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Photo Essay: A Look at How Climate Change Affects Poor Urban Communities in Surat and Semarang

Mon, 2018-01-29 14:13

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

One of the biggest challenges to climate action is not only understanding the risks of flooding, extreme heat and other challenges, but how your community might respond to these risks. What are its strengths? How might policymakers augment existing capacities and address weaknesses?

WRI’s Urban Community Resilience Assessment helps communities answer these questions. By analyzing local capabilities like social cohesion, familiarity with climate risks, early warning systems and disaster readiness, the assessment provides a snapshot of preparedness and people’s perception of risk. The assessment enables individuals to identify context-specific adaptation actions and encourage policymakers to engage communities in resilience planning.

This year, we applied the Urban Community Resilience Assessment to two Asian cities: Surat, India, and Semarang, Indonesia. As part of the process, we selected three communities in each city and conducted field visits to get a sense of the kinds of challenges they face and the ways in which community members are adapting. The full report of our findings will be released in the fall, but the sheer variety of challenges faced by different communities in each of the cities is illustrative.

Even though Surat and Semarang are both coastal cities with small rivers, the vulnerability contexts of each city, and each of the three communities, are significantly different. While Surat faces two major risks – extreme heat on one hand, and flooding during heavy monsoon days on the other – Semarang is exposed to various risks based on geography. Coastal settlements are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surges and land subsidence (sinking), whereas settlements along the inland river are at risk of flooding during heavy rain, and communities living in the hills face landslides.

Differential Risks in Surat

To capture differential risks in Surat, we selected different housing types based on people’s built environment, occupation and social capital. The first community assessed is an old slum called Morarji Vasahat, located in the southern part of the city, which has a large industrial zone.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Morarji Vasahat is in a low-lying area and is frequently at risk of waterlogging, overflowing drains and extreme floods, especially during the monsoon months. However, since it is an old slum, most households have lived together for decades resulting in strong social networks and friendships that serve as a source of strength during extreme events. Moreover, the community temple runs a trust that leads disaster management efforts by evacuating people to shelters located on higher ground and organizing emergency food and services distribution.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

In preparation for the monsoon season, households come together to clean-up their drains, repair and waterproof their roofs, and ensure that the roads leading to their homes are maintained. Most households have constructed high plinths for their homes, raising their floors one to two feet off the ground. These small changes are made to prevent rain and sewage water from entering their homes. In the summer, residents use the plinths, commonly known as otlas, as outdoor seating spaces to escape stifling internal temperatures aggravated by metal roofs.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The second community assessed in Surat was a slum rehabilitation scheme called Kosad Awas. In 2009, 19,000 households from different parts of the city were allotted homes in this area under a massive relocation and rehabilitation project. People from different slum communities were given rooms in disparate buildings without taking into account their existing social ties. This has led to severe issues of social incoherence, increasing theft and small crimes, and making it unsafe for women and children.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

These alleyways between the backsides of buildings, where the toilets are positioned, have turned into crime hotspots. Even though the residents of Kosad Awas are not exposed to flood risk on a regular basis like in Morarji Vasahat, lack of ventilation and overcrowding in their small homes makes them vulnerable to heat during summer days. Due to an overwhelming fear of theft most residents at home during the day – mostly women and children – keep their windows closed, resulting in increased indoor temperatures. Furthermore, a general lack of trust in the community makes it difficult to respond to emergencies as residents fear each other.

The third community in Surat is a site and services scheme in Ugat, located in the west of the city. Thirteen years ago, slum residents were relocated here and given legal rights to plots of land, where many built their own homes incrementally over time. After two years, they were given a water connection outside their homes, connected to the city’s electricity grid and, to greater and lesser degrees, hooked into the sanitation system.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Several households engage in animal husbandry and rear goats, chicken and pigs. These activities, alongside already underbuilt road infrastructure, open drains, and mismanaged garbage disposal systems, have led to extremely poor health and sanitation in the slum. During the monsoons, Ugat faces frequent flooding and water logging in most parts, followed by increased health risks due to unhygienic conditions. Here, santiation is the clear challenge.

