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How to Make Cities Safer by Design

Thu, 2015-07-23 09:31

Pedestrians, personal vehicles, and taxis grapple for space on a busy street in Hyderabad, India. (Photo: Indi Samarajiva / Flickr)

Traffic crashes claim 1.28 million each year, and will be the world’s fifth-largest cause of death by 2030 unless we improve road safety. The impact of these crashes falls disproportionally on cities in the developing world, with 90 percent of all deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. In Sao Paulo, more than 1,300 people die from traffic crashes every year; in Delhi, it’s more than 1,500.

While those who use the roads have historically been seen as responsible for these shocking numbers, the responsibility also can rest with road system designers and urban decision makers. A new WRI report, Cities Safer by Design, shows how basic design principles can save lives on urban streets.

As urban populations grow, with more city dwellers using cars to get around, the risk rises for the most vulnerable on city streets: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.  The United Nation’s Decade of Action on Road Safety initiative has focused attention on the issue.

Aiming for Zero

To effectively reduce the number of traffic crashes, we need to realize that increased urban mobility should not come at the sacrifice of human life and health. The ideal number of lost lives and serious injuries from traffic crashes is zero.

We also must acknowledge human fallibility as road users and human vulnerability to crashes. This fatal combination costs more than a million lives annually and throws millions more into poverty.

One important step to reduce traffic crashes is to change the mindset around them.  This is the core idea of Sweden’s Vision Zero, a policy that aimed at reducing serious traffic crashes to zero and is shown to have the greatest results since its beginning in 1997.  Its core idea is that while humans might fail, the road system should not.  Instead of working to change people’s behavior, Vision Zero aims to address the fundamental design flaws that makes roads unsafe. The country’s most dangerous roads and urban streets were redesigned to reduce vehicle speed and protect pedestrians and cyclists. Today, Stockholm’s traffic death rate is 0.7 per 100,000 people, among the lowest in the world.

The Netherlands has followed a similar course, building national infrastructure to slow vehicles down and protect vulnerable road users. In 1975, its traffic death rate was 20 percent higher than in the United States, but in 2008, it was 60 percent lower. Today, its roads are among the safest on Earth.

While many cities have redesigned road infrastructure around safety, several other cities rely on unsafe roads – and the visible disparity between them is immense.

Sharing Responsibility for Traffic Safety

Because human beings are fallible, with inaccurate speed perception and bodies that are extremely vulnerable to crash forces, road users alone cannot bear all the responsibility for traffic crashes. We need knowledgeable decision makers, especially road designers, urban planners and transport engineers who are prepared to design safe environments that reduce risk for city dwellers.

Unfortunately, streets in many developing cities are not designed for safety. Wide crossing distance, long blocks and insufficient traffic engineering add to complex traffic flows, making streets more dangerous. Improved infrastructure can make walking, biking and access to transit safer.

Evidence-based Recommendations

While the UN Decade of Action calls for safer roads and mobility, cities lack the tools to implement better designs on city streets and safe communities. WRI’s report, Traffic Safety on Bus Priority Systems, offered technical guidance. Now Cities Safer by Design provides evidence-based recommendations for city streets and neighborhoods.

The report covers measures that can reduce vehicle speed and traffic conflict, making walking, cycling and access to transit and public spaces safer. It introduces design principles, safety benefits, application suggestions and evidence for each measure. It also uses drawings and real-life case pictures to illustrate each design element and its application in context.

Evidence suggests that these measures have the potential to improve road safety. For example, speed humps, an easy-to-install traffic calming device, can slow down vehicles passing through, therefore lowering the number of crash injuries by about 50 percent and reducing traffic by about 25 percent. Shortening crosswalk distances, either by narrowing streets or adding medians or refuge islands, can cut pedestrian exposure to car traffic. Each meter or yard shortened can reduce pedestrian crashes by 6 percent. Well-designed bike lanes should have physical separation that protects cyclists from car traffic, while the lane width should allow comfortable cycling. The creation of protected on-street bike path in New York City showed resulted in a 63 percent drop in crashes and injuries of all kinds.

Safer City, Better Quality of Life

A city safer by design not only saves lives, it can boost the quality of lives, demonstrating a close connection between safety and prosperity. An environment that is friendly to walking, biking and public transport will improve air quality, and encourage physical activity and economic development by encouraging more street-level commercial activities. Better design can create safer, healthier, more vibrant cities.

Today, many cities in the developing world face a stark choice between a car-filled, polluted and dangerous future and an active, healthy and safe one. Cities Safer by Design offers a guide to help make choices to benefit city dwellers around the globe.

To learn more about how urban design can make cities safer, read the report Cities Safer by Design here.

7 Proven Principles for Designing a Safer City

Thu, 2015-07-23 09:31

An aerial view of the metro-bus system in Mexico City, Mexico. The city’s recent bus-rapid transport system has helped alleviate major congestion. (Photo: EMBARQ Sustainable Urban Mobility / Flickr)

Traffic accidents kill more than 1.2 million people every year, nearly the same amount that die from HIV/AIDS. But there’s an undervalued approach to making the world’s roads safer—good urban design.

While most traffic safety initiatives tend to focus on behavioral approaches—such as helmet- and seatbelt-wearing campaigns—a new publication from the EMBARQ sustainable mobility initiative of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities finds that seven design principles can help cities dramatically reduce road deaths. Here’s a visual look at how local officials and planners can design safer and more sustainable urban environments:

1.  Avoid urban sprawl.

Cities that are connected and compact are generally safer than cities that are spread out over a large area. Compact Stockholm and Tokyo have the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world—fewer than 1.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. Sprawling Atlanta, on the other hand, has a death rate six times that, at 9 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Cities should aim for smaller block sizes, pedestrian-oriented streets, and dense housing that allows for convenient, walkable access to transport, entertainment and public spaces. Doing so reduces the need for car travel and ensures a safe space for walking and cycling.

2.  Slow down road traffic.

Lower automobile speeds, particularly below 25-31 miles per hour (40-50 kilometers per hour) drastically reduce the risk of fatalities.

Cities can implement low-speed zones and “area-wide traffic calming,” including speed humps, curves in the road called chicanes, curb extensions and raised pedestrian crossings. Research shows that speed humps can reduce vehicle speeds from more than 22 mph (36 kph) to less than 15 mph (25 kph). Paris, for example, has been using this kind of tool to design roads citywide to meet 30 kph (19 mph) speed limits.

3.  Ensure main streets are safe for everyone, not just cars.

Ensuring safety is particularly important for main roads, where pedestrians and motorists often mix. A growing movement for “complete streets” means that all types of users have safe crossings and dedicated road space.

For example, refuge islands and medians give pedestrians a safe place when crossing the road. Mexico City found that for every one meter increase in unprotected road width, pedestrian crashes increased by 3 percent.  The city recently rebuilt its Avenida Eduardo Molina as a complete street, featuring dedicated transit, bike lanes and a green central median for pedestrians. Similar but less dramatic changes in street design in the city have resulted in a nearly 40 percent drop in fatalities.

Avenida Eduardo Molina in Mexico City—an arterial with dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, rebuilt sidewalks, and a green central median at some segments—accommodates mass transport, mixed vehicular traffic,bicycling, and walking. 

4.  Create dedicated space for pedestrians.

More than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives each year on the world’s roads. If pedestrians lack quality space, they are exposed to greater risk. Basic sidewalk space is necessary, but pedestrian-only streets and street plazas can also be effective tools for protecting walkers.

In the past few years, New York City has led a global shift toward eliminating street spaces for cars and turning them into “street plazas,” improved sidewalks and car-free areas. For example, a large section of Times Square is now only accessible to walkers and cyclists.  The city saw a 16 percent decrease in speeding and a 26 percent reduction in crashes with injuries along streets with pedestrian plazas.

5.  Provide a safe, connected network for cyclists.

Studies from several cities find that injury rates go down and more people bike when there is dedicated infrastructure like off-street trails and dedicated bike lanes.  These cycling networks should also connect residential areas to business and retail, schools, parks and mass transport.

Bogota, Colombia found that adding more than 100 km (62 miles) of bikeways helped reduce bicyclist deaths by 47.2 percent between 2003 and 2013 , and increased bicycle use from just over 3 percent of all daily trips to over 6 percent.

