Brazil is in a state of political upheaval and economic crisis, and just one year after the Olympics, the situation is not much better in Rio de Janeiro. The state government is bankrupt and a new conservative mayor is pushing back on the city’s progressive gains. However, there is a powerful voice in the chambers of city council, one with a biography different from the deep pockets and private school education of your typical Carioca politician.
Marielle Franco was born and raised in Maré, a complex of favelas on a tidal flat near Rio’s international airport. She became a mother at age 18 and raised the child on her own, managing a scholarship to a prestigious university. From a job as a preschool teacher, she got drawn into politics and ten years ago began working for the upstart leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL in Portuguese). Last year, she won a city council seat – one of just six women on the 51 member council – and represents the voice, and daily lived experience, of the city’s black and brown women. For example, she has pushed for Rio buses to stop anywhere along a route so that women have a shorter, and safer, walk home at night.
ITDP: The theme of MOBILIZE Santiago was “just and inclusive cities become the new normal.” To what extent does Rio de Janeiro reach this ideal?
Marielle Franco: Rio de Janeiro is not a fair, democratic or egalitarian city and unfortunately, with regard to mobility, it remains an unequal city as well. There is an investment in some [richer] areas, for example, Center and South Zone, to the detriment of a part of the West Zone, speaking specifically of the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz and Cosmos, for example.
What did you learn from Santiago’s experience here at MOBILIZE?
I’m impressed with Santiago. It’s a city where you can experience urbanity on foot and experience a good integration of modes, especially the subway. It was always surprising to look at the Andes from a subway station as well! MOBILIZE was also a great opportunity to talk to people who have been involved in urban intervention projects, actions, planning and research.
How does the experience of being born and raised in Maré give you a different perspective from most people who work for the city?
From lived experience. In the day-to-day of those who need to take long commutes, a large part of the everyday occurs on buses and in the subway. The waiting hours, the difficulty to get information on the best route to take and the experience of taking the wrong route and having to make unnecessary transfers happened often. Until I went to university, I did not know the city even though I was born and always lived in Rio. Access to opportunities expands when you expand your knowledge and explore the world. Otherwise, if you do not have these experiences of how to get to the hospital, for example, or to the movies, or university, if you only stay in one part of town, you take transit less and have less experience with the city. This is not only my experience- hundreds of thousands of women do this every day, struggling to get around the city. This makes me more qualified to demand action from the city and to change public policy based on those experiences.
Rio has built a lot of transport over the last five years, specifically BRT. How do you assess the impact of these megaprojects on the lives of low-income communities and residents in the city?
For a moment of great investment in urban projects and after such major events, the expectations were for better results. But what do we see today? The choices made have not been discussed with the population as they should, and despite the promise of increased circulation, I think unfortunately what has remained as an [Olympic] legacy is a greater violation of social rights, and not a more democratic circulation by the city.
What would you change about the way Rio goes about urban planning in order to improve the lives of low-income people in Rio?
To start, I think the guidelines for greater access and rights to the city are already in a master plan that is not followed. I think the challenge is to think from the demands that already exist, to rethink favela priorities – sanitation, for example, and other fundamental rights. This, of course, is part of integrated planning. With what is provided in the master plan, we must build dialogue with the population, which is after all who uses and who seeks the services. It is fundamental to think, for example, “is it really a priority to expand line four of the subway to the” Recreio dos Bandeirantes neighborhood? “This is a proposal that has been reinforced by the municipal transportation secretary and the deputy mayor. It is time to look at the whole of the city, and with this logic, benefit a larger population. Investments should focus on another part of the west, which is not Recreio. It is a question of how to start from a place of the demands we have- the demands of favelas for basic rights.
How are Brazilian cities functioning within the current political climate and in the midst of the economic crisis?
I think Brazilian cities are undergoing a reorientation. The crisis is also a creative opportunity. If you have difficulty then you also need to reorganize. For example, look at the self-organizing of motorcycle taxi drivers or of social movements themselves. The current political situation interferes directly in the lives of all. Unfortunately, the experience of living in public spaces and circulating around the city is impaired, but I think we can make a qualitative leap thinking about the alternatives. That is if there is a dialogue between civil society and public power, if there is planning, if we talk about financing. I hope that in the crisis we can think about bettering the coming years by building a more accessible city and reducing travel time, guaranteeing the right to the city in its completeness.
