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Overcoming the Knowledge Gaps for Transit-Oriented Development: What’s Lacking?

Tue, 2017-03-28 18:44

Transit-oriented development can bring economic, cultural and societal benefits to urban residents. Photo by Bradley Schroeder / Flickr

With an increase in their rate of urbanization, many low- to middle-income countries are feeling additional demand for services, amenities and infrastructure. To address this, several cities have followed unorganized development practices (like building bigger and faster), only to meet additional challenges down the road—displacement, uncontrolled migration, greater traffic, higher land prices, insufficient affordable housing and more.

Transit-oriented development (TOD)—a strategy for creating walkable, compact urban areas with a mix of uses around transit systems—can avoid many of these negative effects and bring economic, cultural and societal benefits to the residents of these expanding cities. However, TOD requires an integrated approach to project implementation at all levels of the planning process, and this can be a challenge for cities worldwide. Decision makers must familiarize themselves with the supporting mechanisms to enable TOD if they are to effectively implement this development strategy, but few resources and tools exist at a global level for building capacity and knowledge.

So how do we overcome these barriers, and what’s needed to take them to scale?

A Lack of Common Knowledge Contributes to Common Barriers

Without an extensive knowledge base, TOD remains vulnerable to three reoccurring implementation challenges: coordinated planning, regulatory frameworks and project funding.

First, a lack of coordination between land and transportation planners has historically prevented an integrated planning approach to land, transportation and economic development. This disconnect has led to lost time, increased infrastructure costs, poor health and the loss of public space. For example, in Warsaw, Poland a demand for housing was not paired with the creation of a transportation network. The result was resident dependence on private vehicles and increased congestion on available road networks. To achieve TOD, participating agencies must set clear objectives for growth, ensuring project momentum through political transitions and between development departments while securing citizen support.

Second, an absence of supportive TOD policies in cities has prevented progress by creating isolated areas of development with little foresight for long-term growth. TOD projects require policies that permit high-density and mixed-use developments, often supported by form-based codes that respond quickly to changing economic patterns and space needs. Without local mechanisms in place for land redevelopment, TOD is restricted by national regulations and financial constraints.

Lastly, because TOD is a capital-intensive venture, initial funding for large-scale projects is difficult for many cities to secure. By creatively using and combining financing mechanisms, cities like São Paulo, Brazil are able to tap into value capture instruments that produce the highest returns for their communities. These models can also indicate which projects and technologies are the most advantageous, but local decision makers often aren’t familiar with the options available to them.

The success of Curitiba’s transport-oriented development strategy can be a model for others. Photo by / Flickr

Key Lessons from Brazil and Beyond

Although the context of a city is always different, many examples of success in TOD have revealed four common lessons for getting it right: the importance of political economy, planning and regulation, finance and implementation.

A strong planning and regulatory framework can help address political economy concerns by ensuring that TOD projects are developed and maintained throughout implementation. Once a project has been accepted, a strong planning and regulatory framework can help integrate individual initiatives into the larger vision for the city or region. The success of Curitiba is widely credited to the vision and agency of its former mayor, Jaime Lerner, who supported investment in public transit systems and green city initiatives. Curitiba’s zoning codes and design parameters were readjusted to attract new development while maintaining the integrity of the city at the institutional level. The Curitiba example also provides insight on the coordination, handover and delivery of TOD projects, as the city established a network of agencies to protect the interests of those who interact with the city at every level.

The appeal of TOD lies in the distribution of transportation modes and the opportunities that are created for those who use transit in that area. For a project to truly encompass inclusive TOD, there must be provisions that offer affordable housing, grow access to a diverse job base and preserve local culture. Unfortunately, this task can become challenging at the finance and implementation stage. To attract private investors, the public sector must be willing to not only take on initial financing, but also promote incentives for affordable housing preservation and production.

For example, Brazil’s Outorga Onerosa do Direito de Construir (OODC) instrument allows developers to build at increased density in exchange for a fee. These funds are then shared with under-developed areas of the city. In São Paulo, for example, between 20 to 30 percent of these funds are then allocated to affordable housing.  Another financial innovation includes tying specific funds to TOD by making loans to developers to build affordable housing as part of the larger city plans. Examples here include the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund of San Francisco, the Arlington County (Virginia) Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Denver (Colorado) Regional Transit Oriented Development Fund.

New Tools Are Needed to Fill the Knowledge Gap

While extensive research has been conducted on TOD in North American and European cities, little knowledge has been compiled on regulatory frameworks and financing mechanisms in the Global South—particularly with an eye to inclusion and equity. For a project to be successful, decision makers need to become familiar with the challenges related to TOD and how they can support each stage of the implementation process. As global urbanization continues, cities will need to meet the mobility, housing, social and economic needs of their residents in a way that is equitable and sustainable. Transit-oriented development can be critical for achieving this, but new tools, information and resources are needed to empower cities to meet the challenge at scale.

The Next Step in Financing Transit-Oriented Development in India

Wed, 2017-02-01 20:37

Busy Road in Jaipur, India. Photo by EMBARQ / Flickr

India’s urban population is expected to reach 600 million by 2031. Providing infrastructure to accommodate this growth will be a huge task. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) is encouraging Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) as one of its strategies for sustainable urban growth. There has been increased interest in India for scaling-up TOD projects in order to solve issues in existing and newly emerging urban areas. Therefore, it is important to understand that implementation requires cross-disciplinary integration and partnering at various tiers of government.

However, owing to the significant capital investments required, and long gestation periods without definite returns, few have signed on for TOD projects. There is a need to develop suitable financing mechanisms and concrete policy frameworks and regulations to encourage success.

Financing is Crucial to TOD

Successful global practices have shown that TOD cannot adhere to a one size fits all policy, especially when it comes to the financing model involved. Each component of the project needs to be looked at separately and the appropriate financing model applied. In addition, the role of all stakeholders in the financing process and the possible changes to the financing model need to be charted out.

There is significant capital available, allocated by the local, state and central governments, in addition to available funds from public transit agencies, businesses, financial institutions, community based organizations, philanthropies and developers. However, this money needs to be accessed and channeled effectively.

Existing Mechanisms to Finance Infrastructure

At present, there are several financial mechanisms that have been used for large-scale infrastructure projects in India. Depending on the type of project and the stakeholders involved, replicating these models could help future TOD projects get off the ground.

Public-Public Partnership: When two or more public agencies come together for a project, resources and responsibilities are pooled within a partnership agreement. For example, when the Ministry of Urban Development approved the Delhi TOD policy in July 2015, a pilot TOD project was initiated by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the state-owned NBCC (India) Limited to take the project forward.

Credit Assistance: This method is traditionally used for large-scale infrastructure projects in India and involves budgetary support, grants and loans from multilateral or bilateral development agencies. One such example is the Delhi Metro, which is an equity joint venture between the state government and the central government, along with significant soft-loan assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Land Value Capture: This method recovers all or some of the increase in land and property value as a result of public infrastructure provision. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has successfully employed this financing method through property development. Phase-III of the Delhi Metro is looking to generate funds of close to INR 2500 crore (US $367 million) through the same method. The new Value Capture Framework Policy could help the government recover value generated via public infrastructure investments.

Public- Private Partnership (PPP): This approach involves private finance and advanced technical expertise made attractive with guarantees from the government. For instance, the Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd (HMR) has been set up as a Special Project Vehicle (SPV) between the state government and the concessionaire, L&T.

Municipal Bonds: Tax-free bonds are issued by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in order to finance city improvement projects. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation was the first ULB to issue redeemable tax-free bonds in 2005. While the municipal bond market in India has thus far played only a limited role as a funding source, it has a high-track record in terms of repayment across all ULBs that have issued them.

Dedicated Funds Model: The Government of Karnataka has established a Dedicated Funds Model, where money is mobilized by imposing a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) tax based on the market guidance value of all properties within a distance of 500 meters (1640 feet) from the Phase-II of the Bangalore metro line. The funds would be credited to the Metro Infrastructure Fund and shared proportionately between the ULB and infrastructure providers.

Moving Forward

While TOD has had widespread global success, as with any infrastructure project, TOD will not be successful in India until the question of finance is answered. Infrastructure financing mechanisms should be contextual and financially sustainable. These could include tax increment financing (TIF), betterment tax, user charges, selling of air rights, green bonds, project bonds and others.

An encouraging sign is that the government has become flexible in terms of allowing commercial bank lending, using tools such as take-out financing, infrastructure financing institutions, infrastructure debt funds, external commercial borrowing and foreign direct investments (FDIs). The applicability of existing finance mechanisms and the possibility of innovative methods for financing will be crucial for the implementation and scaling-up of TOD.

