From the director's chair: Sustainable urban transport solutions worth spreading
The BIG bus network in Bangalore is an example of an integrated transport solution that offers better accessibility through connectivity between transport modes and networks. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

The BIG bus network in Bangalore is an example of an integrated transport solution that offers better accessibility through connectivity between transport modes and networks. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

Holger Dalkmann, Director of EMBARQ – the producer of TheCityFix – wrote about the importance of developed and emerging cities improving sustainable transport in the 2014 Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book. Read his thoughts on growing trends contributing to sustainable cities worldwide.


Adopting sustainable urban transport solutions worldwide has enormous potential to create more inclusive, safe and prosperous cities. The need is urgent: an additional 350 million people will move into cities by 2030 and – without intervention – 670 million more light duty vehicles will be on the world’s roads by the same year. Not only do these vehicles spew greenhouse gases (GHGs) – according to the IPCC, transport is responsible for 23% of energy-related GHG emissions – they increase traffic crashes and congestion, decrease physical activity and public health, inhibit access to goods and opportunities in cities, and worsen local air pollution. The recent release of the World Health Organization’s urban air quality database particularly highlights the air quality challenge, emphasizing that many countries needs urgent action to scale up public transport, reduce dependence on cars, improve vehicle technology and fuel quality, and promote walking and cycling.

There is promise, though, in the adoption of sustainable mobility solutions. C40 Cities, the network of megacities taking action to reduce GHG emissions, recently positioned sustainable transport as key to making cities more livable while reducing their carbon footprint. The Climate Action in Megacities 2.0 report suggests a paradigm shift towards such measures, highlighting the 1,534 actions (out of roughly 8,000 total) C40 cities took to address urban transport, including 186 actions to develop better walking and biking infrastructure and 29 to build or improve bus rapid transit (BRT) systems.

While “traditional” solutions – walking, cycling, and public transport – are core for enabling accessibility, new sustainable mobility solutions are necessary. The future lays in the integration and optimization of the best available options. Some of these have quickly emerged from concept to widespread adoption.

The BRT concept, born in Latin America in the 1970s, has since spread to 168 cities, with the majority of these cities adopting BRT after 2000. However, the need for continued investment in BRT systems across the globe remains. The International Energy Agency has called for the construction of an additional 25,000 km in BRT corridors by 2050 in order to help limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.

Urban societies as a whole – more than half the world’s population – are still far away from achieving what is needed. Only a radical departure from business-as-usual can expand access to opportunity for urban populations while reducing the transport sector’s contributions to air pollution, traffic fatalities, deteriorating public health, and climate change. These issues indicate both the progress still necessary within the transport sector, and more importantly the crucial role policymakers, city officials, business leaders, and other change agents can play in advancing sustainable transport measures that combat these epidemics.

Bringing emerging cities into the conversation

In the last decade, many cities in developed economies took far-reaching action: Vancouver launched its Greenest City Action Plan and now has 255 km of bike lanes, while London created a congestion charge and focused on the accessibility of public transport, for example. Growing mid-size cities in emerging economies are the key to a sustainable future. These cities have the opportunity to leapfrog car-dependent urban development and build mass transit systems and non-motorized transport facilities that integrate land use planning, support public space, and connect people to goods and opportunities in cities. For example, Ahmedabad, a thriving industrial and commercial center in Gujarat, India, will become a megacity in the next 25 years. If it grows dispersed and prioritizes auto-mobility, the resulting fatalities would be above 5,000 and GHG emissions from transport would exceed 12 million tons per year. But if Ahmedabad grows compact and with multiple transport modes, fatalities will be four times less, and GHG emissions from transport six times less.

Cities prioritizing “avoid” and “shift”, over “improve”

Emerging cities can follow a straightforward path to sustainable urbanization: avoid-shift-improve. First, cities should “avoid” car-dependency: reduce the length, need for, and number of trips in private cars. “Avoid” cannot be achieved without smart, compact urban development and access to high quality sustainable transport. For those trips that can’t be avoided, we must “shift” trips towards the most sustainable mode, almost always walking, cycling or public transport. And finally, “improve,” is about technology’s place in transport, helping to improve fuel efficiency, route efficiency, and more. An unbalanced approach only goes so far: for instance, no matter how fuel-efficient a car is, it still contributes to congestion and increases the risk of traffic crashes; or a focus on land use planning alone does not solve for the supply of sustainable mobility options. Coordination between different government agencies – transport, housing, finance, and others – can accelerate the adoption of sustainable measures, lower the cost, and increase the benefits for cities.

Change agents – policymakers, planners, city leaders, and catalyzing non-governmental organizations – must develop localized strategies to make these solutions actionable. This can come via adapting existing ideas to local context, or by developing new, localized solutions. Sustainable transport has many examples of South-North transfer, including the growth of BRT in Europe after its birth and development in Latin America, South Africa, and India. North-South transfer, for example in adapting congestion pricing in London, to economies in the global South also has potential. The Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to develop a platform for collaboration between North and South, and take action in the year of the New York United Nations Climate Summit, and in the lead to 2015’s important decisions on Sustainable Development Goals and Climate.


To read the full article and access the rest of the 2014 Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book, see below: 

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