This interview is the part of the MOBILIZE Santiago Speaker Series. In this series, we will feature interviews with speakers and researchers from VREF’s Future Urban Transport where they will discuss their work in sustainable transport and reflecting on MOBILIZE Santiago’s theme: Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal. To learn more about MOBILIZE Santiago and next year’s summit in Dar es Salaam, visit mobilizesummit.org.
According to the Department of Transport Statistics, more than 18,500 children (under 14 years old) die of traffic accidents in China every year – 2.5 times the number in Europe and 2.6 times in U.S.A. Among many others, poor travel conditions is a key component leading to these tragedies. While many cities around the world have started to address issues of safety in transport, the first in China is the city of Changsha, located in the south-central region of the country. Due to Changsha’s awareness of the importance of creating better transport infrastructure for children and ITDP China’s advocacy, the Changsha Urban Planning Bureau included a Child Friendly City (CFC) initiative into the Changsha Long-term Development Plan 2050, and began to launch a series of transit improvement projects last year. Now, with ITDP’s assistance, the City of Changsha is not only the first to address the issue, it is the first in the nation to officially be equipped with leading CFC measures. Many other Chinese cities are expected to follow Changsha’s footsteps to implement innovative actions and become child friendly.
Since the last International Children’s Day in June 2016, ITDP China has been working for the Changsha CFC project with Changsha Urban Planning Bureau, Shenzhen New Land Tool (SZNLT), and many other local design institutes. ITDP China provided technical support including preliminary training for government officials and local design institutes, and the professional review for 10 pilot demonstration school proposals. The proposals included 186 implementation items, including 121 short-term items with a 19.085 million Yuan investment and 65 long-term items with a 108 million Yuan investment. These improvements consist of walking spaces, crossings, traffic organization, transport infrastructure, and public spaces around schools, aiming to establish a better environment for children’s studying, living, and playing.
The Changsha CFC School Area Urban Planning and Design Guide, mostly created by ITDP China and SZNLT, was issued by the Changsha Urban Planning Bureau late last year to provide design guidelines at the city level for any newly-developed or regenerated school development.
ITDP China has also assisted the Changsha Urban Planning Bureau and local design institutes to host a series of CFC communication activities, including classes open to the public in the Changsha Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and presentations to the Urban Planning Bureau, the Education Bureau, local design institutes, etc., to advocate for children’s rights. As a result, adequate resource commitments and budget analysis for children from the city government was approved creating a lot of media and public buzz. One of the most exciting results from the campaign has been the public participation, particularly from the children, during the design process.
As Changsha Urban Planning Bureau said, by International Children’s Day 2017 (June), Changsha city will implement improvements to a wider area around the schools, including implementing a refuge island, parking demand management, traffic organization for peak hours, sign integration, and public space upgrades. These improvements were implemented as promised, showcased in the images below.
Changsha’s contribution to CFC, including this project, which won the 2017 China’s CFC Community Service Projects Award issued by the China Child-friendly Community Work Committee in April, has inspired a lot of Chinese cities’ awareness of CFC. ITDP China was invited for a second time to participate in the Shenzhen CFC development on demonstration projects in communities, schools, hospitals, and libraries. More technical support like transport environment design, public space proposals, and international best practices will be provided. ITDP aims to promote more CFC demonstration projects in other Chinese cities, and cooperate with national institutes to formulate a national CFC guideline. This way, ITDP can continue to help create cities where all people can travel safely because when cities are designed with children at the focus, they are safe, sustainable environments for everyone.
This year, the MOBILIZE Summit in Santiago, Chile was a call to action on our theme of “just and inclusive cities become the new normal”. This vision of mobility and community demands for transport policy advantages to be experienced more equitably throughout neighborhoods in our cities. We must consider how people really travel, and how goods are delivered. Just and inclusive cities promise broader distribution of resources and therefore, justice.