This was originally published by WRI India

Live from Habitat III: Talking All Things Mobility at Transport Day

Thu, 2016-10-20 06:04

Natalie Draisin, US Manager, FIA Foundation, speaks at Transport Day at Habitat III. Photo by Alex Rogala/WRI.

TheCityFix is live on the ground from Habitat III. Click here for our full coverage. 

“We need to stop building cities for vehicles, and build cities for people,” remarked Quito’s Deputy Mayor, Eduardo del Pozo, setting the opening tone for Transport Day, hosted by the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC). While the host city continues to grapple with air pollution and congestion, the city has made positive strides toward a low-carbon future, including expanding its electric bike share program and nearing implementation for a metro system. With Quito as its backdrop, Transport Day proved to be full of stimulating discussion.

Ensuring Road Safety for the Most Vulnerable Users

“1.8 billion children want to get to school safely every day, but around the world, millions can’t, due to risks of injury or death from cars. This needs to change,” implored Michelle Yeoh, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador.

We often think of unsafe streets and neighborhoods as threatening children’s rights to health and well-being, but as Eduardo Vasconcellos of the CAF Development Bank of Latin America noted, poor urban design can have implications beyond that. Without genuinely safe access to schools, children may have a formal right to education, but no real opportunity to learn. The formal right to education can’t be exercised unless the transport system works for them—and in a safe way.

Vasconcellos elaborated on how unsafe transport systems are failing another vulnerable user as well—the poor. For example, he mentioned how the rich make three times the number of trips as the poor in São Paulo, Brazil, yet they suffer disproportionately. Vasconcellos’s research shows that the poor suffer 12-15 times more traffic fatalities and injuries than the well-off. A more equal city, like London, has a much lower ratio, with the poor suffering three to four times the impact as the well-off. Of course, London still has a way to go to equitably serving all its residents.

Women and gender-specific issues are referenced in 32 paragraphs of the New Urban Agenda (of 174). This should be considered an accomplishment, argued Katia Araujo, Director of Programs, Huairou Commission, but there’s still a lot to do to ensure that the New Urban Agenda works for the most vulnerable users, including children and those less able. Different populations have different needs, and it will be critical going forward that integrated transport and land use planning—an imperative for well-planned cities—works for all people.

All this will require strong leadership at all levels of government. Jean Todt, President of FIA, called on mayors to address the 1.25 million traffic fatalities and 15 million injuries that are occurring every year, as half of these take place in cities. The New Urban Agenda elevates road safety to an unprecedented level, creating an opportunity for action. Andrés Gómez-Lobo, Chile’s Minister of Transportation and Communications, echoed this, emphasizing the critical role that good public policy—like subsidizing fares and integrating metropolitan transport systems—can play in make cities safer and more equal for all.

Comparing Common Challenges for Transit-oriented Development

A session on transit-oriented development (TOD) examined experiences both from the city-side and from the investor-side. Laura Ballesteros, Director of Mobility for Mexico City, noted how weak housing policy in Mexico and weak metropolitan governance allowed for unplanned development over the past several decades of the country’s history. As a result, homes in the Mexico City metropolitan area are about 21 km (13 miles) away from the city center on average, and a staggering 31 percent of homes are abandoned, due to the high costs of transport in these isolated areas. However, she did note that the city and surrounding state are making advances toward an integrate transit system and metropolitan governance.

Madhav Pai, Director of India of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, discussed the challenges of TOD in the Indian context, including the tension between development with services access and the unaffordability that this tends to bring. Delhi, for example, has been moving forward with TOD projects, but while low parking requirements are a positive sign, disagreement about housing has stymied many projects from moving forward more quickly. Developers typically push for larger unit sizes in order to maximize profits, but this reduces affordability and puts the benefits of TOD out of reach of lower-income populations.

Xiaomei Tan, Senior Climate Change Specialist, Global Environment Facility, discussed the role that banks play in supporting clean vehicle technologies and fuels, rapid transit systems and non-motorized infrastructure. Max Jensen, Head of the Public Transport Division at the European Investment Bank, talked about how EU policy dictates the parameters of the types of projects that the EIB can invest in. Both agreed that there needs to be a range of financing instruments that can be assembled in different combinations depending on the policy, project and context.

5 Priorities for Catalyzing Global Action at the Local Level

From the recent ratification of the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and even the most recent agreement on hydrofluorocarbons in Kigali, Rwanda, the international community is proving that it can make real progress and commitments. More than 61 percent of countries’ national climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), propose actions to mitigate emissions from the transport sector. This is a good start, but how do we break down these global commitments into city-level action?

Holger Dalkmann, Director of Strategy and Global Policy, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, presented five priorities:

  1. Bring transport initiatives together within national government frameworks – a recent report from WRI shows that transport initiatives can play a major role in galvanizing climate action
  2. Link global processes and commitments – the SDGs, Paris Agreement and New Urban Agenda are all major advances, but how will we bring them together to maximize impact?
  3. Finance is criticalresearch from WRI shows that investment in sustainable transport could save US $300 billion a year, and that achieving these savings is just a matter of shifting investment, not increasing it.
  4. Strengthen institutions and build capacity – many cities lack the technical knowledge and ability to shift to low-carbon transport systems.
  5. Partnerships are key – cities can’t do it alone. A sustainable urban future will require the active participation of civil society, the private sector and people.

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.


4 Keys to Unlock Innovative Urban Services for All

Fri, 2016-02-19 02:50
With rising air pollution to costly traffic congestion and increasingly burdened public finances, cities need to transition onto a sustainable path towards healthy, productive and equitable urban communities. To thrive in the coming urban century, cities will need to innovate ...

Why Sustainable Transport Is a Key Driver of Sustainable Urban Development

Wed, 2016-01-20 21:06
About 80 percent of all wealth generated in the world comes from the cities, which attract millions of people every year in search of opportunities. There are already 3.9 billion people living in urban areas and, in 2050, that number ...

Finding Creative Ways to Finance Transit-Oriented Development in Brazilian Cities

Tue, 2015-11-24 00:07
The Seminar on Latin American Experiences of Financing TOD (September 28) brought together experts in Sao Paulo to discuss ways to implement TOD projects in Brazil’s cities. This blog draws on their analysis to explore TOD in Brazil and ways ...

From BIDs to Bikes: 4 Takeaways from the TOD and Urban Real Estate Conference

Thu, 2015-10-29 01:39
City design is at the root of many of our global problems. With traffic crashes the leading cause of death among young people and congestion burdening the economies of countless cities worldwide, it’s imperative that we develop our streets, neighborhoods, ...

The Challenges of Bringing TOD to Brazilian Cities

Thu, 2015-07-09 20:55

Transit-oriented development (TOD) faces two major challenges in Brazil: finance and governance. Photo by City Clock Magazine/Flickr.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is all about creating cities and neighborhoods that are compact and connected. Previously, we talked about the seven principles of TOD, its economic benefits, and the potential of the Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV – “My House My Life” in English) project that works to bring TOD to cities across Brazil. To wrap up our discussion on Nossa Cidade of TOD, it’s important that we recognize and discuss the challenges of making TOD a consistent practice across the country.

170 million Brazilians currently live in urban areas, which is about 83 percent of the national population. When not planned appropriately, development can leave communities isolated and disconnected from city centers, leading to social inequality and exclusion. This pattern of growth restricts residents’ access to the opportunities and services available in central areas.

Disconnected and dispersed cities harm the economy and reduce residents’ quality of life. On the other hand, TOD focuses on connecting people with the city with a sustainable transport network. However, there are often barriers that need to be overcome in order for TOD principles to be successfully incorporated into planning processes.

Throughout recent Brazilian history, cities have often expanded at a greater pace than investments in infrastructure, benefiting central districts but leaving peripheral districts lacking urban services. The result is that low-income populations move outward, where land is cheaper, but where basic needs cannot be met. Reversing this trend requires financial and governance mechanisms that can attract investors, engage local communities, and ensure more compact, connected, and coordinated growth.

Urban mobility programs promoted by the federal government through “PAC da Mobilidade” have facilitated the construction dedicated bus lanes and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in several Brazilian cities. These programs have created large transport hubs around bus terminals and multi-modal stations, increasing the value of surrounding real estate and creating an opportunity for genuine TOD.

In Brazil, CEPACs (Certificates of Constructions Additional Potential) and the “Concerted Urban Operations” are good examples of financial mechanisms that can help support TOD projects. However, these mechanisms are rarely utilized and often fail to expand access to sustainable public transportation systems. Minha Casa, Minha Vida, as we previously discussed, can produce positive results by building housing estates in central regions or in areas well serviced with public transport. One example of this is the Junção project in the city of Rio Grande.

