On Monday, January 21, ITDP board president Enrique Peñalosa addressed a standing-room crowd of more than 80 at United Nations headquarters on the pressing need to promote sustainable transport as a means to poverty eradication. Mr. Peñalosa spoke on the need for a rethinking of transportation priorities, particularly in developing cities, where the majority of the population are often subject to unsafe and inefficient transportation options, while resources are diverted to build roads and highways for private car owners.
“Road space is the most valuable commodity a city has, and what do we do with it? We give it to private cars, and make people compete with cars for walking space,” said Mr. Peñalosa, “Sidewalks are the most important element of a democratic culture. Good sidewalks are the most important thing a city needs to have, but the most [politically] difficult to make happen.” Taking space away from cars is political, he explained, and difficult, as car owners have much more political power than pedestrians in most cities. Yet, building cities for people instead of cars is essential to keeping cities moving. “Trying to solve traffic jams by building bigger roads is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline,” he said, “The only way you can keep cities moving is to take space away from cars, and move more people with surface transport.” Subways can be part of the solution, he said, but even in cities with massive metro systems, such as London, “buses move 64 percent more people than the metro.”
The event, “Lunchtime Discussion on Sustainable Transport: Poverty Eradication through Sustainable Transport”, was organized by the UN missions of Thailand and The Netherlands in cooperation with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and was a follow-up to a panel discussion held at the Netherlands Mission in November. The panel included Mr. Peñalosa, Robert Guild of the Asian Development Bank, Michael Replogle, Managing Director for Policy and Founder of ITDP, Cornie Huizenga, of the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SloCaT), Ambassador Herman Schaper, the permanent representative of the Netherlands to the UN, and Andreas Kopp of the World Bank. Attendees included officials from the UN missions of several dozen countries, including a number of UN ambassadors.
The event is part of an ongoing effort to ensure recognition of sustainable transport’s vital role in sustainable development in the post-2015 global development agenda, and to leverage the $175 billion committed to more sustainable transport by the world’s 8 largest multilateral development banks at Rio+20. 2015 is the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, targets for poverty alleviation and social development.
“When transport is subsumed under energy policy, key elements like traffic safety get left aside. When transport is subsumed as one element of sustainable cities, then intercity mobility and freight are sidelined,” said Cornie Huizenga of SLoCaT, a partnership of 68 organizations including MDBs, NGOs, UN agencies, national research centers, and others. “Sustainable transport needs to be recognized as its own sustainable development goal.”
Mr. Peñalosa said that good quality sidewalks for pedestrians is “the most important indicator of a democratic city”, and discussed how, as mayor of Bogotá, he was almost impeached for taking cars off the sidewalks.
“Transport, like energy, is an essential enabler of poverty eradication. Meeting these targets is not possible without improving access to jobs, markets, schools and hospitals. This will require more investment to address the mobility needs of the poor, who mostly use public transport, walk or cycle,” said Michael Replogle, Global Policy Director of ITDP. “Sustainable transport goals and indicators need to be an integral part of sustainable development goals, enabling better targeted transport spending by national and local governments and MDBs,” he said.