions?
- Reimagine the ride: How might we differentiate transport options with varied services levels that appeal to people’s identity? How might we nudge new, sharing behavior that leads to better trips for all? How might we use data to enhance the quality of transport, from planning your route to paying through one system?
While these lay out a number of different potential paths, one thing in particular stands out: to be car-optional, we need to build a basket of options that address our mobility needs as well as a car does. We need to reimagine our approach to mobility.
With a new perspective on individuals’ mobility needs, IDEO took the lessons learned back to the field to further test assumptions and prototypes. Look for the next blog in this series to learn about prototyping and to see the results which will get us closer to mobility choices that work for people.
Acknowledgements: The EMBARQ project with IDEO is underwritten by Mr. Carlos Rodriguez Pastor and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, with additional support from General Motors and TransitCenter. EMBARQ is the sustainable mobility practice of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, a program of the World Resources Institute.
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