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India’s Boom Pushed Cities to Their Limits. Here’s How Pune Coped.

Thu, 2018-08-16 19:05

Waste collection door-to-door by the members of the SWaCH cooperative in Pune, India. Photo by Brodie Talbot

Like many Indian cities, Pune’s population exploded over the last three decades. Between 1981 and 2011 it more than doubled as thousands came to work in manufacturing and IT. And like other cities, Pune expanded, eventually engulfing 23 previously separate villages. This strained basic services, especially in the slums at the edge of town, where 36 percent of the population lives.

But unlike other Indian cities, Pune took new approaches to waste management and urban mobility. In a new case study of the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” Lalitha Kamath, Himanshu Burte, Avinash Madhale and Robin King explain the conditions that led to new tactics, as well as the limitations that slowed them down.

Waste Pickers Organize and Formalize

In the 1990s, Pune was choking on its own garbage. Thousands of waste pickers scoured the city for recyclables they would sell for a meager profit. As the city’s central decision-making authority, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), struggled to improve waste management, independent waste-pickers formed a union to fight for their rights as workers – and for fair compensation for the value they provided to the city.

In the 2000s, with the state of Maharashtra pressing the city to find a strategy for door-to-door waste collection, the PMC saw a win-win opportunity. The city signed a contract with SWaCH – India’s first fully owned cooperative of waste pickers – in 2008. The cooperative would collect waste and recyclables door-to-door, while the PMC provided equipment and handled administrative costs.

Residents deposit household waste with collectors from the SWaCH cooperative in Pune, India. Photo by Brodie Talbot

Three factors made this nontraditional approach possible in Pune:

  • Waste pickers organized. Pune’s waste pickers were marginalized just like many others around the world, but by organizing politically they were able to advocate for their rights—and ultimately a city contract – much more effectively. They even raised the issue of failing waste management to the national level. In 2000, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgment mandating door-to-door waste collection and the diversion of waste away from landfills and into processing and recycling.
  • Civil society worked with government. Organizations in the city were able to build close working relationships with the Municipal Commissioner and the PMC despite many disagreements and confrontations.
  • Government was open to change. The PMC remained open to working with the civil society organizations, even after they were sued by them. The PMC recognized that SWaCH offered a model that was more cost-effective, efficient and sustainable than mechanized models of primary collection that do not support waste segregation.
Bus Rapid Transit Launches

Pune’s rapid growth began to overwhelm its transportation system. In 2004, the civil society organization Pune Traffic and Transportation Forum outlined a vision of transportation reforms, including improvements to public transport and pro-pedestrian street design. By 2005, other civil society organizations had convinced the municipal commissioner and the PMC to pursue bus rapid transit (BRT) – a system with dedicated lanes for high-speed buses that can bypass other congestion.

With political and financial support from the Ministry of Urban Development, India’s first BRT opened in Pune in 2006. Even though the pilot route of 16.5 kilometers (10.2 miles) of BRT revealed many problems with institutional capacity to design, construct, promote and manage the system, the innovation significantly improved the lives of commuters, and six other Indian cities have adopted BRT in the years since.

Pune’s BRT pilot increased bus speeds from an average of 8 kilometers per hour to 13 (5 miles per hour to 8), reduced accidents and breakdowns, and ultimately increased bus ridership by 22 percent over a three-year period while increasing profits per bus.

BRT helped transform Pune’s mobility and offered an example of sustainable urban transport that other Indian cities have adopted.

Pune’s Rainbow BRT system helped transform the city’s mobility by increasing bus speeds, reducing accidents, increasing ridership and heightening profit. Photo by ITDP India  

Pune was ripe for this innovation because:

  • Activists drew attention to broader environmental and social issues. Civil society organizations connected transportation to loss of public space, tree-cutting to widen roads and pollution of local rivers, lending momentum to a new way of doing things.
  • Civil society organizations followed more progressive national policies. Savvy local groups tapped into the Ministry of Urban Development’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which ultimately provided invaluable financial and political support.
  • Municipal decision-makers were, once again, open to change. Changes to the transport system, which eventually stretched beyond BRT, started incrementally and were often proposed by civil society organizations, but ultimately it was local government officials implementing policy changes.
The Winding Road to Transformation

While new approaches to waste management and transport yielded social, economic and environmental benefits for Pune, both efforts are now threatened by competing political agendas and personal interests.

As waste has become increasingly valuable, the PMC has begun promoting parallel models that benefit politicians at the expense of waste pickers and the city’s environment. While the SWaCH model is still in place, there has been friction between waste pickers and the city over payment and coverage, and officials have threatened to switch to other providers.

After the first five years of BRT, Pune’s councilors have also pushed for a “mixed” BRT – a stretch of road without dedicated bus lanes – even though the central government has refused to fund this technically contradictory idea (dedicated lanes are a core operating principle of BRTs). In 2012, the city adopted the national 2008 Comprehensive Mobility Plan only after retaining the right to modify it from time to time, arguably to keep the door open for highly visible but technically dubious projects like highway overpasses.

These local contradictions mirror those at state and national levels. For instance, the government of Maharashtra developed a state urban transport policy aligned with the sustainability-oriented National Urban Transport Policy. But Maharashtra is also pushing through a metro rail for Pune, disregarding the opposition of advocates who argue it is too expensive and will not reach many residents.

In the Indian context, where cities are politically weak, civil society and multiple scales of government need to cooperate to achieve city-level transformative change. This has resulted in mixed outcomes. However, there have been substantial improvements for Pune’s citizens, and the city has become a model for others.

What cities need and want from state and national government is policy, financial and knowledge support for sustainable and inclusive change that also allows them the freedom to choose their preferred pathways towards sustainability.

Formal commitment to urban sustainability at the national and state level is important to provide political cover and measurable goals for cities. But while more autonomy at the local city level is essential to encourage innovative and context-specific solutions, the experience of Pune suggests that support from other levels of government is sometimes needed to help cities effectively implement those solutions and sustain them in the long run.

This article was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Valeria Gelman is a Communications Specialist and Program Coordinator II at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Robin King is Director of Knowledge Capture and Collaboration at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

The People of Bogotá Want Cleaner Air. Will the City Listen?

Thu, 2018-05-31 13:13

TransMilenio faces the unique opportunity to lead on Bogotá’s mobility upgrade — driven not by politicians, but by the users themselves. Photo by Galo Naranjo/Flickr

Bogotá is one of Latin America’s most polluted cities – but thanks to its citizens, its air may be getting cleaner.

A decision from the mayor’s office to keep using diesel fuels in the next generation of buses in the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, TransMilenio, set loose a series of events, led by citizens, demanding cleaner air and challenging the local paradigm that less-polluting fuels are too expensive to consider. Today, Bogotá is closer than ever to a cleaner BRT fleet.

What can we learn from Bogotá? Citizens have the power to promote sustainable development, even when there is an apparent lack of political leadership through sustained political organizing and pressure.

The Power of Organized Resistance

Like many other cities, Bogotá has been very slow in the adoption of new and cleaner technologies for its transport system. There has been pilot testing of one electric bus and no more than a handful of tests of natural gas fuels.

Potentially the largest benefit of electric buses comes from the fact that they have no tailpipe emissions, which reduces the health impact of harmful local pollutants in cities across the globe. Bogotá’s BRT is used for 2.5 million trips daily. And its users are disproportionately exposed to air pollution: concentrations measured inside the BRT buses are by far the worst of all the city’s transit modes.

Carbon dioxide emissions from a Euro V bus (tailpipe) compared to an electric bus (upstream) in multiple countries. Graphic by Sebastian Castellanos and Juan Pablo Orjuela

In March, the city of Bogotá issued a draft tender to replace 1,383 buses corresponding to the oldest of its BRT fleet. Initially the document explicitly said that the buses to be used in the city had to have internal combustion engines, although this was quickly reversed to also include electric motors.

Despite this change, the city was only offering an incentive of 50 points out of a total of 2000 to companies that operated cleaner technologies, such as electric and natural gas. To many, this incentive was insufficient, as the city was missing a clear opportunity to improve Bogotá’s air quality by demanding cleaner vehicles. Even a change.org petition was started to try and bend the Mayor’s will.

What ensued next shows the power of organized resistance in the digital era.

A wide range of actors, without any clear connection to one another, organically organized a resistance movement against the city’s decision to exclude cleaner technologies. Civil society came together under the citizen’s air quality roundtable and sent a letter to the mayor, demanding the inclusion of zero-emission buses. Citizen science also played a key role in informing the general population on high air pollution exposure levels in the system with measurements taken by citizens and shared via social media. The hasthags #TransMilenioDejameRespirar (“TransMilenio let me breathe”) and #NoMasBusesDiesel were soon trending on Twitter.

Almost at the same time, Colombia’s national environment minister sent a letter to Mayor Enrique Peñalosa requesting the inclusion of low- and zero-emission vehicles in the tender. And the city council, which acts as a check and balance on the mayor, called for a debate on the topic, expressing their concern about the exclusion of cleaner technologies.

The academic community also joined the movement. The deputy dean of one of Colombia’s most prestigious universities, and an expert in air quality and transportation, lamented the decision of the mayor explaining that he couldn’t find any technical reasons for Bogotá not to hop on-board the electric bus movement.

Finally, the office of the inspector general issued a warning, and asked the mayor to respect international treaties on climate change and comply with its mandate of ensuring a safe environment for its citizens.

All these initiatives were picked up by the national news with various reports on the matter highlighting the importance of the process. The debate even reached the financial sector as the development bank Bancoldex announced that they would no longer finance diesel buses.

Mayor Peñalosa at first resisted. City hall used misleading data in an attempt to minimize the impact that their decision had in Bogotá’s air quality. The health secretary denied the proven health effects of air pollution and diesel emissions, and the mayor even blamed dust as the main cause of poor air quality instead of vehicle.

But mounting pressure from multiple sectors eventually resulted in a substantial change in the tender. On April 24, Peñalosa announced an increase from 50 to 400 additional points to operators and suppliers that include gas and electric buses in their proposal, giving these technologies an edge over diesel.