Land for the MCMV project (marked in red) in the Junction neighborhood of Rio Grande has access to transport (corridor marked in green), public services, and infrastructure. The project is currently in development. Map by WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

In addition to funding issues, one of the challenges of implementing TOD comes from the governance side. Public policy often intends to develop affordable housing projects on unused land that have secure access to urban services. However, because management changes, it can be difficult to guarantee that projects will continue. Similarly, legal mechanisms are needed to ensure that TOD is kept a priority throughout urban planning processes. In order to remedy this, decision makers and planners need to follow TOD guidelines to improve mobility and urban development at the individual street and neighborhood levels, as well as at the level of the city as a whole.

To learn more about the challenges to TOD that Brazil faces and the tools that can be used to overcome them, click here (in Portuguese).

How Affordable Housing and TOD Are Coming Together in Brazil

Wed, 2015-07-01 23:25

The Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program in Brazil works to develop affordable housing for low-income populations consistent with TOD principles. Photo by GOVBA.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

An essential model for creating affordable and compact cities, transit-oriented development (TOD) is the theme of Nossa Cidade this month. So far, we’ve cover the seven principles of TOD and the economic benefits that TOD produces.

Today, we will explore how Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV – “My House My Life” in English)—Brazil’s affordable housing program—is transforming current patterns of urbanization in the country. MCMV has been responsible for a third of all low-income housing projects in Brazil in 2013 and is helping bridge the way we think about housing and TOD.

Putting MCMV in Context

Launched in 2009 by Brazil’s federal government, the MCMV has developed nearly 2.2 million housing units (UH) in five years, with an additional 3.9 million planned. The program is currently in its second phase and a third phase this year is in development with guaranteed funding.

This is the largest affordable housing initiative in the history of Brazil. In addition reducing the deficit of the country’s low-incoming housing stock, MCMV aims to foster a stronger economy by funding local construction and giving people control over their homes.

Integrating Housing and Transit Planning

In addition to a ceiling over their heads, people need access to jobs and services in order to live well. MCMV is an opportunity for both. First of all, the program enables home ownership. Second, well-planned TOD can facilitate access to opportunities throughout the greater city.

However, the challenge is ensuring that the land where these homes will be developed is located close to the city center and well-served by public transit. Making this happen requires dealing with numerous political and economic barriers.

But it is possible. The city of Rio Grande designated empty land in the Junction neighborhood as an area of possible interest for MCMV—in order to avoid real estate speculation. The land was donated by the Federal Government to the city and it is an area that is already well-endowed with public services, infrastructure, and access to transport. The vision is to make the neighborhood home to 1,300 low-income families, where they can maintain their social relationships and have access to services, jobs, education, and health resources throughout the city. The project has been supported by WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil and will be a model of TOD in Brazil. See the map below:

Land for the MCMV project (marked in red) in the Junction neighborhood of Rio Grande has access to transport (corridor marked in green), public services, and infrastructure. The project is currently in development. Map by WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Unfortunately, Rio Grande is an exception and not yet the rule. In many Brazilian cities, most development occurs in rapidly expanding residential areas with poor infrastructure, urban services, and transport. Disconnected and distant housing is a burden to both residents and local government. Residents must travel longer distances to access jobs, services, and housing. Local governments face higher costs of infrastructure development and service maintenance—like waste management and public utilities.

Mexico’s Ghost Towns

This neighborhood of Ensenada, Mexico is one of many housing developments that is car-dependent and disconnected from vital city services and infrastructure. Photo by Livia Corona.

Five million homes have been abandoned throughout Mexico, but not because there is a shortage of housing. Entire neighborhoods have emptied out because residents could not continue to live isolated from the city. A decade of building at low cost on the periphery of Mexican cities has culminated in an exodus of hundreds of thousands of families who suffered from a lack of urban services, poor building maintenance, and poor access to transport. Now these deserted areas are isolated and insecure places

According to the Mexican newspaper Magis, stories like this are common on the peripheries of metropolitan areas throughout the country. Between 2001 and 2011, real estate boomed and developers took advantage of loose housing policies, constructing sprawled housing units that were increasingly distant from jobs and basic services in the city.

A Compact and Vibrant Future

A “3D” model of urbanization—distant, dispersed, and disconnected—has been the status quo long before MCMV began. The 3D model is the result of both poor urban planning at the local level and market forces and speculation. Cities need to plan properly for growth, and the MCMV program is a great opportunity for Brazil to foster a more equitable urban future and with a high quality of life for all.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

How Transit-Oriented Development Benefits Local Economies

Wed, 2015-06-24 23:11

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

While rapid growth can cause a range of problems for cities, urbanization can also be an opportunity to change how cities are planned, making them more sustainable, people-centered places. Rethinking current patterns of expansion for a more compact and connected model can expand employment opportunity, access to quality public spaces, the supply of sustainable transport, and enhance economic activity.

Many cities are currently growing with a “3D” model of development—distant, dispersed, and disconnected. Expansion without proper planning leads to spatial and social segregation, while also increasing congestion, pollution, and daily travel times. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a model for planning sustainable urban communities with compact neighborhoods, high population densities, diverse land uses, and abundant public spaces. The goal is to ensure sustainability mobility and economic development.

Compact neighborhoods generate more accessible job opportunities. Mixed land uses and diverse activities at the street level encourage pedestrian traffic, stimulating commerce and the local economy. By planning transit smartly to manage growth, TOD is an excellent vehicle for economic development.

Urban Planning for a Stronger Economy

Low population densities and suburban sprawl increase infrastructure and maintenance costs, and cause additional social costs by requiring people to traveling longer distances. In 2013, congestion recorded in the metropolitan regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro cost Brazilians BRL $98 billion, equivalent to 2 percent of GDP that year. Taking into account the costs resulting from traffic accidents and health impacts, that number would be even higher.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a “3C” model for development—compact, connected, and coordinated—that has a direct impact on urban mobility and the economy. TOD reduces travel times, congestion, and emissions—expanding access to different areas of the city and thus stimulating economic activity.

Comfort and safety is necessary for active transport and non-motorized mobility. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

When public transport is designed to serve sparsely populated areas over long distances, service often becomes inefficient. Sprawled systems end up operating at irregular hours, with fewer routes and stations. As a result, both operating costs and user fares go up.

Therefore, one principle of TOD is simply quality public transport. With the quality of public transport directly related to how cities develop, it’s critical that neighborhoods are connected and invest in infrastructure. Good service helps attract new users, reducing car dependency and costs for both people and local governments.

Affordable and efficient service helps connect people to the city. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Next to quality public transportation, TOD prioritizes non-motorized mobility and car use management. By providing pedestrian-friendly conditions, bike infrastructure, and comfortable and safe public transport, cities can help balance car use. Doing so helps reduce the number of accidents and traffic fatalities, improves public health, and avoids significant health spending .

Another way that TOD can benefit local economies is through mixed land use. Many current housing developments—particularly affordable housing—are not located near urban services and commercial activity. This gap between residents’ needs and their access to resources creates real costs for both people and governments. In addition to the direct costs of travel fares, sprawl wastes the opportunity to generate income at a local level. On the other hand, mixed land use enhances economic activity by diversifying the types of goods and services readily accessible.

Infrastructure and public furniture makes for a more vibrant and diverse urban environment. Photo by Oran Viriyincy / Flickr.

Neighborhoods without commercial activity or high-quality public spaces force residents to travel in order to access the resources they need. Vibrant neighborhood centers and active ground levels facilitate social interaction and avoid the need to travel. This is one way to orient neighborhoods around vital economic activity with a steady circulation of people.

Active neighborhood centers that are attractive can help stimulate the local economy. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Neighborhoods that more connected require fewer and shorter daily trips. Prioritizing active transport reduces congestion and emissions and expands access to opportunities throughout the city. The planning model we use determines how we move about cities, how much time we spend in transit, and how much money we have to spend. TOD reduces individual and public spending, ensuring a better quality of life for all.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

7 Principles for Transit-Oriented Development

Wed, 2015-06-17 21:26

By managing growth that is compact, coordinated, and connected, transit-oriented development (TOD) prioritizes people over cars. Photo by Fred Inklaar.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

Poorly planned urban expansion is increasingly distancing people from jobs, services and the opportunities that enable them to live a high quality life in cities. There are currently 170 million Brazilians in urban areas living with the consequences of decades of car-driven development. To reverse this trend and ensure a more sustainable future for all, integrating land use policy and transport planning is essential.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population and land area, but its pattern of urbanization has been sprawled, uncoordinated, and disconnected. The present situation not only demands motorized trips, but also causes congestion and harmful environmental impacts, and burdens citizens, especially those with lower incomes who spend significant time using transport.

