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

Thu, 2015-01-22 20:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2015-01-22 20:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transport plays a key role in urban air quality

Tue, 2015-01-20 21:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transport plays a key role in urban air quality

Tue, 2015-01-20 21:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Top ten sustainable cities stories of 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 18:07

TheCityFix wishes you a happy and healthy 2015! If you missed them, here are our top ten most-read stories of 2014. Photo via Equal Streets/Facebook.

As you know if you’ve followed the previous installments in TheCityFix’s Year in Review series, we’ve been witness to some pretty incredible moments for urban sustainability in 2014. Some, however, have captivated our global community of readers more than others.

If you missed them, here are the top ten most-read stories from TheCityFix in 2014. See you in the New Year, CityFixers!

10. Urban green space makes people happier than money

Kicking off our top ten is a story originally shared by our friends at TheCityFix Brasil that examines just how important urban green spaces are for creating livable cities. Considering that one study explored found that living close to green space yields similar positive vibes to getting a new job or getting married, are urban public spaces undervalued where you live?

9. The perfect storm: One country’s history of urban sprawl

Number nine on this list details the complex and overlapping layers of social and economic policy contributing to today’s sprawling Mexican cities. These challenges form the impetus for the country’s current urban reform efforts, a policy overhaul looking to turn Mexico from “3D” – distant, dispersed, and disconnected – to “3C” – connected, compact, and coordinated.

Mexico’s history of urban sprawl holds important lessons for policy and leadership in urban development. Photo by Pablo Lopex Luz/Imgur.

8. 100 smart cities in India: Governing for human impact

In the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to build ‘100 smart cities’ across India. Even in the wake of this declaration, there’s still no global consensus on what it means to be a ‘smart’ city. As number eight on this list suggests, “the challenge for smart cities in India will be to evolve from the notion of ‘smart’ as one rooted in technology to one rooted in governance.” 

7. People-oriented Cities: Demystifying transit-oriented development 

The opening entry to TheCityFix’s People-oriented Cities series comes in at number seven among the top ten articles of 2014. This article explores and explains transit-oriented development (TOD), an extremely useful approach for planners and city leaders looking to move past car-oriented urban form and build more livable cities for people.

6. What if there were no need for cars in the world’s biggest cities?

Even though number six on this list was published roughly two months ago, we’re still fascinated by this question. What if there were no need for cars in the world’s biggest cities? In order to accelerate the pace of innovation and find the urgent solutions we need for the urban future we want, this article explores how human-centered design thinking can be applied to urban mobility.

5. São Paulo wins 2014 City/State MobiPrize by empowering citizens and fostering innovation

São Paulo’s innovative and award-winning efforts to expand civic participation through open data and citizen science helped it develop a new master plan and helped this article land at number five in our top ten stories of 2014. This year, the city became one of the first in Latin American to open its data and integrate an online crowdsourcing platform into its participatory planning process.

4. Scaling up sustainability: ‘Raahgiri Day’ comes to New Delhi 

2014 witnessed the incredible growth of the open streets movement in Indian cities, which all started with the inaugural Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon in November 2013. There was no bigger Raahgiri moment in 2014 than when New Delhi, India’s capital and second-largest city, initiated Raahgiri Days of its own in July.

Raahgiri Day features a range of activities for participants – including yoga, cycling, dancing, and more – helping citizens reclaim their streets and bring physical activity back into their day. This year New Delhi became the fourth city in India to host weekly Raahgiri Days. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

3. A new approach: Social factors in urban development

Urban development projects undergo considerable scrutiny well before being implemented, but as our number three most-read story of 2014 emphasizes, this assessment is often missing important social factors. To create truly sustainable and livable cities, shouldn’t we be considering how the built environment around us affects well-being and quality of life?

2. People-oriented Cities: Designing walkable, bikeable neighborhoods

Our number two most-read story of the year once again comes from the People-oriented Cities series and chronicles the many benefits for cities and citizens of creating communities that foster active transport. Based on this article’s popularity, it seems our readers agree that “it’s time for the world’s cities to start thinking about moving people rather than moving cars.”

A balanced street has ample sidewalks, comfortable bike facilities that connect to a network, and safe ways to cross streets, making active transportation possible even on larger roads. Image by EMBARQ.

1. Mumbai is ready For “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement”

Number one on this list should come as little surprise. When the largest city in India joins the country’s highly publicized open streets revolution, it’s bound to make waves. Mumbai began hosting weekly Equal Streets events in November 2014 to put people back at the center of urban design and road use, making a bold statement by closing major roads to traffic each Sunday. The popularity of this article reflects the grassroots power of Equal Streets, a movement both by and for the people of Mumbai. With the growth of the event over the past two months, Equal Streets continues to empower Mumbaikars to assert their right to the city and advocate for safe, inclusive public spaces they can enjoy.

It’s amazing what you can do with streets when they’re spaces for people, not cars. Photo by Pooja Sharma/Facebook.

Did one of your favorites miss the list? Did we miss something big in the world of sustainable cities and urban mobility? Let us know in the comments!

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Top ten sustainable cities stories of 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 18:07

TheCityFix wishes you a happy and healthy 2015! If you missed them, here are our top ten most-read stories of 2014. Photo via Equal Streets/Facebook.

As you know if you’ve followed the previous installments in TheCityFix’s Year in Review series, we’ve been witness to some pretty incredible moments for urban sustainability in 2014. Some, however, have captivated our global community of readers more than others.

If you missed them, here are the top ten most-read stories from TheCityFix in 2014. See you in the New Year, CityFixers!

10. Urban green space makes people happier than money

Kicking off our top ten is a story originally shared by our friends at TheCityFix Brasil that examines just how important urban green spaces are for creating livable cities. Considering that one study explored found that living close to green space yields similar positive vibes to getting a new job or getting married, are urban public spaces undervalued where you live?

9. The perfect storm: One country’s history of urban sprawl

Number nine on this list details the complex and overlapping layers of social and economic policy contributing to today’s sprawling Mexican cities. These challenges form the impetus for the country’s current urban reform efforts, a policy overhaul looking to turn Mexico from “3D” – distant, dispersed, and disconnected – to “3C” – connected, compact, and coordinated.

Mexico’s history of urban sprawl holds important lessons for policy and leadership in urban development. Photo by Pablo Lopex Luz/Imgur.

8. 100 smart cities in India: Governing for human impact

In the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to build ‘100 smart cities’ across India. Even in the wake of this declaration, there’s still no global consensus on what it means to be a ‘smart’ city. As number eight on this list suggests, “the challenge for smart cities in India will be to evolve from the notion of ‘smart’ as one rooted in technology to one rooted in governance.” 

7. People-oriented Cities: Demystifying transit-oriented development 

The opening entry to TheCityFix’s People-oriented Cities series comes in at number seven among the top ten articles of 2014. This article explores and explains transit-oriented development (TOD), an extremely useful approach for planners and city leaders looking to move past car-oriented urban form and build more livable cities for people.

6. What if there were no need for cars in the world’s biggest cities?

Even though number six on this list was published roughly two months ago, we’re still fascinated by this question. What if there were no need for cars in the world’s biggest cities? In order to accelerate the pace of innovation and find the urgent solutions we need for the urban future we want, this article explores how human-centered design thinking can be applied to urban mobility.

5. São Paulo wins 2014 City/State MobiPrize by empowering citizens and fostering innovation

São Paulo’s innovative and award-winning efforts to expand civic participation through open data and citizen science helped it develop a new master plan and helped this article land at number five in our top ten stories of 2014. This year, the city became one of the first in Latin American to open its data and integrate an online crowdsourcing platform into its participatory planning process.

4. Scaling up sustainability: ‘Raahgiri Day’ comes to New Delhi 

2014 witnessed the incredible growth of the open streets movement in Indian cities, which all started with the inaugural Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon in November 2013. There was no bigger Raahgiri moment in 2014 than when New Delhi, India’s capital and second-largest city, initiated Raahgiri Days of its own in July.

Raahgiri Day features a range of activities for participants – including yoga, cycling, dancing, and more – helping citizens reclaim their streets and bring physical activity back into their day. This year New Delhi became the fourth city in India to host weekly Raahgiri Days. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

3. A new approach: Social factors in urban development

Urban development projects undergo considerable scrutiny well before being implemented, but as our number three most-read story of 2014 emphasizes, this assessment is often missing important social factors. To create truly sustainable and livable cities, shouldn’t we be considering how the built environment around us affects well-being and quality of life?

