ADB Transport Forum 2012: Full Speed Toward Inclusive and Sustainable Mobility

As the urban population of Asia waxes, our director reflects on the ADB Transport Forum. Photo by Flickmor.

“We cannot continue as we are,” echoed the participants at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Transport Forum 2012 held in Manila earlier this month. Demographic trends around the world indicate that 44 million people will move to cities every year. China alone would need to build 3 cities larger than Sydney per year until 2030 to keep pace with its urbanization. Urban and economic growth creates new opportunities for people, however, the pressures of increased motorization and its associated impacts on congestion, pollution, lack of physical activity and GHG emissions require immediate attention: several participants at the forum agreed that business as usual cannot be sustained.  It is important to decouple human and economic growth from motorization and environmental damage.

Since 2010, ADB has introduced an operational plan for its landmark Sustainable Transport Initiative, which has gradually effected change in the transport space. This year, another boon to sustainable transport inaugurated the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development: the ADB, along with the African Development Bank, CAF – Development Bank of Latin America, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank pledged USD 175  billion over the next ten years to implement sustainable transport globally.

At this year´s Transport Forum the shift away from business-as-usual was made clear.  Having attended these meetings in years past, I can feel the change. While keeping important themes for regional integration, like cross-border issues, the rest of the conference evolved and captured the inherent value inclusive and sustainable transport with interesting innovations in style and topics of discussion.

The event was interactive and the audience was asked to vote on the themes discussed; several sessions were dialogues rather than just standard power point presentations and even Elmo made an appearance in the name of road safety. The organizers brought together a whole spectrum of themes: from urban development to mass transit and non-motorized mobility; from south-south cooperation to health, from innovative fuels to rail, and innovative finance.  There were a few debates, and we witnessed the video of a “transport modes race”, in which the biker was faster than the mass transit user and even much faster than the car user in Manila, even without adequate cycling facilities (congrats to the brave biker Lloyd Wright).

The tone for the forum was set in the opening speech and continued until the closing panel discussion. In her opening speech, Catherine Cameroon, Director at Agulhas, raised the issue of climate change and how close we are to self-destruction. If the temperature were to increase by 4 degrees, wheat and maize yields would be reduced by 40%, sea levels would increase by as much as 80cm by 2100, rice production would come down by 30% and hottest days would be as much as 6 degree warmer over eastern China. She showed the urgency of the paradigm shift, and called for a revolution to tackling climate change. There was an inspirational keynote speech by Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, showing the change of paradigms in practice with lower cost, rapid implementation projects focused on the pedestrian, the bicyclist, and the user of public transport.  This strong sentiment continued until the final panel discussion where participants voted between revolutionary and evolutionary approaches to tackle climate change. While the evolutionary approach was voted as the better approach, the participants also recognized that investing in roads alone would not do. While roads are necessary for freight movement, and to connect rural areas, investments in urban highways are no longer recognized as sustainable (in line with the ITDP-EMBARQ publication “The Life and Death of Urban Highways”.)

EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, was pleased to be partner with ADB in this important regional event.  We participated in the discussions about Road Safety, South-South Cooperation and Urban Development; were able to learn and interact throughout the program with the participants and partner organizations like Ministry of Urban Development, India; CAF Development Bank of Latin America, CAI Asia, GIZ, UNCRD,  SLoCaT and  ITDP, VTPI,  and TRL, among others , and benefited from a training on shared bicycle systems. ADB launched its bike sharing system during the event.

Road Safety

A panel with Xiaohong Yang (ADB Road Safety Action Plan), Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah (University of Malaysia), Holger Dalkmann (EMBARQ), and Elmo and Grover (Sesame Street and FIA Foundation road safety spokespersons) focused on road safety issues. Yang indicated that safe, affordable, environmentally friendly, and accessible transport is part of ADB´s vision of sustainable transport. She recognized that the problem in Asia is urgent:  85% of the 3500 persons that die every day due to road traffic incidents are from low and middle income communities. Recognizing this, ADB, as part of its action plan, requires all new road development projects to undergo rigorous safety design audits.