Fortunately, we know how to bring cities onto a more sustainable path with transit-oriented development (TOD). This model of urban planning focuses on dense, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods with vibrant streets and safe public spaces for social interaction.

TOD is the key to more efficient, sustainable, and equitable communities because it prioritizes the “3Cs”: compact, coordinated and connected. By following a TOD approach, decision makers and urban planners can strengthen their communities.

Cities can ensure TOD by focusing on the following seven principles :

1. Quality Public Transit

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Public transit is strongly linked to urban development. High quality, convenient transport depends on dense and connected neighborhoods. The goal of a transport system is to connect a high number of riders with the city in a comfortable, efficient, and affordable way.

2. Active Transport

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

The interests of pedestrians and cyclists should be at the heart of urban planning. Decision making should shift residents—particularly car users—to active transport. Many commuters already take two non-motorized trips on a daily basis by walking to and from transit hubs to their homes or cars. It is important to build on this and encourage non-motorized transport holistically.

3. Car Use Management

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Car use and parking policies play an important role in creating a safe, human-oriented urban environment. Since the 1980s, cars have dominated Brazilian cities. Despite individual car trips accounting for 27.4 percent of all urban trips (or 36 percent in cities with over one million residents), car infrastructure is supported with four times the amount of investment that public transit receives.

4. Mixed-Use Neighborhoods with Efficient Buildings

Photo by Paul Krueger / Flickr.

A mixture of land uses enhances the local economy by densifying and diversifying the design of the community. Mixed-use neighborhoods favor short trips by foot or bike. Similarly, buildings should minimize how much energy and water they consume and require for building and maintenance.

5. Neighborhood Centers and Vibrant Ground Floors

Photo by City Clock Magazine/Flickr.

A built environment with adequate public space promotes social interaction between residents. Sustainable urban communities must be sufficiently dense and contain a variety of uses that are complementary to residential life. Public spaces should be connected to the urban transport network and serve as vibrant, human-centered places of activity.

6. Public Spaces

Photo by Marta Heinemann Bixby/Flickr.

The purpose of public space is not only to enhance public life and social interaction, but also to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Public space is the place of encounter, exchange, and circulation within a community. All individuals have the right to access public spaces, regardless of personal, social, or economic condition.

7. Community Participation and Collective Identity

Photo by Fabio Goiveia/Flickr.

Community participation is essential to building a vibrant, inclusive neighborhood that is safe and equitable. Stimulating community participation creates a more equitable, harmonious relationship between varying social groups living in the same area. Respecting the unique identity of local communities results in a higher share of residents engaging in civic, cultural, and economic activities, generating a sense of belonging and ownership of the city.

Making TOD a Reality in Brazilian Cities

WRI Brazil | Brazil EMBARQ recently developed a report called “DOTS Cidades” (Portuguese for TOD)—a guide for policy makers and urban planners for creating cities based on these seven principles. The guide outlines concepts, design strategies, and best practices in public management, planning and urban design, and the transport sector, as well as information about accessibility and environmental requirements.

To read and down the publication (in Portuguese), click here.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

How China Can Leverage High-Speed Rail for Compact Urban Development

Tue, 2015-05-19 21:36

High speed rail connects Zhengzhou with other Chinese cities and has potential to spur compact urban development across the country. Photo by Andrew Stokols.

Many large Chinese cities have developed around transport corridors. Hangzhou and Suzhou, for example, grew wealthy from their position on the Grand Canal, which connected northern and southern China. Today, the country’s high-speed rail (HSR) system is proving to be an equally powerful catalyst for urban development.

China’s HSR system presents an opportunity for transit-oriented development (TOD) around new stations. However, due to a variety of factors, development around stations has often failed to occur in a controlled or compact manner. A more coordinated strategy for TOD around HSR stations could help Chinese cities develop in more compact and sustainable ways.

High-Speed Rail Expands Rapidly Across China

Since 2008, China has built the world’s largest high-speed rail system. Just a decade ago, China had virtually no high-speed rail lines. Today, it has over 12,000 km of passenger-dedicated high-speed rail lines connecting most major Chinese cities. By 2020, the network will connect all provincial capitals and cities with a population of over 500,000—around 90 percent of China’s population.

China’s rapid rollout of high-speed rail is the result of not only massive government investment, but also the low cost of building rail in China. Several factors contribute to these low costs of construction, including China’s low labor costs and the government’s ability to easily procure land. New HSR lines are often built as elevated viaducts across long distances. This method has several advantages: it provides the level surface that high-speed rail requires, and also reduces the amount of farmland that needs to be acquired between cities. The focus on saving costs and maximizing speed, however, has also meant that many new stations are built far outside the city center, where land-acquisition costs are lower.

New Towns Mushroom around HSR Stations

In attempt to capitalize on the high property values caused by transit development, many Chinese cities have proactively planned new districts next to HSR stations. Along the Beijing-Shanghai HSR line, for example, 16 out of 24 cities have planned new urban areas adjacent to HSR stations, as many local officials view HSR as an opportunity to spur local economic growth. Officials even compete with one another to convince national authorities to locate stations in their cities.

The outcome of such development remains unclear. Indeed, a few of these new districts—mostly those in large cities—are on their way to become bustling urban districts, such as the new developments around the East Station of Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang province. Many others in smaller cities have languished, like the one in Dezhou, Shandong province (1hr and 20 min south of Beijing by high-speed train). There, a massive plaza dumps passengers into farms and villages far from the city center. Some of these vacant areas may experience development when housing demands catch up, but others will likely remain “ghost towns”.

A high-speed rail station in Dezhou, China was built far outside the city center, amid farmland. Photo from Google Maps.

High Speed Rail Produces Mixed Results for Transit-Oriented Development

Multiple factors influence whether development around high-speed railway stations is successful or not. While transit-oriented design is typically considered a strategy that cities can use to concentrate development around intra-urban transit nodes, like subway and bus stops, it can also be applied to development around inter-city nodes, like HSR stations. The following recommendations would help China leverage its HSR system to spur compact and sustainable urban development:

  • Station location matters: How vibrant new districts are depends largely on how well they can attract businesses, workers, and developers. Yet, in many situations, the decision of where to build new stations is influenced by political factors. For example, large Chinese cities with greater bargaining powers are able to negotiate with the China Railway Company (CR) to place HSR stations closer to city centers, whereas smaller cities might have stations located further out, sometimes over 20 km away. Stations far from the city center with poor public transport connections will be less successful. Additionally, new development could contribute to sprawl and the reduction of productive agricultural land on the periphery of cities.
  • Coordinating regional development: Coordinated planning among cities to avoid inter-city competition is important. Cities served by HSR often aspire to become regional growth hubs. But fierce competition for investments may actually hinder economic growth. Therefore, better coordination in national and regional planning is necessary to ensure that new towns develop compactly.
  • New financing models: In the most successful cases of TOD, the rail company develops and owns the land surrounding stations. Hong Kong’s MTR, considered one of the more successful examples of this model, owns property developments surrounding Hong Kong’s metro stations, like malls, which allow it to fund its rail operations. Japan’s private railroads have also been successful with this model.

Developing and maintaining public transit systems requires sizable investment. Funding transit development through property development around stations offers a way for the central government to reduce its costly subsidies. Furthermore, coordinated development around stations will ultimately increase ridership.

A new “directive” issued by the State Council last year may herald changes on the horizon. Calling for better integration between rail stations and adjacent urban development, the document promotes the ownership and development of land by (CR). But this recommendation doesn’t come with any concrete legal changes.

More clarification and substantive reforms will be needed before China can truly capitalize on its high-speed rail to foster more sustainable urban development.

How a Chinese Megacity is Innovating Finance for Transit-Oriented Development

Mon, 2015-05-04 21:43

To ensure sustainable urban development, Shenzhen, China has been experimenting with several innovative strategies for financing transit infrastructure. Photo by Chris/Flickr.

China’s rapid urbanization has dramatically increased the need for public transit infrastructure.  To accommodate these changes, it’s estimated that China needs to expand urban rail by at least 3000 kilometers by 2020—approximately a $4 trillion investment.

