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.