2. People-oriented Cities: Designing walkable, bikeable neighborhoods

Our number two most-read story of the year once again comes from the People-oriented Cities series and chronicles the many benefits for cities and citizens of creating communities that foster active transport. Based on this article’s popularity, it seems our readers agree that “it’s time for the world’s cities to start thinking about moving people rather than moving cars.”

A balanced street has ample sidewalks, comfortable bike facilities that connect to a network, and safe ways to cross streets, making active transportation possible even on larger roads. Image by EMBARQ.

1. Mumbai is ready For “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement”

Number one on this list should come as little surprise. When the largest city in India joins the country’s highly publicized open streets revolution, it’s bound to make waves. Mumbai began hosting weekly Equal Streets events in November 2014 to put people back at the center of urban design and road use, making a bold statement by closing major roads to traffic each Sunday. The popularity of this article reflects the grassroots power of Equal Streets, a movement both by and for the people of Mumbai. With the growth of the event over the past two months, Equal Streets continues to empower Mumbaikars to assert their right to the city and advocate for safe, inclusive public spaces they can enjoy.

It’s amazing what you can do with streets when they’re spaces for people, not cars. Photo by Pooja Sharma/Facebook.

Did one of your favorites miss the list? Did we miss something big in the world of sustainable cities and urban mobility? Let us know in the comments!

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Five stories that prove building sustainable cities can be fun, too

Fri, 2014-12-26 20:30

There are many obstacles on the path towards sustainable, inclusive, healthy cities, but there’s certainly enough fun and inspiration to go around, as well. Photo by kk9k/Flickr.

With every year that passes, the challenges to creating the sustainable cities we want to live in seem to multiply. Our cities are growing larger, their roads are more congested, their air quality is deteriorating, and their contributions to climate change remain significant. The scale and pace of urbanization across the globe is, in many ways, outpacing today’s solutions.

While it’s no easy task to build a more sustainable and livable urban future, does that mean it’s all doom and gloom? Of course not! 2014 has shown us countless examples of the fun side of urban sustainability and plenty of reasons for optimism. Whether it’s new games for sustainable transport lovers, folklore’s influence on urban development, new platforms for citizen engagement and interaction, or dancing traffic safety zebras, we at TheCityFix are looking forward to documenting more of the innovative and downright zany ways citizens and city leaders are creating more sustainable cities for people around the world.

Without further adieu, here are the stories from the past year that you thought were the most fun, the top five Friday Fun entries of 2014.

5. These maps help to visualize the world’s urban growth

Maps are fun. Data visualizations are fun. Maps and data visualizations of the world’s evolving urban landscape are really fun! Not only is it astonishing to see the rapid rate at which urban growth is occurring worldwide, but visualizing this growth also reveals some interesting trends. For instance, megacities like Dhaka and New Delhi are set to explode in the next half-century, contributing to the continued growth of Asia’s urban population. At the same time, many African countries will go from less than 25% to 75% urban between 1950 and 2050. Not to be left out, every single country in South America is expected to more than 75% urban by 2040.

Graphic by Unicef.

4. Two genius bike-parking ideas for a car-free commute

A safe and convenient place to park a bike can be the difference between choosing to cycle and needing to drive for your morning commute. Even in cities with robust bike infrastructure, cyclists often have to haul their bikes onto public transport or take their bikes inside their office due to lack of parking facilities. Two cities – Tokyo and Portland – have two very different and innovative answers to the bike parking challenge: underground parking controlled by a robot and bike valet. While neither solution is perfect, both provide an important step towards creating bikeable cities that support active, sustainable transport.

3. Cycling innovations make bikeable cities worldwide

If number four on this list didn’t make it clear, city residents are clamoring for creative ways to build a culture of urban cycling. While cities like Copenhagen and Portland have built international reputations for bike-friendliness, they’re not the only cities thinking out of the box to make infrastructure and design better serve cyclists. Hangzhou, for example, boasts the largest bike-sharing system in the world and has one of the most extensive and well-designed networks of dedicated bike lanes in all of China. These measures are helping to curb rising car ownership in the city, a trend currently creating challenges in other Chinese cities.

Hangzhou’s bike lanes make cycling an attractive form of active transport, and have been found to reduce car usage and auto emissions. Photo by Bradley Schroeder/Flickr.

2. Two bold cities’ plans to make car ownership obsolete

When Hamburg announced in January 2014 that its new network of green spaces would eliminate the need for cars in the city within 20 years, it made headlines across Europe. When Helsinki joined Hamburg in July by unveiling plans for a “mobility on demand system” that would make car ownership “obsolete,” it made waves worldwide. Together, these two cities are at the forefront of a movement to explore what our cities would look like if we didn’t need cars to get around them. With car-free days, weeks, and even months becoming increasingly common in cities worldwide, is the world ready for a car-free major city year round? 

1. Moscow metro’s commuter dogs

Take a trip on Moscow’s extensive metro system, and you’re likely to have a furry companion along for the ride. Stray dogs are known to ride the city’s metro – one of the world’s largest in terms of both length and ridership – right along with their commuting human counterparts.

Navigating a large and complex metro system is hard enough for most humans, but Moscow’s commuter dogs find their way around through a combination of sight, smell, and familiarity. Photo by Adam Baker/Flickr.

At first glance, these dogs may seem outlandish or even unbelievable in their behavior. But dig a little deeper and their story is an urban geography lesson in the making. Why and how these dogs commute each day reveals a great deal about the shifting urban form, land use, and economy of the Moscow metropolitan region in the post-Soviet era. That, and they bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘working like a dog.’

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Five stories that prove building sustainable cities can be fun, too

Fri, 2014-12-26 20:30

There are many obstacles on the path towards sustainable, inclusive, healthy cities, but there’s certainly enough fun and inspiration to go around, as well. Photo by kk9k/Flickr.

With every year that passes, the challenges to creating the sustainable cities we want to live in seem to multiply. Our cities are growing larger, their roads are more congested, their air quality is deteriorating, and their contributions to climate change remain significant. The scale and pace of urbanization across the globe is, in many ways, outpacing today’s solutions.

While it’s no easy task to build a more sustainable and livable urban future, does that mean it’s all doom and gloom? Of course not! 2014 has shown us countless examples of the fun side of urban sustainability and plenty of reasons for optimism. Whether it’s new games for sustainable transport lovers, folklore’s influence on urban development, new platforms for citizen engagement and interaction, or dancing traffic safety zebras, we at TheCityFix are looking forward to documenting more of the innovative and downright zany ways citizens and city leaders are creating more sustainable cities for people around the world.

Without further adieu, here are the stories from the past year that you thought were the most fun, the top five Friday Fun entries of 2014.

5. These maps help to visualize the world’s urban growth

Maps are fun. Data visualizations are fun. Maps and data visualizations of the world’s evolving urban landscape are really fun! Not only is it astonishing to see the rapid rate at which urban growth is occurring worldwide, but visualizing this growth also reveals some interesting trends. For instance, megacities like Dhaka and New Delhi are set to explode in the next half-century, contributing to the continued growth of Asia’s urban population. At the same time, many African countries will go from less than 25% to 75% urban between 1950 and 2050. Not to be left out, every single country in South America is expected to more than 75% urban by 2040.

Graphic by Unicef.

4. Two genius bike-parking ideas for a car-free commute

A safe and convenient place to park a bike can be the difference between choosing to cycle and needing to drive for your morning commute. Even in cities with robust bike infrastructure, cyclists often have to haul their bikes onto public transport or take their bikes inside their office due to lack of parking facilities. Two cities – Tokyo and Portland – have two very different and innovative answers to the bike parking challenge: underground parking controlled by a robot and bike valet. While neither solution is perfect, both provide an important step towards creating bikeable cities that support active, sustainable transport.

3. Cycling innovations make bikeable cities worldwide

If number four on this list didn’t make it clear, city residents are clamoring for creative ways to build a culture of urban cycling. While cities like Copenhagen and Portland have built international reputations for bike-friendliness, they’re not the only cities thinking out of the box to make infrastructure and design better serve cyclists. Hangzhou, for example, boasts the largest bike-sharing system in the world and has one of the most extensive and well-designed networks of dedicated bike lanes in all of China. These measures are helping to curb rising car ownership in the city, a trend currently creating challenges in other Chinese cities.