6.  Ensure safe access to high-quality public transport.

High quality public transport carries more people, and experiences fewer crashes than private vehicle travel. Research shows that a bus rapid transit (BRT) system can reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries by 50 percent.

It’s not enough to just provide this public transit, though—city planners must also ensure safe access for commuters. Belo Horizonte, Brazil recently launched MOVE BRT, carrying an estimated 700,000 passengers per day. The city rebuilt streets in its center and created dedicated bus lanes with clearly marked crossings and easy pedestrian access. This system makes it safe for commuters to ride the bus, as well as to wait for and get onto the bus.

Pedestrian access to a median BRT station.

7.  Use data to detect problem areas.

Cities can use data analysis to identify key streets where all the above solutions can be integrated. This means having good traffic crash data that can be mapped and analyzed, seen here using the PTV Visum Safety software to create heat maps of crash locations.

For example, London used data analysis and mapping to analyze its crash data and learned that a rise in cyclist deaths came from crashes with large trucks delivering goods into the city center. The city has since developed a pilot program to reschedule deliveries for low-cyclist hours.

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, with cities expected to hold 70% of the global population by 2030. Designing safe cities now can protect current residents as well as those to come.

To learn more about how urban design can make cities safer, read the report Cities Safer by Design here.

Why the Opportunity is now to Save Lives through Vision Zero

Tue, 2015-06-09 21:50

Cities worldwide will see unprecedented growth in the coming decades–an opportunity for ensuring development of safe streets and livable cities. Photo by Mariana Gil/Flickr.

In cities worldwide, millions of people step out their homes every day to go to work, to attend school, to see a doctor, or to visit family and friends. However, in many of these cities, commuting is becoming increasingly difficult and unsafe. Traffic crashes kill almost 1.3 million people every year, and about half occur in cities.

Our world is undergoing an unprecedented transformation. By 2050, we will add 2.5 billion people to cities. This is like building 290 cities the size of London in 35 years. Current models of urbanization are unable to meet this immense challenge and sustainably accommodate so many people in a safe environment.

But there is also opportunity to make cities more livable, sustainable places. 75 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in cities in 2050 has yet to be built. How we approach development now will have a significant impact on how safe our cities are in the future. With just 3 deaths per 100,000 people, Sweden is demonstrating that the Vision Zero approach is effective and key to improving traffic safety globally.

An Opportunity to Get Development Right

With so much infrastructure not yet built, it’s critical that city leaders prioritize development that is compact and centered on sustainable mobility. Doing so will ensure safe roads for billions of people.

For example, compact urban development can help ensure safer roads.  Research has shown that for every increase in density of 100 people per square mile, there is a 6 percent reduction in injury-causing crashes. Higher levels of density are also linked to higher walking and mass transit rates, as well as lower car use.

Another way to make roads safer is to design narrow arterial streets and short city blocks. Each additional meter at a crosswalk increases the risk of pedestrian crashes by 6 percent, and adding a lane for cars is associated with a 17 percent increase in fatalities. Because long blocks encourage pedestrians to cross in unprotected areas halfway down the street, shorter blocks should be a standard.

Third, investing in mass transit can reduce the risk of traffic fatalities.  Urban sprawl increases the distance between people and their destinations, making biking, walking, and traveling by mass transit more difficult. In many rapidly growing cities, residents often turn to motorcycles as an affordable solution to their mobility needs. However, motorcycles have caused an alarming increase in the number of traffic fatalities and injuries worldwide. An efficient, complete mass transit system can shift people to more sustainable transport and improve road safety.

What It Will Take to Bring Vision Zero to Cities Worldwide

Rejecting the idea that traffic deaths and injuries are simply the product of our mobility needs, Vision Zero challenges cities worldwide to bring traffic fatalities down to zero. The rapid pace of development over the coming decades presents an opportunity to design our cities and roads for safety. But how can Vision Zero become a global reality?

  • Shared Responsibility – Decision makers who influence street design should be considered responsible for road safety outcomes. In many rapidly growing cities, there is a vast gap of knowledge as well as a resistance to the idea that city leaders can affect road safety. Talking about road safety in terms of shared responsibility is therefore critical.
  • A Comprehensive, Sustained Approach. Working across sectors, setting up ambitious short- and long-term targets, and monitoring targets transparently is crucial. Traffic safety will not improve overnight, and there needs to be continuous evaluation of policies and programs.
  • Leadership. Leadership and passion are absolutely critical to bring together various stakeholders from finance, transport, urban development, and health at national and local levels.
Raising the Profile of Vision Zero Globally

There has been progress. In its first five years, the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety has been able to successfully raise awareness about road safety. This week, participants at the Towards Zero Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden will convene to discuss strategies for acting on the Vision Zero initiative. Furthermore, the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals will address road safety for the first time in history by establishing indicators for traffic safety and livability.  All of this shows that we are at a tipping point.

Decisions about how we design our cities and the choices we make about mobility have considerable potential to shape the livability and safety of our cities. Shifting away from private cars to mass transport in a compact environment is imperative for acting on Vision Zero and making our cities and roads safer for all.

Friday Fun: Are Driverless Cars a Solution for Road Safety?

Fri, 2015-06-05 22:19

Driverless cars have the potential to complement roads designed for safety in cities like Singapore. Photo by Scania Group/Flickr.

Each year, millions of people die from traffic accidents on roads worldwide. As city leaders take action globally to improve road safety, some innovators have begun to address one of the major causes of traffic accidents, human error, by exploring self-driving technologies. Self-driving cars are emerging from laboratories and are starting test-runs on the road, drawing increasing attention for their potential to reduce collisions. For example, next week’s Towards Zero Conference 2015—a global conference on road safety—will feature automated transport as one of this year’s three themes.

Although the technology is improving, some skeptics have voiced doubts. For one, driverless technology cannot correct the mistakes of other road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Moreover, human error is not the only cause of traffic accidents. Environmental factors play an important role as well. Street design, traffic conditions, signs and signals, and weather conditions all influence how people behave on the road. It’s difficult to completely eliminate mistakes, no matter how far driverless technology evolves.

In light of this discussion, let’s take a look at the current state driverless technology.

Driverless Cars Aim to Reduce Error on the Road

The first driverless car was prototyped in the 1980s by Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, car companies, the IT industry, as well as research universities have become increasingly interested in self-driving technologies. Although most driverless cars are currently in the prototyping or design phases, some cities and states in the US, Australia, and Europe have passed legislation to allow for testing on actual roads.

Driverless technologies are designed to reduce error by replacing human perception and judgement with sensors and computer systems. Typically, these cars are equipped with radar, GPS, cameras, and artificial intelligence. For example, Google’s driverless cars, which began road testing in 2012, are mounted with laser-based radar that can generate a detailed “map” of the surroundings. The computer then combines this locally-generated map with existing, high-resolution maps to model a route, allowing the car to drive itself.

Since driverless cars can theoretically “see” the entire picture of their surroundings, the idea is that they can drive more efficiently and safely. Driverless cars don’t drive drunk or and don’t experience fatigue—two common causes of traffic collisions. In addition to improving road safety, some advocates claim that driverless cars could reduce congestion, lower emissions, and make traveling more comfortable.

A prototype of Google’s driverless car is currently being tested on city roads. Photo by General Physics Laboratory/Flickr.

Driverless cars can also fit into greater intelligent transport systems. Among them, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication systems enable cars to send and receive information from surrounding cars or roadside units, such as traffic signals or speed signs, allowing them to adjust their behavior accordingly. Researchers from University of Texas in Austin are developing smart intersections that have no traffic lights or stop signs, but communicate directly with each autonomous car.

Ambitious car companies have also made plans to invest in driverless technologies. Both Mercedes and Volvo claim to be piloting fully-automated, “crash-free” cars by 2020. GM, Audi, and BMW are all expected to sell cars that can drive themselves at least partially by the same here. Daimler, the second largest truck manufacturer in the world, is piloting a driverless truck in the United States. The truck can drive autonomously on open freeways, allowing the driver to check emails and relax while in transit. Watch a video of Google’s driverless car in action:

However, it’s important to remember that these road tests have always been conducted at a small scale or in low-speed, low-traffic environments. Furthermore, these tests were not entirely driver-free either: operators needed to take action in case of emergency. Google’s 23 self-driving cars have been involved in 11 minor accidents on public roads.