In Chinese cities, funding for large-scale urban transit infrastructure traditionally comes from two sources: sales of land development rights and bank loans. However, these approaches can not only financially burden city governments, but also lead to costly urban sprawl.  Recently, the city of Shenzhen has been successfully experimenting with alternative approaches to overcome these significant challenges. Shenzhen’s experience demonstrates that financing transport infrastructure by harnessing the value of land can also be an opportunity for sustainable transit-oriented development (TOD) in Chinese cities.

Sustainable Development Needs Sustainable Financing

Building a transit station on a given plot of land expands access to transport, which typically raises the value of the surrounding properties as a result. For the average Chinese city, it’s estimated that this added value—known as land premiums—amounts to roughly US $300 million – $1.6 billion. These land premiums from the surrounding property make up about 20 – 90 percent of the cost of developing a single subway line, and can be a potential source of funding for transport infrastructure projects, which often either end up too expensive to be worth the investment or rely on large subsidies from local governments to keep them operating.

This way of capturing land value is commonly known as rail plus property (R + P) development. Since R+P means that one entity develops both rail and property, the future revenue from the property compensates for the construction costs of building rail. This strategy incentivizes developers to build compact developments around stations, as doing so allows them to cash into higher land premiums. R+P has already proved successful in Hong Kong and is a promising solution for making TOD a reality in Chinese cities as well.

Four Strategies for R+P Development

The first Chinese city to successfully pilot R+P at scale, Shenzhen is using four strategies to bring TOD to the region.

1. Innovative Financing Arrangements

Shenzhen realized early on that R+P requires a proper financing arrangement, as city-owned metro operators are not only responsible for the costs and risks of metro construction, but also the new business of property development. Therefore, Shenzhen decided to split land premiums with developers so that projects could be completed without overburdening either side.

In the beginning, metro company had to pay concession fees to obtain land development rights through auction, despite receiving reimbursements from the city to ease its financial burdens. However, since 2011, the city has directly granted land to the metro company as an equity asset, thanks to the national government’s decision to pilot land policy reforms in Shenzhen. To further reduce the costs and risks associated with R+P, the metro company will be allowed soon to form a partnership with developers to share the costs and gains of property development and hedge against fluctuations in the real estate market.

2. Planning Integration

To ensure dense, mixed-use development around transit stations, Shenzhen coordinates agencies and simultaneously adjusts its master plans, detailed land use plans, and transit plans. Planning authorities and the metro company work together continuously to evaluate land values and plan for integrated transit infrastructure and urban development.

To encourage denser development and mixed land uses, Shenzhen created a new type of land use so that planners and developers can co-determine land use and density already at the implementation stage. The city also reformed its zoning code to allow for more flexible commercial, residential, and office development on land parcels that were previously designated for transport use only.

3. Flexible Zoning

Shenzhen expanded land development rights, issuing development rights according to land uses on different building floors. This encourages mixed-used development, as commercial, residential, and underground transit building rights can be obtained separately.

An example of development plans for a metro station, with standard zoning codes on the left and Shenzhen’s new zoning codes on the right. Previously, it was impossible to develop land for other types beyond transport (colored in gray). Now, the zoning codes allows for mixed-uses, (colored by primary land use type). Graphic by WRI.

4. Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue

Shenzhen also has introduced multiple ways for stakeholders to engage one another and work across silos. In particular, the city encourages dialogue between different departments and coordinates with developers to match projects to market demand. In fact, the local planning institute and the metro company have worked closely from the very beginning of the financing and planning stages. Finally, strong leadership and external consulting services can also prove critical to managing complicated urban development. The city realizes that R+P development hinges not only on carefully designed public policies but also on efficient operations at the firm level.

Paving the way for the future

Shenzhen’s success has profound implications for other Chinese cities. If Shenzhen can successfully implement R+P under the same regulatory and legislative environment, other Chinese cities can follow suite. However, R+P does not offer quick wins. In Shenzhen, it took over a decade to implement viable solutions. Hong Kong also took about a decade to make a profit. Change won’t be possible without a booming real estate market, a mature capital market, a capable and willing private sector, and—more importantly—a strong political will that is open to new approaches. Given the need for sustainable transit-oriented development in China, leaders can’t afford to overlook Shenzhen’s successes and the opportunities that R+P presents.

To learn more about Shenzhen and TOD in Chinese studies, click here.

A Conversation About India’s Smart Cities: CONNECTKaro 2015 in Tweets

Thu, 2015-04-30 01:48

At this year’s CONNECTKaro conference, participants discussed a range of topics pertinent to sustainable urban development in India–including smart cities, buses, women’s safety, and safe access to mass transit. Photo by Johann/Flickr.

From April 15 – 16, 2015 over 300 experts—including government officials, policy makers, urban planners, and transport practitioners—participated in a global conversation about Smart Cities at CONNECTKaro 2015. The conference was hosted by EMBARQ India in New Delhi, and key speakers included Nitin Gadkari (India’s Minister for Road Transport and Highways), Marcio Lacerda (Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Brasil), Manish Sisodia (Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister), Jeff Olson (Director of Alta Planning), and Suresh Prabhu (India’s Minister for Railways).  Here are some of the top tweets, quotes, and discussions that came from the conference’s panelists and participants.

The opening session at #CK2015 discussed the role of smart cities for moving India forward:

200m people will soon move to Indian cities. Which cities? Are there jobs? What quality of life? Jamshyd Godrej at #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Divya Kottadiel (@dkottadiel) April 15, 2015

@nitin_gadkari We need to look for solutions beyond metros, hence the focus on creating #smartcities that become centers of #growth #CK2015

— WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 15, 2015

Participants at CONNECTKaro also explored  land management strategies for smart development: retrofits, redevelopment, and green-field development:

Merely deploying information technology is not the goal of #SmartCities – Dr O.P.Agarwal #CK2015 on land management for smart cities — Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 15, 2015

Only 7% of Mumbai’s first Development Plan of 1965 has been implemented – Rajan Athalye Kalpataru @EMBARQIndia #CK2015 @RejeetM — Zainab Kakal (@zainabkakal) April 15, 2015

The session on smart mobility discussed how new technologies can enhance citizens’ mobility experience—from modelling and engineering, to design and planning:

“A Transport Interchange is critical to be created for improving usability of public transportation” Peter Piet #CK2015 EMBARQIndia — UxD Insights (@UxDInsights) April 15, 2015

SDG’s Peter Piet is speaking today at #CK2015 about integrated transport & the lessons India can learn from the UK & other #smartcities — Steer Davies Gleave (@SDGworld) April 15, 2015

“Stories to Watch from Around the World” brought together global experts who shared experiences from their respective countries and discussed the key challenges facing India:

“It’s not just about walking and cycling, its about the quality of life in a #city” Jeff Olson, @altaplanning at #CK2015 #StoriesToWatch

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

And a session on transit-oriented development (TOD) focused on the opportunities and challenges of implementing TOD in Indian cities:

New phenomenon of 3D cities – distant, dispersed and disconnected – @ZamoranoEMBARQ TOD session #CK2015

— Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 15, 2015

Robin King: Transformation takes time, but its not going to happen on its own. We need creative and transformative policies #CK2015

— Madhuri Dass (@MadhuriDass) April 15, 2015

Participants examined potential solutions that Indian cities can use to address women’s safety in public transport:

“88% of the #women we surveyed claimed that they were harassed while using public #transport.” Ranjana Menon at #CK2015 @ranj87 #Bhopal

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

“It is not a women’s issue, it is all the whole city problem” Kalpana Vishwanath Talking #gendersafety #ck2015

— Dario Hidalgo (@dhidalgo65) April 15, 2015

EMBARQ India introduced 5 examples of how emerging businesses are innovating urban mobility. Entrepreneurs from Traffline, Zoomcar, Alta Planning + Design, and Personal Air Quality Systems Pvt. Ltd. presented:

“What #India needs: 500 startups across 10 #cities in the next 5 years” @jyotchadha on #mobility platforms at #CK2015

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

The bicycle of the future will not look like the bicycle of today – Jeff Olson at #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Sameep Arora (@asli_alsi) April 15, 2015

Representatives from Raahgiri Day and Equal Streets sat on the panel about India’s open streets movement:

“Cycling for huge population in India isnt an option.We need to find a reason for others to cycle, make cycle available”#CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Harry (@haristweet) April 15, 2015

“Better Growth, Better Climate”discussed how India can benefit from global climate and development platforms, leveraging the smart cities initiative to attract funding and grow sustainably:

“Savings in global infrastructure amount to 3 trillion USD by 2030 from more compact, connected, coordinated urban development” #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