Hangzhou’s bike lanes make cycling an attractive form of active transport, and have been found to reduce car usage and auto emissions. Photo by Bradley Schroeder/Flickr.

2. Two bold cities’ plans to make car ownership obsolete

When Hamburg announced in January 2014 that its new network of green spaces would eliminate the need for cars in the city within 20 years, it made headlines across Europe. When Helsinki joined Hamburg in July by unveiling plans for a “mobility on demand system” that would make car ownership “obsolete,” it made waves worldwide. Together, these two cities are at the forefront of a movement to explore what our cities would look like if we didn’t need cars to get around them. With car-free days, weeks, and even months becoming increasingly common in cities worldwide, is the world ready for a car-free major city year round? 

1. Moscow metro’s commuter dogs

Take a trip on Moscow’s extensive metro system, and you’re likely to have a furry companion along for the ride. Stray dogs are known to ride the city’s metro – one of the world’s largest in terms of both length and ridership – right along with their commuting human counterparts.

Navigating a large and complex metro system is hard enough for most humans, but Moscow’s commuter dogs find their way around through a combination of sight, smell, and familiarity. Photo by Adam Baker/Flickr.

At first glance, these dogs may seem outlandish or even unbelievable in their behavior. But dig a little deeper and their story is an urban geography lesson in the making. Why and how these dogs commute each day reveals a great deal about the shifting urban form, land use, and economy of the Moscow metropolitan region in the post-Soviet era. That, and they bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘working like a dog.’

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Momentum builds for the open streets movement

Wed, 2014-12-24 20:33

Open streets movements are spreading worldwide, nowhere faster than in India, where two of the countries largest cities now close major roads to cars every Sunday to reclaim public space. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

Do the streets in your city belong to people or cars? In more and more cities worldwide, residents are taking back their streets as public spaces. The open streets movement started in the 1970s with “Sunday Ciclovía” in Bogotá, Colombia, where to this day, 121 km (75 miles) of roads are closed to cars and buses every Sunday. Weekly and annual open streets events have expanded to cities worldwide in recent decades. 2014 was a year of major growth for the movement. The best example is Raahgiri Day, India’s open streets movement that has expanded from Gurgaon in 2013 to six more cities in 2014, including capital New Delhi.

This low-cost, high impact strategy can improve quality of life, provide opportunities for recreation and sustainable transport, and unite citizens around the idea that streets are public spaces that should people’s needs. Beyond the weekly events, open streets events advance efforts to create safe, attractive spaces for people and active transport options like bicycling and walking.

Indian citizens reclaim their streets

Now in Gurgaon, Delhi, Bhopal, Ludhiana, Navi Mumbai, Indore, and Dwarka, Raahgiri events draw tens of thousands of participants weekly in these seven Indian cities. In Gurgaon, nearly 90,000 people came out for Raahgiri in its eighth week. When these cities close major roads to cars on Sundays, it allows people room to bike, walk, do yoga, Zumba, aerobics, and much more. Mumbai has recently launched its own open streets movement called “Equal Streets – A Citizens Movement,” and it has quickly gained momentum. In its first four weeks the crowd grew to approximately 40,000 people.

India is a particularly important country for the open streets movement, as increasing car ownership contributes to serious air pollution and road safety problems. In late January 2014, Delhi’s average daily peak of harmful particulate matter was 20 times the level considered healthy by the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, 330 people die each day on India’s roads. Raahgiri and Equal Streets advance a different path for Indian cities, one that prioritizes sustainable mobility, public space, and quality of life.

This graphic from the official Times of India contrasts the vibrancy of a road closed to cars during Mumbai’s Equal Streets event with a dangerous, polluted, and congested road on a typical day. Graphic via official Times of India.

Istanbul’s pedestrianization permanently gives streets to people

Istanbul has taken a different approach to turn streets into true public spaces for people. Since 2011, Istanbul has pedestrianized 295 streets throughout its Historic Peninsula, closing the streets to cars and creating safe, accessible, and attractive spaces for community interaction. In 2014, EMBARQ Turkey released the Istanbul Historic Peninsula Pedestrianization Project report to investigate the impact of this pedestrianization. After surveying students, residents, and local business in the Historic Peninsula, EMBARQ Turkey found an 80% satisfaction rate with pedestrianization. Fifty-five percent of respondents felt that transport modes are more accessible by foot, and respondents also reported decreased noise pollution and improved air quality.

What’s next for open streets?

Over 100 cities now have open streets events, and the events have been shown to be effective in cities of all types, from Latin America, to the United States, to India, and beyond. As many cities face rapid growth and increasing car ownership, they are challenged to provide public spaces where people can be safe and active. The Journal of Urban Health estimates that the benefits in reduced medical costs from open streets events substantially outweigh the costs of closing infrastructure to cars.

While open streets events make cities more livable on their own, they also contribute to a larger goal. Each Sunday, the movement is creating advocates for safer streets with infrastructure for people – bike lanes, sidewalks, and sustainable transport, and more. As EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt stated, the growth of the open streets movement represents a major step in the advancement of people-oriented cities:

This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Momentum builds for the open streets movement

Wed, 2014-12-24 20:33

Open streets movements are spreading worldwide, nowhere faster than in India, where two of the countries largest cities now close major roads to cars every Sunday to reclaim public space. Photo by Raahgiri Day, New Delhi/Facebook.

Do the streets in your city belong to people or cars? In more and more cities worldwide, residents are taking back their streets as public spaces. The open streets movement started in the 1970s with “Sunday Ciclovía” in Bogotá, Colombia, where to this day, 121 km (75 miles) of roads are closed to cars and buses every Sunday. Weekly and annual open streets events have expanded to cities worldwide in recent decades. 2014 was a year of major growth for the movement. The best example is Raahgiri Day, India’s open streets movement that has expanded from Gurgaon in 2013 to six more cities in 2014, including capital New Delhi.

This low-cost, high impact strategy can improve quality of life, provide opportunities for recreation and sustainable transport, and unite citizens around the idea that streets are public spaces that should people’s needs. Beyond the weekly events, open streets events advance efforts to create safe, attractive spaces for people and active transport options like bicycling and walking.

Indian citizens reclaim their streets

Now in Gurgaon, Delhi, Bhopal, Ludhiana, Navi Mumbai, Indore, and Dwarka, Raahgiri events draw tens of thousands of participants weekly in these seven Indian cities. In Gurgaon, nearly 90,000 people came out for Raahgiri in its eighth week. When these cities close major roads to cars on Sundays, it allows people room to bike, walk, do yoga, Zumba, aerobics, and much more. Mumbai has recently launched its own open streets movement called “Equal Streets – A Citizens Movement,” and it has quickly gained momentum. In its first four weeks the crowd grew to approximately 40,000 people.

India is a particularly important country for the open streets movement, as increasing car ownership contributes to serious air pollution and road safety problems. In late January 2014, Delhi’s average daily peak of harmful particulate matter was 20 times the level considered healthy by the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, 330 people die each day on India’s roads. Raahgiri and Equal Streets advance a different path for Indian cities, one that prioritizes sustainable mobility, public space, and quality of life.

This graphic from the official Times of India contrasts the vibrancy of a road closed to cars during Mumbai’s Equal Streets event with a dangerous, polluted, and congested road on a typical day. Graphic via official Times of India.

Istanbul’s pedestrianization permanently gives streets to people

Istanbul has taken a different approach to turn streets into true public spaces for people. Since 2011, Istanbul has pedestrianized 295 streets throughout its Historic Peninsula, closing the streets to cars and creating safe, accessible, and attractive spaces for community interaction. In 2014, EMBARQ Turkey released the Istanbul Historic Peninsula Pedestrianization Project report to investigate the impact of this pedestrianization. After surveying students, residents, and local business in the Historic Peninsula, EMBARQ Turkey found an 80% satisfaction rate with pedestrianization. Fifty-five percent of respondents felt that transport modes are more accessible by foot, and respondents also reported decreased noise pollution and improved air quality.

What’s next for open streets?