Kickstarting a Public Transport Transition

Since no minimum quotas were included, it is too early to say if this new incentive will effectively lead to a massive inclusion of cleaner technologies. Hopefully Mayor Peñalosa and other politicians in charge have received the clear message that citizens are no longer willing to ignore the environmental costs of current systems.

There is still a lot to be done for Bogotá’s air quality. Major issues with other sources such as freight transport and industry remain. And many other cities in the region also face worsening air pollution and an absence of effective action.

However, what happened in the past few weeks is a clear example of how organized and well-informed citizens can achieve the changes our cities need. The TransMilenio BRT is an iconic element in Bogotá and the integrating actor of all public transport in the city; the expectation is that it should lead by example. Despite not being the highest-emitting source, it is in a unique position to kick-off needed technological advances in diesel transport fleets and public transport generally.

Politicians today may choose not to believe facts and science in their decisions, but we have the responsibility to pressure them to pay attention to our demands.

Juan Pablo Orjuela is a PhD student working on air pollution exposure as part of the PASTA project under the supervision of Dr. Audrey de Nazelle. His main focus is on developing statistical models to estimate exposure in three European cities (London, Antwerp and Barcelona) based on black carbon measurements and surveys.

Sebastian Castellanos is an Energy & Climate Associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

As China’s Urban Rail Transit Systems Boom, Public-Private Partnerships Face a Reckoning

Thu, 2018-05-24 13:13

Chinese cities are taking on rail transit systems, but the challenge of how to finance these systems is at the forefront. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

To curb car congestion and boost the economy, China is embracing trains at an unprecedented rate. In June 2017, the government approved 5,770 kilometers of new urban rail systems, almost 17 times the total amount of track in all of Brazil. Existing systems are expanding and new systems are sprouting up. Last year, the number of cities with urban rail transit systems soared to 53, with many small and medium-sized cities coming aboard.

But like many city transit systems, farebox revenue isn’t enough to keep China’s new rail systems afloat financially. Rail transit systems in China have historically been financed primarily by municipal governments, through local land sale revenues and municipal borrowing. With the cooldown of housing and land markets and increasing municipal debt, however, many cities are looking to public-private partnerships.

The results have not always been positive, as cities grapple with inexperienced state-owned companies and inadequate risk management overrides prudent accounting.

Ballooning Municipal Debts

Public-private partnerships are a financing method that leverage private funding, innovation, quality control and efficiency to complement public sector investment and capacity insufficiencies and to deliver social obligations. According to the national public-private partnership database, by the end of 2017, China had 54 rail transit projects financed by public-private partnerships, amounting to $136.7 billion in capital investments.

These projects are spread over 40 Chinese cities, from large cities with more than 20 million people to small cities with just 170,000. They include 40 metro projects and 10 streetcar projects. Most use a form of project financing where the private sector is responsible for finance, design, construction and operation of the infrastructure for a certain number of years, known as “Built-Operate-Transfer.”

Despite their rapid adoption, the municipal debts created by the public-private partnership arrangements pose a great risk for China’s economy, amounting to around $2.5 trillion by November 2017. To avoid economic crisis, in March 2018, the National Development and Reform Commission put a hold on rail transit projects in 13 Chinese cities, including at least 4 ongoing private-public partnership projects.

The Commission raised the bar for cities qualified for rail transit projects, where annual fiscal revenue and GDP increased threefold (from $ 1.6 billion to $ 4.8 billion and $159 billion to $476 billion, respectively). The Ministry of Finance also flagged the need for intense scrutiny of these projects, and 12 unqualified public-private partnership projects  were removed from the national database and forced to seek other financing channels or renegotiate for less risky contractual arrangements.

The increased scrutiny aims to steer projects clear of three major pitfalls.

1. Misguided Purposes

When cities create their annual budgets, they usually set an upper spending limit, which controls fiscal risk and liability. However, public-private partnerships open a loophole in this constraint by allowing cities to commit more spending than they can afford by including commitments to the private sector. Some projects are therefore pursued not for efficiency reasons, but to get around the hard budget constraints and boost investment-led growth, regardless of local fiscal capacity.

This gives rise to economically inviable projects, with an excess in transit capacity for the residents in the area. For example, some remote counties of Yunnan Province, with fewer than 200,000 residents, have a tremendous oversupply of transit services thanks to streetcar projects.

The fiscal implication of this behavior is alarming. In the short run, a $2.9 billion investment to construct a metro line will strain a city with $1.2 billion annual revenue. In the long run, low ridership and scarce farebox revenues will further deteriorate the financial performances of both the local government and private companies. In the end, such an arrangement not only increases local liability, especially in the event of a default leaving debt obligations to future governments, but can also crowd out essential safety-net programs and growth opportunities.

2. Lack of Private Sector Participation

Another feature of current rail transit public-private partnerships is that they are predominated by state-owned construction enterprises with limited experience in the lifecycle management of rail transit projects. This inexperience will possibly lead to increased project costs, delays in delivery, substandard service quality, or even financial insolvency. Further, the indifference of these state-owned enterprises to profitability, risks and innovation also undermines projects’ Value for Money.

3. Inadequate Risk Management

Since the initiation of public-private partnership projects is largely reliant on political support, the rush to deliver these projects within a certain political cycle to boost economic growth and leave a political mark can lead to overlooking risk profiles and, ultimately, inadequate risk management.

In some cities, the shortage of active “private” participants has prompted governments to undertake excessive risks and liabilities in pursuit of this quest – through government-backed debt financing and guaranteed fixed rate of returns, for example.

In Wuhan, a consortium of commercial banks was chosen as the company to finance, build and operate Metro Line 8. Although cost overrun or other project risks were high, due to the inexperienced bank consortium forayed into metro construction and operation, the local government still accepted its strict demand for fixed returns. In other cities, poorly understood demand risks are blindly shouldered by state-owned companies, increasing the likelihood of project defaults.

Although public-private partnerships can help cities expand their infrastructure to keep pace with demand, many Chinese cities are beginning to understand that they have profound implications. Other financing channels such as land value capture and green finance (like green bond or carbon trade) can well complement public-sector financing or public-private partnerships.

Rail transit systems not only offer investment-led growth and political ribbon-cutting glory, but can come with heavy financial burdens, if poorly planned or executed.  The demand – and need – for more public transit infrastructure is undeniable, but expensive rail transit systems are not the only way. More economically feasible options, such as bus rapid transit systems or shared mobility, are also viable to meet increasing urban transport challenges.

Lulu Xue is a Research Associate at WRI China. 

The View from the Bus: Better Transportation Means Better Lives

Mon, 2018-04-16 19:30

Pablo’s commute to school improved with Mexico City’s new Metrobus Line 4, cutting travel time and daily fares. Photo by Ari Santillán/WRI México

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture when it comes to cities. They’re home to more than half the global population, produce three quarters of GDP and greenhouse gas emissions, and are still growing in nearly every respect. But cities are made up of individuals, and urban policy has real, tangible effects on their lives. That’s especially true when it comes to transportation policy.

Public transportation moves hundreds of millions of city dwellers, rich and poor, every day. It’s a lifeline that connects people to jobs, education and opportunity. When done right, it allows people to travel affordably, efficiently and with dignity, with more time for themselves and their families.

Making urban transportation better is the goal of the Mobility and Accessibility Program (MAP), WRI Ross Center’s eight-year collaboration with FedEx. Our success is reflected in these stories, collected from three of the cities where we work – stories from real people who have a real stake in improved transit systems.

Pablo in Mexico

Five-year-old Pablo Bautista used to hate mornings. He’d wake early, his mother would bundle him into a taxi and he’d ride 45 minutes through downtown Mexico City to get to school. Minibuses, the only other alternative, were overcrowded, dilapidated and dangerous.

Things changed in 2012 when Mexico City debuted a new bus rapid transit line through downtown. Now Pablo’s commute is a seven-minute walk to the station with his mother and less than a half hour on the express line. The fare? One-fifth the amount his mother used to pay for a taxi.

Projects like Metrobus Line 4 help cities reach socio-economic and sustainable development targets; in daily life, they give residents and businesses access to more opportunities at lower costs. Line 4 carries 65,000 passengers a day, cuts travel times in half and is estimated to lower carbon emissions by 10,000 tons a year.

Suvarna in India

Every weekday, Suvarna Reddy of Bangalore cooks, cleans and packs lunches before taking her grandson to school. Then she catches a bus to work, a journey that was once the most stressful part of her day. She cooks for three different households, and travels to the market to pick up goods.

Suvarna Reddy of Bangalore. Photo by Bhargav Shandilya and Tariq Thekaekara

“It used to take over 40 minutes to get from one home to another,” she recalls. “I had to wait for a long time before I got the bus, and would never get to sit. I always feared falling when I had to stand, because the buses were so old and unstable.”

In 2013, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation asked MAP to help improve its bus system, which serves more than 5 million passengers a day. Together, they conceptualized, planned and implemented the BIG Bus Network along high-demand corridors. With more efficient routes, increased frequency, low fares, integrated services and nearly 1,000 new low-emissions vehicles, the update has dramatically advanced the quality and capacity of the city’s public transit.

“The new buses come every 5 to 10 minutes,” says Suvarna. “I don’t have to wait a long time before I get a bus to get to any of my work places. Even when I have to go to the market, I can get a direct bus. I get there much more comfortably and a lot faster. And that gives me more time to spend with my family.”

Célio in Brazil

Célio Bouzada has dedicated his career to improving life for the people of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Célio Bouzada of Belo Horizonte. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil

“Belo Horizonte, like all large cities in Latin America, has serious problems with traffic – it’s congested,” says Bouzada, who serves as the president of BHTRANS, the regional transportation agency. “It’s our challenge to change the culture, to find resources, to implement new means of transit.” Every day, the agency moves more than 1.3 million people.