Living With Risk in Semarang

The first community assessed in Semarang was Tanjung Mas, a fishing community in the north of the city, along the coast.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

People sorting, drying, and selling fish, net menders, boat repairmen, and other evidence of the fishing industry can be spotted along the edges and crossroads of the settlement.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The climate risks here are more immediately obvious than Surat. The ocean literally intrudes on people’s lives each day. During high tide, many homes, streets and alleys are flooded with seawater, which later recedes following the returning tide.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Due to the constant daily flooding, the soil has softened, leading to frequent instances of land subsidence. We saw several homes that had partly sunk into the ground, some only three or four feet high; others had fully subsided, leaving only eves above ground. Based on their economic capacities and risk of exposure, residents have adapted differently. Some have raised their roofs, adding additional height to save their homes (for now).

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Others have built new two-storied homes on six-foot high plinths to prevent seawater from entering and minimize the risk of subsidence.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

In some cases, residents have propped up their homes on stilts and built bridges that connect their homes with neighbors.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Many have simply learned to live with the sea. This home had sunk a foot below ground level, resulting in the front porch and interior spaces being perpetually flooded. Residents had laid out bricks along the walkway to the house and inside the home to mark commonly used paths.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The second community we visited in Semarang was Kaligawe, located along the city’s canal, slightly inland from the coast. The low-lying area experiences frequent flooding when the sea flows up into the canal during heavy monsoon rains. In some places, communities have elevated the roads to improve access and mobility. However, in the poorest areas, households are often unable to raise their floor heights with respect to the new road level, leading to internal flooding.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

The third community we selected is Sukorejo, located in the southern hills. This is an old indigenous community, where most people continue to live in their ancestral homes. The soil in this part of the city is very porous and tends to continuously shift, resulting in frequent and sometimes intense landslides. Additionally, the community struggles with severe water scarcity and frequent drought-like conditions during the summer months.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Landslides remain a challenge, but the community has adapted quite incredibly to problems of water scarcity. People are largely dependent on one community water source: a natural spring that fills a well. The settlement is divided into seven sectors, each of which is allocated one day of the week for collecting and storing as much water as is required.

Photo Credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI India

Residents trek to the well and refill their outdoor tanks, drums and buckets in batches. The water is meant to last the family for an entire week. In the event that a household runs out, they are allowed just two additional buckets per day for the rest of the six days. The system ensures that water is used in a sustainable and intelligent manner.

The field experiences from Surat and Semarang have strengthened our premise that peoples’ everyday well-being, the spaces they live in, the work they do, their potential to cope with increasing and varied challenges, and their aspirations for secure and equitable living environments are important to the success of any resilience strategy. Resilience is a continuous process, and communities and individuals are already adapting every day. The important question for planners is whether resilience actions at the wider city, state or national level are enhancing local knowledge and capacities – or constraining them.

The Urban Community Resilience Assessment is a year-long project led by staff from WRI’s Urban Climate Resilience team and funded by the Cities Alliance Joint Work Program on Resilient Cities; a full report will be released in September 2018. Local partners in both cities – the Urban Health and Climate Resilience Center for Excellence in Surat, and the Initiative for Urban Climate Change and Environment in Semarang – are integral collaborators and have led field activities in each settlement. The assessments will lead to proposals of resilience projects in each community that will be co-developed with community members and stakeholders from the city.

Lubaina Rangwala is a Managing Associate for WRI India’s Sustainable Cities Center.

India Can Get All Petrol, Diesel Vehicles Off Roads By 2030. Here’s What It Will Take to Go Electric

Fri, 2018-01-26 14:13

India could save $60 billion by rapidly adopting electric vehicles. Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns/ Flickr

In April, Piyush Goyal, the power minister at the time, claimed that India would introduce electric vehicles with such vigor that by 2030, there would be no petrol or diesel vehicle left to register. The following month, the Niti Aayog released a report estimating that the country could save around $60 billion by rapidly adopting electric vehicles.

Since then, the subject of electric mobility has featured prominently in the media, eliciting sharp, and often contrasting, reactions from government agencies and automakers.

It would be grossly incorrect to claim that it will be easy for India to make the transition from internal combustion engine automobiles to electric vehicles. However, the benefits will far outweigh the pain of transition, especially given the rapid rise in solar power generation.