Professor Ahmed Farhan Sadullah presented the case of Malaysia and their experience in targeting a reduction in road fatalities. In the past, the country used the traditional approach focused on mobility, users, crash management, etc. Now they focus on the outcomes.  Instead of just placing public transport inside the pillar of safer roads and mobility, they expanded the list to highlight the importance of public transport as a pillar on its own.

EMBARQ brought an additional dimension to the traditional approach to improve road safety, focusing on risks.  We showed worldwide evidence on the importance of reducing exposure (Vehicle-Km Traveled), and indicated that the most efficient way of improving safety is through the introduction of well-designed facilities for pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit, as well as the land-use and transport integration that reduces the trip distances and fosters the use of non-motorized modes. Our guidelines on safe bus corridor design were also highlighted, welcoming commentaries from experts and practitioners in Asia.

The final presentation featured Elmo and Grover, indicating the importance of education in road safety, particularly of young road users.  The overall session was a step in the right direction: clear plans from ADB to support its member countries; innovative approaches from Malaysia and EMBARQ countries, and the key element of education to help improve road safety.

South-South Cooperation

Kiyoshi Nakamitsu (ADB) and Luis Toro (CAF), presented their recently signed agreement to cooperate, learn and share knowledge across Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America.  The first product of this cooperation will be a virtual study tour, in which practitioners and decision makers from both sides of the world can experience good sustainable transport practices.  This will save some travel carbon in the comfort of their offices or homes.  The project was presented by Jorge Kogan (CAF), who also leads the first urban mobility observatory, a repository of complete data on 20 cities in Latin America.

The presentation was followed by south-south cooperation experiences in practice.  Andre Dzikus (UN-Habitat) shared lessons from the East Africa Sustainable Transport Project; Dario Hidalgo (EMBARQ), presented the rapid growth of BRT and integrated systems in Latin America, Asia and Africa, owing to the sharing of information and expertise; and Bernardo Baranda (ITDP), presented lessons in non-motorized transport from Latin America, particularly the rise of bike-sharing in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro.

Urban Development

In a session on Eco-Cities and Integrated planning, experiences from Sweden and India were shared by Tony Clark (Government of Sweden) and Sanjay Sridhar (EMBARQ India). Funding opportunities for integrated land use and transport project planning and development was presented by by Emiel Wegelin (CDIA) and Amy Leung (ADB Green Cities Initiative).

Tony Clark presented the Symbio-City concept, a comprehensive way of looking at the city as a whole and finding benefits through synergies in urban functions, like turning waste into energy instead of landfills, producing drinking water from household wastewater, and turning all the transport in Stockholm into green transport – 35% of the cars sold are green, all inner-city buses operate on biogas or ethanol, congestion taxes 62% accepted, 760km bike lanes, 64% share of public transport going downtown.

Sanjay Sridhar, presented practical cases in the connection of transit and urban development.  In Naya Raipur, a new city and capital of the state of Chhattisgarh, and Hubli-Dharwad, twin cities in Karnataka, EMBARQ India is working with the development authorities to re-design these cities by demonstrating best practices in transit oriented development and using transit as the catalyst for better urban development, while benefiting from increased ridership. The concept is to transform the master-plans – which feature wide roads, large blocks and low internal connectivity, into more accessible, friendly with pedestrians and bicyclists, with better shape and public spaces, while increasing the number of residential or commercial units.  These ideas are extended to better pedestrian connections for the new metro rail projects in Bangalore and Mumbai, as well as improved people oriented designs for new developments around Bangalore.


The forum has brought sustainable transportation to the forefront. ADB has redefined the way they will operate and finance transport projects, with emphasis in safety, inclusion and environmental protection. A development bank taking the lead might provide the necessary impetus for partner members to implement sustainable transport and urban development initiatives. Collaboration across developing banks also provides great opportunities for adaptation of good practices for similar conditions.  As some panelists and participants noted the good words and intentions have to follow more action on the ground. Continuing that momentum, working with several cities in India and China, and across the region, is our challenge in collaboration with ADB and multiple partners.

Dario Hidalgo, Srikanth Shastry, and Divya Kottadiel collaborated with this piece.

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