Santiago won the 2017 Sustainable Transport Award, the criteria for hosting MOBILIZE, by making improvements to walking conditions in the downtown area, enhancing access with transit-priority streets, and adding new kilometers of cycling lanes. In a region where much of the infrastructure has been car-oriented, Santiago is in the process of reprioritizing to improve access to the city. Walking is how humans naturally get around, but walking infrastructure continues to be neglected at crisis levels internationally due to the continued emphasis on moving cars as fast as possible. Inequality in city design produces concentrations of wealth and poverty, and two populations that experience the city very differently. Making difficult trade-offs over issues such as parking and urban freight delivery in how street space is used is part of the challenge. Santiago is confronting a history of class divisions, showing how much progress can be made when city leadership along with a coalition of supporters gives budget and policy priority to low-carbon, inclusive modes.
The MOBILIZE Summit brought together researchers, practitioners, civil society groups, private sector stakeholders, international financial institutions and philanthropies to see first-hand how Santiago developed more sustainable mobility projects. It also gave participants a chance to share ideas about the challenges Santiago and other cities still face around the theme of inclusivity.
Accelerating the implementation of sustainable transport is the best available solution to the dire forecasts of global climate change, the challenges of social inequality and the urgency cities face in coping with rapid urbanization. Santiago initiated several efforts gearing up for and following up from the MOBILIZE Summit:
- César Rodríguez, Secretary of Planning in the Municipality of Santiago, announced that the city will support a project that decks approximately three kilometers of the Central Highway, a sunken multi-lane thoroughfare, to create an at-grade public park next to downtown Santiago.
- A new bidding process to operate Transantiago buses is coming. The process which is handled by the Ministry of Transportation includes half of the routes and buses of Santiago. The new firms are expected to be announced by March 2018.
- A new Metro Line was announced just before the event. The line will run east-west covering 25 kilometers and considering 21 stations.
- Mayor Felipe Alessandri announced two weeks later that three blocks of Bandera Street in the heart of downtown Santiago will be devoted to pedestrians and cyclists.
Cities can not be places that only the privileged get to enjoy, but the poor must endure. This, we know from history, is unsustainable and has led to political upheaval. The decision about whether a street is used primarily by private cars, heavy trucks or shared demands is a decision made by politicians, not technical experts. It is possible for cities to be places where individuals can pursue their own goals and also benefit from inclusive, compact urban design that fosters social cohesion. For the sake of our society, our economies, and our environments, we must keep involving more perspectives outside of our typical transport bubbles to make just, equitable cities the new normal.
Director of Global & U.S. Initiatives & Head of MOBILIZE
This post is available in Spanish on ITDP Mexico’s website here.
On July 11, Miguel Ángel Mancera, Mayor of Mexico City announced the “limitation of parking spaces in the city construction code”. This new norm changes minimum parking requirements to maximum depending on the land use of the construction. This puts Mexico City, the largest city in North America, far ahead of American cities in this commitment improving land use, prioritizing people over cars.
As our cities grow, street space and real estate are becoming ever more valuable commodities. However, outdated regulations still require developers to build huge amounts of parking for residential and commercial buildings, regardless of factors such as car ownership, proximity to transit, and market demand. This has a whole host of negative consequences, including incentivizing driving, creating congestion, and reducing the space available for more important purposes, such as housing, transit, and public space. In the past week, there have been several great pieces written on the importance of this change, particularly in how it related to affordable housing, a growing need in nearly every major city.
For housing, the limit is 3 parking spaces per unit no matter its size, and for offices bigger than 100 square meters, the limit is 1 parking space per every 30 square meters. It also considers mandatory space for bicycle parking and the creation of a Fund to Improve Mass Transit that the developers must pay as they approach the maximums in the Central area of Mexico City. More details for this new regulation can be found here (in Spanish).
This major policy change is a result of ITDP Mexico’s advocacy over the last 10 years, when we began working with government agencies to develop alternatives to the private car, as well as mechanisms to reduce its use. To achieve this, the rational management of parking was key. So in 2014, with the support of the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (SEDUVI), the research study “Less parking, more city” (“Menos cajones, más ciudad”) was born providing enough evidence to show the need of a change of paradigm. This study evolved into a proposal to modify the Construction Code that ITDP delivered to Mexico City’s Government in 2015.
