Transforming Transportation 2020 Day 2: Can Mobility Be a Bridge to the New Economy?

WRI’s Ani Dasgupta and the World Bank’s Guangzhe Chen close out Transforming Transportation 2020 in Washington.

“All the things we want to do [in transport] are good for the climate. The question is how do we get there? How can transport be the champion?” said Ani Dasgupta, global director of WRI Ross Center, on the final day of Transforming Transportation 2020. Sustainable transport as the bridge to a new, greener, more equitable economy was the central provocation of this year’s event, held against the backdrop of an escalating global climate crisis.

The need for change is clear, said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI, who challenged the audience of more than 1,200 policymakers, business leaders, development practitioners, experts and advocates. Transport must become cleaner, safer, reach more people and be more productive.

More than three-quarters of urban dwellers lack reliable access to at least one core service, like water or electricity. Over a million people die in road crashes every year, mostly in developing countries. Air pollution, much of it from automobiles, causes even more deaths. And traffic congestion costs hundreds of billions in productivity.

The transport sector can be the link between climate ambitions and economic, health and equity goals, said Guangzhe Chen, global director for the Transport Practice at the World Bank. But today’s approach to building infrastructure and designing transport systems and policies has to be different than in the past.

Maruxa Cardama, secretary general of the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport, said we need “a revolution” in financing schemes.

In a lively debate about climate change mitigation and the role of technology, the one thing panelists could agree on is that innovation is required both in technology and behavior change. Progress in only one sphere or the other will be insufficient.

“We cannot just electrify the problem,” said François Bausch, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg. He said that what’s required is nothing short of a complete systems change.

The CEO of Samoa’s Land Transport Authority, Galumalemana Taátialeoitiiti A. Tutuvanu-Schwalger, said her small-island nation, threatened by rising seas and stronger storms, requires more human capacity, not just seawalls and better roads. Without it, transport infrastructure cannot truly be resilient.

Oscar de Buen Richkarday, former president of the World Road Association, agreed, saying resilience is not only about minimizing the effect of storms but lowering their cost. That means training road managers to think about choices between preventative vs. corrective measures.

The mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr addressed the audience by video conference and outlined the major changes in climate that are now challenging the city. Over the last decade, flooding has become a consistent problem, exacerbated by deforestation. One landslide in 2017 killed more than 1,100 people. Regular flooding also disrupts mobility on the city’s already crowded streets. Aki-Sawyerr said the city is working on immediate adaptations, like better drainage, but also introducing systematic changes, like a cable car to link neighborhoods without using more road space.

Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is another city facing recurring flooding and has had to make systematic changes to planning, said Amin Subekti, head of the governor’s delivery unit for the capital.

Many panelists agreed that gender differences need to be better incorporated into transport planning. The World Bank’s Arianna Legovini presented research from Rio de Janeiro on sex-segregated metro and train cars showing about 50% of women reported being physically harassed in public.

“We are always talking about what to do — we need to talk more about how to do it,” said Måns Lönnroth of the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, who keynoted a panel on how to create bold reforms. “Politics makes all the difference,” he said, comparing cities where reforms have failed and where they have been successful.

Reforms might be unpopular, said Maria Vassilakou, former deputy mayor of Vienna, who said she was once the “most hated woman in Vienna.” But transformation is possible. Today, Vienna is ranked among the best cities in the world for public transport and livability.

“Transport is not just about building roads,” said the World Bank’s Guangzhe Chen. “It’s about building thriving economies, communities, and connecting people to a better life.”

This year’s event was the biggest yet, with 1,200 participants and another 31,000 viewers online. There were more than 27 million Twitter impressions using #TTDC20. Join the conversation — we want to hear from you!

Schuyler Null is Communications Manager for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is a Communications Specialist at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Hillary Smith is a Communications Assistant for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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