Over 100 cities now have open streets events, and the events have been shown to be effective in cities of all types, from Latin America, to the United States, to India, and beyond. As many cities face rapid growth and increasing car ownership, they are challenged to provide public spaces where people can be safe and active. The Journal of Urban Health estimates that the benefits in reduced medical costs from open streets events substantially outweigh the costs of closing infrastructure to cars.

While open streets events make cities more livable on their own, they also contribute to a larger goal. Each Sunday, the movement is creating advocates for safer streets with infrastructure for people – bike lanes, sidewalks, and sustainable transport, and more. As EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt stated, the growth of the open streets movement represents a major step in the advancement of people-oriented cities:

This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: What makes a people-oriented city?

Wed, 2014-12-24 01:36

TheCityFix’s 2014 People-oriented Cities series shows the blueprint for connected cities with high quality public transport, mixed-use transit-oriented development, and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Transport and urban development are inherently linked. Though the majority of residents in many of the world’s biggest cities do not own a car, cities are often designed around the needs of automobiles instead of the needs of people. In Mexico, less than one-third of urban trips are made in cars, yet three-quarters of the federal mobility budget goes to highways. This can lead to urban sprawl, congested, unsafe roads, insufficient access to public transport, and a lack of public spaces. However, a clear set of strategies is emerging to design cities around the needs of people instead of cars. 

TheCityFix’s 2014 “People-oriented Cities” series explores the recipe for controlling car use and shaping urban development around sustainable transport. By promoting compact and mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD), investing in quality public transit systems, and making cities walkable and bikeable, cities can save residents time and money while improving health, economic opportunity, and quality of life.

Smarter driving, smarter cities

Cars will likely always play a role in urban transport, at least for the near future. The first step to fostering more sustainable urban development is effectively managing their use. More cars lead to more challenges for cities including road fatalities, traffic congestion, longer commuting times, and more air pollution. Cities can curb car culture using strategies like a congestion pricing scheme, restricting parking, and designing safer streets by narrowing lanes or prioritizing pedestrian crossings.

Using these transport demand management (TDM) strategies is an important first step that allows cities to integrate cars into a network of sustainable mobility options, rather than allow car-use to shape urban development.

Planning for mixed-use and transit-oriented development

As cities deal with rapid urbanization, they often expand outwards. Residents on the outskirts of Mexico City, for example, spend as much as 2.5 hours commuting each day. By integrating land use and transport planning, however, transit-oriented development (TOD) can help reverse this trend and create more livable communities. This planning strategy calls for dense, mixed-use urban development around transit hubs with high quality public transport.

Using codes and zoning regulations, encouraging density and mixed-uses around transit hubs helps create demand for transport services, making high quality transport systems financially viable. Transit-oriented development also ensures that transport services are accessible to more people, connecting communities and expanding employment opportunities.

Fostering dense, mixed-use communities also creates local social and economic benefits. By integrating commercial and residential building, this urban design strategy reduces the need to travel long distances, saving residents money and reducing the strain on transport systems. It also can be a boon for local businesses by increasing foot traffic. Transport for London found that pedestrians spend up to 60% more money at businesses each month than those traveling by car. Combining mixed-use development with pedestrianization amplifies these benefits. Finally, mixed-use communities bring shared community spaces that foster social interaction.

Designing walkable, bikeable neighborhoods

In addition to supporting dense, transport-friendly neighborhoods, cities should ensure that neighborhoods have good conditions for walking and biking. Supporting these forms of active transport creates a number of benefits for cities such as relieving traffic congestion, reducing local air pollution, improving traffic safety, and increasing physical activity

Three design principles are central to encouraging walking and biking: connected streets, car-free streets, and active streets. A network of connected streets ensures that neighborhoods are linked. Car-free streets can become anchors of human-centered activity, providing commuter facilities and supporting recreation. Active streets involve protected and separated spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.

Many cities are experiencing rapid urbanization and rising demand for car ownership. The way cities manage transport will have a dramatic impact on the way they develop. Using people-oriented strategies, policymakers can prioritize growth that fosters public instead of personal transport, connected communities instead of sprawling ones, and inclusive urbanism instead of separated cities. It’s time for the world’s cities to focus on moving people rather than moving cars.

Stay tuned for future installments of the People-oriented Cities series in 2015, and see EMBARQ’s Transit-oriented Development Guide for Urban Communities to learn more about building cities for people, not cars. 

 

Seven ways Belo Horizonte, Brazil inspires sustainable cities

Tue, 2014-12-16 02:45

From developing bus rapid transit to improving public spaces, Belo Horizonte, Brazil is working to become a sustainable city. Photo by Eduardo Beltrame.

Belo Horizonte, Brazil is a city of remarkable cuisine, green spaces, and architecture. The city is increasingly designed using people-oriented urban development strategies that prioritize the people who make the city come alive.

Even for outsiders, this state capital feels like home. A number of initiatives are transforming the city into an example of best practices for sustainable transport, people-oriented spaces, and resilience to landslides and floods. In honor of the city’s 117th birthday, here are seven things worth celebrating about Belo Horizonte:

1. Making room for people

Belo Horizonte transformed Paraná street by creating people-oriented spaces and making room for public transport. Compared to its previous design (shown in the top picture), the street’s new design (shown in the bottom picture) improves mobility, the landscape, and safety. Before photo via Google Maps, after photo by Luisa Zottis/EMBARQ Brasil.

Paraná street – located in the city’s center – provides one of the best examples of how to revitalize urban spaces. Before its transformation, the avenue was a space for cars. Today, it is designed to better serve pedestrians, public transport, and cyclists.

2. High quality public transport

The MOVE bus rapid transit system was designed using international best practices. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Launched about one year ago, Belo Horizonte’s MOVE bus rapid transit (BRT) system was planned according to international best practices with support from EMBARQ Brasil. Designed to be the city’s official transport system for the World Cup, the MOVE BRT system still benefits 480,000 people every day even without the influx of tourists.

3. Making bicycling easier

People of all ages have room to ride safely on Risoleta Neves Avenue, which contains part of the 2.2 km (1.4 mile) bike path from Saramenha Avenue to St. Gabriel BHBus Station. Photo by the Municipality of Belo Horizonte/Flickr.

Belo Horizonte has more than 70 km (43 miles) of bike paths. Initiatives such as Pedal BH, BH in Cycle, and Belo Horizonte’s Bike Angel program help promote cycling as an alternative means of transport. The city also has 400 public bicycles, available at 40 stations through its Bike BH bike-share program.

4. More green spaces that make for a more enjoyable city

Belo Horizonte’s parks give residents access to green spaces for leisure and social interaction. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

With more than 40 public parks, Belo Horizonte has 18 square meters (194 square feet) of green space per inhabitant. Spaces conducive to leisure, physical activity, and cultural interaction are critical to quality of life and public healthResearch shows that well-kept city parks and green areas make people happier.

5. Resilience efforts recognized by the United Nations

Belo Horizonte’s Civil Defense Initiative was recognized by the U.N. For the past 11 years, there have been no deaths from landslides in the city. Photo by Belo Horizonte City Hall/Flickr.

There have been no recorded deaths in Belo Horizonte due to landslides since 2003, and there have only been three deaths from flooding in the past three years. In 2013, the city won the U.N. Sasakawa Award, which is the world’s largest prize for resilient cities. The city’s main natural challenges are its hilly terrain and 700 km (435 miles) of streams, which makes it prone to flooding and landslides. Transport systems must also be prepared for these risks. One of the keys to Belo Horizonte’s improved resilience was the creation of the Risk Areas Executive Group (GEAR), which convenes city government agencies and officials every Monday to discuss and plan mitigation actions.

6. Pedestrianized streets

Pedestrianized streets create public spaces for people to enjoy. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Cities are our homes, at least for over half the world’s population. Residents interact with the urban environment every day, whether walking on the streets, riding public transport, or in their car. It is essential that cities create people-oriented spaces that encourage social interaction.

7. Bonus: The sunset is beautiful

Belo Horizonte’s Mangabeiras Lookout provides a first-class view of the sensational sunset over the city. It is a must-see for those visiting Belo Horizonte. TheCityFix Brasil – partner blog of TheCityFix – accompanied the winner of its “city in an instant” photo competition, Eduardo Beltrame, who chose a visit to Belo Horizonte as his prize for winning the competition.