Less Parking, More City gathered evidence of unsustainable trends for the city such as more square meters are being built for parking spaces than for housing. In other words, we are constructing buildings to allocate cars, while we are sending people to live in the periphery of the city, far away from their jobs, their families, and their everyday lives. This clearly goes against our aim of the inclusive and equitable cities.
Another finding of the study is that more than 40% of everything built in Mexico City is parking spaces, above any other land use including housing. In average a parking space requires between 27 m2 and 150,000 mexican pesos (about 8,500 USD) of direct constructions costs (a conservative estimate). In the 251 big real estate projects analyzed between 2009 and 2013, more than 250,000 parking spaces were constructed, with an estimated cost of 37,000 Million pesos. With that money 18 lines of Bus Rapid Transit (Metrobús in Mexico City) lines could have been built to move more than 3 million users per day.
On the other side, statistically, the demand per parking space is lower than that previously mandated by minimum parking requirements. When comparing the quantity of parking spaces in the projects, we noted that in the great majority of cases, builders try to get as close as possible to the minimum required. 67.7% of the cases studied devoted less than 10% of parking spaces above the bare minimum required.
Besides this, it is important to note that due to the size and dimensions of the land and projects, it is very difficult for developers to make exactly the bare minimum quantity required, so it usually actually turns out to be greater than this. For example, a development has a minimum of 90 parking spaces allowed, but logistically the project needs at least 3 stories for parking with a capacity for 40 parking spaces on each, so it makes economical sense for the developer to just build the 120 parking spaces.
Once this kind of evidence was gathered and the best international practices were studied, the cooperation between agencies and individuals among a diversity of areas has been necessary for the implementation of this proposal. It is important to highlight that this collaborative dynamic could function as a replicable model for the implementation of positive public policies in our cities. This collaboration was aided with a contest to rethink parking lots; an idea from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), with the support of strategic allies coming from private companies, civil society organizations, and a multidisciplinary jury of prestigious members: architects, urban planners, economists and public policy experts. During the award ceremony, in February of this year, the City’s Mayor announced the need to reform the current Car Parking Norm, as part of his mobility and development government strategy for a more people-centered City.
A change of policy of this importance is not the work of a single individual or institution. ITDP Mexico supported the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, and the Ministry of Mobility in the process of technical discussion with the different important guilds that are essential in the on-the-ground implications of this, such as the Real Estate Association (ADI). At the same time, agreements were made with the National Association of Supermarkets, Convenience and Departments Stores and also with the National Chamber of the Industry of Development and Promotion of Housing with the best of intentions to reach win-win agreements. The Legislative Assembly also recognized the need to reform the policy, and the role of civil society was incredibly important. Bicitekas, WRI, editorial house Arquine and, of course, IMCO, were all key to creating this more powerful, cross-cutting and lasting public policy.
To reduce the need to build parking spaces is a fundamental step in the right direction, and opens up the opportunity for further work and strategies. ITDP Mexico will continue to work with the city and our partners to ensure this success continues, with these next steps:
- Education to the city’s residents on the advantages of this new norm, and support for behavioral changes around transport to maximize this impact.
- Follow up of the direct impacts of the policy to measure variables such as enforcement, reduction in traffic, quantity of square meters dedicated to new uses, such as more and improved public spaces.
- Continue and accelerate the options of sustainable urban mobility, specifically mass transit.
- Empower and extend the program of parking meters EcoParq, a natural and necessary ally of this change.
- Find mechanisms to allow for more supply of housing at accessible prices in the central areas of the City, ensuring that developers take full advantage of this goals of this policy.
Dar es Salaam, a city of five million, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, a major economic hub in East Africa and a major port city on the Indian Ocean. Over the last year, Dar has launched a series of transformative improvements to transit, cycling and walking, the most important of which is the Dar es Salaam Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, or DART. These efforts have made it the first African city to win the prestigious Sustainable Transport Award in its 13-year history.