Beginning in 2014, BHTRANS used MAP tools to streamline bus rapid transit routes in three priority corridors. A user satisfaction survey, developed by MAP and deployed by BHTRANS a year later, showed the average 75-minute bus commute had been reduced by 30 minutes, and user satisfaction had increased by 60 percent. Now, nine other Brazilian cities have joined Belo Horizonte in a Quality of Service Benchmarking Group to track their own results and compare best practices.

Bouzada also noted that tools developed by MAP have helped his agency plan for emergency incidents, boost the skills of drivers, and host technical exchanges with other cities implementing similar BRT systems.

The next step is electric buses, he says. “Transport is responsible for half the city’s pollution. If we can reduce pollution, that will impact the health of children, adults and, above all, the elderly. A cleaner public transport system, with faster travel, means a nicer city for everyone.”

Cities are our present and future, and we all stand to gain from a world where they are more productive, healthier and connected. For Suvarna, Célio, Pablo and millions of people across the globe, the benefits of improved mobility aren’t just abstractions, but welcome steps toward a better life.

Stories adapted from the 2017 Mobility and Accessibility Program Report. Learn more at mobility.embarq.org.

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

WUF9 Beyond the Convention Center: A (Very) Brief Tour of Kuala Lumpur

Fri, 2018-03-02 18:33

What happens when 22,000 urbanists descend on your city for the biannual World Urban Forum? We present, we dialogue, we attend high-level sessions, side events, training events, and networking events. Maybe most importantly, we benefit from the open exchange of ideas and personalities that you can only get by meeting in person, providing renewed inspiration for our work.

But what’s most satisfying for many of us? Exploring.

Beyond the convention center, where WRI Ross Center experts from around the world contributed to the conference, UN Habitat organized a number of events and exhibitions scattered around Kuala Lumpur. We saw some of the growing pains of Malaysia’s capital and largest city, with more than 7 million residents, and we found pop-ups that invited passers-byes to contribute ideas about the future of KL.

The sprawling city serves as a hub for international companies such as BMW, Motorola, and HSBC, and has attracted talent from near and far. The iconic Petronas Towers dominate downtown, but they are not alone; the tropical skyline is dotted with many towers and new construction. Some 30 major buildings are expected to be finished in the next five years, including the 118-storey Warisan Merdeka. The city museum, located in the historic district, featured a short video and installation depicting this progress, pictured below.

Photo by Adna Karabegović/WRI

But such rapid growth has not come without costs. Traffic is notoriously bad in KL, especially in the city center. “This is a car culture,” we heard from locals. Like many other rapidly growing cities, to modernize and spur economic development, planners have sometimes overlooked the details of transport design. There is a bus rapid transit line, a light rail system, a monorail and integrated stations. But in a tour of the BRT system for WUF attendees, operators admitted transit ridership was not what they’d like.

Photo by Valeria Gelman/WRI

Poor signage and design also leads to some dangerous and frustrating pedestrian experiences, from crosswalks that do not line up with the crossing light or curb exit, to narrow, fenced off sidewalks that leave you hunting for safe spots to cross the street.

Photo by Adna Karabegović/WRI

Small pop-ups run by local university students gave a glimpse of the next generation of planners. Nestled around the city were “parklets” – parking spots turned into green spaces. The parklet below featured a solar-powered phone charging station, space for people to find shade and fans, and recycling bins.

Photo by Adna Karabegović/WRI

These spaces created not only a fun and inviting environment, they represented a vision of a kind of participatory, people-oriented development. Staffed with students and packed with feedback forms, they drew WUF participants and city residents to consider a greener future for their cities.

Photo by Schuyler Null/WRI

One of the pop-ups featured a “cities for all” wish list, where people posted ideas for their own cities and KL. Among many compliments about the host city, suggestions included better sidewalks, more trees, and benches. “Cities for all” was the overall theme of WUF9, echoing our framing of the “World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City,” which explores ways to provide adequate and equal access to core services, like housing and transport, for all.

Photo by Schuyler Null/WRI

In Medan Pasar, a historic meeting place in Kuala Lumpur, a micro-housing installation demonstrated ways to accommodate population growth and highlighted the importance of smaller housing footprints and higher density.

Photo by Adna Karabegović/WRI

Perhaps as salve to the idea of living in such tight quarters, the same exhibit showcased green, interactive public spaces.

Photo by Adna Karabegović/WRI

Similar to many of the cities we work with around the world, Kuala Lumpur is a fast-growing dynamic place with a mix of both unique and somewhat universal challenges. Exploring the city on foot and talking with its young planners-to-be gave us a unique perspective. It also made us want to stroll back through these streets in the years ahead to see which of these ideas have taken root in the urban form.

Adna Karabegović is Project Coordinator, Research Tools and Economics Team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Valeria Gelman is a Communications Specialist & Program Coordinator II at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Robin King is the Director of Knowledge Capture and Collaboration at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Live From Transforming Transportation 2018: Confronting Gender Issues, “Leapfrogging” in Africa

Sat, 2018-01-13 05:20

WRI’s Ani Dasgupta and the World Bank’s Jose Luis Irigoyen close out Transforming Transportation 2018. Photo Credit: Valeria Gelman/WRI

Beyond the technological revolution underway in transport today, gender was an underlying theme of Transforming Transportation this year.

Transport is not gender neutral, not matter where you are, said a chorus of experts during the opening panel on day two. “Gender is often a more robust determinant of modal choice than age or income,” said Mary Crass of the International Transport Forum.

That both men and women feel uncomfortable on public transport is a problem for the sector generally, but women face a much worse experience in many places, said Buenos Aires Secretary of Transport Juan Jose Méndez. Some 50 percent of men in Argentina’s largest city feel unsafe using public transit; among women, it’s more than 70 percent. Sixty-five percent of women in Mexico City say they have been harassed, according to the World Bank’s Karla Dominguez Gonzalez.

“We don’t understand the spectrum of abuse,” said Elsa Marie D’Silva, who left her job to found the Red Dot Foundation after the brutal 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a private bus in Delhi.

People often think of sexual assault only as rape and ignore the verbal and nonverbal interactions that can also be debilitating, D’Silva said. Groping, leering, stalking and similar interactions add up and can discourage women from using certain modes of transport or going out at all. “When a woman loses her access to public space, you are limiting her access to opportunities and her civil rights,” D’Silva said.

There’s a data gap around these problems that new, open-source reporting and mapping initiatives are helping to close. The Red Dot Foundation, for example, provides a way for women in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal to anonymously report incidents and then analyzes the data to pinpoint hotspots of abuse. As more data becomes available, more incidents will come to light, warned the Brookings Institution’s Katherine Sierra.

.@elsamariedsilva from @pinthecreep weighs in on the importance of #gender #equality on public transport at #TTDC18 https://t.co/ICVsgJAVyR pic.twitter.com/h1skeoDHyY

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

But the gap remains wide and the transport sector has a special responsibility to face gender issues, Sierra said. Beyond the experience of individual commuters, construction projects of all kinds are targets for sexploitation, and transport projects are among the largest. She pointed to the “neutron bomb” that went off at the World Bank following investigations into a project in Uganda that revealed sexual assault and abuse by contractors. “It’s our job to report and face the incidents,” she said.

Following the data gap – or perhaps preceding it – there’s a perception gap. Even though there tend to be more female public transit users than men, most of the decision-makers in charge of policy, planning and operations are men, said Crass, who simply don’t have the same experiences and are less sensitive to the issues faced by women.

Just 23 percent of London’s public transit authority’s 28,000-member staff are women, said Lilli Matson, head of transport planning. Across European public transit agencies generally, the number drops to 18 percent, said Mohamed Mezghani, secretary-general of the Union Internationale des Transports Publics.

“Gender balance isn’t just a moral imperative; there is an economic case,” said Olurinu Jose, director of business systems at the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. As one of the authority’s first female managers, Jose said she had to convince her boss of the value of reaching out to women as employees, but he soon saw the benefits. Just 5 of the 300 drivers for Nigeria’s first bus-rapid transit (BRT) system were women, Jose said, but she noted to him that more women drivers would lead to fewer accidents and fewer strikes. His main question was whether anyone would apply.

65% of #women in Mexico City suffer sexual harassment on #publictransport. This hampers their ability to access key services and #economic opportunities around the #city — Karla Dominguez Gonzalez, @WBG_Gender at #TTDC18 https://t.co/mbH9xzW8F5 pic.twitter.com/cfbo2SrD0R

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

“Efficient and reliable transport gives women more opportunities,” acknowledged Amadou Saidou Ba, president of the Executive Council of Urban Transport in Dakar, pledging accessibility and safety in the city’s new BRT pilot project.

African leaders from across the continent talked about efforts to expand transport infrastructure to keep pace with rapidly growing cities and economies. Over the next 12 years, an estimated 350 million people will be added to African cities.

It’s important for people to see the value in public transport to reduce congestion and pollution, and that means improving accessibility and safety for everyone, said Ba. “We cannot spend our lives building roads. Not everyone can have a private car.”

Ronald Lwakatare, CEO of Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit, or DART, said they have focused on BRT because it’s easier to construct, low cost, more inclusive and can accommodate existing bus companies. DART includes accessible entrances and level boarding for the disabled, pedestrian walkways, and special seats for the elderly and expecting mothers. Lagos and Dar es Salaam are both expanding bus-rapid transit systems as well, with more than 20 kilometers of corridors each so far.

These are encouraging steps, but there’s still a tremendous way to go, said Marianne Vanderschuren of the University of Cape Town. Even in Cape Town, which has more developed public transit, the average distance to the nearest station from any given point is 1.3 kilometers, much further than Europe and even the United States (800 meters).

In large cities like Lagos, Dar Es Salaam, Kigali and Kampala, the cost of daily commuting can be prohibitive for poor households, accounting for more than 40 percent of monthly budgets.

Speaking to a room of global transport of experts and government officials from across the continent, Vanderschuren noted the special responsibilities of the people gathered. “It’s important for everyone to be advocates and use our knowledge to improve the situation in Africa,” she said. “We are responsible for developing new methodologies and assisting governments.”