“Provide sustainable last mile #mobility mode options such as walking, cycling and NMT to integrate #SafeAccess” Dr. Sanjay Gupta at #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) was launched in December 2014. A session at the conference discussed case studies and focused on the complexities of applying the GPC:

#CK2015 framing policies are important, but mapping execution & presenting outcomes is more important for #smart city

— iamglobe (@iamglobe) April 16, 2015

An interactive workshop engaged with participants about how to plan, design, develop, and maintain safe access to and around mass transit stations:

“Provide sustainable last mile #mobility mode options such as walking, cycling and NMT to integrate #SafeAccess” Dr. Sanjay Gupta at #CK2015

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

In workshop ‘Safe access to mass transit’ learning how to get #SmartCities #CK2015 — Diego Monraz (@MonrazDiego) April 16, 2015

Mr. Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister, Government of Delhi, talked about the short, medium, and long-term strategies for urban and transport development in Delhi:

“Unless we have confident mass transport for Delhi, there is no solution for traffic” @msisodia #CK2015 — Jyot Chadha (@jyotchadha) April 16, 2015

Cities need connectivity and safe access for women @msisodia #CK2015

— Jaspal Singh (@jaaaspal) April 16, 2015

“Bus Karo” focused on the challenges to improving bus service in Indian cities:

#BRT is not a choice but is necessity – International Energy Agency #CK2015

— Jaspal Singh (@jaaaspal) April 16, 2015

Another session covered the ways that developers can look at energy-usage patterns within communities to make cities more sustainable and equitable:

“What is added to #housing is not affordable and what is affordable is not added” #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia — WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 16, 2015

In light of the growing number of road fatalities across Indian cities, a session on road safety focused on how we can adopt a sound design principles for road safety:

“With the #RoadSafety Bill 2015, we aim to save 2 lac lives in the first 5 years.” Suhaan Mukherjee, PLR Chambers at #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

A workshop on parking addressed urgent need to combat on-street parking through strong institutional and enforcement mechanisms, and off- street parking through building regulations:

The cost of #parking in India is the the lowest in the world, even lower than Bangaldesh, OP Mishra, Director, NDMC at #CK2015

— WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 16, 2015

— Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 16, 2015

What Cities Can Learn From Greater Toronto’s Transit-Oriented Development

Wed, 2015-04-22 03:16

An icon of Toronto, the city’s streetcar not only provides mobility within the urban core, but also integrates with regional transport to ensure transport access to residents on the periphery, as well. Photo by superherb/Flickr.

While there are many inspiring examples of walkable, transit-oriented cities in Europe, there’s also plenty to learn from Canada. For example, with the extraordinary help of Jane Jacobs and other leaders, Toronto has been able to successfully keep expressways out of its historic urban core. Beyond that, leaders have also focused on expanding transit connectivity beyond the city center and into suburban communities.

Thanks to strong leadership and long-term vision, Greater Toronto managed to both build a compact, mixed-use urban hub and expand transit connectivity across the region.

Building on a Vibrant Urban Core

Spadina Avenue is a remarkable example of a complete street, with dedicated lanes for its vintage streetcars, spacious sidewalks, bike lanes, and slow traffic. Passing through the city’s lively university district, it is lined by a continuous stretch of shops, cafes, and restaurants, making it a vibrant place. King Street, similarly, has bike lanes and the city’s iconic streetcar, but the lack of segregated bike lanes makes bike commuting slightly precarious. Fortunately for safety advocates, the average speed on the street is just 7-10 km/hr.

Along the lake, there is bustling construction activity as the city advances its ambitious waterfront redevelopment project. New condominiums are sprouting up along the refurbished Light Rail line, which will have segregated tracks and a large amount of public spaces. With good access to a range of mobility options, Toronto is demonstrating exemplary transit-oriented development (TOD) on the edge of its dense core.

Bringing Bus Rapid Transit to the Suburbs

York—a rapidly growing suburb north of Toronto—is another great example of advancing TOD around bus rapid transit (BRT). The city has plans to build 80 kilometers of rapid transit using buses, and will invest in 20 kilometers of light rail development. The project, called VIVANext, is becoming a standard for good quality BRT in North America. The main line has dedicated median lanes and high quality stations, and buses are large and comfortable. The York Rapid Transit Corporation, with the support of the Government of Ontario, is in the first phase of its ambitious plan.

This project is not just a transit network. It’s about developing complete streets with good sidewalks, landscaping, pedestrian infrastructure and lighting.  As part of the region’s development strategy, the BRT system will provide connectivity to the thriving tech community in Toronto’s core, which is home to IBM, Honeywell, and mores. So far, the plan is working. There are new buildings for offices and condominiums close to the BRT stations, and many more are under construction.

As is common in many cities, there was considerable debate over which transport option to pursue, and the community was divided. In the end, local authorities committed to BRT, but the agreed upon design allows for light rail to be added in the future—a move Ottawa has already done with its Transitway system. Currently, York’s bus system operates frequently and extensively, providing connectivity directly to locations outside the main transit corridor. This is an immense benefit to those who live on the city’s periphery and need access to the center for jobs and education.

While many residents own cars, the investment in transit has been well-received. “The people out here are not anti-transit … you have to make the service time-competitive and reliable, and people will use it,” said Peter Miasek, President of Transport Action Ontario and Vice President of the Unionville Ratepayers Association.

Planning from the Metropolitan Perspective

These two examples from Greater Toronto show that it is possible to advance development around transit if the right mix of ingredients is in place. In both Toronto and York, there is strong leadership from elected officials as well as skilled, results-oriented implementation teams. This has helped each city tackle the difficulties often encountered in decision-making, advancing strong plans, and implementation. Furthermore, leaders have also leveraged adequate levels of funding for preparation and implementation. Without reducing the quality of service to save money, transport leaders have invested in strong design, branding, and communications in order to give public transit an attractive image.

As a result, Toronto doesn’t have just a dense and mixed-use core. It is also bringing accessible transit to the suburbs with remarkable success.

Why smart growth cities are safer, healthier, and wealthier

Wed, 2015-03-25 19:11

A new report from the New Climate Economy project examines the choice that rapidly developing cities like Ahmedabad have between a future of costly sprawl and a future of smart, connected growth. Photo by Meena Kadri/Flickr.

Developing countries are projected to gain 2.2 billion new urban residents between now and 2050. Governments and city leaders have a choice: they can develop cities that are sprawled and auto-dependent, or they can develop cities that are connected, compact, and coordinated. A new report for the New Climate Economy project outlines the massive economic, social, and environmental costs of urban sprawl in the United States.

While this research focuses on urban planning lessons and mistakes from the United States, it also contains compelling lessons for countries worldwide looking to avoid the steep costs of sprawl.

The costs of sprawling development

The economic costs of sprawl are huge. The new report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl, finds that Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear an astounding $625 billion in extra costs, and that the public costs of this sprawl amount to an extra $400 billion each year. These stem from the health costs of air pollution and unnecessary spending on infrastructure, public services, and transportation, which could be avoided if cities were compact, connected, and people-oriented. Ultimately, everyone is affected, not just those who live in sprawled communities, because both urbanites and rural residents subsidize the extra costs of their suburban counterparts.

Sprawl increases the distance between homes, businesses, services, and jobs, raising the cost of infrastructure and public services in sprawled areas of the United States by anywhere from 10 to 40 percent. For example, a fire station in a low-density neighborhood with disconnected streets serves far fewer households at a much higher cost than an otherwise identical fire station in a more compact and connected neighborhood. In prior research, the New Climate Economy found that implementing smarter urban growth policies on a global scale could reduce urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than $3 trillion over the next 15 years.

In addition to being economically costly, sprawl has a negative impact on public health. The report finds air pollution from urban cars, exacerbated by sprawl, causes $582 in external health costs per capita each year. People who live in sprawled neighborhoods are two to five times more likely to be killed in car accidents than those in smarter growth communities. Sprawl also tends to increase sedentary living, and therefore obesity rates and associated health problems. Those in the least walkable neighborhoods are twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighborhoods.

Traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents typically average 20-30 in emerging cities, 10-20 in affluent, automobile-dependent cities, 5-10 in affluent, compact cities, and just 1.5-3 in affluent, compact cities with strong transportation demand management (TDM) programs. Graphic by New Climate Economy.

The benefits of smart growth

Fortunately, there is another way. Smart growth is the opposite of urban sprawl. Smart growth cities and towns have well-defined boundaries, a range of housing options, a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation. They focus on vibrant, competitive, and livable urban cores. By reducing per capita land consumption and infrastructure and transportation costs, smart growth policies can deliver significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.

Graphic by New Climate Economy.