DART is a high-quality, high-capacity BRT system incorporating best practice design and features, is the first true BRT system in East Africa. The first phase of the network was supported by the World Bank, and opened May 16, 2016. It spans 21 km of trunk route, and serves 160,000 passengers per day on average with the current fleet of 140 buses. By mid-next year (2018), when the first phase becomes fully operational with over 300 buses, the system is projected to carry an estimated 400,000 passengers per day. DART has reduced commute times by more than half for residents, who previously faced upwards of four hours stuck in traffic every day. At stations with passing lanes, some of the existing bus fleet can provide express service to key destinations, saving even more time.
Serving the key axis of Morogoro Road and running through the city center, DART is more than a public transit system, it has brought improvements for pedestrians and cyclists as well. The project includes cycle paths, sidewalks, and improved pedestrian safety with well-designed, at-grade pedestrian crossings also complying with universal accessibility principles.
The project is being implemented in six phases, which will cover the entire city with high quality BRT service, and the accompanying cycling and walking infrastructure. DART’s second phase, to be completed over the next year, is supported by the African Development Bank, and the planned third and fourth phases will be supported by the World Bank (P150937).
“The Sustainable Transport Award has always been about transformation, the committee is looking to call attention to political courage and regional best practices, especially in places that are often overlooked,” said Michael Kodransky, Chair of the Sustainable Transport Award Committee. “This project is transformative for Dar, and it offers a source of inspiration for other African cities, where new transport systems are being planned. We’re thrilled to promote over the next year the great work that Dar has done, and convene experts from all over the world to see first-hand what they’ve accomplished.”
Moscow, Russia will receive the honorable mention for an impressive new train line, reorganization of bus transport, and street redesigns to improve conditions for pedestrians and transit users. “Dar has been selected as having the potential to accelerate sustainable transport projects in booming Sub-Saharan Africa, but the work that Moscow has done is likewise incredible, and we plan to continue engaging with them in any way we can,” said Kodransky. “In particular, the committee was impressed by the rail and bus transit expansions as well as street improvements with high quality public spaces.” Both cities will be honored at an award ceremony in Washington, DC in January 2018 during the Transport Research Board annual meeting.
“DART is a great example of the progress being made in the East Africa region, and the success of this system will hopefully inspire replication,” said Arturo Ardila-Gomez, a member of the Sustainable Transport Award Committee, and Global Lead for Urban Mobility & Lead Transport Economist at the World Bank. “The committee is proud to give this well-deserved recognition to Dar, which has taken a big step in improving the quality of life for its citizens.”
“The first phase of the BRT is already proving to be transformational for Dar, both socially and economically,” added Bella Bird, World Bank Country Director for Tanzania, Burundi, Malawi and Somalia. “Increased transit speeds, improved pedestrian access, safe, reliable transit has the potential to significantly enhance urban life here. It is wonderful to see the travel time savings given back to commuters of about 16 days of their life per year, which were previously lost in traffic jams. We look forward to celebrating the achievement of this award with the city”.
Other STA winning cities include Seoul, South Korea; Paris, France; Guangzhou, China; San Francisco, USA; Mexico City, Mexico; and Yichang, China.
Dar es Salaam will be the site of MOBILIZE 2018, ITDP’s annual Sustainable Transport Summit organized in partnership with the Volvo Research and Education Foundations. The event will showcase best practices and lessons in sustainable mobility to an international group of city practitioners and researchers, spotlighting this emerging city as a learning lab. For more information, visit mobilizesummit.org.
The TOD Standard stands for the rights of all to access the city: to walk and cycle safely, to easily and affordably reach the most distant destination through rapid and frequent transit, and to live a good life free of dependence on cars. It stands for access to opportunity, education, services, and all the resources available via no- or low-cost mobility options.
At the Ford Foundation, many decades of work on urban poverty reduction and a focus on social justice have taught us that the combined cost of housing and transport is by far the heaviest burden on poor urban households’ finances and time budgets. These costs are too often the main barrier to a true share in human development and well-being in prosperous cities for low-income and marginalized communities. We know we will not make meaningful progress on urban poverty without tackling the spatial inequities built in to our land use, housing, and transport systems that are exacerbating inequality and deepening poverty for the most vulnerable.