Driverless Cars as Part of a Safer System

Self-driving technology is increasingly shaping current discussions of road safety. However, there’s still a lot of innovation to be done before driverless cars can become affordable, widely adopted products at a global scale. Because of this, it’s still too early to fully evaluate the impact of self-driving vehicles on road safety. We need to remember that eliminating traffic deaths and injuries requires a system of roads designed for safety as well as complementary technological solutions.

New BRT Plans for Kazakhstan

Tue, 2015-06-02 23:53

Almaty’s new BRT system will be the first of its kind in the region, bringing sustainable transport to thousands of residents. Photo by FixerKZ/Wikipedia.

Since its introduction over 40 years ago, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems have been adopted in over 190 cities. Across the world, BRTs have brought a level of reliability, efficiency, and safety to bus networks at a fraction of the cost and complexity of rail systems—making it a safe and effective solution for sustainable mobility in cities.  Research has shown that cities that prioritize sustainable and public transport have significantly safer streets. A well-designed BRT system can reduce fatalities on the corridor by as much as 50 percent.

While BRTs and bus-priority systems have been growing in popularity worldwide, no such systems currently operate in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), despite the region’s significant traffic safety challenges. The CIS countries—former Soviet states like Armenia, Ukraine, and Tajikistan—have an average traffic fatality rate of 21.8 deaths per 100,000 people. This is almost 4 times higher than the rate in neighboring European countries. Among these countries, Kazakhstan has the highest number of road-related deaths and injuries. According to the officially reported data, 20,378 road accidents occurred in the country in 2014, and 28,527 people were injured or killed.

City leaders in Kazakhstan are now taking steps to implement sustainable mobility solutions and reverse this trend. Since 2012, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) have been working with the city of Almaty to develop and implement a new Sustainable Transport Strategy, with the development of a BRT system and improvements to the public transport network as key components.

BRT Offers a Much Needed Solution for Almaty Residents

In Almaty, buses are the main mode of public transport. Almaty already faces considerable peak hour traffic congestion and pollution problems in addition to its high traffic fatality rate. Sustainable transport solutions can address these issues, which is why improvements to the existing transport network as well as a BRT system are necessary. The city’s transport strategy also calls for the expansion of its subway system and light rail transit (LRT) line. Currently, a single subway line—launched in 2012—serves the city, running 10 km over 9 stations and serving 36,000 – 38,000 passengers per day.

Kazakhstan faces the highest rate of traffic fatalities in the region. Graphic from European Status Report on Road Safety, 2009.

All these conditions mean that introduction of a well-planned BRT system will bring material benefits to the city in terms of passenger time savings and lower operational expenses. BRT will also bring additional benefits in the form of improved streets, traffic safety, better environmental conditions and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The five planned BRT corridors are now a part of City of Almaty Sustainable Transport Strategy for 2013-2023.

Capacity Building in Almaty through Partnerships

Feasibility studies and design of a 20km pilot corridor started in 2013, and these works are expected to be finalized by the end of this year. A critical factor for the BRT project’s success is the availability of experienced transport planning specialists, transport economists and traffic safety specialists in Kazakhstan. The lack of appropriate training courses in local universities means there is a dearth of specialized and experienced personnel. Another common problem in the region is outdated construction standards, many of which were developed before the collapse of the Soviet Union and do not meet requirements for safe, modern city streets.

Sharing expertise across countries has often been beneficial for cities that have not previously implemented BRT systems. For Almaty, through the UNDP-GRF project, local road engineers, traffic and public transport specialists have had an opportunity to get acquainted with existing bus rapid transit systems in China, the Netherlands and Colombia, and to discuss design and planning with international experts during trainings and workshops with international consultants.

Safe, sustainable transport and urban design in Almaty can bring about huge improvements in the quality of everyday life. By being the first city in the CIS  countries with a BRT network, Almaty stands to be a leader and great example for Kazakhstan and the region.

As part of the City of Almaty Sustainable Transport Strategy project, WRI’s research “Traffic Safety on Bus-Priority Corridors” has been translated into Russian to assist engineers and planners in this part of the world in creating safer cities. Click here to learn more.

Designing Safer Cities for Children

Fri, 2015-05-08 17:30

With 32 percent fewer traffic accidents involving children, Seoul, South Korea is one example of how changing street design can improve road safety.

When you consider the global statistics, it’s no surprise that this year’s U.N. Global Road Safety Week focuses on children’s safety.  According to a 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) report, 21 percent of all road traffic-related fatalities worldwide were among children under the age of 18, and traffic injuries were one of the leading killers of children under 20 years old in both high- and low- to middle- income countries.

The typical discussion around children’s traffic safety is a behavioral one, focusing on issues like helmet- and seat-belt laws and drinking-and-driving laws. While these policies can definitely generate impact, they’re not enough to make streets truly safe. Countries and cities around the world should embrace a “safe system” approach that goes beyond behavior-targeted policies and actually makes cities safer by design.

Using Urban Design to Improve Road Safety

Urban design and street features can help make cities safer. “Traffic-calming” measures (such as speed bumps) and urban design features (such as shorter block lengths and narrower streets) can slow down vehicles—a benefit for pedestrians and cyclists of all age groups.

Children use streets in a variety of ways, for walking, biking, traveling in cars, or simply playing. Yet they’re even more vulnerable to traffic collisions than adults  given their lower eye level, narrower peripheral vision, lower capacity for decision-making, and tendency for sudden action. So it’s especially critical to reduce vehicle speeds in areas with lots of children.

This graph shows the relationship between impact speeds and the chance of pedestrian death. When collision speeds rise, pedestrians’ survival chance drops dramatically. Source: Rosen and Sander 2009.

Korea Reduces Childhood Traffic Deaths by 95 Percent

One success story of safe design comes from South Korea. Traffic-related fatalities among children fell by 95 percent in the country, from 1,766 in 1988 to 83 in 2012. This success was the direct result of a suite of projects that targeted regulations, education and the built environment.

This narrow street in a school zone in Seoul has a clearly marked roadway (here translated as “school zone – slow down – 30kmh”) and sidewalk protection fences, creating a safe walking environment for children. Photo by Seoul’s Seocho District Office.

One such project was the School Zone Improvement Project, implemented throughout several Korean cities. The Project aimed to create safe routes from children’s homes to kindergartens, elementary schools and childcare facilities.

Officials started by reducing speed limits through infrastructure design tools, such as speed bumps. They established dedicated right-of-ways for pedestrians, and created clear distinctions between sidewalks and roads. New fences further protected children from road hazards.

City officials also installed traffic signals and speed limit signs within 300 meters of a school’s main gate, and painted roads within school zones with messages such as “school zone” and “protect children” so that drivers would proceed with caution. And finally, they banned street parking on roads leading to schools’ main entrances, reducing the potential that vehicles and children could come into contact.

Korea’s children traffic fatality has been declining dramatically since the late 1980s, thanks to a suite of measures targeting both design and law. Source: KOTI

The School Zone Improvement Project produced very positive results. The measures led to roughly 32 percent fewer traffic accidents involving children each year. Combined with comprehensive measures such as traffic safety regulation, school bus operation and civil activities, Korea has successfully reduced its child traffic fatalities by 95 percent in a little more than two decades.

Designing Safer Streets for All

A city designed for children must have streets that are safety-oriented, particularly in buffer zones around playgrounds, parks, schools, community centers and other kid-centric places. The successes of programs like those in South Korea teach us how strong leadership can establish ambitious targets, acquire investment, implement programs and generate impressive results.

South Korea is not alone in designing safer streets. Cities like Stockholm, New York and Amsterdam are also taking actions to improve road safety. Leaders in other cities should take note: If planned and designed with society’s most vulnerable members in mind, our cities and roads can be safer places for everyone.

Why are the two most sustainable forms of transport missing from the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Fri, 2015-03-20 03:01

Many cities in India, including Ahmedabad, have high rates of active transport. Including walking and bicycling in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognizes the role of active transport in creating sustainable, healthy cities. Photo by Meena Kadri/Flickr.

Walking and cycling may be the two most basic modes of transport, but they may also be the most promising for a sustainable future. In a car-filled world, it’s the people who use their own two feet or two wheels that are making efficient use of space in crowded cities while creating health and environmental benefits for themselves and others.

Yet in a forthcoming international agreement that will steer development policy and funding for the next 15 years, the question remains whether these active transport modes will be recognized as a proven way of creating more sustainable cities.