Still, three fundamental questions need to be addressed if India is to realize its electric mobility dream.

1. Who Will Take the Lead?

Introducing electric vehicles will require several actors at national, state and city levels to work together. Nationally, the ministries of road transport and highways, housing and urban development, heavy industries, power, new and renewable energy, foreign affairs as well as institutions such as the Niti Aayog will need to formulate policy and regulations; provide clearances, including for imports; fund and build infrastructure. Since the action will start from cities, state and city administrations will have to be actively involved in developing charging mechanisms and other infrastructure.

Then there is the question of how to usher in the electric mobility revolution. Two countries that have successfully increased electric vehicles’ share in their transport systems have followed different approaches. While China has focused on the automobile industry and is using buses to catalyze electric vehicle penetration, the Netherlands has adopted the strategy of creating charging infrastructure to spur growth in electric vehicles. In both cases, the positive economic impact of such measures has led to sustained growth, with China emerging as the global leader in electric buses and the Netherlands in vehicle charging technologies.

In India, the ministries and agencies involved need to work together to find the right strategy to catalyze the transition to electric mobility. As China has used buses as the catalyst, can India use two-wheelers?

China has emerged as the global leader in electric buses. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

2. How to Tackle the Battery Challenge?

One of the biggest deterrents to making electric vehicles is the battery, as more than half of a vehicle’s cost goes into the battery pack. While the cost of batteries has been falling, it must come down further if electric vehicles are to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles.

India does not manufacture lithium-ion batteries. Indian companies import lithium-ion cells from China and assemble them into battery packs because setting up a cell manufacturing unit is costly. For a long time, the battery manufacturing industry was dominated by Japanese and South Korean companies but China is estimated to account for 55 percent of the global lithium-ion battery production, and this is expected to grow to 65 percent by 2021.

While India needs to get into battery production soon, it must also secure the supply of materials such as lithium, graphite and cobalt – required for making batteries for electric vehicles – from countries such as Australia, Chile and Congo. India does not produce enough of these materials.

Moreover, India needs to invest heavily in research and development around battery making, including in alternative technologies, because whoever controls the battery will control the electric vehicle.

3. What Happens to Existing Automobile and Petroleum Industries?

India is the world’s fifth-largest automobile manufacturer and the largest manufacturer of two-wheelers. More than 2.5 crore motor vehicles (25 million) are produced in the country every year. The sector provides employment, directly and indirectly, to nearly three crore people (30 million) and contributes 7.1 percent of the GDP.

As per the Automotive Mission Plan 2016-26, prepared jointly by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and the government, the Indian automotive market is estimated to be $16.5 billion by 2021, potentially generating up to $300 billion in annual revenue by 2026, creating 65 million additional jobs and contributing over 12 percent to the GDP.

India is also the world’s third-largest oil consumer. Its oil demand is expected to grow to 458 million metric tonnes by 2040, while the demand for energy will more than double by 2040, as the economy grows to over five times its current size. It is estimated that 99 percent of petrol and 70 percent of diesel consumed by India goes to the transport sector.

Clearly, in addition to the automotive sector, any electric mobility revolution will disrupt the oil and gas sector as well. It is important, therefore, to figure out how the existing ecosystem would cope with the change.

The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, which envisages around seven million hybrid or electric vehicles in the country in the next three years, now appears unachievable. If India is to achieve the goal of fully electrifying its motor vehicle fleet by 2030, it needs to develop a clear roadmap that addresses the concerns listed above – and it needs to be done now.

The original version of this article appeared on Scroll.In

Amit Bhatt is Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India.

How the FSCI Is Improving Urban Energy Efficiency by Encouraging Building Retrofits, Providing Alternative Business Models

Wed, 2018-01-24 21:59

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative connects stakeholders to improve municipal building energy efficiency. Photo by Alejandro/ Flickr

The majority of the energy used by buildings is wasted, resulting in increased energy costs and air pollution. Among C40 cities, this translates to between 50 percent and 75 percent of citywide carbon emissions. Therefore, due to the sheer amount of energy consumed by buildings, urban decision-makers have an opportunity to make an outsized impact by targeting municipal building efficiency.