This new version of the TOD Standard gives us a stepping stone to defining urban development that integrates not just land use and transport but people, activities, and opportunities. It raises the bar for buildings and infrastructure to proactively meet the needs of all, regardless of age, ability, demographics or income, at all scales of development. It promotes inclusionary housing, as well as the provision of safe streets, local parks, playgrounds, primary schools, and health facilities for all neighborhoods, not just the wealthiest. It specifically acknowledges informal and substandard housing upgrading as fully fledged TOD projects worthy of investment and attention. It addresses the displacement of people through redevelopment as contrary to a balanced and inclusive development policy and incompatible with the highest TOD recognition.
The TOD Standard can help governments devise their plans, policies, regulations, legislation, and investment priorities to promote access for all as a basic common good, a source of freedom and dignity, and an important pillar to create Just Cities. This standard is also an instrument of inclusive and equitable civic engagement, calling on governments to set high standards for engaging the public in planning, regulating, decision making, and allocating resources.
The core principles and objectives enshrined in this standard have seen increasing recognition and adoption since ITDP started up in this field in 2010 with the Principles of Transport in Urban Life and the Our Cities Ourselves campaign. International, multilateral, national, and municipal institutions have been embracing the concept of inclusive transit-oriented development. High-level decision makers and practitioners support the idea, though there is still a long road ahead to achieve a global shift away from inequitable sprawl to more equitable and inclusive forms of urbanization. Wide and rapid adoption of the TOD Standard as urban planning and policy principles and benchmarks will have direct and immense potential benefits over time and across the globe. As we expect implementation to scale up rapidly in the next few years, it is important that unfair forms of redevelopment do not magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes. Inclusionary objectives need to be embedded in policies and in planning and design processes to actively protect and bring along people and social groups who might otherwise be excluded, marginalized, or not afforded the same full privileges as others.
The Ford Foundation has been a supporter of ITDP’s efforts to develop frameworks and metrics to measure access and inclusion in cities. The TOD Standard is the result, and this new version will help citizens in all capacities find the right tools for creating inclusive transit-oriented communities. Now we all collectively need to work to get there.
Program Officer, Equitable Development
BRT now plies Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world (Andrzej Otrebski, Wikimedia Commons)
With the recent election of former mayor Mauricio Macrí as president, the city of Buenos Aires should now have greater support from the Argentine government. Down at the local level, meanwhile, the city of 3 million continues to push for innovations that will bring Argentina’s capital and largest city into the 21st century. On the transport front, a young, dynamic official is leading the way. Paula Bisiau, Assistant Secretary for Sustainable Mobility, has a handle on everything that porteños (the city’s inhabitants) can count on to help them get around this charming South American city. Visitors may be captivated by tango and parrilla, but they should also pay attention to bike share, BRT, and pedestrianization.
Paula spoke to us about MOBILIZE Santiago‘s theme, “Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal” and the future of BRT & cycling in Buenos Aires.
ITDP: The theme of MOBILIZE Santiago is “just and inclusive cities become the new normal”. How does Buenos Aires’ transport system live up to this ideal?
Paula Bisiau: Having a good network of diverse and well-connected transport is part of having an inclusive and fair city. So, in that sense, Buenos Aires has worked hard for at least 8 to 9 years to improve its public transport network. The reality is that in Buenos Aires, the use of public transport is very high. Almost 80% of trips are completed using public transport, on foot, or by bicycle. This means that in Buenos Aires we can talk about a city, in that sense, as fair and equitable because there is public transport throughout the city and the cost is relatively low.
Then, there is the whole accessibility point of view, the inclusion of all people with different abilities. In that sense, we still need more work. However, we have begun to design the streets and sidewalks so that they can be crossed by children, the elderly, and people in wheelchairs.
What other cities around the world are the most interesting to you in the area of mobility?