Poor connectivity is expensive, inefficient and dangerous. Road-related injuries are the third leading cause of death in Africa, said the World Bank’s Tatiana Peralta Quiros. Over the next decade, the number of people killed from road-related causes will be equivalent to a major world war, said the World Bank’s Soames Job, with scarce resources or attention paid. (For more on road safety, see WRI and the World Bank’s “Sustainable and Safe” report.)

#Technology alone cannot solve the #transport question, or countries like mine will be left behind — Amadou Saïdou Ba, @CETUD_SN at #TTDC18 https://t.co/ph7kjVQaXA pic.twitter.com/AgclyTItz5

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) January 12, 2018

Aiming to help build capacity and cultivate a community of practice to “leapfrog” transport development in Africa, nine organizations, including five universities, announced a new memorandum of understanding for joint research. Joining the World Bank and WRI, was the World Conference on Transport Research Society, Africa Transport Policy Program, University of Nairobi, University of Da es Salam, University of Johannesburg, University of Dakar and Institut National Polytechnique de Yamoussoukro.

Even as much of the of the focus at Transforming Transportation this year has been on how technology is changing the industry – introducing new players, new business models and disrupting the status quo – there were just as many reminders that the biggest challenges remain old ones.

“Technology alone cannot solve the transport question, or countries like mine will be left behind,” said Amadou Saidou Ba.

Closing out the conference alongside the World Bank’s Jose Luis Irigoyen, WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta noted the connection between democratization and sustainability made by many over the two days. “The idea that building sustainable cities and building equal cities are one and the same was something that really resonated with me and I hope it did with you.”

“We will do it together,” said Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. “No organization, country [or] institution faced with this dramatic transformation can do it on its own. But we can do it together.”

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

Talia Rubnitz is the Communications Assistant for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

BRTData Adopts New Standards to Classify Bus Corridors Worldwide

Tue, 2017-12-19 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Kher Kaw on Transformative Solutions for South Asia’s Growing Cities

Mon, 2017-10-30 13:13

Jon Kher Kaw, a senior urban development specialist at the World Bank, believes the most pressing challenge for urbanization in South Asian cities is accommodating the overwhelming number of new residents.

Reflecting on his wealth of experience working with cities in South Asia, Kaw recently spoke with WRI during a workshop for WRI’s flagship World Resources Report (WRR), “Towards a More Equal City.” He spoke about the region’s acute challenges and potential opportunities. The World Bank projects that around 250 million more people will be living in South Asian cities by 2030. “How we manage that [growth] to make cities continue to be productive and livable centers for people will be very, very important,” Kaw says.

Of course, South Asia isn’t a monolithic region, and cities need diverse solutions tailored to their local context. Nevertheless, Kaw sees patterns in how cities transform and says there are common solutions that have proven environmental and economic benefits.

Improving intra-city connectivity through bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and containing urban expansion through land use policies are two opportunities for tackling common challenges across the region, according to Kaw. BRTs can improve access to jobs, reduce time lost to congestion and make people more productive at relatively little cost. Managing sprawl, likewise, can help reduce a city’s carbon footprint and improve resource efficiency, although cities will need to address affordability concerns with more compact development.

As for cities that show progress, Kaw points to the example of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. “The city has transformed quite dramatically over the last 10 years. Today, [it] is a very different city from five years ago; it has very much improved in terms of connectivity as well as how land is managed within the city. There’s a lot of improvements in the urban space and freeing up land for productive and livable uses.”

Clearer Governance for More Efficiency and Accountability

For promising and innovative ideas to translate to change on the ground, there should be clear responsibilities outlined for each level of government, Kaw says.

City-level decision makers need to be responsive to immediate city needs and ensure basic services for all residents. “On the national government front, I think it’s important to set the urban agenda up front, thinking in terms of being very clear on their role on issues such as creating a system of cities [and] coordinating how cities come together,” he says. “Also, things like fiscal transfers and empowering local governments to make decisions on how to manage cities will be very, very important.”

Getting the relationship right between municipal and national governments is not easy, but it is imperative to making cities more financially effective and accountable to their residents.

Kaw suggests that cities should be empowered to leverage local assets. “What I mean is not only to just invest in capacity building but also to think about how to leverage on, for example, land value capture,” he says. “Only then can you think about how cities can be sustainable in the longer term.”

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

Are Trains Better Than Bus Rapid Transit Systems? A Look at the Evidence

Mon, 2017-10-23 13:13

Brisbane, Australia’s South East Busway saw both a ridership increase and time travel reduction, in comparison to previous commutes. Photo by Harshil Shah/ Flickr

The world’s great public transit systems: Tokyo’s Metro, London’s Tube, Honk Kong’s MTR…and Mexico City’s bus rapid transit corridors? Trains are often seen as the pinnacle of modern urban transport infrastructure. They’re green and efficient, supported by permanent, complex track infrastructure. Bus rapid transit systems, on the other hand, are less flashy and often associated with their slow cousins, the local buses.

But in a new study published in Transport Reviews researchers Jesper Ingvardson and Otto Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark point to data that suggests there’s little that separates the two approaches in many contexts.

Ingvardson and Nielsen compare 86 metro, light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors using several variables: travel time savings, increase in demand from riders, modal shift, and land use and urban development changes. In some cases, the much more economical BRTs matched and even outperformed rail.

Travel Time and Ridership

The study starts by looking just at whether BRT can reduce travel times and improve mass transit ridership on its own.

There are large variations across BRT systems regarding travel time, making it difficult to draw broad conclusions, but overall they saw declines. While Metrobüs in Istanbul produced travel time savings of 65 percent compared to previous commutes, the Bus-VAO lane in Madrid led to 33 percent savings and the South Miami-Dade Busway just 10 percent.

Ridership gains after a new BRT corridor also varied: 150 percent in Istanbul, 85 percent in Madrid and 50 percent in Miami. Ridership gains are associated with travel time savings, but also derived from other factors such as the frequency of buses, station quality, vehicle type and user information systems.

Converting Drivers to Mass Transit

An interesting impact of mass transit implementation is its effect on drivers. In the 13 cities where Ingvardson and Nielsen studied BRTs, the number of riders who shifted from car trips ranged from 5 percent (Stockholm) to 40 percent (Adelaide), with a simple average of 17 percent. This figure is similar for the 24 LRTs (average 16 percent) and slightly lower than for the two metro systems included in the study (average 23 percent).

One caveat to these conclusions is that BRT and LRT corridors tend to be much smaller than metro corridors in terms of total volume of riders. The notable exception is Istanbul’s Metrobüs, which serves more than 600,000 passengers a day, 4 to 9 percent of which would otherwise be car users.

Land Values and Development

Despite the permanence of train tracks, Ingvardson and Nielsen found no significant difference in how BRTs, LRTs or metro impact land value. Land value increases ranged as high as 30 percent for BRT corridors; 32 percent for LRT; and 20 percent for regional rail and metro corridors. In several BRT and LRT cases, no increase in land value was observed; for the Coaster rail corridor in San Diego, a negative value was recorded.

Land value comparisons are difficult, however, because of varying assessment methodologies, distances to stations, and before and after time periods. It’s likely these conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt. The particular mass transit mode is less important than other factors, like access conditions, the urban environment, and service characteristics (e.g., frequency, speed, comfort and pricing). For the 41 projects with quantitative data, the differences in land values achieved by the different modes are not significant.

BRT, LRT and regional rail also show increased residential and commercial development around stations. Nevertheless, the improved access provided by transit is an insufficient driver of better land use. Other complementary activities, like changes in regulations, government support for investment in real estate, and investment in pedestrian connectivity, are required to achieve urban development goals. The most recognized case is Curitiba, Brazil, where 45 percent of the long-distance motorized trips in the BRT vicinity use the buses. There is also evidence of positive urban development impacts from the BRTs in Ottawa, Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

There Is No Superior System

Ingvardson and Nielsen recognize that there are limitations in the data collected, analytical methodologies and even in the distinction between transit modes. There isn’t always a clear difference between light, regional or metro rail, for example, or between bus rapid transit and bus priority corridors.

Despite these limitations, the researchers conclude that BRTs can improve travel times, modal share and urban development at rates similar to those reported for light rail and metro. This evidence contradicts conventional wisdom. It is not possible to categorically say trains have greater benefits than BRT; they are not always superior. Context matters, not just the material of the wheels or the permanence of the tracks.

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

Amazon’s Challenge Shows Importance of Good Transit for Cities

Mon, 2017-10-16 13:13

Washington, D.C., a contender in the race for Amazon’s second headquarters, has extensive cycling infrastructure. Photo by World Resources Institute

Amazon’s recent announcement that it is seeking to build a second headquarters in a major North American city has sent cities from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Toronto scrambling to outbid each other in an attempt to woo the corporate behemoth. Interestingly, as part of its request for proposals, Amazon explicitly expressed a preference for cities with access to good public transit.

Amazon is just one of a series of companies explicitly targeting urban locations with good access to public transit. Companies as diverse as GE, McDonalds, Caterpillar and Aetna are relocating from less easily accessible suburban office parks to downtown office buildings. This corporate migration to cities mirrors the overall population globally, as cities become ever more important centers of economic growth and activity.

In developed markets, in particular, generational preferences and economic imperatives in an increasingly competitive digital economy are driving the current wave of urbanization. While the baby boomer generation was known for its suburban migration, Generation Xers initiated the surge of youth into developed markets’ city centers, and the millennial generation has followed suit thanks to their preference for living in close proximity to work, public transit and entertainment. In the United States, for instance, the share of 25-34 year-olds who prefer close-in neighborhoods (within three miles of a city’s central business district) quintupled from 1990 to 2010. And young adults as a percentage of the total urban population in the United States rose from just 25 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2015.

Corporations have followed millennials into the cities as it allows them to take advantage of network effects and recruit a more highly educated workforce, both of which are crucial for continued success in today’s digital economy. Researchers have shown that innovators are more productive when living in proximity to other potential collaborators, highlighting the reason that innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York, London, Tokyo and Toronto have remained among the most innovative cities for years. In fact, all of these cities are among the “global elite” on A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Index, in part as a result of their strong ecosystems for businesses and innovation.