People living in smart growth communities save money on transportation. Households in accessible areas spend on average $5,000 less per year on transportation expenses. Additionally, real estate located in smart growth communities tends to retain its value better than in sprawled communities during economic downturns, due to greater access to services.

Smart growth is more inclusive of people who are not able or cannot afford to drive. It offers easier access to schools, public services, and jobs, and encourages mixed-income communities, which have a powerful impact on economic mobility. With every 10 percent decrease in urban sprawl, Americans are 4.1 percent more likely to climb from the lowest to the highest income quintile.

Smart growth is also better for the climate. Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. According to New Climate Economy research, the adoption of compact, transit-oriented cities could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, rising to 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050—more than twice the annual emissions of Canada.

Critical lessons for global development

Ninety percent of urban growth between now and 2050 is projected to take place in emerging economies. Cities in the developing world can minimize urban infrastructure and transportation costs by learning from the challenges now faced by countries like the United States. By preventing urban sprawl, these cities can stimulate economic growth while avoiding climate risks.

Ahmedabad, for example, is India’s sixth-largest city, located in the western state of Gujarat. In the next 25 years, its population is expected to more than double, growing from 5.4 million in 2011 to 13.2 million in 2041. A city like Ahmedabad has two possible futures. On one hand, it could follow the example of the United States and pursue sprawling development that encourages and even necessitates car travel. On the other hand, it could follow a more sustainable path by investing in public transport and ensuring compact development through land use policy.

In the sustainable, smart growth scenario, the developed area of Ahmedabad would cover only half the amount of land it would in the car-centric, sprawled scenario. As shown in the graphic below, this would cut traffic deaths by more than four times the sprawled scenario and greenhouse gas emissions by more than six times.

As this graphic indicates, car-oriented development in Ahmedabad will lead to both greater emissions and traffic fatalities over time than if the city were to prioritize sustainable transport and urban development. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

For Ahmedabd and other world cities to avoid the high costs of sprawl now facing the United States is no small task. To do so, both federal and local governments must embrace diverse housing and transportation options, more neutral city planning processes, and location-based construction and utility fees so residents pay more for sprawled locations and save with smart growth.

Correcting the market forces that favor urban sprawl provides an opportunity for better growth and a better climate in cities worldwide.

How the built environment influences who rides bus rapid transit

Wed, 2015-03-18 19:03

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, like Bogotá’s TransMilenio, experience greater levels of ridership if their stations are located in urban environments that are dense, compact, and connected to mixed-use areas and public spaces. Photo by City Clock Magazine/Flickr.

There are currently 190 cities in the world using bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to serve the mobility needs of more than 31 million daily passengers. The BRT boom over the past 15 years has been a significant step toward achieving sustainable urban transport, particularly in rapidly growing cities. Understanding the factors that make BRT successful is critical for not only improving the cost-effectiveness of BRT, but also ensuring strong ridership, which influences on key performance variables like travel time, operational savings, road safety, and emissions.

As a result, there’s been recent interest in assessing how the built environment—which includes factors like pedestrian infrastructure and density—affects ridership in different types of BRT corridors. However, little is known about the relationship between the built environment and BRT ridership, since existing studies have generally examined the impact of the built environment on transit ridership within metro and light rail systems. This leaves a serious gap in our understanding, as it’s often assumed that population density alone determines BRT ridership.

New research looks to fill this gap by exploring how the built environment influences BRT ridership at the station level. Presented at Transforming Transportation 2015, this research suggests that a rich array of built environment factors affect BRT travel behavior. The study tested for associations between BRT ridership and built environment data around 120 BRT stations in seven Latin American cities, and concluded that the built environment plays a significant role explaining BRT ridership. Mixed land use and active transport infrastructure play an important but often overlooked role as well.

BRT ridership depends on how cities are designed

Conventional wisdom says that population density is the primary determinant of BRT ridership. However, high-rise developments, mixed land uses, non-motorized transport infrastructure, and public facilities—like hospitals, libraries, markets, plazas, and churches—surrounding BRT stations also play an important role explaining ridership. This has significant implications for designing successful BRT systems in varying urban environments:

  • An urban environment characterized by a strong presence of public facilities in combination with industrial-commercial developments mixed with some residential land uses could constitute a favorable environment for BRT.
  •  BRT lines that connect commuter destinations—like financial districts and universities—and dense, multi-family developments can benefit from policies supporting pedestrian-friendly public spaces and access to offices and businesses.
  •  The built environment can support historic centers if there is strong pedestrian infrastructure, connected public spaces, commercial land use, and access to public facilities.
  •  High-rise multifamily developments, in combination with commercial land uses and moderately high population densities can help make BRT successful.
  •  Stations that serve low-income areas and informal settlements see greater ridership when they offer amenities important to low-income residents, such as adequate pedestrian infrastructure, mixed land use, and accessible public facilities.
  •  The results of the study also suggest that BRT terminals could benefit in terms of ridership levels if they function as nodes of larger urban development projects, including high-rise and mixed land use developments that are connected with non-motorized transport infrastructure.

This last point relates to a concept receiving increasing attention in urban planning circles: transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD is an approach to urban planning that prioritizes the role of transit for creating connected, compact, mixed-use cities. This study confirmed that BRT stations can expect a positive change in ridership if the built environment around BRT stations has these features. A diverse mixture of land uses—like tall, multi-family residences, commercial businesses, and offices concentrated around stations—has been shown to strengthen ridership, as well. Given that several cities are considering integrating TOD principles into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of their BRT stations, these insights will help substantiate the case for prioritizing transit-oriented development as a means to build more prosperous, sustainable cities.

Giving policymakers the necessary resources to make well-informed decisions

BRT was pioneered in Latin America, and the region has been refining and expanding its BRT systems for more than 40 years. Robust research on the influence of the built environment on ridership levels allows city leaders to make informed policy decisions about how to fund, develop, and manage BRT stations and the areas around them.

This map shows built environment data collected around the BRT station Calle 26 in Bogotá, Colombia, including information about non-motorized transport infrastructure and mixed land uses. Cities can use this type of on-the-ground data to better inform decision making and determine how the built environment around BRT stations can influence ridership.

This study of 120 BRT stations in Latin America emphasizes the important role of station areas in strengthening ridership. In particular, local governments should consider not only the physical built environment features discussed here, but also how these elements can be combined to create more transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly environments. By collecting data around current and future BRT stations, local governments could assess the changes on the built environment needed in order to make BRT systems more successful. In this manner, planners and designers should ensure that the areas surrounding BRT stations have compact, mixed-use development, high building heights, quality public spaces, and safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

Erik Vergel-Tovar is a 2014 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholar and Ph.D. Candidate in City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill. Download his working paper at the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship website here.

Friday Fun: Addis Ababa on the frontier of sustainable transport for African cities

Sat, 2015-02-14 05:22

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s crowded downtown streets are soon to get some relief as the city prepares to open its first major public transport system, a light rail. Photo by Sam Effron/Flickr.

East Africa doesn’t make a lot of headlines for its sustainable transport achievements. That’s changing, as its cities are starting to pioneer innovative new projects to bring urban Africa into the spotlight for sustainable development.

The challenges in the region are many. According to the African Development Bank, rapid urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa has led to a rise in informal housing, poverty, and social inequality. This has resulted in not only insecurity and crime, but also intense traffic congestion, as demand for modern transport has increased faster than cities can provide it. In turn, mounting gridlock is creating health and safety risks, impeding economic development, and producing more greenhouse gas emissions despite Africa’s historically small carbon footprint. Because of these cities’ aging transport systems and struggles with road safety, it is time for city leaders to focus their attention on creating urban transport solutions.

In response to these challenges, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia recently launched pre-testing of its first light rail system (LRT) prior to an official launch scheduled for May 2015. This first phase was well-attended by government officials, foreign dignitaries, and thousands of residents in support of the new development. Addis Ababa’s LRT is expected to help mitigate carbon emissions from transport and reduce travel time for commuters. In an effort to address global and national concerns over climate change, the Ethiopian government has been working to ensure that its citizens will benefit from a modern, low-carbon transport system. Additionally, the system has been designed to be comfortable, efficient, reliable, and affordable.

Transport boosts economic development

According to the Guardian, the $475 million light rail project is just one part of an ambitious five-year growth and transformation plan that will end in July 2015. The planning has ensured that “the two lines cross at Meskel Square, an iconic open space at the city’s core, used for political demonstrations and public events such as the 2012 funeral of Meles Zenawi, the leader who had masterminded Ethiopia’s development as president then prime minister since 1991.”