Recently I was in two cities that were very interesting: Copenhagen, obviously, on the one hand, and Tokyo on the other. Tokyo is very different, but with a spectacular subway network, and especially with lots of information facilitated by technology. I was astonished by how I was able to get around so easily and plan my trip within a city I didn’t know, in a country where obviously I didn’t speak the language.
I also find Paris interesting and innovative. And what I find interesting about a city like Paris is that it’s a city that preserves all its heritage and history, but constantly renews itself. This power of renewal is very interesting. They started with Paris Plages, then what they did with Les Berges de la Seine was also very innovative. Other cities had already done what they did with bike share. But what they did was fill the city with public bicycles everywhere. And they encouraged all that in a city that was already fully built, which already had many residents and businesses everywhere.
To name a Latin American city, I would say São Paulo also has many innovations for being a megalopolis. I was there maybe two years ago for the first time, and the truth is that I was amazed. Their transportation is also spectacular. But still, they still have things that are not as good as they could be, like urban highways. Not that everything is fine, but as big as the city is, they are still doing a good job. For example, on road safety, they took certain actions that are not easy to take politically, like reducing the maximum speed. And those are difficult political measures to take. But they did so, and thanks to that, they managed to reduce the number of road casualties. Cities have to take risks on new measures in order to improve.
In 2014, Buenos Aires won the Sustainable Transport Award for giving Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world, a transport and pedestrian makeover. Three years later, how are these interventions improving the quality of life in Buenos Aires?
The implementation of transit on Avenida 9 de Julio translated into shorter trips for those who used public transport, because all the buses that passed through downtown are now funneled onto the 9 de Julio Metrobus [BRT]. There was a reduction of almost 50% in travel times.
Road accidents were reduced because the average speed of cars was reduced. Within what is called the pedestrian zone, the maximum speed is now 10 km per hour. The entire downtown area was once very noisy and heavily polluted. The air and noise pollution levels dropped a lot. Before it was impossible to even have a conversation there. Now there is economic development, adding life beyond the offices and banks. Nightlife is beginning to come up in that neighborhood and we hope soon enough that will create the possibility of people moving downtown.
What is the next big mobility project around the city?
We’re continuing to develop the Metrobus network. Along 9 de Julio you have the Bajo [Lower] area, near the port. We are adding Metrobus to Bajo and that is also going to be an important change. We are also pedestrianizing part of the area on the other side of 9 de Julio, where the Palace of Justice is; another area where there are also many pedestrians.
There are also two new projects: One that is called Paseo del Bajo, in order to get the trucks out. Buenos Aires is a port city and we have many trucks coming from the port. For that, we found a solution to stop them from going through the city. This project broke ground in May and will be finished in two years. The other is a new regional rail that will connect the Constitución area with the Retiro area.
Has the number of people that use bicycles in Buenos Aires grown in the last few years and if so, why?
Yes, mainly because we started building cycle tracks in the most populated areas of the city, places where people go to work and where people live. We started in downtown and continued to the periphery of different neighborhoods. Today we have 180 km of bike lanes and cycle tracks in almost every area of the city.
The number also increased thanks to the public bikeshare system, Ecobici. A lot of work went into education and promotion. We convinced the city of the idea of cycling by talking about cycling in every sector. However, if I were to give you one main reason, people did not ride a bicycle in Buenos Aires because of road safety issues. In fact, we conducted surveys, and people already owned bikes. Buenos Aires is flat and has a relatively pleasant climate. The main reason they weren’t using it was because of road safety.
Ecobici used to operate on a valet system, now it has docking stations. What was the impact of this shift?
Regardless of how it works, the system itself is very popular because it is free. Today, we have more than 200,000 users who have taken more than 5 million trips. We are working to build out the system with 200 stations and 2,500 bicycles. We currently have 1,900 bikes.
Last year was a difficult time for us because of vandalism and theft. That was something we had not planned for and that had not happened in other cities. This, for example, made us stagnate on the number of bike trips in the year 2016. Now in 2017, we are growing again.
Do you think that Ecobici will ever go dockless?