This post originally appeared in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil

Five new resources for more sustainable Brazilian cities

Tue, 2014-12-09 23:08

Five new publications from EMBARQ Brasil will help foster people-oriented cities with high quality public transport systems. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr.

In some Brazilian cities, poorly managed urban development has led to “3D” urban form – distant, dispersed, and disconnected. Over the past ten years, demand for urban public transport has decreased by 33% in Brazilian cities while car sales are on the rise. A number of Brazilian cities, however, are transitioning towards sustainable urban development and sustainable mobility. Last week, EMBARQ Brasil released five publications to support this shift and empower cities to move towards a “3C” development model – connected, compact, and coordinated. The publications will help cities create urban mobility plans, foster transit-oriented development (TOD), and improve the quality and safety of public bus systems.

How can cities create urban mobility plans focused on people?

By next year, 3,065 Brazilian municipalities must develop urban mobility plans. EMBARQ Brasil’s publication – Step by Step Guide to Developing an Urban Mobility Plan (O Passo a Passo para a Construção do Plano de Mobilidade) – helps cities formulate mobility plans that fit their local needs. On the same day that it launched the publication, EMBARQ Brasil hosted the “Sustainable Urban Mobility Seminar: Practices and Trends.” At the seminar, Jesse Worker from the World Resources Institute (WRI) emphasized the importance of social participation in urban mobility planning. Governments must utilize new methods of engaging residents to create plans that are inclusive and transparent. São Paulo, for example, is using innovative methods to have residents contribute to urban planning and improve transport services. Through its MobiLab initiative, the city has created a crowdfunding platform to gather input for its master plan, and is opening data and sponsoring ‘hackathons’ to spur development of urban transport solutions.

Transit-oriented development for sustainable urban growth

Urbanization poses a number of challenges for cities, but strategic planning that encourages mixed-use development and access to public transport can foster livable urban communities. That is the focus of TOD Cities – a Development Manual for Transit-Oriented Development (DOTS Cidades – Manual de Desenvolvimento Orientado ao Transporte Sustentável). The publication provides technical guidance around seven key elements of people-oriented cities:

  • Quality public transport: High quality, affordable public transport is essential to connected, livable cities.
  • Non-motorized mobility: Prioritizing active transport creates healthier, happier communities.
  • Transport demand management (TDM): From parking regulations to congestion pricing, transport demand management strategies help orient cities around people, not cars.
  • Mixed use and efficient buildings: By coordinating transport and land-use planning, fostering dense, mixed-use development around transit creates vibrant communities and uses space efficiently.
  • Community spaces and active ground floors: Active, human-scale ground floors and community spaces promote social interaction and create a network of attractive spaces.
  • Public spaces and natural resources: Well-designed public spaces can integrate natural resources and create attractive spaces for community interaction and social life.
  • Community participation: Community engagement promotes a sense of belonging and encourages social interaction.

Improving the quality and safety of public transport

There is a strong demand for improving the quality of public transport in Brazil’s cities, as evidenced by strong protests in the wake of transport fare increases and perceived non-productive investments leading up to the World Cup. EMBARQ Brasil – with financial support from FedEx – developed the QualiÔnibus program to study and improve the quality of public bus systems. The program released three publications last week – Satisfaction Survey (Pesquisa de Satisfação), Day One of Operation (Dia Um de Operação), and Safety First (Segurança em Primeiro Lugar).

Satisfaction Survey investigates the most important factors in determining bus user satisfaction, and creates a standardized questionnaire that allows cities to compare the performance of their bus systems across a range of features. Day One of Operation provides a strategic guide for launching public transport systems successfully. The launch of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system impacts user expectations and has long-term implications on ridership. A lack of planning and communication with the public can create a negative perception of the system. This guide will help cities avoid common mistakes and ensure a smooth and successful system launch. Finally, Safety First creates mechanisms for bus companies to improve road safety management. It details three recommended stages – driver training for defensive driving, the implementation of incentive programs for driver development, and accident monitoring.

This post was adapted from three articles on TheCityFix Brasil by Priscila Kichler Pacheco and Maria Fernanda Cavalcanti.

Planning for a livable urban future: The second annual Livable Cities Symposium

Wed, 2014-11-26 03:37

The second annual Livable Cities Symposium highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration to define urban livability and outline best practices for bikeable, walkable cities with high quality of life. Photo by Thomas Alan/Flickr.

How can cities harness urban mobility solutions to become more livable? The second annual Livable Cities Symposium – co-hosted by EMBARQ Turkey and the İzmir Development Agency (İZKA) – addressed this question by gathering experts from Turkey and around the world, including mayors, academics, urban planners, engineers, entrepreneurs and civil society leaders, to share their perspectives on healthy, active, and livable cities. The Symposium created what EMBARQ Turkey Director Arzu Tekir described as a shared space to jointly define livability.

Building on last year’s Symposium that explored the role of transit-oriented development (TOD), this year’s Symposium took place on November 20, 2014 in İzmir – considered a model city in Turkey for its recent accomplishments in sustainable transport. With its special focus on bikeability and walkability, the Symposium highlighted the role of non-motorized transport for more livable cities, with sessions focusing on pedestrianization and urban cycling. Beyond non-motorized transport, panelists addressed a variety of systemic issues such as the governance of livable cities, the role of technology, integrated financing mechanisms for transport policies, and best practices from around the world.

The urbanization challenge

With 70% of the global population expected to live in cities by the year 2050, urbanization creates strong pressure for cities to provide livable solutions. As EMBARQ Director Holger Dalkmann pointed out, this trend demands a paradigm shift in how we approach transport systems, for which disruptive ideas, political leadership, technical capacity, effective financing, and an entrepreneurial environment will be key. When implementing major urban interventions, however, the historic texture of cities should not be compromised. As Professor Pinar Mengüç, the Director of the Center for Energy, Environment, and Economy at Özyeğin University stated, the “continuity, soul, sense of place” makes each city unique. Thus, the future of planning faces the challenge of balancing disruptive, game changing solutions with the preservation of a city’s characteristic built environment.

Political leadership and planning foresight necessary for livable cities

Political leadership was a recurring theme that emerged from multiple panels. Dr. Yılmaz Büyükerşen, Mayor of Eskişehir, and Aziz Kocaoğlu, the Mayor of İzmir, emphasized that they were committed from the beginning to creating human-centered cities where people can interact in public spaces and where there is a genuine consideration for the environment. Mayor Büyükerşen highlighted the importance of bridging academia with politics and described how the city of Eskişehir became a success story through a scientific approach to planning. This stems from Büyükerşen’s founding of the Environmental Institute at Anadolu University, where urbanization issues were studied a decade before his mayorship. Through this work, he realized that “a city where people only spend time going back and forth from home to work is not a livable city.”

İzmir Mayor Kocaoğlu and Gustaf Landahl from the Department of Planning & Environment of the City of Stockholm emphasized the importance of a long-term vision in planning for livable cities. Mayor Kocaoğlu, for example, announced an ambitious plan to remediate of the Gulf of İzmir. Landahl mentioned that Stockholm was not always the model city it is now. Yet a guiding principle that the city has followed for decades has made Stockholm one of the most livable cities in the world: “smart solutions are compact solutions.” It is not surprising then, as Landahl highlighted in his presentation, that public transport currently accounts for about 80% of trips in Stockholm during peak hours, and that the city is on track to meet its goal of having 70% of fuels come from renewable sources by 2015.

While many livable city models were endorsed, certain challenges were repeated throughout the day, notably the need for life cycle costing in projects for the assessment of long-term impacts, as well as  the problem of measurability. “You cannot govern what you cannot measure,” as one speaker appropriately said. An important takeaway from these panels was that despite the complexity and magnitude of urbanization problems, a collaborative scientific approach coupled with political will can result in “livable” cities like İzmir, Eskişehir and Stockholm.

Making cities bikeable and walkable is key to making them livable

As markers of more connected, compact cities, biking and walking are considered core components of livability, and carry the benefits of improved road safety, reduced traffic congestion, and cleaner air. Professor Kevser Ustundag from Mimar Sinan University argued that in a country where 71.9% of the population is physically inactive, there is need for more “organic transport” – walking. “While focusing on facilitating the movement of cars, we forgot about accessibility,” she added.