In 2015, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities convened the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), made possible with support from Citi Foundation. One of the core components of the FSCI has been a series of workshops connecting urban decision-makers with energy efficiency experts to provide assistance on everything from potential business models to technical and policy concerns.

We spoke with James Alexander, director of the City Finance Programme at C40, and WRI Ross Center experts Shannon Hilsey and Luca Lo Re, about their outlook on the municipal building efficiency sector while working through the FSCI and a recent workshop in Mexico City.

How are C40 and WRI Ross Center working with cities to make municipal buildings more energy efficient, and what is the connection to the FSCI?

James Alexander: Cities have a high degree of control over the buildings they own and changes to municipal properties can spur improvement by other stakeholders. C40’s Municipal Building Efficiency Network helps cities introduce energy efficiency improvements to government facilities through webinars, publications and workshops, which reduces their carbon footprints and saves taxpayer funds.

A key challenge for cities is the development of the most appropriate business models for these projects, and finding the necessary financing to implement them. The FSCI helps cities address these challenges by providing a financing workstream that works alongside C40’s Energy Initiative. Through this work, we create opportunities for cities to share best practices, offer technical support on business models and financing mechanisms, and support cities with project structuring.

Shannon Hilsey: In addition to working on the FSCI program, WRI Ross Center is the coordinating partner of the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a Sustainable Energy for All public-private partnership with 30 partner jurisdictions and over 35 technical partners. The BEA works to support the goal of doubling the rate of energy-efficiency improvement worldwide by 2030. Within this context, the FSCI and BEA partnerships leverage the building sector expertise of the BEA with the business model expertise of the FSCI to help cities from the idea stage of municipal retrofits through to implementation.

What funding and financing challenges do cities face in adopting energy efficiency measures for municipal buildings?

Alexander: Financing is one of the key issues that precludes cities from scaling their municipal energy efficiency programs, since most cities are constrained by their existing budgets and need to develop project models that can attract external capital. In particular, we are helping cities overcome the project development barrier, where many face substantial challenges turning great ideas into finance-ready projects. In the energy efficiency space, many cities and experts cite the inability to obtain quality data as a major barrier in attracting investors and accessing financing. Without proper data, investors are unable to adequately assess the risk profile of projects and are therefore unlikely to invest in them. Solving this issue is a critical step toward helping cities secure financing.

Luca Lo Re: In our experience, some well-intentioned local and national regulations, such as those that enforce procurement best practices or aim to reduce energy costs for consumers, also eliminate business options. A common example is a ban on multiyear municipal contracts. While often intended to ensure that local procurement is competitive and financially efficient, it can preclude the use of energy services contracts and long-term leases, which can be part of strong business models for building retrofits. Another example is energy subsidies that delay incentives for immediate action and prolong the continued inefficiency of municipal buildings. Our hope is that cities facing such barriers will explore new pathways that allow for alternative options – and we will help provide them.

What kinds of approaches can cities utilize to finance energy efficiency retrofit measures in their buildings?

Alexander: Cities in C40’s network have used a variety of tools to finance municipal building efficiency projects, including green bonds, revolving funds and other innovative fiscal instruments. At a recent workshop in Mexico City, representatives from eight Latin American countries analyzed these tools through interactive sessions and discussions to determine which of them might be suitable for their own contexts. Representatives from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also shared their technical expertise and recommendations for potential business models in energy efficiency.

Hilsey: In the FSCI research process, we studied 16 case studies of municipal retrofit programs and projects to build a map of the elements involved in successful business models. We found that cities deployed a wide range of mechanisms, including energy tariff levies, municipal bonds and concessional finance. Most importantly, we found that successful cities utilized some public budgets, such as existing facilities maintenance funds, as a part of their overall business model.

At the workshop in Mexico City, we heard about the different approaches cities are using, including our host, which is funding its first round of retrofits with a targeted climate fund and exploring other options to make changes to a larger set of municipal buildings.

What’s next for the cities that attended the Mexico City workshop?

Alexander: In C40’s experience, a collaborative approach is very effective in devising and sharing solutions to complex challenges. The workshop was designed to be as interactive as possible to facilitate dialogue between cities and identify common ground. At the end of the workshop, cities highlighted key next steps they would take to overcome financing hurdles. The participants also identified other cities from the workshop that they would like to continue engaging with. The C40 team will be conducting follow-up calls to facilitate these discussions as well as supporting the cities’ efforts to implement commitments made at the workshop.