We’re studying that. First we want to finish installing these 200 stations that we have planned. Then we want to understand what new technologies are being implemented in other cities around the world. When we think about the growth of this system, we want to move toward what is more innovative and what is working best. Because of our vandalism experience, I have to see to what extent it can work in Buenos Aires, but it seems fantastic to me- a much more flexible as a system. All of us who think about transport think this way: having innovation that is flexible because cities are dynamic, technologies change, and we have to be open to adapting.
This interview is the part of the MOBILIZE Santiago Speaker Series. In this series, we will feature interviews with researchers from VREF’s Future Urban Transport where will discuss their work in sustainable transport and reflecting on MOBILIZE Santiago’s theme: Just and Inclusive Cities Become the New Normal. To learn more about MOBILIZE Santiago and how you can register to attend the summit in Chile, visit mobilizesummit.org.
The world is in the midst of a data explosion. This has the potential to transform cities in many ways by helping to plan for new transport infrastructure and urban growth, and better utilize existing infrastructure and services. Yet, many urban planning experts are finding that cities are not fully benefiting from these opportunities.
The old paradigm of data collection was focused on government as the main data collector. This has changed quickly. Today, exponentially more data is being collected by the private sector than any government, and public sector access to this data is not keeping pace.
“A big problem with how new data sources are being accessed is that everything is done in a one-off manner,” says Jacob Mason, Transport and Evaluation Manager with ITDP, “Each government that tries to get data from a company goes through a negotiation process that can take years and only applies to that particular city and company. At the same time, many in the public sector don’t understand the business perspective, where businesses are reluctant to share data that they’ve spent lots of time and money collecting. And many in both sectors are simply not aware of new tools that would help make the process much easier.”
In April, ITDP, with support from Microsoft, brought together international researchers and practitioners from both the public and private sectors to participate in an Innovative Data Symposium in San Francisco. The Symposium was an attempt to bridge this gap of understanding between sectors and chart a course of action towards better data in a much shorter time period.
Participants from companies including Lyft, Flowminder, Microsoft, and Toyota met with representatives from NACTO, SFMTA, the City of Vancouver, and the World Bank and many other government and NGO groups. They discussed public needs, private sector constraints, new research tools, and potential partnerships. Together, the participants presented their work, with the broader goal of thinking big about how to leverage data for the public good.
City officials described the need to have better information about how people move around the city, as well as better capacity to use data, especially in lower-income communities. They also highlighted the need for better coordination and data standardization within governments. Representatives from the private sector described their constraints to sharing data, particularly with the concern of maintaining a competitive edge.
Researchers presented new tools for accessing data, including scraping publicly available information and using algorithms to ask supervised questions of datasets in a secure manner. Other tools presented include ways to combine and process data from a variety of sources to turn it into useful information, such as combining census data with satellite images of nighttime lights to better understand where people live.
“With origin and destination information, we can see patterns of where people are going. With speed and derived mode data, we can see how they travel. Previously, collecting this information required either expensive unreliable and infrequent surveys, or physically having a person sit on the street and count people, which was also time consuming, expensive, infrequent, and hard to cover an entire city effectively”, says Mason. “With better data, we can start to precisely identify problem locations in the transport network. With frequently updated data, we can quickly assess the impact of a project, such as if a BRT system has actually reduced travel times, for example, without relying on subjective surveys.”
The issue of security was also a focus. Much raw data is highly sensitive and is stored securely to respect privacy and business interests. Researchers at the symposium are developing tools to ensure confidentiality by creating a sufficient level of aggregation. This aggregate data can help cities assess progress, identify issues, and plan accordingly in order to create better, more efficient transit options for their citizens, while protecting individual privacy, and allowing businesses to thrive.
ITDP’s next step is looking to identify cities that have taken proactive steps to better leverage data for decision making, and to develop guidelines for how this might be replicated elsewhere. This includes exploring the notion of “street neutrality”, akin to net neutrality but for data generated via publicly controlled streets. Improving data literacy is another key in better leveraging data, so that governments have the ability to translate information into useful decisions. The group is also looking to create new pilot projects of partnerships across sectors to align interests, and demonstrate new ways of leveraging data.