Amazon’s clear preference for quality public transportation highlights both the challenges and opportunities for cities during this ongoing wave of urbanization. In many cities around the world, rapid urbanization has resulted in increased congestion and strained public transit services. The New York City subway system, for instance, has experienced dramatic service challenges over the last few years as ridership has risen rapidly. Overcrowding on the London Underground has also increased steadily year over year, leading to warnings by public officials that the city’s growing population could overwhelm the system within the next 15 years.

To address congestion challenges, cities will increasingly need to implement innovative transportation solutions that meet the needs and preferences of growing urban populations. As discussed in the Global Trends 2017-2022 Report, “The Centrality of Governance,” cities are increasingly exploring the use of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, ride sharing and drone delivery.

Cities are also repurposing older technologies to help reduce congestion and improve public transit. For instance, bus rapid transit – the use of dedicated lanes and specialized on- and off-boarding stations – is currently enjoying a popular resurgence. Dockless bike-sharing has also taken off, combining innovations such as sharing platforms and mobile devices, with the traditional transportation mode of the bicycle. Ofo and Mobike, two leading bike-sharing companies, are both worth over $3 billion and have aggressively expanded across China, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

There is no single answer to growing urban congestion; a mix of new technologies and systems will help cities cope with transport challenges. Those cities that are able to address their congestion issues in locally appropriate ways will gain a competitive advantage, attracting top talent and major corporations, bringing jobs, prosperity and enhanced quality of life to residents.

Paul A. Laudicina is a Partner and Chairman Emeritus of A.T. Kearney, and Chairman of the Global Business Policy Council. In addition to more than 40 years of private-sector experience, Paul has served in the public sector, including as legislative director to then U.S. Senator Joseph Biden from 1977 to 1982.

Video: Edgar Pieterse on Housing and the Democracy Deficit in African Cities

Mon, 2017-09-18 13:30

Edgar Pieterse, an urban scholar and founding director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, says there are two major challenges facing African cities today. First, the majority of urban residents don’t have access to decent housing or basic services, and second, there are few ways people can democratically shape the future of their cities.

Pieterse spoke with WRI during a workshop for the latest World Resources Report (WRR), on achieving more prosperous, sustainable and equitable cities for all. Research from the WRR shows that as much as 70 percent of residents in cities of the global south lack reliable access to core urban services like housing, clean energy and transport.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa face some of the highest rates of urbanization as more and more people – many of them young and low-income – move from rural areas looking for economic opportunity. Up from the lowest ratio of urban dwellers in the world today, it’s estimated that more than half of Africa’s population will live in cities by 2040. Many urban areas are facing an overwhelming number of new residents.

Tangible and Intangible Benefits

The good news is that some African cities are pushing forward with innovative solutions and finding success.

Take transit, a core service that can link residents to economic opportunities . “In Lagos, we’ve seen the emergence of a really important and significant integrated public transport system,” Pieterse says, “and we’ve also seen similar patterns emerge in cities like Addis and Johannesburg.” Four African cities now have bus rapid transit systems in operation, serving more than 460,000 passengers a day.

“Other examples of innovation,” Pieterse points out, “have been areas of community-driven housing and informal settlement upgrading.” Rather than removing residents from their homes, slum upgrading typically involves formalizing services and infrastructure for neighborhoods so that people can stay in place. In parts of Nairobi, for example, community groups and NGOs have successfully challenged slum clearance efforts and negotiated improvements with landlords.

These kinds of technical solutions provide tangible benefits to cities and communities, but Pieterse believes there’s intangible value too.

“They are finally getting an opportunity to be included in the resource allocation and the governance of these cities,” he says. “Public transport and investment in basic services and public housing all represent an opportunity for the excluded to now have a stake and a say in the future of their cities.”

A Citizen-Driven Vision

Given the significant benefits of investing in infrastructure and services, Pieterse suggests three priorities for decision-makers to get Africa’s urban transition right.

“I would argue that, one, they need to get the evidence base right,” he says. Reliable data about demand for local transport options,  or the gap in affordable housing  in the city, for example, can help leaders understand critical challenges and opportunities.

Second, community engagement is important so the public has buy-in and can help shape solutions that are truly sustainable. “They’ve got to invest in participatory development processes so that they can get the citizens of the city to determine for themselves what the critical issues are and how they should be addressed,” Pieterse says.

Lastly, he says decision-makers should make sure they are encouraging healthy private sector investment that’s balanced with a resident-driven public agenda. “Make sure the investors who have an interest in making these cities work and in establishing a long-term base, that they themselves buy into this vision that has been driven by the citizens.”

“In thinking through how cities can gain confidence and capacity in dealing with urban challenges,” Pieterse says, “it is obvious that they will have to both invest their own resources in building the capacity of their leaders and their staff, but they also need to participate actively in various African and global networks…drawing on international networks and resources such as the World Resources Institute, Cities Alliance, and the African Urban Research Initiative.”

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

BRTData Enhances Indicators to Improve Accuracy and Comparisons

Tue, 2017-08-15 14:47

Bogotá, Colombia’s BRT, TransMilenio. Photo by Claudio Olivares Medina / Flickr

Since 2012, BRTdata.org has provided up-to-date information on bus rapid transit systems (BRTs) in more than 200 cities, from passenger data to coverage and costs. Developed in partnership with the Centre of Excellence for Bus Rapid Transit, International Energy Agency and Latin American Association of Integrated Transport Systems and Bus Rapid Transit, the site is the most comprehensive online database of bus corridor systems available worldwide.

But over the years, the criteria used to classify BRT systems has undergone changes. In an effort to maintain consistency , WRI is making changes to align its corridor definition with the benchmarks and quality standards established by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Implemented for the first time in Curitiba, Brazil, BRTs have the capacity to transform cities by improving public transit at relatively small cost, reducing harmful carbon emissions and increasing productivity. BRTs are already present in cities on five continents, and BRTData.org was created in part to track its spread and various implementations.

As its grown, however, a need to establish stricter quality standards has become apparent, as recognized by the BRT Standard Technical Committee. Following their recommendations, from now on, BRT corridors will be defined as one or more contiguous lanes served by one or multiple bus lines with a minimum length of three kilometers that has segregated or exclusive bus lanes. If the segregated lane is aligned to the curb, at least one of the following elements must be present: (1) prepayment of the tariff; (2) priority traffic signaling; (3) a boarding level or (4) a unique brand and logo.

These changes resulted in the exclusion of a total of 94 systems/corridors from BRTData.org. The new database accounts for 358 registered corridors in 164 cities totaling 4,874 kilometers of infrastructure. All these networks benefit 32.2 million passengers per day.

For cities, it is important to have widely applicable standards that make comparisons and performance indicators meaningful. Quality of service can also be better verified by following clearly defined parameters. The BRT TransOlímpica corridor in Rio de Janeiro, for example, underwent an evaluation earlier this year and received a silver rating from the BRT Quality Standard Technical Committee. Implemented as part of the Rio de Janeiro commitments to host the 2016 Olympic Games, TransOlímpica has 17 stations spread over 26 kilometers and meets a daily demand of 40,000 passengers. The assessment serves not only as validation but points to things to improve as well.

But even beyond improving individual systems, the standards have the potential to help planners replicate the most effective approaches in cities without BRTs. By following this standard, BRTData.org will enable more accurate research and continue serving as the most comprehensive hub of BRT data worldwide.

Do Bus Rapid Transit Systems Improve Equity? A Look at the Evidence

Tue, 2017-08-01 12:30

The bus lane in Bangkok. Photo by ICLEI EcoMobility

Some time ago, professor Christo Venter of the University of Pretoria sent me an intriguing message: Did I have data on how bus rapid transit systems, or BRTs, affect equity in cities? Impact evaluations for changes in travel time, cost, traffic fatalities and air pollution, not only in total but disaggregated by socio-economic group, geography or other factors? I pulled together everything I could find, including many articles published in the gray literature, but there wasn’t much.

Six years later, with great patience and the help of Gail Jennings (now at WWF) and support from Andrés Felipe Valderrama Pineda of Aalborg University, Venter has completed an extensive review of 68 publications that touch on equity and BRT, directly and indirectly, and published the results in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (he was also gracious enough to include me as a co-author).

Why Equity and Why BRT

If the three legs of sustainable development are social, economic and environmental, equity is sometimes defined as the overlap between social and economic. As a result, it’s not always given the consideration it deserves, as the economic and environmental components of sustainability get the most attention. WRI is working in its own way to help change this with the latest edition of our World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City.”

In the WRR – which spans several working papers, the latest of which tackles housing – we take equity as our entry point and ask how it affects economic and environmental outcomes in cities. This paper by Venter et al. comes at a timely moment in the development of the transport working paper, which will build on the work of Karen Lucas, Eduardo Vasconcelos, Karel Martens and Aaron Golub, among others, on social justice.

Bus rapid transit is a relatively recent mass transit “technology” capable of improving urban mobility through a package of interventions, including busway improvements, reducing travel times and costs, upgrading urban corridors, and mitigating carbon emissions and road safety risks. According to BRTData, there are currently 452 BRT corridors around the world, covering 5,655 kilometers, 205 cities and serving more than 34.3 million passengers a day.

We found in our review that many BRT projects are rhetorically positioned as pro-poor in developing countries and their political acceptability is often linked to a larger policy agenda aimed at alleviating poverty by improving access to transport and reducing costs. But we also found that, despite the mandate by international development institutions to help eliminate extreme poverty and the fact that many BRT projects have financial assistance from major development banks, methods to measure the impact on the urban underserved are not widespread.