Lo Re: We agree that collaboration is key. Some cities in attendance voiced their intention to build a stakeholder network to collaboratively design and carry out future projects. This is a great way to build public consensus and develop a stronger partnership proposal, with early participation from the private sector. As James noted, gathering existing data on energy use in buildings under consideration – or even carrying out a broader public building energy audit – is a great step forward and can inform the establishment of city-wide energy targets. We hope cities will consider these steps and more as they gear up for retrofit projects.

James Alexander is Director of the City Finance Programme at C40.

Luca Lo Re is an Energy, Climate and Finance Associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Shannon Hilsey is Project Coordinator for the Building Efficiency Initiative within WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Davis Wang: Mobike Now Serves 4 Million People a Day in Beijing

Tue, 2018-01-23 14:13

China has more than 16 million bikes on the streets today that don’t belong to anyone and pass from rider to rider with the tap of a smartphone. With the new addition of new dock-less models, many are simply left wherever the last rider got off. Mobike is among the leaders of the new dock-less wave, with more than 1 million bikes available around the world, and though many cities are now looking for ways to curb the number of dock-less bikes swarming their streets, Mobike CEO Davis Wang says the new technology is part of rethinking transport infrastructure for cities.

Mobike is the world’s first cashless and station-free bike sharing system. In 2017, they had “a couple thousand bikes” in nine cities in China, Wang tells WRI Ross Cities during Transforming Transportation 2018, where he spoke about achieving sustainable mobility in the digital economy. Only one year later, the company is in 200 cities, serving more than 30 million people a day.

After starting in China, Mobike now operates in the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States. The rapid expansion of Mobike and other similar systems hasn’t been without criticism, but companies are adjusting their business models and working with new regulations as they expand beyond China.

“We are transporting people in major world cities and trying to make more people use bicycles every day,” says Wang.

This was Wang’s second time attending Transforming Transportation, an annual conference co-hosted by WRI Ross Cities and the World Bank. “Zipcar changed the way people use cars; Uber changed the way people used taxis; Mobike is trying to change the way people use bikes,” he told attendees on January 11.

Can @Mobike revolutionize the way #people move about their #cities? @daviswangxf at #TTDC18

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

What keeps him coming back to Washington? Collaboration, he says. “Collaboration is in the DNA for Mobike.” He emphasized the need for cooperation with the public sector to improve biking infrastructure and policy. There are more than 20 million people living in Beijing today, Wang notes. The subway moves 10 million people a day; the 50-year old bus system, 8 million; and taxis, 2 million. How does Mobike fit into the equation? They now serve 4 million people a day, he says.

With twice as many people using Mobike as taxis, it’s crucial for the city to accommodate and promote biking alongside other more established modes. Working side-by-side with local policymakers is important to ensure private companies like Mobike can be successful, Wang says.

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

Solly Angel on How Cities Can Make Room Now for Growth Tomorrow

Wed, 2018-01-17 14:13

Countless cities are struggling to rein in development that is pushing their peripheries further and further from the city center. By 2030, many medium-sized cities in the global south are projected to double or triple in population, and much of this growth is happening in haphazard ways, leading to sprawling and scattered neighborhoods poorly served by core city services.

Urbanization can lead to many benefits for people and economies, but uncontrolled expansion often results in environmental, economic and social degradation. “We should care about urban expansion if we want the new areas to be productive, to be integrated into the metropolitan economy; if we want them to be inclusive, so that people can afford the housing there; and if we want [them] to be environmentally sustainable,” says Shlomo (Solly) Angel, a professor of city planning at the New York University Stern Urbanization Project and head of the Marron Institute’s Urban Expansion Program, speaking to WRI Ross Center as part of the Cities Research Seminar Series.

Angel advocates for a “making room” approach, in which cities analyze where population growth and development will likely occur and preemptively acquire land that can be used for public infrastructure and services later. The idea is to prepare for expansion before development makes it physically impossible, prohibitively costly or ethically unjust. Retroactively building infrastructure for already developed communities can cost three to nine times as much as if the city had made room in the first place, while also disrupting or displacing existing communities.

