In cities around the world, urban residents want to live well, with access to jobs, education, healthcare and public space. However, because many of our current practices are inflicting burdensome social and economic costs on our cities, we need to increase our focus on efficient solutions and sustainable urban development.
Cities play the role of laboratories, experimenting with innovative solutions to mobility challenges that have arisen due to widespread car reliance. METROPOLIS—a global association of major metropolises—hosted its annual conference, Live the City, this year in Buenos Aires from May 18-21. In a session on sustainable urban mobility, public transit representatives from Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Johannesburg, and Barcelona presented stories of how their cities are experimenting with sustainable transport solutions.
Here are five stories of cities making steps toward a people-oriented future, committing to moving people more efficiently and equitably.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Preparing to host the Olympics in 2016, Rio has been developing low-carbon solutions to urban mobility challenges and is looking to become a globally recognized leader in the field. A multi-modal system of transport is constantly expanding to serve the city’s 6.3 million residents—including quality bike infrastructure, a cable car system, and a bus rapid transit (BRT) network. The BRT system alone serves nine million people and saves people 7.7 million hours in travel time every month, replacing an average of 126 cars and reducing carbon emissions by 38 percent in some corridors. This year, Rio also won the Sustainable Transport Award for its work in sustainable mobility.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Winner of the Sustainable Transport Award in 2014, Argentina’s capital has developed a sustainable urban mobility plan that prioritizes active transport and road safety. One of the measures, for example, targets 36 city intersections to reduce the risk of accidents. The city has also developed an urban design manual, the Street Design Guide for Buenos Aires, which outlines methodologies for planning pedestrian-friendly streets and implementing traffic calming interventions.
Seoul, South Korea
An iconic park lies in the heart of South Korea’s capital. The Cheonggye Stream Park provides the city with valuable public space that was once the site of an urban highway. Returning the city back to citizens and revitalizing the local community, the park was developed because the highway was costing the city economically and socially.
Barcelona’s urban mobility plan—which includes a series of reforms between 2013 and 2018—prioritizes pedestrians. Some of the plan’s measures include expanding sidewalk access and comfort, improving pedestrian infrastructure near school areas, and targeting public perception of active transport with outreach initiatives and communications campaigns. In addition to the pedestrian, the city is focusing on cyclists and public transport. Barcelona’s plan also includes air pollution targets below those set by the European Union and 20-30 percent reduction targets for traffic fatalities and injuries.
Johannesburg, South Africa
The South African city will make history this year by hosting the second-ever EcoMobility World Festival. For an entire month, one of Johannesburg’s districts will go car-free. The first Festival took places in Suwon, South Kore in 2013, and now the South African city of 1.4 million residents is about to spur transformation at a local level. The initiative demonstrates courage and determination on behalf of the city to further the movement toward low-carbon mobility and better quality of life.