One kind of intervention that aims to reverse the rise of the private car is pedestrianization. Çiğdem Çörek Öztaş from EMBARQ Turkey and Sarika Panda from EMBARQ India discussed pedestrianization examples from Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula and Gurgaon, India, respectively. In the aftermath of the projects, both noted behavioral shifts in transport choices towards public transport and/or biking, as well as very positive feedback from local businesses surveyed.

Representatives from bike-sharing schemes from İzmir and Koaceli in Turkey also described their recent success in attracting a considerable number of urbanites to bike. For cycling to be treated not just recreationally but also as a transport mode, however, safe cycle lanes and biking infrastructure are important prerequisites. Transport Engineer Tolga Imamoğlu from EMBARQ Turkey reiterated the importance of road safety audits and inspections, as simply encouraging more cycling with new bike-sharing schemes without safe cycle lanes has been shown to increase cyclist fatalities.

Increased walking and biking point to behavioral shifts that have essential co-benefits ranging from physical and mental health to economic dynamism, making non-motorized transport indispensable for a livable city. Despite the challenges of rapid urbanization, what emerged from these sessions was that livable cities are those that have sustained economic dynamism and have overcome governance challenges, all the while creating a high-quality environment, safe streets and habitable social spaces.

Creating urban symbiosis

While it is surely not an easy task to meet all of these targets simultaneously, certain approaches to planning have shown that there can be synergies between seemingly contradictory goals. One example that was introduced as a best practice was the Swedish “Symbiocity” approach, which is “based on the idea of turning challenges into opportunities.” Symbiocity creates a framework of reviewing systems and planning processes that consider potential synergies between urban systems. Symbiosis, in this context, means “finding synergies between urban systems that save natural resources and cost less.” Uncovering synergies in urban systems is a promising new way to cultivate cities as democratic, economic, social and cultural powerhouses for more inclusive and sustainable development.

Indeed, like Symbiocity, the Livable Cities Symposium was founded on the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration. A whole day of discussions on what makes a “livable” city showed that the challenges of urbanization will more likely be solved by a sophisticated understanding of our cities through functional frameworks, platforms or organizations that are able to bring together a diverse group and work together, just like a city.

 

Friday Fun: Two genius bike-parking ideas give cyclists a care-free commute

Fri, 2014-11-21 23:09

One of the best ways for cities to promote cycling might have nothing to do with biking itself. These innovations make bike parking easier, improving transport access, giving bikers peace of mind, and saving urban space. Photo by Joe Newman/Flickr.

For urban commuters, a safe, convenient place to store their bike can be the difference between choosing to cycle and needing to drive. Even in bicycle-friendly cities, cyclists can still face the challenge of having to lug their bike on public transport, or having to take their bike inside their office to prevent it from being stolen. In dense urban areas where space is at a premium, bike parking spaces can be hard to come by. How can cities make bike parking worry free?

Saving urban space through futuristic, underground bike parking

Tokyo might have the answer. With 13 million residents and even more in the surrounding metro area, the city found a creative way to conserve space and make urban cycling more convenient. Engineering firm Giken Seisakusho Co. installed a robotic underground bike parking system – called Eco-cycle – that can store 144 bikes while hardly using any city space. In a matter of seconds, Eco-cycle will drop your bike into an 11-meter deep underground bike storage. You simply mount your bike onto a platform and wait for the system to work like magic. Since the storage is underground, your bike will be free from scratches, rain, and other extreme weather. Eco-cycle is also designed to be anti-seismic, which is important for a city frequently hit by earthquakes. Check out how it works:

The Eco-cycle system only requires space for the bicycle entrance booth above ground, leaving room for parks and other public spaces. This design concept can be applied in cities worldwide, and could be particularly useful in mega-cities such as Beijing or São Paulo. Tokyo’s Eco-cycle is located next to Shinagawa Station – a major railway station in south-central Tokyo – solving the last-mile connectivity problem for many commuters and improving access to public transport.

Making multi-modal transport simple with bike valet

Portland, United States has its own solution to bicycle parking: a bike valet system that helps makes the city’s South Waterfront a multi-modal transport paradise. The system is the largest bike valet parking facility in the country, storing about 260 bikes each day. Parking is free, and users can pay for tune-ups and bike repair services during the day. The facility connects to Portland’s Aerial Tram and light rail system, and to bike paths. It will also soon connect to the largest car-free bridge in the United States. This bike valet service saves commuters’ time and provides peace of mind – as cyclists can drop off their bike to onsite staff and leave for work or school without worrying about parking or theft. See how the bike valet makes commuters’ lives easier:

Transport systems are responsible for 22% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and transport emissions are increasing at a faster rate than any other sector. To curb this trend, cities should offer low-carbon transport options to provide alternatives to private car use. Making active transport options seamless with daily life is central to shifting away from car culture and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from urban transport. Cities can learn from Portland and Tokyo to make biking simple and convenient. By increasing capacity for biking, walking and other forms of low-carbon transport, cities can improve public health, deliver better environmental outcomes, and become more livable for people.

Growing motorcycle use creates a global safety challenge

Wed, 2014-11-19 01:50

As motorcycle fleets grow in cities worldwide, governments must prioritize improving street design and alternative mobility options to slow the rise in motorcycle fatalities. Photo by Frank/Flickr.

Cities worldwide face the pressing challenge of growing motorcycle fleets and remarkable increases in related traffic fatalities. With streets ill-prepared and motor-bikes whizzing in every direction, the scene might best be described as urban transport anarchy. The problem is especially grim in low- and middle-income countries, and poses a major challenge to meeting the goals of the United Nations Decade of Action on Road Safety.

Latin America’s motorcycle deaths tripled in the 2000s – most evident in places like Brazil and Colombia. In Malaysia – where motorcycles make up roughly half of the country’s vehicle fleet – two- and three-wheelers make up 59% of its nearly 7,000 annually reported traffic deaths. Similar trends are occurring in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries worldwide.

Motorcyclist behavior is one problem that, when changed, can reduce traffic deaths – especially through laws and campaigns for helmet wearing, driver education and licensing. More responsible motorcycle users will undoubtedly lead to fewer deaths. But there are also broader issues to consider when addressing this challenge, such as street design, the role (or lack thereof) of quality mass transport in cities, and the impact of motorcycles on bicyclists and pedestrians.

The impact of motorcycle crashes

Motorcycle crashes have significant social and economic costs. A study in São Paulo showed that 12% of all the city’s hospital internments were due to traffic crashes involving motorcycles. After six months of reevaluation, the study found that 73.5% of these patients couldn’t return to their professional routine and 80.9% needed extra money. The productivity loss and the increase in treatment expenses create serious financial difficulties for families. The economic and social costs of motorcycle use require urgent attention in public health, transport and economic policies.

Improving street design

Some infrastructure has been shown to be effective at reducing motorcycle accidents, such as exclusive motorcycle lanes on trunk roads in cities in Malaysia – a practice that has been replicated in Indonesia and the Philippines. It isn’t known if these exclusive lanes are appropriate in other locations, or on urban streets other than the primary roads. In São Paulo, for example, the impact of exclusive lanes has been described as mediocre, though the city did see a reduction in crashes when it banned motorcycles on the central lanes of a main expressway.

Other measures exist that improve safety for all road users – including motorcyclists – such as reducing speeds through traffic calming measures and limiting vehicular traffic. A study from Malaysia found that an increase in the speed at which vehicles approach signalized intersections is associated with more motorcycle crashes, and that more motorcycle crashes occur at signalized intersections located within commercial areas. Slowing all vehicles to safer speeds before signalized intersections – particularly in retail areas – may do a great deal to improve motorcycle safety.

Improving mobility options

Still, the longer-term solution to reducing motorcycle deaths requires thinking more broadly about improving mobility options. Motorcycles are a preferred option for many to get from one point to another where public transport is very poor quality, inaccessible, or nonexistent. In Hanoi, for example, a study showed that employment opportunities are much less accessible by public transport than by motorcycle or car, which explains why Hanoians “like” to use motorcycles instead of public transport. In addition, in Brazil, many travelers use motorcycles instead of public transport due to lower costs or the poor quality of public transport in their city. One study found that overall motorcycle operating costs were 25% lower than bus fares, and 66% lower when considering only fuel costs. And in Pune, India an EMBARQ India study showed that two-thirds of two-wheeler riders surveyed said they used public transport prior to using two-wheelers.