The United Nations will host negotiations later this month on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new set of globally agreed-upon goals by national governments to replace the existing Millennium Development Goals. These negotiations will culminate in a meeting in late September to adopt this new post-2015 development agenda.

In the current proposal for adoption, cities are taking a larger role, with a stand-alone goal to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” A set of targets within this goal address specific issues, and one of them mentions transport, stating, “by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.”

This is no doubt a promising opportunity to raise the profile of cities, transport, and traffic safety to unprecedented levels of public awareness. Yet while the target for sustainable transport specifically mentions expanding public transport, it leaves out walking and bicycling.

Why active transport is integral to sustainable urban mobility

Enhancing active transport is a necessary step toward improving overall urban mobility, as it is a broad category that includes, for example, taking a walk to public transport or a nearby store, commuting by bike to work, or using a bike share system for short trips.

Active transport produces the least pollution, requiring no use of fossil fuels. There are significant health benefits to regular walking and cycling. Given that the world is facing steep declines in physical activity that harm health and result in severe economic burdens, prioritizing active transport can be a necessary tool for making the world a healthier, safer, and more sustainable place. Additionally, investing in walking and cycling infrastructure helps address traffic safety by protecting these vulnerable users, who bear a significant brunt of traffic deaths. Lastly, moving around by walking and cycling can provide mobility not bound to the kind of congestion caused by motor vehicles.

Walking and cycling levels in low and middle-income countries are on par with or surpass those of public transport. In Latin American countries, walking and bicycling comprises around 30 to 40 percent of all trips in most cities. In Mumbai, walking and cycling represent 51 percent of the city’s mode share. Walking represents 70 percent of total trips in Addis Ababa and nearly 50 percent in Dar es Salaam. And currently, bicycling in the city of Copenhagen accounts for nearly 36 percent of all trips to work or education, demonstrating the bicycle’s potential to become a staple of city life.

How to internationally recognize the value of active transport

The current Sustainable Development Goals proposed could be revised to include not only mass transport, but walking and cycling as well—capturing the three most impactful forms sustainable transport. In his commentary on the Sustainable Development Goals in the SAIS Review of International Affairs, the World Resources Institute’s Dario Hidalgo notes that “the means to provide better mobility, notably through public transport, may also need to include the concept of quality and the inclusion of infrastructure for walking and bicycles. Sustainable urban mobility involves not only public transport, but incorporates all three sustainable modes.”

Hidalgo suggests a small edit that could accommodate active transport: “By 2020 provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding QUALITY public transport and infrastructure for walking and bicycling with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

For cities wishing to provide sustainable urban mobility that increases residents’ quality of life, active transport must be a priority. Expensive rail projects and new highways may be attractive to some, but recognizing basic human needs and quality of life are more important in the long term. As for the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s a major step forward that cities in general—largely excluded from the Millenium Development Goals—are a focus of the new post-2015 agenda. Whether walking and bicycling will ultimately be included in the goals is yet to be seen, but they would certainly strengthen an already ambitious agenda to shape a more sustainable, prosperous planet.

Car sharing the next wave of innovation for Brazilian cities

Wed, 2015-02-18 04:12

Last year, Recife (pictured) became the first city in Brazil to introduce car sharing in an effort to curb congestion and expand mobility options in the city. Photo by Marcio Cabral de Moura/Flickr.

Driving a car is often the easiest, most straightforward mobility option for many urban residents. There are a laundry list of reasons people just can’t seem to live without cars in cities: because they don’t feel that public transport or bicycling are safe, comfortable, or convenient; because infrastructure for biking or walking isn’t adequate; because the quality of public transport service is low; because they have to be able to move young children; or even the simple reason that the car is easier and always available. At an individual level, these reasons are understandable. But as a collective decision made by billions of urbanites every day, reliance on cars has become an immense environmental, economic, and social burden on society.

Mobility is a necessary part of urban life; the challenge is to make it more efficient. Collective transport solutions like dedicated bus lanes, bus rapid transit (BRT) networks, bike share systems, and others already exist in many Brazilian cities and are gaining in popularity. But so far, Brazilian cities are only just beginning to explore car share programs as viable alternatives to private car ownership. Car sharing has the potential to transform the relationship between people and cars because it substantially reduces the space dedicated to parking and eliminates the need to be responsible for a vehicle when you’re not even using it.

Car2Go, for example, is a simple system operating currently in the United States, Canada, and Europe. After registering online and receiving an access card in the mail, members can search online or via a mobile app for cars that are nearby and available. The more people using the system, the more it reduces the amount of space needed for parking and the number of cars on the roads. One study analyzing data from ten metropolitan areas in the United States with car share programs like Car2Go even found that for each car available in the program, 32 private car sales were avoided.

Car sharing pioneers in Brazil

The northeastern city of Recife recently inaugurated the first system of its kind in Brazil. Last December, PortoLeve began offering a small fleet of cars for a monthly rate of US$30—extremely affordable when compared to the total cost of car ownership. An additional feature of this program is that it encourages people to share trips together to reduce costs and optimize collective traveling. Later this year, the company plans to open more electric car stations to meet increasing demand.

At the opposite end of the country in Porto Alegre, a similar initiative is in progress. Students of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) came up with the idea for an Intelligent Vehicle System (Sivi), an application that will unlock select vehicles on one campus and allow students to return them on another. The project is experimental and will only serve two campuses in the testing phase, but has the chance to expand to cover the entire city if trials prove successful.

The potential of sustainable urban mobility is seemingly limitless given the innovative and creative solutions that are currently sprouting up around the world, but it still requires strong leadership to take the next steps. Technology is helping Brazilian cities develop car share programs, but city leaders need to be ready to support the sharing culture so that this alternative to car ownership is successful. Integrating public transport, cycling, walking, and car sharing into one cohesive system can expand the range of mobility options at play and give people greater freedom to choose how they move in their cities.

This article was originally published in Portuguese by TheCityFix Brasil.

Friday Fun: Bogotá, Colombia celebrates its 15th annual car-free day

Sat, 2015-02-07 02:50

For Bogotá’s 15th annual car-free day yesterday, residents had the chance to walk and bike together in their city’s streets to build a year-round culture of sustainable mobility. Photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo/Flickr.

Yesterday, Bogotá, Colombia celebrated the 15th anniversary of its annual car-free day. Between 5am and 7:30pm, residents left their cars behind and turned to a variety of other modes of transport—a symbolic act that 63 percent of citizens institutionalized through a public referendum in October 2000. This year’s car free day, however, introduced a restriction on motorcycles as well, removing a major source of traffic fatalities and air pollution from the roads for a day. In a city of over 7 million people, the absence of 600,000 private vehicles from the streets made a visible difference.

Bogotá’s bike and bus infrastructure provide real alternatives to cars

Like many other growing cities, Bogotá has grappled with air pollution and car-related traffic fatalities. According to Americas Quarterly, the number of registered private vehicles has risen 76 percent in the past seven years, and respiratory illnesses are the number one cause of infant mortality in the city, with a staggering 600,000 children under the age of five treated annually for breathing-related problems. Furthermore, 322 pedestrians and 56 cyclists were killed in 2014 to car-related accidents, and drivers lost an average of 22 days from waiting in traffic.

However, designating an entire day as car-free means that the city needs to provide dependable alternatives so that residents can still reach their normal destinations.

Fortunately for residents, Bogotá is a global leader in supporting transport infrastructure that is sustainable and people-oriented. The city is home to a number of urban mobility innovations, many the result of former mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s time in office. For example, Bogotá boasts the TransMilenio—one of the world’s most successful bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. TransMilenio opened in 2000—the same year as the city’s inaugural car-free day, currently employs 40,000 people, and indirectly supports another 56,000 jobs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by almost 250,000 tons annually.

Bogotá has also long been a haven for bike enthusiasts, daily commuters, and casual riders alike. Since 1974, popularity has exploded for the city’s traditional “Sunday Ciclovías.” Every Sunday, the city closes its streets to cars so that people can both ride in safety and also participate in a symbolic event centered on public health and community building. For this year’s car-free day, the city expanded its bike lane network to 392 kilometers (244 miles) and added 2,700 new bike parking stations near TransMilenio stations—a great step in making Bogotá’s public transport more multi-modal and integrated.