Angel says that road infrastructure is an especially important element in preparing for urban expansion. “These expansion areas need to be connected to the metropolitan economy in order for the city to be productive,” he says. An arterial road grid helps organize development so that new growth is structured within a predetermined framework. The initial result may be sprawling development, but strategies like infill development can help densify expansion areas as time goes on.

Cities can wait to invest in public infrastructure in these areas until there’s a need for it, but Angel suggests assessing growth patterns, designing the grid and acquiring land beforehand, even if there’s a chance that population growth and development don’t occur as expected.

Angel has tested out the making room approach in a number of cities with different systems of land governance. “In Colombia, all we had to do to acquire the land for the arterial roads is to put liens on property titles. In Ethiopia, we’ve had to survey the roads and move settlers to the edge of the road by giving them 99-year leases on the properties that they will occupy,” Angel says.

In some countries, like Colombia, Ecuador and Colombia, the government can legally requisition a portion of private lands for public use. “When you convert land from rural to urban use [in these countries], 40 percent of that land has to be in public use,” Angel says. “This is the easiest and best way to secure adequate lands for urban expansion.”

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

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

Sat, 2018-01-13 05:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.@elsamariedsilva from @pinthecreep weighs in on the importance of #gender #equality on public transport at #TTDC18

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

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

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

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

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

65% of #women in Mexico City suffer sexual harassment on #publictransport. This hampers their ability to access key services and #economic opportunities around the #city — Karla Dominguez Gonzalez, @WBG_Gender at #TTDC18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Technology alone cannot solve the #transport question, or countries like mine will be left behind — Amadou Saïdou Ba, @CETUD_SN at #TTDC18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Cities Aim to Rein in Bike-Sharing Boom

Sat, 2018-01-13 00:14

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

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

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

Chinese Cities Look to Regulate Dockless Bike-Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

Bike-Sharing Challenges and Solutions Go Global

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

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

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

A More Orderly Bike-Share System

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

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

This article first appeared on WRI Insights.

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

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

Fri, 2018-01-12 05:33

Photo by Valeria Gelman/WRI Ross Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2018-01-11 20:30

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

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

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

Preventing Road Deaths with a Safe System

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

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

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

What Does a Safe System Look Like?

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

1. Designing streets for safety

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

2. Improving options for mobility

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

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

3. Managing speed to reduce fatalities

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

4. Coordinating institutions

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

The Human Cost of Inaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2018-01-11 19:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financing Sustainable Infrastructure: A Tale of Two Cities

Tue, 2018-01-09 13:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Maturity

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

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

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

The working paper identifies three different stages of financial maturity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

This original version of this article was published on Zilient.

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

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

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

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

Sat, 2018-01-06 00:34

Photo Credit: Alper Çuğun/Flickr

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

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

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

More Vehicles on the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the States

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

Jyot Chadha and Diego Canales contributed to this blog.

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

Thu, 2018-01-04 20:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2018-01-02 14:13

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

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

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

Focusing Further Upstream for Sanitation

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

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

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

Better Pricing Schemes to Increase Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheCityFix’s Top 10 Blogs from 2017

Thu, 2017-12-28 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2017-12-26 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous by Design

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

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

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

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

Accidents near footbridges. Source:

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

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

The Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward Thriving Cities for All: Our 2017 Impact

Fri, 2017-12-22 14:13

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

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

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

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

Major highlights include:

India Adopts Landmark National Transit-Oriented Development Policy

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

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

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

Chinese and Indian Cities Reimagine Waste and Wastewater

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

Safe System Approaches Adopted in Colombia, India and México

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

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

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

Belo Horizonte Launches First Citywide Corporate Mobility Plan

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

Mexico City Commits to Scaling-up Energy Retrofit Efforts

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

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

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

WRI Ross Center Wins Prince Michael International Road Safety Award

Thu, 2017-12-21 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRTData Adopts New Standards to Classify Bus Corridors Worldwide

Tue, 2017-12-19 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Zika Epidemic Means for Gender and Urban Climate Planning

Mon, 2017-12-18 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask the Other Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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