Motorcycles, however, have mobility limitations, especially in larger cities where trips are usually longer and more uncomfortable on two-wheels. Cities may be able to wean residents off motorcycles by building high-quality, integrated transport systems that can move people safety and in a comparable amount of time. Responses to the same EMBARQ study from Pune, India indicated that motorcycle riders would shift to public transport if it were made more reliable, comfortable, frequent, and clean.

Two cities with rising or dominating motorcycle use are taking such steps. Rio de Janeiro has constructed two new bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors and is planning to build two more by 2016. Even in Vietnam – where two and three-wheelers represent almost 100% of the country’s vehicle fleet – Ho Chi Minh City has a new BRT to provide a quality alternative.

Moreover, because many urban trips are short, providing bicycling and walking facilities – like Mexico City is doing, for example – or connecting these modes to mass transport can give residents alternative mobility options. Instead, some cities prioritize motor vehicles and motorcycles over cyclists, such as Kolkata, which banned cyclists on 200 streets outright.

There are many ways that cities can reduce motorcycle accidents, including improving street design and promoting safe, active transport for all. Still, there is a great need for more research, and more attention to motorcycles in cities.

How ciclovías contribute to mobility and quality of life in Latin America and in cities worldwide

Thu, 2014-10-23 00:02

Latin America’s ciclovías have inspired cities worldwide to close streets to cars and promote healthy lifestyles and active transport. Photo by Justin Swan/Flickr.

Though rapid urbanization can impair mobility and quality of life, Latin American cities have responded to this challenge with creative, low cost, and high impact solutions. Some of these initiatives have set an example for the rest of the world.

In the last installment of this series, we examined the development of bus rapid transit (BRT) in Curitiba, Brazil, and its expansion to the rest of the region and the world. In this blog, we discuss another idea born from the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Latin America that has had a global impact: recreational ciclovía events. These events provide an alternative means of healthy recreation and physical activity for millions of people in the region using a method available in all cities: closing city streets and avenues to vehicular traffic and opening them to cyclists, skaters, walkers, runners, and more.

The origin of ciclovías

While many Latin American households have bicycles – mainly for recreational use – most cities do not have adequate spaces to enjoy them safely. Given this limitation, activists in 1974 convinced the Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia to close some roads to cars and buses on Sundays so that people could use the space for a walk. The idea became “Sunday Ciclovías,” and has lasted the last forty years in Colombia’s capital.

Bogotá’s ciclovías, which began with a small section of the city’s streets, now cover 121 km (75 miles). The event has a team of dedicated staff, volunteers, and police providing assistance and security, especially at intersections. Ciclovías include many forms of recreation, including aerobics instruction in parks and plazas, cycling, and even biking lessons for those who want to learn.

In 1995, Bogotá’s authorities were unsure of whether they would continue the 50 km (31 mile) ciclovía event. Guillermo Peñalosa, the city’s Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation at the time, worked with Mayor Antanas Mockus to revive and expand the event. They created a permanent group within the city administration to organize and manage the event every Sunday and holiday (a total of 72 times per year). They have also gained backing from the private sector, mainly to provide signage and logistical support. Ciclovía was reborn, and now it is difficult to imagine it ever being eliminated or reduced.

Bogotá’s ciclovía gives residents the opportunity to enjoy public spaces for a variety of recreational activities every Sunday. Photo by Dario Hidalgo/EMBARQ.

Ciclovía helped spark interest in cycling as a daily means of transport. Today, more than 1.5 million people cycle in the city, and it is an integral part of residents’ recreational and physical activity. The event’s success has also proved the concept for the construction of a network of permanent cycle routes – now 376 km (234 miles) – which has helped increase cycling from less than 1% of trips in 1998 to 6% of trips in 2012.

Bogotá’s ciclovía has inspired similar events in more than 100 cities worldwide: Cycle-Recrovía in Santiago, Chile; Ciclopaseo in Quito, Ecuador; Paseo Dominical in Mexico City, Mexico; CicoloRuta in Caguas, Puerto Rico; Pasos y Pedales in Guatemala, Sunday Streets in San Francisco and New York City, among many others. One prominent example is the recent introduction of “Raaghiri Day” in India – a similar initiative that  began in a suburb of the capital Gurgaon, and has spread throughout the country including to the heart of New Delhi.

Part of the formula for healthy urban life

Cities are faced with the difficulty of creating natural open spaces in dense urban areas. Closing streets and avenues to vehicular traffic is a great way to provide opportunities for recreation for millions of people, and also leads to significant health benefits:

The estimated benefit of events in this study correspond to direct savings in medical costs, which is the main reason why the benefits outweigh the costs of closing existing infrastructure to cars. The cost to users is low, as they need not pay a gym fee or pay for specialized equipment to have space for physical activity. In addition, research indicates that these benefits are underestimated, because they don’t account for factors such as increased quality of life from recreational activities, the development of social capital, and the promotion of sustainable mobility. Read more about the study here.

This does not mean that cities shouldn’t plan adequate parks and public spaces – these are fundamental to quality of life – but it does mean cities also have the opportunity to repurpose existing infrastructure. Most importantly, by taking advantage of this opportunity to create car-free streets, cities can promote healthy lifestyles and active transport.

This article was originally published in Spanish at the Inter-American Development Bank Blog.

Friday Fun: Is the future for London’s cyclists on the river, the street, or both?

Fri, 2014-10-10 23:16

Would you be happier commuting on a bike path floating on London’s River Thames? Photo by Chris R/Flickr.

TheCityFix recently examined some of the most innovative bicycling infrastructure projects in cities worldwide, but a recent proposal for an eight-mile floating bike path on London’s River Thames might top these in originality. The “Thames Deckway” would cut through the heart of the city and connect Battersea and Canary Wharf – about a 30 minute ride. It would have two bike lanes in each direction during rush hour, and would open one lane in each direction to pedestrians at other times. On weekends, the path may host pedestrian-only days with vendors along its edges. This floating bike bridge will not come cheaply. The River Cycleway Consortium – which announced the project proposal – believes that it could be completed within two years, but estimates that it will cost £600 million (US$ 967 million). It also faces a number of other challenges including keeping cyclists safe from inclement weather and boats.

The proposed Thames Deckway would connect two business districts in London. Rendering via River Cycleway Consortium.

Despite success with pedestrianization, congestion pricing, and a number of other advancements for sustainable mobility, London still has severe air pollution and traffic congestion. In a statement announcing the proposal, the River Cycleway Consortium said, “London needs to think outside the box of conventional solutions to solve its deep-seated traffic and pollution problems.” The proposed Deckway, though perhaps not as practical as separated bike lanes on London’s streets, could give London’s cyclists an awe-inspiring commute.

Is the floating bike path a sustainable solution or an expensive distraction?

Critics have called the Thames Deckway proposal – and its intimidating price tag – hilarious and insulting. While it can add an additional option for the city’s bikers, they argue that it would create a single bike route for the price of an entire network of bike lanes.

The Deckway is not the only cycling infrastructure improvement that could soon come to London. Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced an 18-mile protected bike lane that would travel alongside cars. At £47 million (US$ 75 million), this plan would cost less than one-twelfth as much as the proposed floating path. However, it has received fierce opposition from driving advocates.

Despite often facing resistance, making space for active transport can lead to healthier cities with higher quality of life for all. In addition to reducing air pollution and easing congestion, separated cycle lanes save lives. Nine bikers have already died on London’s streets this year. According to the Mayor, bikers account for 24% of the city’s rush hour traffic. Whether over the Thames, through London’s streets, or both, cyclists deserve a safe commute.

Though not as cost effective, the Thames Deckway is not mutually exclusive with London’s other efforts to improve cycling. The River Cycleway Consortium plans to privately finance its cost. To attract private investment, the Deckway would charge £1.50 (US$ 2.42) for access.