A symbolic move forward

What would the future look like if Bogotá and other cities made the car-free idea not just an exception for one day, but a normal fact of urban life? Recently, we explored this question and took a look at EMBARQ and IDEO’s thought-provoking project to reimage urban mobility around the world. In the meantime, cities like Jakarta, Indonesia, Chengdu, China, New Delhi, India, and Mexico City, Mexico among others are beginning to experiment with car-free days and other ways of decreasing our unsustainable reliance on cars.

Making long-term sustainable mobility a reality is about not only embracing people-oriented planning and design, but also changing the image of cars and the public’s perception of alternative modes. Single car-free days may not always have a significant environmental impact in the short term, but they have the power to spark discussion, raise awareness, and gradually change transport norms and attitudes. Bogotá’s annual car-free day isn’t just about getting people out of their cars for a day—it’s about showing that other possibilities for urban mobility exist.

Transforming Transportation 2015: Turning momentum into action

Thu, 2015-02-05 21:34

Transforming Transportation 2015 helped inform clear actions city leaders can take to make sustainable mobility a reality in cities worldwide. Photo by Andrew Crump/Flickr.

What will the city of the future look like? How can we unlock the potential of urbanization to create safe, accessible and prosperous societies? At Transforming Transportation 2015 – the annual conference co-organized by the World Resources Institute and the World Bank– we learned about the role of urban mobility in creating smart, sustainable cities and boosting shared prosperity.

With 75 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 yet to be built, actions taken right now will shape urbanization patterns and quality of life for decades. It is urgent that global leaders concentrate now on ensuring that cities are sustainable, inclusive and prosperous.

The year 2015 provides three big opportunities to build global momentum around the course for change. These are the potential for a binding international climate agreement coming out of COP21, a new development agenda set forth by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a platform for prioritizing safe, equitable cities through the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. The coming year raises the stakes, with the 2016 Habitat III conference expected to be one of the most influential gatherings in history focusing on making cities more livable and sustainable.

So, how did this year’s Transforming Transportation conference contribute to the search for sustainable solutions? These perspectives from mayors, business leaders and technical experts show how sustainable transport can help create the urban future we want.

Connected, compact, coordinated

Throughout Transforming Transportation, the theme of creating connected, compact and coordinated cities resonated with participants and speakers alike. This was the mantra of Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, who opened the conference with a keynote speech on how this model can create sustainable cities while improving economic growth. It is critical that the global agendas coming out of the SDGs, COP21, the Decade of Action, and Habitat III promote this approach to inform local action on sustainable urbanization.

But what does this look like on the ground? According to city leaders and experts at Transforming Transportation, it revolves around urban mobility systems that move beyond the car and expand access to opportunity for urban residents. Take Mexico City, which recently passed a new mobility law prioritizing sustainable and active transport, and is taking steps to reverse its history of urban sprawl. These changes have helped it become one of the leading cities in placing mobility at the core of urban planning and development. As Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera said at Transforming Transportation, “mobility can transform quality of life.”

This approach also yields significant benefits for the global climate. After all, cities are where talk on how to curb climate change becomes action. In fact, recent analysis shows that aggressive actions in cities worldwide could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 gigatons by 2050 through voluntary commitments.

At Transforming Transportation, innovators like car-sharing pioneers Robin Chase – who shared her vision for the future of the sharing economy – and Arvind Singhatiya explored how tomorrow’s solutions for today’s challenges are being developed, tested, and grown in cities around the world. Integrated, multimodal transport systems have been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also yielding local economic and social benefits. Urban form plays a similarly important role. For instance, LSE Cities found that China could save US$1.4 trillion in infrastructure spending by adopting a more compact, transit-oriented model.

Finally, building connected, compact and coordinated cities can help confront the vital public health challenge of traffic safety. More than 1.2 million people die on our streets worldwide, and urban cyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable. City leaders can learn from the work of Janette Sadik-Khan, whose efforts to shift towards people-oriented design helped New York City to achieve one of the lowest traffic fatality rates in the United States, and recorded the lowest number of pedestrian deaths in the city’s history in 2014.

New design guidelines released by the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ EMBARQ initiative and endorsed by the World Bank, also show that implementing bus rapid transit (BRT) and bus priority systems can reduce severe and fatal crashes by 50 percent. Achieving sustainable and equitable cities is not possible without addressing this challenge and building – as Indian Secretary of Urban Development Shankar Aggarwal put it – “cities that are designed for citizens, not cars.”

The World Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice is also helping clients implement “smart urban mobility” by leveraging technology to plan, operate, manage and regulate public transport. A couple of examples include the use of cell phone data to determine travelers’ patterns and improve planning, as well as the use of smart card data to target subsidies for the poorest.

Time for action

With a year of opportunities for building global consensus ahead, what can city leaders do now? First and foremost, the transport community needs to unite with one clear voice around our priorities for the global agenda. We need to promote the evidence behind creating connected, compact and coordinated cities built around sustainable urban mobility. Then, we need to translate global commitments and goals – like those set at the 2012 Rio+20 conference or 2014’s UN Climate Summit – into specific actions that bring social, economic and environmental benefits to the people of our cities.

As world leaders come together in 2015 to address poverty, climate and development at the global scale, let’s join efforts as a sustainable transport community to create the change we need for the sustainable urban future we want.

Urban design for safer roads: Insights from EMBARQ Turkey’s RSLab

Thu, 2015-01-22 00:27

Turkey has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world. Better road infrastructure design and sustainable mobility can change that, reducing crashes and saving lives. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr. 

More than 1.2 million people worldwide are killed in road traffic crashes every year, and an additional 20 to 50 million are injured. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if urgent action is not taken, these figures will increase by about 65% over the next 20 years, making road traffic crashes the fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. Half of these road fatalities occur just in ten countries, and Turkey has the dubious honor of being among those ten. The Turkish Statistical Institute indicates that in 2013, an average of ten people died and approximately 750 people were injured every day due to traffic crashes in Turkey.

EMBARQ Turkey recently concluded its Road Safety Lab (RSLab), a two-year long project that aims to assess the state of road safety in key Turkish cities and offer transport planning and urban design solutions. The project offers insight for cities worldwide: while human error is a factor in road safety, road design is also a critical determinant of traffic fatalities. An outsized portion of crashes in these cities occured in just a few particularly dangerous locations. Identifying and improving the design of these “blackspots” is a powerful strategy for saving lives on urban roads.

The role of engineering and design for safer roads

At RSLab’s closing meeting, Beste Gülgün of the WHO pointed out that road fatalities are not merely the result of “accidents.” Deaths caused by road traffic crashes are structural and can be avoided through comprehensive and cost-effective precautions. This is why the United Nations and the WHO have launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety for 2011-2020 to mobilize more than 100 countries and prevent a total of five million deaths from traffic crashes by 2020. 

Speed management, drinking and driving, and helmet or seatbelt use are widely acknowledged risk factors in road safety management. However, road safety challenges cannot be attributed solely to human error, as drivers and other road users adapt their behavior to many external factors. Therefore, road infrastructure design plays a crucial role in reducing fatalities and injuries. According to the Handbook for Road Safety Measures, simply lighting previously unlit roads can reduce fatalities from traffic crashes by 60%, for example.

Where can cities start when improving road design?

In most cases, a few traffic safety hot spots account for a high proportion of crashes. According to RSLab presenter Andre Münche from PTV Group, 50% of avoidable accidents occur only on 10% of the road network. One powerful method to improve road safety – called blackspot management – involves identifying particular locations that are highly problematic and resolving site-specific problems that might be causing human error.

With the support of Bloomberg Philantropies and 3M, the RSLab team has identified 25 critical blackspots for road traffic crashes across five Turkish cities and made a number of reccomendations to improve each blackspot. These range from traffic signalization and pedestrianization designs to improved lighthing. EMBARQ Turkey estimates that these measures could prevent more than 500 crashes and approximately 70 injuries annually. According to RSLab Project Lead Tolga Imamoğlu, a road safety inspection is also a cost-effective measure to include when building new roads. Road safety inspections reduce traffic crashes on average by 30%, with a 1:10 cost-benefit ratio.

Identifying the right blackspots, however, can be challenging; it requires quality data and road design expertise. Imamoğlu mentioned that data accuracy can be hampered by a range of factors such as incorrect GPS information or lack of tracking on the status of injuries after crashes. RSLab Project Analyst Kiarash Ghasemlou emphasized that a well-organized, comprehensive, and accessible data collection system is crucial to correctly identifying blackspots.