Impacts on the Underserved

BRT implementation usually reduces travel time, travel cost, traffic fatalities and air pollutant emissions. But impacts on particular groups of society are reported in very few cases. Most of the few examples are positive but not all:

  • A study of Bogotá’s TransMilenio Phase 1 by Tito Yepes and myself found higher travel time savings for poor people (18 minutes per trip) than for middle income passengers (10 minutes). Low-income passengers, who would have paid two fares on the traditional system, saved 8 to 12 percent of their daily income.
  • Tiwari and Jain (2012) showed that both cyclists and bus users saw reduced travel times (on the order of a 33 percent reduction) when using the Delhi BRT corridor. As most non-motorized transport users are from low-income households, the benefit is likely to be progressive.
  • Scholl et al. (2016) found Lima’s integrated and flat fare pricing structure promotes BRT usage among the poor by reducing the cost of longer trips below those of traditional modes of transport.
  • An evaluation of Lagos’ BRT found the standardization of fares that used to vary by the hour brought cost savings to many passengers.
  • In a distributional analysis of costs and benefits for BRTs in Bogotá, Mexico City, Istanbul and Johannesburg by WRI, investment was found to be progressive. Benefits exceeded costs by a larger proportion for lower income groups than for higher income groups. In all cases except Istanbul, the highest income group experienced a net loss (costs exceeded benefits), indicating that BRT serves an income distributive function. However, very low income users are usually underrepresented as BRT riders because they are priced out by fares.
  • There is also evidence that it is possible for BRTs to exacerbate inequality. BRT has been used as a tactic to transform existing informal or semi-regulated public transport operations, like minibus networks. Some new systems in Latin America and South Africa have attempted to incorporate existing drivers and minibus owners into the BRT, but have met with limited success due to lack of driver qualifications. As a result, there can be negative spillover effects on both drivers and owners, which fall disproportionately on lower-income groups.

“An Evolving Project”

While this evidence gives an indication of progressive impacts, there are several caveats. The identification and measurement of equity impacts is hampered by the lack of a clear and consistent framework for analyzing equity that can be applied and compared across different locales. Better data are clearly needed to support more rigorous assessment of equity impacts in transport implementation.

Ultimately, as Christo Venter indicates:

Paratransit reform is an evolving project; no consensus has been reached about the most appropriate paths to be followed. But regardless of the path, it is important that authorities carefully consider equity impacts and mitigation of negative spillover effects via effective regulation and transitional strategies.

Bus rapid transit systems possesses characteristics that enable them to provide service to traditionally under-served populations better than other mass transit alternatives. Their relative low cost and rapid implementation can improve travel time and travel costs for low-income populations faster and more effectively than rail options. And if “complete streets” concepts are used, they can benefit pedestrians and bicycle users too.

Nevertheless, the impact of BRTs on equity is not automatic. They need planning and careful design and implementation. There is the potential for affordability and accessibility problems, displacement of low income dwellers as land prices increase due to better access (i.e., gentrification), as well as spillover effects on incumbent transport operators.

Darío Hidalgo guides the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ international team of transport engineers and planners.

3 Ways Bhopal’s Bike Sharing System Breaks New Ground for India

Tue, 2017-06-27 23:21

Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the Bhopal bike sharing launch. Photo by Sarika Panda Bhatt

On Sunday, June 25th, Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, launched India’s first fully automated bicycle sharing system as part of the second anniversary of its much-talked-about smart cities program. This development comes just three weeks after Mysore launched the country’s first city-level bicycle sharing project.

The Public Bicycle Sharing system, or PBS, developed with the help of WRI, involves a fully automated system of 500 bicycles with over 50 docking stations across Bhopal, backed by a state-of-the-art IT system. As part of this completely automated system, users can pick up a cycle from any of the stations and deposit it at another without worrying about returning it to its original location.

The bike sharing system of Bhopal has many firsts but here are three reasons why it can help make bike sharing mainstream in India:

1. It’s Fully Integrated With Buses

The Bhopal Bike sharing system is the country’s first integrated and fully automated bicycle sharing system that connects MyBus, Bhopal’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, with key residential and commercial nodes. By providing both first and last mile connectivity to the city bus system, it improves its efficiency.

In addition to service integration, the city offers flexible payment options, with one smart card that works for bike sharing, BRT and bus services. Bhopal City Link Ltd. is the single nodal agency that will oversee the operational monitoring of all three, making it a great example of institutional integration of public transport modes.

Milind Soman, model, actor and ambassador for India Vision Zero, inspects the dedicated cycle track before the launch of PBS in Bhopal. Photo by Sarika Panda Bhatt

2. It Puts Safety First

Pedestrians and cyclists comprise the largest number of road traffic crash victims in Indian cities. Many cities are therefore wary about developing cycling facilities due to fears they will only put more people in danger. But as part of Bhopal’s bicycle sharing project, the city is also developing physically segregated cycle tracks in the city. At launch there are 12 kilometers of five-meter wide tracks, the country’s widest physically segregated bicycle lanes. The city is also developing 55 kilometers of additional non-motorized transport paths, with work expected to start shortly.

3. It Takes the Long View

PBS is not a one-off project for Bhopal, but part of a targeted campaign to promote walking and cycling. It is hoped that what Paris’s Vélib’ system did for bicycle sharing in Europe, Bhopal PBS can do for India.

The effort kicked off with Raahgiri Day in September 2014 with major street closures to promote more pedestrian and cycling traffic. The resounding success of Raahgiri demonstrated that people were ready for another look at cycling.

The city is now using the concept of “tactical urbanism” to reimagine streets and public spaces so that they can be more people friendly. Bhopal is also in the initial stages of planning its first “smart street” project as part of this initiative, which will involve retrofitting an existing 1.5-kilometer stretch with dedicated facilities for walking and cycling along with other urban design features.

Much will depend on the operation and implementation of PBS going forward, but the early signs are good. 2017 is the 200th anniversary of cycling in the world. With the help of innovative efforts like PBS, this humble mode of transport is gradually coming back to help make India’s cities more pleasant, cleaner and safer.

Sarika Panda Bhatt is Manager of Cities and Transport with WRI India. Chandramauli Shukla is the CEO of Bhopal Smart City Development Corp Limited. Amit Bhatt is the Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India.

Finding Your Place in the Global Urban Movement to Fight Climate Change

Mon, 2017-06-26 22:30

Paris, Pittsburgh and a host of other cities are increasingly organizing around climate change. Photo by Benjamin Stäudinger / Flickr

For Pittsburgh, it’s a focus on improving air quality and creating renewable energy jobs. For Paris, it’s encouraging social mobility and reclaiming pedestrian areas. The common thread in these cities’ climate action plans is a commitment to pledges made by 197 parties in the landmark Paris Agreement.

“The only way to do right by Pittsburghers and Parisians is to abide by the principles of the Paris Agreement, which guarantees the future health and prosperity of both of our cities – and every other city in the world,” wrote Mayors William Peduto and Anne Hidalgo in The New York Times in response to President Donald Trump’s rationale for pulling the United States out of the pact.

Indeed, strong leadership on climate change is not new for city leaders. Reducing emissions and improving resilience are common concerns that are creating transnational networks of urban planners, policymakers and concerned citizens, including the C40, Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and ICLEI. Cities account for nearly 70 percent of global carbon emissions and are vulnerable to some of the most damaging effects of climate change, including sea level rise and poor air quality – and most cities are growing, exacerbating these challenges.

WRI’s work with these urban networks and directly with more than 100 cities around the world has shown that the best solutions come from engaged citizens and neighborhoods, businesses and community groups. So what can one person do to help make cities healthier, more sustainable and more productive? Start by asking these three key questions.

How Do You Move?

If cities are the front lines of the climate fight, transportation is the first battle. Cities account for 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic worldwide, which means that the way people live and move in cities offers an opportunity to dramatically reduce environmental impact. This can also be a window on unique local challenges. Do cyclists feel safe on the street? Is there an accessible, reliable bus system?

As an individual, you can take a stand for sustainable mobility by demanding well-connected public transport and safe biking infrastructure. For example, in Brazil, WRI helped Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro create and conduct feedback surveys about their bus rapid transit systems, or BRTs, to attract and retain more riders. This feedback led to safer, more comfortable public transit in both cities. Curitiba improved lighting and security, renovated infrastructure and added capacity. In Rio, passenger satisfaction rates rose from 1.7 to 5.8 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Making public transport safer and more accessible means fewer cars on the road, less congestion and lower emissions.

What Kind of Building Do You Live In?

The buildings where city-dwellers live and work account for 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. By demanding better energy performance from your city’s buildings or choosing to live in a lower-emissions building, you can make the case for efficiency.

In their new resilience strategy, officials in Da Nang, Vietnam, a city of more than a million people, are working to make energy efficiency a priority for developers and expand resources and knowledge on energy use in some of its biggest buildings. In addition to saving energy, building efficiency is one of the easiest ways to reduce climate changing emissions and improve local air quality. WRI’s Building Efficiency Accelerator project will be working with Da Nang on these and other initiatives this year.

How Do You Connect?

The last step comes down to asking the right questions of your city. Does your mayor have a climate action plan? How about a resilience plan? Are local emissions being measured? There is much that cities can learn from each other, but ultimately each place requires its own unique solutions.

Strengthening the way you connect with your fellow citizens and your city’s long-term agenda can improve the environment and your own well-being. Don’t wait for a climate plan in your city; you can lobby for better systems today, ranging from bike lanes to larger questions of more equitable development.

Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, included robust individual indicators in its first municipal resilience strategy. WRI Brasil helped develop metrics for social cohesion, risk perceptions, economic resources and education. These indicators will ensure community needs are measured by policymakers and taken into account in the city’s longer-term plans.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities was founded on the idea that transformative urban change happens across more than one political administration and often over a decade or more. By keeping in mind these ways of thinking about urban sustainability, you can help ensure your city is moving in the right direction.