Large, innovative biking infrastructure projects are becoming more common in cities worldwide. In Copenhagen, a cycling superhighway has helped increase biking’s modal share to 41%. In Portland, the world’s largest multi-modal car-free bridge will help connect the city’s growing Southeast region with downtown. Finding new ways to making biking easier and safer is an important part of people-oriented cities. While these cities lead the way, the most important improvements for cyclists in many cities will come from simple, proven strategies to separate bike and car traffic. Significant improvements do not require enormous investment; rather they require a commitment to sustainable transport over car usage.

In photos: Bhopal becomes India’s fifth city to join the car-free Raahgiri movement

Wed, 2014-10-08 23:41

The Raahgiri movement is bringing car-free Sundays to cities across India, spreading the principles of sustainable, active transport. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

On September 21, 2014, Bhopal became the fifth city in India to implement the weekly open streets movement, Raahgiri Day. Organized by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), Traffic Police, and Bhopal City Link Ltd. (BCLL) in collaboration with EMBARQ India, the event began at 6am and witnessed an overwhelming first day turnout. Over 10,000 people from all over the city participated in the event at Bhopal’s Boat Club Road on the shores of Lake Bhojtal.

Raahgiri Day is India’s first sustained car-free day, first launched in Gurgaon – India’s “Millennium City” – on November 17, 2013. Roughly 10,000 people participated in the inaugural event and now over 500,000 Indian city dwellers have participated in car-free Sundays, including in the country’s capital and largest city, New Delhi.

Bhopal’s rendition of Raahgiri Day saw special programs including fitness dancing, exercises, rangolis, cycling, skating, and sports including cricket, soccer, badminton, hockey and yoga. The Commissioner of BMC, Ms. Tejaswi Naik, also actively participated in a game of hockey with a group of children. Traffic police and officials patrolling the stretch did so on bikes. For the first time at a Raahgiri event, a computerized bike rental system was available.

Large crowds came out to participate in a variety of activities on this car-free road in Bhopal. Photo by Ajita Shrivastava/Facebook.

Traffic police officials gave important information about road safety, educating people about traffic signals, safe driving, and the importance of wearing helmets. Participants brought large banners that read “city for people, not for vehicles.” Environmental experts were also on hand to speak with visitors about to the importance of protecting and preserving our environment for future generations.

Instead of carrying cars – which contribute to the air pollution that causes over 600,000 premature deaths in India annually – Boat Club Road gave residents the opportunity to be physically active and improve their health. Photo by Shamim Khan/Facebook.

Bhopal is the 14th largest city in India and is known as the “City of Lakes” for its various natural and artificial lakes. In recent years, Bhopal has witnessed a gradual increase in vehicle ownership. Civic bodies have adopted different measures to retain the existing mode share of cycling and walking in the city, which is still relatively high. Raahgiri Day is an effort to advance this vision.

Devendra Tiwari, an engineer in the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal, said, “The Raahgiri concept has been brought to Bhopal after being successfully run in Gurgaon for the past year so that we can make people aware about road safety, healthy lifestyles, the use of non-motorized vehicles, and public transport. We will try to expand it to the entire city. Maximum deaths happen due to road accidents and heart attacks, so we want to send a message to be safe on the road and stay healthy.”

The city installed widespread outdoor marketing and advertising at major intersections and popular market places prior to the event to raise awareness. In addition, an engaging social media campaign via Facebook informed supporters and participants about key events for the day. Text messages were sent to people in the BMC database, and several buses played Raahgiri Day videos in the lead up. The media, especially The Times of India, were actively involved in publicizing the event.

Bikers take advantage of new access to public spaces at Raahgiri Day. Photo by Raahgiri Day, Bhopal/Facebook.

Raahgiri Day, India’s car-free Sunday movement, is gradually expanding across the country. With the ‘Raahgiri revolution’ comes an opportunity for India to promote broader solutions for sustainable cities.

Read more about Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon, New Delhi, and elsewhere on TheCityFix. A version of this article was originally published on EMBARQIndia.org.

Seven ways to encourage sustainable commuting in your workplace

Tue, 2014-10-07 22:46

Employers play an important role in creating the incentives and infrastructure to encourage employees to use sustainable transport. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr.

Car-oriented cities have a number of costs for citizens’ health and well-being. Up to 75% of urban air pollution is caused by motor vehicle fuel combustion, and in 2012, 3.7 million premature deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution. Numerous studies have also shown that sedentary, car-oriented lifestyles contribute to higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and other associated diseases.

Shifting the daily commute from cars to sustainable transport modes – like public transport, walking, and bicycling – incorporates physical activity into everyday commuting and can improve health and happiness. One study found that if Atlanta, Georgia, had the same level of mixed-use, mass transport, and pedestrian amenities as Boston, Massachusetts, the risk of obesity for its inhabitants would be reduced by 17%. These kinds of health benefits can lower insurance costs for employers and create a happier, more engaged workforce. Some worry about the risks of active transport, especially in busy, crowded cities, but a study out of the Netherlands has shown that the benefits of increased physical activity far outweigh the potential risks. All of these facts have employers asking: How can I encourage my employees to engage in sustainable commuting?

Holger Dalkmann presents on sustainable, active commuting at a recent panel hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Photo by Coby Joseph/EMBARQ.

Holger Dalkmann (shown speaking above), Director of EMBARQ, producer of TheCityFix, recently contributed to a panel at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that examined this issue as part of its No Impact Week. These are some of the top strategies they discussed:

Make public transport more cost-effective

Most public transport providers have programs already in place that allow employers to provide discounted or pre-tax fare cards to their employees. In addition to making public transport cheaper for employees, many employers are able reap tax benefits by participating in these programs.

Make active transport more seamless at your facilities

One of the primary barriers to active transport – which includes biking, walking, jogging, and other “people-powered movement” – is available infrastructure at the workplace. By providing access to protected bike rooms, showers, lockers, and other similar amenities, bikers, runners, and walkers can more seamlessly transition from their commute to their workday without having to worry about finding a safe place to park their bike, a clean place to make themselves work-ready, or whether or not their stinky towel or running shoes will be a distraction at the office!

Provide discounted bike-share or car-share memberships

For some workplaces, encouraging active transport can be a challenge, especially if they are located far from public transport. In these cases, sponsoring discounted memberships to bike-share organizations can help bridge that extra mile.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, discounted car-share memberships can also encourage sustainable transport use. Some employees would prefer to take public transport or bike to work, but require access to a car for emergencies or for mid-day trips, such as a meeting off-site, a doctor’s appointment, or a visit to their child’s school. With access to car-share programs, employees can still bike or take public transport to work with the reassurance that they have access to a car, should the need arise.

Advocate for sustainable transport infrastructure in your neighborhood

Employers can work together with other neighborhood organizations to advocate for transport infrastructure improvements, such as protected bike lanes or expanded bus routes that make sustainable transport more accessible for employees, improve quality of life in the community, and attract new hires. Look no further than TheCityFix to learn more about some of the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT), transit-oriented development (TOD), and active transport.

Foster carpooling

Some workplaces are simply not suited for active transport or other sustainable transport modes. For example, some workplaces are located on the outskirts of cities or on busy highways. In these instances, encouraging and fostering a carpooling program through sign-up sheets in the cafeteria or a message board on the company’s intranet can go a long way towards getting more cars off the road.

Disincentivize driving

Another barrier to active and sustainable commuting is that driving to work and parking at the office can be more cost effective for some employees. One way to disincentivize car use is by reducing or eliminating parking subsidies or cutting the number of parking spaces to increase parking prices. This additional revenue from increased parking fees could be channeled into improved bicycling facilities or subsidizing public transport.

Create a positive active transport culture

There are also a number of ways to improve sustainable and active transport without significant capital investments. Employers can:

  • Create a sustainable transport taskforce whose goal is to develop informational materials and advocate for sustainable and active transport around the office.
  • Create a sustainability goal for your organization around active or sustainable transport.
  • Sponsor a sustainable or active transport month in the springtime, a pedometer competition to encourage people to walk more, or an active transport competition between departments.
  • Encourage employees and managers to be open to flexible schedules that allow active travelers to avoid rush hour traffic or have more flexibility in their bike-to-work transition timing.

Employing any of these methods can help improve the health of your workforce, reduce local air pollution, help reach company-level greenhouse gas emissions targets, and attract new hires to your organization. Let us know how your organization is making changes and encouraging people to get out of cars and experiencing their streets!

 

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