Turkey’s speed management problem

Beyond blackspot management, speeding also plays a significant role in crashes and resulting fatalities in Turkey. According to Mustafa Ilıcalı of Bahçeşehir University, 43% of fatalities and injuries from traffic crashes in Turkey are due to speeding. Ilıcalı pointed out, however, that this trend in Turkey is not surprising, given the lack of attention paid to speeding offences. Ilıcalı’s statistics showed that only 18 out of 1,000 drivers receive tickets for speeding in Turkey, compared to 456 of 1,000 in Australia and 558 of 1,000 in the Netherlands. Given the staggering number of road fatalities in Turkey and lack of comperehensive enforcement, speed management has become a focus of numerous organizations and agencies like the WHO and the Turkish Road Association.

One issue brought up by many participants at the RSLab closing meeting was the tension between current transport policies that emphasize making cities safe for pedestrians and those prioritizing the mobility of cars. Although many stakeholders, especially in Turkey, voice similar concerns, conceiving urban mobility more broadly as the safe movement of people through sustainable transport policy and planning is a way of resolving this tension. Road safety as a public health problem is not an isolated issue. Rather, it is closely linked with behaviors and trends in other areas such as access to public transport or level of vehicle emissions. As one aspect of sustainable transport policy, better road design through methods can make roads safer for all users, whether on foot, on bikes, or in cars.

View photos from the closing meeting of RSLab on Flickr

Who needs cars? Smart mobility can make cities sustainable

Mon, 2015-01-19 23:13

Metrobús, Mexico City’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, began operations in 2005 and now serves 855,000 passengers every day. Line 4 (pictured) was launched in 2012 and currently serves 50,000 passengers daily. Photo by Taís Policanti/EMBARQ Mexico.

This article was originally published on January 15, 2015 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Last year marked an important tipping point: for the first time, half of the global population lives in cities. Cities currently add 1.4 million people each week and this population growth comes with new buildings, roads and transport systems.

In fact, 75 percent of the infrastructure that will be in place by 2050 does not exist today. With cities poised to invest now in infrastructure that will last for decades, huge opportunities lie ahead. But without major shifts now in how we manage established as well as rapidly growing cities, we risk losing out on the potential of urbanisation to create more inclusive and prosperous societies.

2015 offers a big chance for the international community to help put cities on a more sustainable path. We at the World Bank and the World Resources Institute (WRI) believe that we must seize this opportunity, because cities and urban mobility are key to a sustainable future.

Business-as-usual urbanisation patterns come at a hefty price. Cities already produce 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and traffic crashes claim 1.2 million lives per year, with developing cities carrying the greatest burden.

Traffic congestion cost Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo a combined $43 billion in 2013 alone, equivalent to 8 percent of each city’s GDP. In Beijing, the costs of congestion and air pollution are estimated at 7-15 percent of GDP. Urban sprawl costs the United States alone $400 billion per year.

This is not the future we want for our cities.

Leapfrogging cars

We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in these unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve quality of life.

Today there is much talk about what makes cities and their transport systems smart, but little consensus. While the concept has come to be synonymous with innovative technological solutions, we argue that it goes beyond this.

Technology and infrastructure are key, but they only go so far without coordinated planning and vision. Truly smart urban mobility systems leverage technology to improve quality of life and inform decision-making. Above all, these systems are socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable.

This type of smart urban mobility has multiple benefits. For one, it helps reduce congestion and improve traffic safety in cities worldwide. Efficient transport systems like bus rapid transit (BRT) save commuters time, reap economic benefits, and reduce the risk of traffic crashes. For example, Mexico City is poised to save $141 million in regained economic productivity from just one of six lines of its Metrobús BRT system.

Second, it can significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Transport accounts for 23 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and urban car use is the single largest contributor to transport emissions. Beijing, in an effort to curb car use, is planning a low emission zone that will cut carbon emissions and contribute to its target of reducing air pollution by 40 percent.

Finally, smart urban mobility helps low-income residents. Efficient, integrated transport systems can link urbanites to jobs and education and expand access to opportunity. For instance, Medellín’s Metrocable system has transformed what was once a day-long journey from the city’s mountainous slums to its urban core into a 30-minute affair, increasing access to daily needs and empowering the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

Innovation and knowledge needed

This transition to smart, sustainable mobility requires both local innovation and global knowledge exchange to find the right solutions. While action for a more sustainable urban future begins at the city level, the global community can foster the ambition of city leaders by building consensus on the path forward for sustainable cities and urban mobility.

2015 provides three big opportunities for progress on this front. First, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – set to be finalised in September – are slated to include an explicit focus on reducing global poverty and inequality through cities, with a specific emphasis on urban mobility.

Second, climate negotiations in December may produce the first binding international agreement on combating climate change, opening up the pathway for low-carbon cities. Third, 2015 marks the halfway point in the United Nations Decade of Action on Road Safety, an important drive to make cities safer through sustainable mobility.

Opportunities to transform urban mobility and make cities more sustainable, inclusive and safe are also the focus of Transforming Transportation 2015, an annual gathering in Washington, DC organised by the World Resources Institute and the World Bank. This year’s event, “Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity,” will explore how smart urban mobility solutions can improve quality of life in cities.

We must seize these opportunities. This is a critical year for building global momentum and commitment towards cities that are safe, sustainable and prosperous for all.

Live from Transforming Transportation: “Speeding up” global action on road safety

Fri, 2015-01-16 05:36

Well-designed bus rapid transit is one way for cities to improve traffic safety. This was one of many strategies described by panelists at Transforming Transportation for how cities can accelerate efforts to improve road safety in the face of rising motorization. Photo by Jamie Manely/Flickr.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

Improving traffic safety can help make cities more sustainable, economically viable, and healthy. But more than 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes worldwide, and car ownership is rising around the world. Responding to this challenge, the UN General Assembly declared 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety, and resolved to reduce global traffic fatalities by 2020.

So how are we doing at the mid-point of the Road Safety Decade?

Janette Sadik-Khan, the former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, said the city now has some of the lowest traffic fatality rates in the United States. “It’s not just because New Yorkers are terribly nice or good drivers… but because of a lot of hard work,” she said in a panel discussion at the Transformation Transportation conference at the World Bank on January 15.

“You can’t wish people onto a bus that is slow and dirty and ugly,” Sadik-Khan said. ”You have to create a beautiful system… These strategies – safe streets and mobility choices – they’re not just nice things to have. They are economic development strategies.”

Photo by Aaron Minnick/WRI.

Following Sadik-Khan’s presentation, Melinda Crane, chief political correspondent for Deutsche Welle-TV, moderated a panel that consisted of international experts in road safety:

  • Janette Sadik-Khan, Transportation Principal, Bloomberg Associates
  • Claudia Adriazola; Director of Health and Road Safety; WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI
  • Saul Billingsley, Director General, FIA Foundation
  • Mark Stevenson, Director of the Accident Research Centre, Monash University, Australia
  • Deborah Carvalho Malta, Director, Ministry of Health, Brazil
  • Nazir Alli, Chief Executive Officer, South African National Roads Agency
  • Anne-Valérie Troy, Director, Sustainable Development, TOTAL

Claudia Adriazola discussed new research that shows implementing bus priority systems can reduce severe and fatal crashes by 50%. Adriazola, along with other panelists, advocated for a Safe System approach that acknowledges humans are fallible. It focuses on improving planning and road design systems to save lives.

Graphic by EMBARQ.

Still, traffic safety remains a key challenging in low- and middle-income countries, and it is crucial to build stronger advocacy groups and present to policy makers the wide range of benefits that accompany improvements to traffic safety. EMBARQ, the producer of TheCityFix, has examined traffic safety challenges in cities worldwide, adapting to local context while drawing on global best practices:

Stemming traffic crashes in developing countries is often a matter of “Partnership, partnership, partnership,” according to Anne-Valérie Troy, director of Sustainable Development for TOTAL. Because many parts of Africa lack regulation and technology that would aid this effort, TOTAL has tightened its own standards for trucks operating there. Technology has also helped, she said: computers installed on trucks transporting TOTAL products in Africa monitor vehicle speed. “We can train them or sanction them if they do not respect the standards we impose on our transporters,” Troy said.

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation tomorrow on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter. 