Furthermore, the initiative has support from the top down.

“The successful completion of Addis Ababa’s light railway project is a testimony of the fruitful journey towards Ethiopian renaissance and [that] the government would continue to invest in infrastructure expansion to fuel [the] socio-economic development of Ethiopia,” said Mayor Dirba Kuma.

Addis Ababa also has plans in progress for a future bus rapid transit (BRT) system, and this week welcomed a new City Advisor for low-carbon development through its role in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Not to be outdone, regional peer Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is also developing a 20.9 kilometer second phase of its BRT system, which will provide the necessary transport backbone for ensuring economic growth. The two cities hope to collaborate and learn from each other’s experiences advancing sustainable urban transport in the region.

Making equity a priority

In some transit-oriented development (TOD) projects, the property values surrounding light rail stations rise to the point where poorer families are no longer able to afford housing or maintain their businesses. To prevent this, the government of Ethiopia is working closely with Arup South Africa to make transport hubs along the new system walkable and accessible while allowing for flexibility as the areas around stations develop. Arup South Africa will design a transit-oriented development master plan and illustrate potential future development as in the short, medium, and long-term. This kind of planning is aimed at ensuring accessibility, connectivity, and efficiency.

Additionally, Addis Ababa’s LRT system has prioritized accessibility for disabled users. Along with affordability, this has been one of the key elements lacking in public transport systems in African cities.

What’s next for sustainable transport in sub-Saharan Africa?

Ethiopia’s light rail transit-oriented development initiative is a big step towards addressing the challenges rising from urbanization in the region and ensuring prosperous, equitable, and sustainable cities. As African cities continue to grow, more city governments should take the opportunity to learn from Addis Ababa’s experience and apply these lessons to their own efforts to plan integrated, sustainable public transport systems that prioritize moving people, not cars.

People-oriented streets and the built environment: Lee Schipper Memorial Scholars present at Transforming Transportation 2015

Thu, 2015-01-22 20:06

Erik Vergel-Tovar (left) of Colombia and Madeline Brozen (right) of the United States—recipients of the 2014 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship—presented their research findings at Transforming Transportation 2015. Photos by Zhou Jia/WRI.

Last week’s Transforming Transportation conference put forth multiple innovative ideas for how cities can transform mobility to become more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable. Speakers included former heads of state like Mexico’s Felipe Calderón, road safety champions like former New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and entrepreneurs like Zipcar founder Robin Chase. In addition to these heavy hitters, two names you may not have heard of (yet) also contributed their bright ideas for the future of sustainable urban mobility: Erik Vergel-Tovar and Madeline Brozen.

Vergel-Tovar and Brozen were selected last year as recipients of the 2014 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency. As scholars, they’ve spent the last six months conducting in-depth research on different aspects of sustainable transport, and shared their findings for the first time at Transforming Transportation 2015. Read on to learn about what their research revealed.

Bus rapid transit and the built environment: Findings from Latin America

Vergel-Tovar, a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented first. He explored the implications of how built environment attributes beyond density – such as the mixture of land uses, proximity to transit hubs and facilities, presence of high-rise developments, and pedestrian infrastructure – influence the ridership levels of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in Latin America. Notably for planners and policymakers, his analysis shows that associations between population density and BRT ridership in Curitiba, Brazil – the birthplace of BRT – are similar or even higher than those found on rail-based systems in North America and Asia. His analysis also shows that some built environment attributes commonly considered as part of transit-oriented development (TOD) features are positively associated with BRT ridership. To achieve this TOD ridership association, however, requires the right enablers:

“We need an appropriate combination of transit-oriented development features,” he said. “This includes high rise multifamily and commercial developments, an even distribution of commercial, residential and institutional land uses, land developments of five or more stories in close proximity to stations, presence of facilities facing the BRT right of way and a network of non-motorized transport infrastructure articulated and connected to BRT stations.”

What does this mean for urban planning? As Vergel-Tovar told TheCityFix earlier this year, it means we can’t rely on density alone to create viable, efficient transport systems. Rather, the relationship between transport and urban development is far more nuanced, and planners need to consider a broader range of built environment attributes when designing transport corridors.

View Vergel-Tovar’s presentation below, and stay tuned for the release of his research findings later this year.

Examining the Relationship between Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the Built Environment in Latin America – Erik Vergel-Tovar – UNC Chapel Hill – Lee Schipper Memorial Scholar – Transforming Transportation 2015 from EMBARQ Moving beyond streets for cars

Brozen, assistant director and complete streets initiative manager for the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute of Transportation Studies, took a different approach. She examined how current methods of planning and designing urban streets contribute to car-centric urban development. She focused on the need to move away from complex equations that measure street performance and move towards meaningful, human-centered data that can better inform policy decisions. Drawing from the examples of people-friendly metropolises New York City and Copenhagen, she found that the first step towards creating people-oriented streets was using more comprehensive and holistic data points. This approach can help build neighborhoods more supportive of active transport modes like bicycling and walking.

Despite this focus on non-motorized transport, Brozen’s research isn’t about how to create the car-free city. As she stated in an earlier interview with TheCityFix:

“Too often we hear, ‘you bike people just want everyone to get out of their cars.’ Getting away from that us versus them mentality, we can start to think about what a holistic transportation system looks like. That’s what we mean when we talk about complete streets. On a complete street, it’s pleasant, safe, and attractive to get to your destination however you want to do so.”

View Brozen’s presentation below, and stay tuned for the release of her research findings later this year.

Moving Beyond Streets for Cars – Madeline Brozen – UCLA – Lee Schipper Memorial Scholar- Transforming Transportation 2015 from EMBARQ

We hope you are as inspired as we are by the insight and vision of this year’s Lee Schipper Memorial Scholars! To learn more about the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship, visit the scholarship website. Applications for the 2015 scholarship period are now closed, but check back throughout the year for updates on 2016. Donations to the scholarship fund are welcome at

Transport plays a key role in urban air quality

Tue, 2015-01-20 21:59

Transport plays a growing role in both the global climate and public health in cities like Londrina, Brazil (pictured). Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

The city is like an organism, and the swift movement of people and goods is the oxygen that sustains its well-being. When this circulation is inhibited, it significantly compromises the quality of urban life. For example, private cars account for less than one-third of trips in cities worldwide, but are responsible for 73% of urban air pollutants. Per capita, private cars generate three times more greenhouse gas emissions than public transport systems like buses. In the last year, the transport sector accounted for 46.9% of Brazil’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Rapid global urbanization comes with the potential to accelerate current climate change trends, and transport emissions may even triple by 2050. In addition to the severe consequences for the global climate, rising greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles also have a direct impact on human health. Air pollution contributed to 3.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012. It’s also estimated that urban air pollution contributes to 7,000 premature deaths per year in metropolitan São Paulo and reduces life expectancy by 1.5 years on average.

These challenges require urgent action to reduce the negative public health and environmental impacts of urban transport. One of the main paths for achieving this is through better urban planning and design. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights the importance of building denser cities with mixed land uses to reduce sprawl. To do this, we need to shift to a “3C” model of urban growth: connected, compact, and coordinated. These are the key proposals of transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies, which focus on adapting urban spaces to the scale of pedestrians and cyclists, providing quality, efficient public transport, and designing safe, connected spaces around transit hubs to improve connectivity and accessibility.

Designing efficient, low-carbon cities and transport systems can improve health and the climate. A 2013 EMBARQ study shows that 11 new bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in Mexico, Colombia, China, India, and South Africa have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31.4 million tons over the next 20 years. This amount is equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 6.5 million cars.

As defined in its National Plan on Climate Change (NPCC), Brazil aims to reduce carbon emissions by between 36.1% and 38.9% by 2020. To achieve this, the country has an important ally: investment in urban transport infrastructure provided by the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC). More than 80 Brazilian cities now have the opportunity to use federal funding to enhance transport corridors, implement TOD strategies, and in the process improve public health and air quality. It is expected that these investments will prioritize active transport and mass transport systems and help to reverse the country’s trend towards car ownership and motorcycle use.

A study by the Climate Observatory indicates that Brazil could be on track to meet the voluntary emissions reduction commitments outlined in the NPCC, but also signals a worrying increase in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, mainly due to fossil fuel consumption from transport. While we still face many challenges to shifting planning and investment to a low-carbon path, there are potential solutions at hand. Current negotiations over funding sources that would subsidize the costs of public transport, such as from taxing fossil fuels, can help build cleaner fleets and make sustainable transport more viable in Brazilian cities.

These is the pathway we need to breathe better in our cities.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in the Revista NTU Urbano.


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