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

The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies

Mon, 2017-03-27 20:16

Medellin, Colombia integrates transport infrastructure to solve its transit challenges. Metroplús/WRI/Flickr

Developing cities worldwide face a severe and worsening transport crisis. A new book, “The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies,” reports that urban transport problems are following a perverse pattern: While education and healthcare tend to improve as developing cities grow wealthier, transport problems worsen. The book looks at twelve of the world’s major emerging economies—Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. While far from identical, the growth of their transport problems has triggered similar challenges. Although measures to deal with the urban transport crisis are disparate, there are some shared trends. Nine commonly adopted or proposed “interventions” or “solutions” are summarized below:

1.      Road Infrastructure

Experiences in many countries illustrate that road construction may only reduce traffic congestion in the short term. In the long run, increased road capacity fuels additional travel demand. In light of this evidence, transport professionals need to understand that they cannot build their way out of traffic congestion, particularly when this marginalizes other modes such as cycling and walking.

Traffic congestion and reduced pedestrian space in newly-built grade-separated junctions in Ankara, Turkey. Photo by Ela Babalık-Sutcliffe

2.      Rail-based Public Transport

Cities around the world are prioritizing the development of mass transit. Aided by a strong economy in recent decades, many Chinese cities have been developing new urban rail systems. However, in most other developing countries, urban rail is expensive to build, is not always affordable and is often poorly integrated with other transport modes. To shift current mode-based planning approaches, cities need strategic and comprehensive public transport masterplans. These masterplans need to define rail (or bus rapid transit, see below) as the backbone of the public transport network, and buses and informal vans as the feeder systems.

Shanghai Metro Line. Photo by Emcc83 / wikimedia

3.      Road-based Public Transport

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are an appealing and effective public transport option for many cities around the world, especially rapidly-growing ones. BRTs can mimic rail-based systems, or function as a simpler network of segregated bus lanes. A main attraction is their lower cost compared to rail. Curitiba’s BRT is a landmark system worldwide. Being one of the first major transport innovations to emerge from a developing country, it inspired many other cities (in both developed and developing countries) to build their own BRT systems. Recently, Guangzhou inaugurated the largest BRT system in Asia.

4.      Support for Non-motorized Modes

Few cities are currently investing substantial amounts in cycling and walking infrastructure. These investments often target small pockets or disconnected urban corridors. In many places, cycling is still seen as a leisure activity rather than a form of everyday transport. Bogotá, however, is a rare exception in terms of investments in cycling infrastructure. Here, cycling rates have grown from around half a percent in 1996 to approximately six percent in 2014. With 392 km (244 miles) of segregated bicycle lanes, it has the largest network in Latin America. In Brazil, support for cycling is increasing, and a large cycling network has been developed in São Paulo. For instance, the city’s Minhocão elevated highway is closed to all vehicular traffic on weekday nights and all day on Sundays, allowing dedicated use by pedestrians and cyclists. In China, bicycle-sharing programs are being introduced to revive the cycling tradition, but there are mixed results.

São Paulo’s walking and cycling infrastructure enables residents to travel without motorized vehicles. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil

5.      Awareness-raising Campaigns

Raising awareness among citizens on the harmful effects of car dependence and on the benefits of safer, more equitable, livable designs for streets is crucial. Campaigns are taking place in many countries, but their success in reversing travel habits has been minimal. To induce reform, attention needs to shift to professional training and education. To tackle these issues, the Indian government has created financial assistance for professional training, sponsoring Centers of Excellence in Urban Transport.

Sidewalks encroached by motorcycles in an Indian city. Photo by Sujaya Rathi/CSTEP

6.      Pricing Mechanisms

Central to improving urban transport is evaluating the full social and environmental costs of different transport modes. In many countries, however, there is great political reluctance to introduce any measures that curtail the use of private cars because drivers are usually among the powerful local elites. Some pricing and taxation schemes are counterproductive. For example, in India, due to institutional inefficiencies, buses are taxed more than personal vehicles. Road pricing or parking schemes have been implemented in just a handful of countries. One example is Tehran, which has had a limited traffic zone (essentially a large charging zone around its downtown) for several decades. Better enforcement in recent years has reportedly led to some improvements in air quality and traffic flow.

7.      Vehicle Access Restrictions

There has been some experimentation with vehicle access restrictions, with limited success so far. Mexico City has prohibited all cars from circulating one day a week, and vehicles are required to stay off the road one Saturday a month. In addition, cities in China, including Shanghai and Beijing, have introduced restrictions on private vehicle ownership by limiting the issuance of license plates.

As Beijing limits car use, more cyclists take to the streets. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI/Flickr

8.      Control of Land Use

Cities are slowly recognizing the need to adopt land-use policies that encourage using public transit. This requires that development be concentrated along urban corridors and, especially, at rail and BRT stations, according to the principles of Transit-oriented Development (TOD). While the application of TOD is context-dependent, uncontrolled, low-density sprawl is rarely appropriate.

9.      Technological Solutions

Some developing countries, particularly in Asia, are harnessing and employing technological improvements. Inexpensive smartphone-based taxi or ridesharing services and on-demand parking payments are becoming increasingly popular, especially with younger travelers. In Indonesia, apps such as GrabTaxi and Go-Jek (the local equivalent of Uber) are becoming widespread. There is also growing interest in Intelligent Transport Systems. India has launched the Smart Cities Mission, an urban renewal and retrofitting program targeting 100 cities, which enlists technology.

Go-Jek motorcycle-taxis in Jakarta. Photo by Dorina Pojani

To provide more equitable, accessible and sustainable city transport, a radical overhaul of urban mobility policies and practices is necessary. Measures discussed above cannot yield satisfactory results if employed in isolation. Implementing packages of measures is necessary, leading to impacts greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Development Finance Institutions Have a Role to Play in Creating Sustainable Cities

Tue, 2016-11-01 18:37

Bus rapid transit in Florianópolis, Brazil. Photo by Dylan Passmore / Flickr

By 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will reside in cities, increasing the size of the world’s urban population by more than two-thirds. Cities will need to focus on building the right things to ensure this growth happens sustainably—so how can they pay for it?

Recognizing that finance is a core issue of sustainable urban development and one of cities’ biggest challenges, the International Development Finance Club (IDFC) hosted a side event on this topic at Habitat III in Quito.

The discussion, which featured leaders from CAF-Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Planning Department of Colombia (DNP) highlighted four key insights about financing sustainable cities. In short, development finance institutions can play a big role in bridging the funding gap, but only with the right partners and policies in place:

1. Growing cities should seek better outcomes, not just more finance.

A long-term plan for a city with at least a 10-15-year horizon sets the stage for how it develops and what projects will ultimately need financing. Ultimately, it’s not just about the money, but what cities build with it. The New Urban Agenda adopted in Quito provides cities with standards for sustainable urban development that they can incorporate into these plans, and the Sustainable Development Goals and countries’ national climate plans (NDCs) provide still more important considerations. One critical characteristic of these plans, as noted by Simón Gaviria, chief director of the DNP, is that they should serve citizens’ rather than the government’s needs.

Development finance institutions (DFIs) can help cities develop strong and effective plans. For instance, Koki Hirota, JICA’s chief economist, shared how JICA has supported hundreds of master plans for cities undergoing rapid urbanization in an effort to support development while preventing future inefficiencies in delivering services to city populations.

2. Development finance institutions are ready to unstick cities struggling with project preparation.

Once plans are in place, cities often need help with feasibility studies and preparation to get projects like bus-rapid transit systems or building efficiency retrofits to a stage where they are “bankable,” or financially viable and able to secure financing from third-party sources. However, city governments, which can be good at designing broader city plans, often hit a wall when it comes to creating a pipeline of bankable projects. DFIs are helping to address this challenge. As Rémy Rioux, AFD’s CEO, explained, AFD launched its 100 cities/100 Climate Projectsinitiative last year at COP21, which provides grants to cover project preparation costs and then lends to projects once they are developed.

3. Scaling can happen only if local financial institutions and agencies play a prominent role.

Local institutions like local commercial banks and mayor’s offices understand the local financial system, players, challenges and opportunities. So it’s important that national and international institutions work with the local players. In light of this, the DNP is making an effort to collect data to better understand Colombia’s cities. DFIs can collaborate with local government and financial institutions to provide additional funds and knowledge. One approach is to provide a loan to a local financial institution for “on-lending,” where the local financial institution uses the borrowed money to provide loans to its clients, which in this case, are cities.

4. The best outcomes come from partnerships and coordination with a range of actors.

The involvement of mayors, national planning agencies, private sector developers and investors, and civil society groups are all needed to develop and finance sustainable cities. DFIs can bring financing to the table, and they can also help enhance coordination between these different actors. For example, in CAF’s Cities with a Future project in Guayaquil, Ecuador, CAF’s financing for housing, transport, water and sanitation programs  helped transform the city and improve quality of life of its citizens. The program involved strong coordination with multiple actors, including the mayor, city planners, community organizations, local agencies, private sector operators and utility companies.

A Need for Further Innovation

While DFIs are already doing much to support sustainable urban development, there’s room for more innovation. Part of this involves further exploration of instruments and models that would support investments in sustainable urban services, like guarantees to de-risk projects, bonds to raise debt financing from pension funds, or public-private partnerships to capture land value. Another area involves direct engagement with cities. DFIs often ask cities to provide a guarantee from the national government (ensuring that payment obligations will be met) before providing them with finance; this can cause delays or limit cities’ options if the national government refuses. IDFC members like AFD do not have this requirement. Changing internal policies to allow DFIs to channel funds directly to city governments would open new doors for collaboration.

As underscored by Enrique García, CEO of CAF, during the discussion, DFIs are looking to play a catalytic role in creating sustainable cities. The hope is that with these innovations and the continued support of DFIs, cities in developing countries can grow and thrive for generations to come.

New Urban Transport Models Can Help Create Sustainable Cities

Fri, 2016-10-14 02:17

Shanghai, China encourages bicycle use to combat traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo by Marko Simo / Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on sustainable mobility enabling better, safer, cleaner and affordable access for all, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

Emmanuel, a 40-year-old tailor in Awoshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, is a good example of challenges that face commuters in cities around the world. He lives just 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from his job in the central business district, but spends 15 percent of his household income getting there, mostly on trotro, a small van providing informal public transport service, similar to the magic in India, the daladala in Tanzania or the combi in Peru. Congestion in the city center makes bus drivers avoid it by taking circuitous, time-consuming routes that can more than an hour to commute, and more direct travel options are often prohibitively expensive.  The solution Emmanuel sees for his commuting difficulties would only make traffic congestion worse: he hopes to get his own car.