Want healthy, thriving cities? Tackle traffic safety first

Wed, 2015-01-14 19:25

As vehicle ownership grows in cities worldwide, it becomes increasingly important for cities to implement well-designed bus systems that improve road safety for all users. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ.

Every year, more than 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes worldwide, equivalent to nearly five Boeing 747 plane crashes every day. As developing economies grow and private car ownership becomes more mainstream, the number of associated crashes and fatalities will continue to rise.

The challenge of traffic safety often flies under the radar in cities, where the social and economic challenges of accommodating growing populations take precedent. Without meaningful change, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that traffic crashes could become the fifth leading cause of premature death worldwide by 2030. This takes a particular toll on cities, which are already home nearly half of global traffic fatalities. City leaders must prioritize traffic safety measures to ensure that their citizens have safe, healthy, and economically prosperous cities to call home.

With urban growth comes traffic safety challenges

While there are a number of factors that contribute to traffic crashes, two of the primary challenges are rising motorization trends in cities worldwide and the issue of road equity: the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are most impacted by traffic crashes. On top of that, these users, typically lower-income, don’t always have the power or capacity to create the necessary changes.

The number of privately owned cars on the road hit the one billion mark for the first time in 2010. If we continue business-as-usual, that number will reach an estimated 2.5 billion cars by 2050. All of these new cars will lead to an increase in traffic congestion in cities worldwide, increasing the probability of traffic crashes and resulting fatalities.

Despite these challenges, there is still time to adopt a different path for traffic safety by following the Avoid-Shift-Improve framework. We can avoid unnecessary trips to prevent traffic crashes and instead create compact, walkable communities with access to mass transport. We can shift trips out of cars and into high quality transit systems and active transport modes. And lastly, we can improve transport and urban design to maximize the safety of all trips by investing in people-oriented design strategies and sustainable transport infrastructure.

Making cities safer by design

One of the best ways cities can become safer for all is through sustainable transport systems like bus rapid transit (BRT), which now serves 31 million people in more than 180 cities every day. BRT can make mobility safer by providing accessible and efficient infrastructure for moving people, not cars. For example, in Guadalajara, Mexico, just one lane of the Macrobús BRT corridor traveling in one direction transports 5,000 passengers per hour. Normal traffic lanes in Guadalajara can accommodate only 3,194 passengers per hour, and saw 726 crashes in 2011. Macrobús saw only six accidents in the same year.

The growth in BRT and bus priority systems worldwide presents an opportunity to save lives and improve the health and safety of cities. A new report from the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ EMBARQ initiative and endorsed by the World Bank, Traffic Safety on Bus Priority Systems, shows that high quality public transport systems can improve traffic safety, reducing injuries and fatalities by as much 50%, seen in cities like Guadalajara and Ahmedabad. The report contains evidence-based planning and design recommendations that help cities make streets safer for all road users. Distributed and pilot-tested in major cities like Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Istanbul over two years, these recommendations address design strategies to make bus priority systems safer at intersections, transfer stations, pedestrian crossings, and more.

Social, economic and environmental benefits of safer streets

The benefits of safe, well-designed BRT and bus priority systems are multi-faceted. Not only can these systems improve traffic safety, but they can also improve the health of city residents by reducing air pollution and increasing rates of physical activity, which has been shown to greatly improve longevity and quality of life.

Creating safer, well-designed bus corridors can prevent pedestrian fatalities, more than half of which occur on bus corridors with limited pedestrian protections in place. Additionally, the typical Latin American BRT system has been shown to provide numerous economic benefits to cities, of which safety impacts account for between 10 and 16% through a reduced burden on the healthcare system.

With steadily growing daily ridership, BRT and bus priority systems provide a prime opportunity for improving the safety and sustainability of city street and transport design. The findings and recommendations included in this report will help transport planners, engineers, and urban designers develop the best solutions for their cities’ specific challenges and create safer, more accessible cities for all. Most importantly, they help city leaders around the world properly integrate traffic safety into transport policy, finance, planning, and design.

The Traffic Safety on Bus Priority Systems report is made possible by funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

How cities can save lives: Build safer bus systems

Wed, 2015-01-14 18:30

Bus priority systems have a track record of social and environmental benefits for cities. Now, research shows that bus priority systems – when accompanied with key road design features – can save lives in cities. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Traffic safety has become an urgent issue for cities around the globe, with traffic deaths claiming over 1.2 million lives per year according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Without proper action, this unacceptable trend is expected to make road fatalities the fifth leading cause of death by 2030. Furthermore, low- and middle-income countries account for 90% of all traffic deaths worldwide, and developing countries are also experiencing rapid growth in vehicle ownership. About half of all fatalities from traffic crashes occur in urban areas.

To put it simply, traffic safety must be a priority if we want to build more sustainable and livable cities. One route for achieving this is to expand and enhance sustainable transport solutions like bus priority and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. New research shows that – when accompanied by improved road design – implementing bus priority systems can reduce severe and fatal crashes by 50%.

Making bus systems safer for 31 million people every day

High quality BRT and bus priority systems are helping meet the increasing demand for urban mobility. BRT has become a popular solution due to its relatively low capital cost and short construction time compared to rail transit systems like metro. According to the database, 31 million passengers ride BRT or bus priority systems every day, and the number of cities with BRT systems is on the rise, reaching 189 in 2014 from just 20 in 2002. The growth of BRT systems – especially in developing world cities – can reduce reliance on cars and motorcycles, both of which are shown to amplify traffic safety challenges.

Despite the growth of BRT systems worldwide, their impact on traffic safety is not as well understood as their effects on other social, economic, and environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions and travel time. New research from WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ EMBARQ initiative fills this gap by examining the traffic safety aspects of bus priority systems. It draws on data analysis, road safety audits and inspections of over thirty bus systems around the world, and simulation models testing the impacts of safety measures. The new Traffic Safety of Bus Priority Systems report shows that bus priority systems have had significant positive impacts on traffic safety, reducing serious crashes by 50% on bus corridors in cities like Ahmedabad and Guadalajara.

The design of streets and intersections along a given transit corridor plays an important role in traffic safety. In order to achieve the safety benefits of bus priority systems, cities must incorporate key road design features. For example, wider streets with more lanes tend to be more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Wider streets mean pedestrians have longer distances to cross, and these streets tend to have longer signal intervals that make pedestrians more likely to become impatient and cross on red. EMBARQ found that each additional meter of a pedestrian crossing increases the risk a pedestrian will be hit by 6%. When implementing a bus priority system, however, cities can break up wide roads on a transit corridor using central medians. A central median for pedestrians can reduce fatalities and injuries on a bus corridor by 35%.

EMBARQ also studied Mexico City’s implementation of Metrobús Line 4, which provides a prime example of how the design of a BRT corridor can improve traffic safety, even in a complex urban setting. Metrobús Line 4 is located in the city’s historic downtown, with narrow streets and large crowds of pedestrians. The presence of many pedestrians is common for BRT lines in many cities, and poses design challenges for bus corridors. The design of Metrobús Line 4 includes a number of significant safety provisions for pedestrians, including pedestrian signals, protected refuge islands, bollards to prevent cars from parking on sidewalks, and improvements to pavement and signage. Our research estimates that the overall design efforts on Line 4 alone could save 12 lives every year.

Adopting a Safe System approach

EMBARQ’s research on bus corridor safety is part of a larger effort to advance a Safe System approach to traffic safety. This approach recognizes that road users are fallible, and that their mistakes can be deadly – especially for vulnerable road users like children, the elderly, pedestrians, and cyclists. Beyond behavioral issues like drunk driving and seat belt and helmet use, traffic fatalities are the result of poor road design. The Safe System approach focuses on improving the planning and design of road systems to guard against human errors. With smarter design on bus corridors, cities can minimize road users’ risk and save lives worldwide.

Learn more about designing safer bus systems in the Traffic Safety of Bus Priority Systems report, made possible through funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Friday Fun: New gear at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show will make urban biking safer

Sat, 2015-01-03 03:54

How can cities ensure that cyclists and motorists safely share streets? A new technology-enabled bike helmet may be part of the solution. Photo by Ciclista/Flickr.

Is biking more on your list of resolutions for 2015? If so, you have probably considered what to do to be safer while biking in the city. Around the world, new policies and innovative technologies are being developed to support cycling as a safe alternative to driving a car. Even Volvo – the Sweden-based car company famous for working on safer cars – is working to make urban biking safer.

