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2011 Sustainable Transport Award: Developing Cities Serve as Model of Progress for the U.S.
Polly Trottenberg was the keynote speaker at last night's Sustainable Transport Award Ceremony. Photo by Aaron Minnick.

Polly Trottenberg was the keynote speaker at last night's Sustainable Transport Award Ceremony. Photo by Aaron Minnick.

Last night, Guangzhou, China was announced as the winner of the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award. The seventh annual award, created by the  Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), recognizes a city that made the most progress in improving mobility, reducing emissions and improving safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists. Nominees were chosen by an international steering committee of organizations that specialize in urban planning and sustainable transport, including EMBARQ, the producer of this blog.

“Each year we see more and more cities demonstrating how sustainable transport is making cities better places to live,” event moderator Enrique Peñalosa said. The president of ITDP and former mayor of Bogotá has motivated much of the global progress in sustainable transportation as a result of his inspiring work to build world-class transit infrastructure.

Timely Message from Polly Trottenberg

Polly Trottenberg, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) gave the keynote address at the award ceremony, held in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Hilton hotel. In 2009, New York City became the first U.S. city to win the Sustainable Transport Award. Although no U.S. city was nominated for this year’s award, Trottenberg acknowledged, USDOT is looking closely at how international cities’ transit programs are progressing. Trottenberg also took time to explain how the U.S. agency is making strides in the face of unprecedented challenges.

“We have spent the last two years debating how to move our national transportation system forward,” she said. With budget deficits, this goal has become more of challenge, even as Americans increasingly demand a less energy intensive transportation system. Over the next 40 years, the country will have an additional 100 million citizens who will likely demand more efficient and outcome-based solutions.

Though these challenges are massive, Trottenberg pointed to a few ways the U.S. is changing its focus and approach to transportation.

Highlighting USDOT’s  partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Trottenberg reiterated what we previously blogged about from the EPA National Smart Growth Awards: the fact that the three agencies are aligning their activities, budgets and infrastructure investments with the goal of developing livable, healthful and sustainable communities is a bold and groundbreaking approach.

Programs like bus rapid transit, inner city circulators and environmentally sustainable rail and waterway freight are big indicators of the country’s commitment to creating thriving communities through transportation, Trottenberg said. She also showcased the competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program that has funded some exciting and important multimodal projects across the country.

The mood was hopeful among the distinguished audience of transportation experts from around the world, many of whom are in town for this week’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) 90th Annual Meeting. President Barack Obama is expected to speak about the nation’s infrastructure during tonight’s annual State of the Union address. Last year, he emphasized high-speed rail, the funds for which many states have rejected. The challenge this year will be to prioritize new projects while reauthorizing a new transportation bill, according to The New York Times:

…Mr. Obama is recalibrating his message and trying to make the case that public works are not just about short-term construction jobs, but about long-term economic competitiveness. He is increasingly arguing that spending money to rebuild the nation’s roads, rails, ports, power grids and even broadband networks will be necessary if America is to be able to compete in the global economy. And he is expected to repeat his call for creating a National Infrastructure Bank, which would choose public works projects by their merits.