Making transport sustainable for all city residents is a prominent part of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of Habitat III. This demonstrates the international development community’s recognition of how important mobility is for prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Making that vision a reality presents challenges to city leaders as they who struggle to address the immediate need to move people from homes to jobs with limited resources. In many cases, cities continue with old, unsustainable models that rely too heavily on cars and roads. And the problems of traditional transport – including traffic fatalities and the health effects of air pollution — will continue to be felt primarily by society’s most vulnerable.

Between 2000 and 2015 the use of motor vehicles worldwide jumped 67 percent to 24 trillion vehicle kilometers (15 trillion miles) from 14 trillion (8.7 trillion miles). During that period, the total number of vehicles on the road surged 49 percent to 992 million from 664 million, reflecting the growing urban middle class in developing countries. Electric vehicle stock grew dramatically, but still accounted for just 1 million in 2015, up from fewer than 20,000 vehicles in 2010. While new technologies such as e-hailing apps provide flexibility and convenience, these ad hoc private services further increase the focus on cars for mobility, rather than inclusion in a comprehensive transit plan that fosters the use of clean modes like walking and cycling.

Putting Cities in the Driver’s Seat

Addressing these challenges will be essential if cities are to achieve the New Urban Agenda’s sustainable transport goals. WRI’s World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City will examine this issue in a working paper that looks at the possible policies city governments can use to propel their communities towards sustainable urban mobility.

There are plenty of good examples on how to do this. There are currently more than 12,600 km (nearly 8000 miles) of metro or urban rail and 5,400 km (3,300 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT), collectively providing 154 million trips a day in 250 cities. Walking and biking also are gaining momentum. In U.S. cities, for example, commuting by bicycle increased 62 percent between 2000 and 2013.  And some cities, like London, Shanghai and Bogotá, discourage excessive car use with congestion pricing, vehicle quotas or license plate restrictions as they work to tackle congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

WRR examines policies that have the potential to capitalize on that momentum. Noting that the most sustainable cities have high proportions of residents who walk, bicycle and use public transport, we look at policies that increase this behavior. These can include changes in land use, with a mix of residential and commercial use; dedicated pedestrian zones and bicycle lanes; and better planning and coordination of transit policies across metropolitan areas to ensure service covers all areas of the city.

Another challenge is the traditional focus of public finance on building highways rather than on more sustainable transportation options, as well as the lack of comprehensive mobility plans, especially in metropolitan areas where different municipal governments are not adequately coordinated.

New mobility solutions like e-hailing and car sharing can be a welcome part of the transport mix, but as a complement to a coordinated system. Cities need to be more in the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Breaking Car Addictions Starts in the Workplace

Thu, 2016-09-22 21:30

CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais, started a few measures to reduce employees car dependency. Photo by Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Without dramatic change in cities, the world will hold more than 2 billion cars by 2050, putting human health and the planet at risk. Belo Horizonte, Brazil is finding that changing the world’s car-centric culture starts in the workplace.

Local governments throughout Brazil have long-struggled with how to solve the problems caused by rising car ownership, such as air pollution, traffic congestion and auto crashes. Cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo have experimented with Traffic Demand Management (TDM) policies like license plate restrictions, increased parking prices and more, but they’ve met with mixed results. Many Brazilian cities simply lack the necessary public transport infrastructure, economic stability and political will to make city-wide TDM policies feasible.

Changing Travel Habits in the Workplace

A project in Belo Horizonte offers a solution.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities partnered with the state government of Minas Gerais to encourage more sustainable transportation habits by the workers of the Cidade Administrativa de Minas Gerais (CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais). The state government headquarters employs about 17,000 people, many of whom spend more than two hours per day commuting by private car or motorcycle.

WRI researchers and staff from CAMG started with a step-by-step guide on how to develop a corporate mobility plan, researching employees’ commuting habits and workplace infrastructure and transportation-related costs to develop a Corporate Mobility Diagnosis Report. From there, the two organizations identified potential opportunities for decreasing employees’ vehicle use while improving their commutes and overall quality of life.

When WRI and CAMG asked workers driving cars and motorcycles every day about what would make them change their habits, 84 percent said a high-quality public transport system. Forty-nine percent said they would use the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system, MOVE, if lines connected to stations close to CAMG.

So now CAMG is working with Belo Horizonte’s Transit Agency (BHTRANS) to replace two bus lines with faster, cheaper and more reliable MOVE lines. The new lines will also connect important bus terminals not served by previous bus routes, giving more CAMG workers access to public transit. These new services will start operating in late 2016.

CAMG is also installing bike parking and showers for employees, and a new bike lane will connect the office to the nearest public transit terminal. CAMG is also considering implementing carpool policies and parking fees to further discourage private vehicle use and incentivize more sustainable commuting options.

A Good Policy for Employees and for Companies

If done correctly, CAMG’s plan will save employees money and commuting time while also reducing car use.

There are benefits for CAMG and other companies that implement TDM policies, too. Policies that improve quality of life and value employees’ time have the power to attract and retain talent. According to Fortune Business Magazine, 90 of the 100 Best Places to Work in 2014 had corporate mobility plans in place.

Scaling Up Success

The Belo Horizonte project was not only an opportunity for CAMG, but for city officials to experience the process and benefits of a workplace TDM plan. Now, Belo Horizonte is planning to launch the first corporate mobility public policy in Latin America. The city-wide policy will require large companies to implement a corporate mobility plan in order to offset the impact of thousands of employees’ daily commutes. This pioneering policy will become an example for other Brazilian cities to follow, as well as cities around the world.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

An Olympic Legacy: Why Rio’s Residents Now Have a Different City at the End of the Games

Tue, 2016-08-23 20:38

Passengers board Rio de Janeiro BRT, Transoeste. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

The Olympics have given us the opportunity to meet the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. The landscape of Guanabara Bay, the famous beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain, Lagoa and the tropical forest are so beautiful, it feels natural that the Portuguese selected this place as the capital of their empire, while Napoleon’s Army occupied the Iberian Peninsula. Rio de Janeiro remained the capital of Brazil after its independence, until the foundation of Brasilia in 1960. Today, it remains the symbol of the whole country.

Rio, like many host cities before, has tried to harness the Olympic experience to showcase the friendly face of Brazil and leave a legacy. This friendly face is evident in the beautiful opening ceremony, the incredible sports arenas and fair treatment of the entire Olympic family. Rio was a great Olympic host amid a political crisis, an economic recession and great social disparity. Given the economic and social state of Brazil, however, is legacy worth the Olympic cost?

Rio’s reported Olympic budget is 37.6 billion reais ($11.9 billion), of which 24.1 billion reais ($7.6 billion) are for city infrastructure and 7 billion reais ($2.2 billion) are for the Olympic committee. Like Olympic Games before, the final costs are higher than initial projections. All the Olympic Games between 1960 (Rome) and 2012 (London) had cost overruns of 179 percent, and London was the most expensive in history ($14.8 billion), with cost overruns of 101 percent. Rio is not far behind, already reporting cost overruns of 51 percent.

The Olympics are not the only event Brazil has organized in recent years. It hosted the FIFA World Cup, the World Youth Congress and Pope Francis, Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development and the World Games of the Armed Forces. In order to prepare for these events, Rio had to advance its mobility infrastructure, particularly its mass-transit. While it has been costly, the city created necessary infrastructure that otherwise would not have been built or would have taken decades. Large city projects include a metro extension, the construction of a downtown light rail, a large-scale renewal in the old urban port area (now Porto Maravilha), the construction of several BRT lines (Transoeste, Transcarioca and Transolímpica), bicycle path advancement and public space and sports venue improvement.

The metro extension of 16 kilometers (10 miles) opened on June 30, just days before the Games, to Olympic families and attendees of ticketed events. It connects the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana to the suburb of Barra de Tijuca, the Olympic park. During construction, the cost of the project doubled from about 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to 9.7 billion reais ($2.8 billion, $175 million per kilometer).

The light rail (VLT Carioca), a 28 kilometer (17 mile), single line, came into service on June 5, two weeks after the announced date. It has an estimated cost of 1.2 billion reais ($370 million, $13 million per kilometer).

The new BRT lines in Rio have been launched gradually, expanding with each major event. Transoeste, a 56 kilometer (34.7 mile) line from Barra de Tijuca to Santa Cruz, opened in 2012 for Rio+20. It services 250,000 passengers per day and cost $343 million ($6 million per kilometer). Transcarioca, a 39 kilometer (24.2 mile) line opened for the FIFA World Cup Football in 2014. The line connects the international airport to Barra de Tijuca, carrying 450,000 passengers daily and had a cost of $758 million ($19 million per kilometer). Transolímpica, a 26 kilometer (16 mile) line, was put into partial operation on July 10 of this year, for the Olympics. So far, the line has cost $400 million ($15 million per kilometer). In total, Rio constructed 121 kilometers (75 miles) of BRT in just seven years. This accomplishment stands out when compared with Mexico City, which completed 125 kilometers (77.6 miles) in 11 years and Bogotá, which completed 113 kilometers (70.2 miles) in 18 years.

Perhaps the most impressive Olympic project is the renewal of the urban port, Porto Maravilha, encompassing five million square meters (1.93 square miles) in the old industrial harbor area. The project includes the demolition of an elevated highway, construction of a road tunnel, enabling of public spaces and construction of the Museum of Art and the Museum of Tomorrow. The total cost of the project was $2.2 billion financed through real estate development in city.

Mayor of Rio Eduardo Paes is very happy with the city’s infrastructural improvements. Changing the city is impressive. International events are able to create this transformation by drawing on federal support and private participation. We all enjoy the Olympics, but the inhabitants of Rio will continue to enjoy a different city at the end of the Games.

Originally published in Spanish on El Tiempo


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