The company has teamed up with protective sports-gear manufacturer POC and telecom company Ericsson to develop an innovative new bike helmet that does a whole lot more than protect your head when you fall. This technological helmet communicates between bikers and motorists and warns both road users when a collision is imminent, even if they are hidden from sight. This video gives a glimpse into what the technology looks like from a cyclist’s perspective:

The new technology will be presented at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show – the world’s largest trade show – in Las Vegas from January 6 to 9. It builds on Volvo’s “cyclist detection system,” which uses radar technology to scan the area in front of a car and can automatically brake to prevent collisions with cyclists.

Technology improvements should be accompanied by policy changes

Volvo’s innovative bike helmet is one of many technologies being developed to make urban cycling safer. The Hammerhead – recently featured on TheCityFix – is a device that attaches to the front of a bike and uses blinking lights to guide cyclists to their destination, while also alerting them of potential hazards. Hövding is another creative technology that works like an automatic air bag for bikers. An even simpler innovation is bike lane tail lights that help protect cyclists by shining a laser bike lane on the pavement around them.

Creative technologies, however, are not enough to ensure that urban cycling is easy and safe. In the United States, about 700 cyclists are killed each year and an additional 50,000 are injured. Most of these accidents occur in cities. The risk is likely higher in lower- and middle-income countries. In New Delhi alone, for example, 78 cyclists were killed in 2012. People-oriented urban design that prioritizes safe biking infrastructure can help reduce these totals.

Sweden is helping lead the way with its Vision Zero initiative that aims to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on Swedish roads. As part of the initiative, the country has made over 12,000 crossings safer with clear markings and traffic calming measures, and has redesigned 1,500 km (932 miles) of roads. Along with other policy shifts, these efforts have helped Sweden achieve a low traffic fatality rate of three traffic-related deaths per 100,000 people. New York City adopted a similar “Vision Zero” approach. Thanks to policies like reducing speed limits and strengthening penalties for dangerous driving, the city recorded the fewest pedestrian fatalities in 2014 since 1910.

Supporting cycling has a wide-range of benefits for cities, from improving public health, to reducing car congestion and decreasing emissions. In combination with policies for people-oriented streets, creative new technologies to support safe cycling can be an important step towards sustainable life in cities.

Look out for Cities Safer by Design – a publication from EMBARQ/World Resources Institute (WRI) to be released later this year – which details how cities can save lives through people-oriented urban design.

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: Urban sustainability trends to watch

Mon, 2014-12-29 21:01

What moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? TheCityFix’s Year in Review recaps trends to watch for the urban future. Photo by Birger Hoppe/Flickr.

With urban growth come a number of opportunities to positively transform our cities. And while the unique challenges faced by city leaders are shaped by local contexts and histories, their actions reveal broader trends in how cities worldwide are changing to better serve their residents. Supported by a combination of political leadership, citizen innovation, and global knowledge networks, 2014 was a year of remarkable progress for urban sustainability.

So, what moved the dial on sustainable cities in 2014? These three major trends are ones to watch for the future of our cities.

Sustainable cities are on the international agenda

More than ever before, building socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable cities was a priority issue for the international community in 2014. Although discussions around global development typically take place among national leaders, action often begins at the city level. In many cases, the ambitious, innovative local actions city leaders take are taking have done more to advance sustainable development than national actions.

This focus on cities was reflected in multiple international arenas. For instance, the latest draft of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes an explicit goal to make cities “safe, inclusive, and sustainable.” The Medellín Declaration put forth at the end of the seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7) in March places equitable cities at the core of global development. Finally, climate negotiators at the U.N. Climate Summit and COP20 built strong consensus around the importance of cities in winning the fight against climate change.

These developments bode well for advancing urban sustainability as we move into a pivotal year for the international agenda. In 2015, we can expect to see the finalization of the SDGs and an international climate agreement at COP21, all leading into 2016’s HABITAT III conference on housing and sustainable urban development.

New and exciting innovations in urban mobility

More people in cities means we need mobility options that move beyond the personal car, and 2014 provided us with plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of sustainable urban mobility. From established solutions like bus rapid transit (BRT) scaling up to newer shared-use mobility systems like bike-sharing, car-sharing, and ridesharing taking hold in emerging economies, it was a year of major progress for cities built to move people, not cars.

Sustainable mobility solutions continue to grow as cities move away from auto-dependency. Graphic by EMBARQ (2013).

While the specific reasons vary from city to city, there are a few explanations for these growing trends that ring true across the board. For one, the number of new technologies to fuel citizen participation and innovation grew substantially in 2014, tapping the power of businesses and civil society to help city leaders advance sustainable mobility. Additionally, we’re also seeing a generational shift away from car culture towards more flexible mass transit and shared mobility systems. In places like Mexico, India, and Brazil, the preference for sustainable mobility options over cars has even been embedded in official policy.

Cities are growing, and this is a good thing

It almost goes without saying at this point, but our cities are growing at an unprecedented scale and pace. According to the 2014 revision of the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects, 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, up from 30% in 1950. Africa and Asia are currently the only regions with majority rural populations. They’re also the fastest urbanizing regions and are expected to be solidly urbanized by 2050. Asia is already home to 53% of the world’s urban population, and China – which boasts the world’s largest urban population – is building its national development plan around urbanization.

Does this rapid urban growth present challenges for creating sustainable, livable cities? Certainly, but it also means there are huge opportunities to improve quality of life for billions and boost global economic growth through city-level action. Not only that, but these goals go hand in hand. Analysis from the Better Growth, Better Climate report released in September shows that sustainable, connected urban development could save cities US$ 3 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 15 years. Cities may be the source of many challenges to sustainable, equitable development, but they’re part of the solution, too.

Trends we’re looking forward to in 2015 

Progress in 2014 does not mean we can rest on our laurels in the year to come. Rather, we at TheCityFix hope that 2015 will be a banner year for urban sustainability.

We hope mayors and city leaders will take bold actions on climate change, traffic safety, public health, urban equity and other chronic challenges for the world’s cities; we hope their citizens will not rest until they do. We hope to see more platforms for financing sustainable solutions and global networks to help cities make urban sustainability a reality. And of course, we hope to see many of you – our wonderful readers – again in 2015 as we continue to chronicle the latest trends, innovations, advances, and ideas in sustainable cities and urban mobility.

Check out the other entries in TheCityFix’s Year in Review series for more on the movements and moments that shaped our cities in 2014. 

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.

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.


New data indicates Brazil’s streets are getting safer

Tue, 2014-11-25 01:55

Preliminary figures released by the National Health System (SUS) indicate that in 2013, the number of fatalities in Brazilian traffic fell 10% compared to 2012. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brazil.

From 2009 to 2012, the number of traffic deaths on Brazilian streets has increased gradually each year – peaking in 2012, when 44,800 people lost their lives in traffic crashes. However, preliminary data from the National Health System (SUS) indicates this trend may be changing. According to the data, there were 40,500 traffic fatalities in 2013, a 10% reduction compared to 2012.

Not surprisingly, 2013 marked the start of stricter alcohol laws in the country. At the end of 2012, an update of an existing law established that no amount of alcohol is tolerated when driving. In addition, the law expanded the acceptable means of proving that drivers consumed alcohol, which now includes clinical examination, expert opinion, video, witnesses, and other evidence.

Rio de Janeiro’s traffic mortality rate is 15 per 100,000 inhabitants. Despite this high figure, the speed limit on large circulation areas such as Av. Vieira Souto (shown above) remains a dangerous 70 km/h (43 mph). Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brazil.

A key strategy to reduce traffic fatalities in any city is reducing speed limits. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, for example, the speed limit is a dangerous 70 km/h (43 mph), and mortality rates in these cities were 13 and 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively.

This relationship between high speed limits and traffic fatalities has led many cities to reduce traffic speeds. Paris, for example, has expanded its 30 km/h (19 mph) zones, and New York recently signed a law establishing a 40 km/h (25 mph) speed limit on city streets.

If preliminary data from SUS is unaltered, Brazil’s traffic mortality rate – which peaked at 23 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants – is now 20.1 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. This number, however, is still extremely high compared to the average developed country. In Sweden, for example, only three people per 100,000 inhabitants die each year. In Brazil, unfortunately, data shows that residents are more likely to die in a traffic accident than by homicide or cancer.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil


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