Photo: Jorge Franganillo | Flickr Creative Commons
This is the first of a three-part series on traffic risk in PPPs
"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."
– Professor Nils Bohr, Nobel Laureate
Professor Bohr was right: prediction is hard work. As a species, we don’t have difficulty making predictions. I, for one, frequently make doom-laden predictions on a diverse range of subjects ranging from politics to the fortunes of my beloved football team, Liverpool Football Club.
No, the problem is that humans, as a rule, are not very good at predictions. Sadly, that illusive ‘crystal ball’ still has not been invented. And the sheer complexity of living on an ever-changing and evolving planet alongside 7 billion equally complex individuals—all making unique but increasingly interdependent decisions—makes even the most straightforward predictions difficult.
Measuring good governance can be tricky, but 'orderly traffic' can be used as an indicator since it offers insights beyond its limited definition.
As hard as it is to define ‘governance’, we have plenty of indicators to measure its quality: quality of key public services, extent of corruption, ease of doing business, etc. One of the challenges with these indicators is the distance between the process and outcomes, in particular, the assumptions involved in the translation of certain process into tangible outcomes. It follows that by mixing up indicators for processes and outcomes, we risk, well, measuring what doesn’t matter, and not measuring what does matter.
So as the title of this post suggests, could ‘orderly traffic’ be a good measure?
A familiar context: I live in Nairobi (and prior to that, in Delhi) and spend a considerable time waiting in traffic. What often makes traffic a problem is a complete lack of coordination amongst motorists on the road. However, I don’t think the onus of coordination at an intersection should rest on motorists – there are traffic lights or traffic police whose job it is to enforce discipline to ensure orderliness on the road. In many cities though, this is plain theory. In reality, traffic lights may not exist, or be broken; the traffic police may be absent, or just be incompetent. Motorists joust with each other every day and often end up creating gird-locks that hold everyone up. Please note that I am not talking about slow traffic caused purely due to long stops at intersections waiting for the lights to change. I am specifically concerned with the ‘orderliness’ of the flow. People waste time, fuel and a lot of their good humour (unless you are in a zen state) when they are in these gird-locks. It is usually more than evident to everyone whose fault it is and what the solution should be – and that usually only serves to raise tempers on the road. On days when the traffic flows smoothly, everyone seems happier. Zipping home after work is often the high point of the day.
With 75 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 yet to be built, actions taken right now will shape urbanization patterns and quality of life for decades. It is urgent that global leaders concentrate now on ensuring that cities are sustainable, inclusive and prosperous.
The year 2015 provides three big opportunities to build global momentum around the course for change. These are the potential for a binding international climate agreement coming out of COP21, a new development agenda set forth by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a platform for prioritizing safe, equitable cities through the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. The coming year raises the stakes, with the 2016 Habitat III conference expected to be one of the most influential gatherings in history focusing on making cities more livable and sustainable.
- The World Region
- Climate Change
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Urban Development
- sustainable cities
- sustainable transport
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- urban mobility
- sustainable development goal
- sustainable development goals
- smart cities
- smart city
From my house in northern Quezon City, I drive more than two hours every day to get to the office in Bonifacio Global City, which is about three cities away where I come from, and two cities away from the capital Manila. It’s a journey that should only take around half an hour under light traffic. That is a total of four hours on the road a day, if there is no road accident or bad weather. It takes me an hour longer whenever I use the public transport system. Along with hundreds of thousands of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) commuters, I have to contend with extremely long lines, slow trains, and frequent delays due to malfunctions. This has been my experience for several years. Many of us might be wondering: why have these problems persisted?
I’ve lived in cities famed for their gridlock: 1990s Bangkok (gridlock was as bad as it could be); Los Angeles (gridlock + pollution); New Delhi (gridlock + pollution + honking galore); Nairobi’s gridlock is surely up there.
But is traffic “bad”? What sort of question is that you ask? Surely, the answer is 'yes', you say: time wasted stuck in traffic, the frustration, the needless idling of vehicles which creates both local (and global) pollution and so on. But let me suggest this: traffic congestion is also a sign of development. In fact, the more vibrant and dynamic the city as Nairobi surely is, the more traffic congestion you might expect...to paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, “Traffic is…good”!
City planners and design professionals have long known that the way in which physical space is constructed affects human behavior. Walkways, doorways, and lighting direct people for strategic reasons, colors and textures impact our sensory experiences, and the size and flow of space affects our social interaction.
Physical space is also important in designing transportation infrastructure where entry and exit points direct the flow of traffic, ticketing affects efficiency, and roadways shape the speed and orientation of traffic.
As one architect puts it, “Designers often aspire to do more than simply create buildings that are new, functional and attractive—they promise that a new environment will change behaviours and attitudes.”
Consumers consider these aspects when they decide how to travel in a process known as translation in which they consider personal benefits and costs of a product. In this case, people make ask themselves, ‘I know a new bus line is available, but will it save me money or time?’ or 'I can ride my bike, but will it be safe?' The process is complex, and occurs over time and through repeated interactions.
In order to put design to good use in changing attitudes and behaviors, the city of Bogotá immersed itself in the lives of its residents and created solutions to tackle the heavy congestion and lack of safety that were common on the city’s streets. They used the economics of nudge, paired with design principles, to increase public use of bicycles and buses.
Simple adjustments though, including stricter enforcement of seatbelt and helmet wearing, can help reduce these distressing statistics. That's where the Seatbelt Crew comes in.
A group of special, transgender Indian women use their sacred position in Indian culture to urge motorists to use their seatbelts. The following video shows the Seatbelt Crew as they direct motorists and passengers at traffic stops to use their safety devices.
Photo © Dennis Thern
In Thailand, road accidents cause about one death every hour—but for a country of almost 70 million people, how does it fare compared to other countries?
Well, before we get to answering that; the good news for the country is that, according to Thailand Road Safety Observatory, overall road accidents, fatalities and injuries all fell roughly by a third over the past decade. But as for the bad news, the probability of crash victims becoming fatally wounded or permanently disabled is higher than ever.
However, the real bad news—despite the authorities’ efforts to prevent accidents—is that, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, Thailand continues to have one of the highest rates in road fatalities. In fact, with 38 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year, it ranks third in the world, just behind the African countries of Eritrea and Libya, at 48.4 and 40.5 respectively.
When I was asked to produce a video about the Chiang Mai Sustainable Urban Transport Project, I thought it would be really interesting for me to see how Thailand’s second largest city had changed. The last time I visited Chiang Mai before this was 15 years ago, in the 1990s.
Chiang Mai is now very vibrant and full of potential. There is an energetic, creative buzz about it and yet it still manages to hold on to its unique heritage and identity.
Everyone who travels to Thailand will want to have Chiang Mai on their list. It’s an old city which reflects the lovely northern Thai culture and has a lot of significant history behind it. My wife and I spent our first anniversary there because it’s very nice and peaceful. Chiang Mai is a place where Thais often go to recharge and take advantage of the slower pace of life. I have started recently travelling to Chiang Mai more often for work, but even that is also pleasurable.
Chiang Mai has grown so much, and so fast. We see more and more cars in the city center. The traffic jams are becoming problematic and the public transportation issue remains an unsolved problem. To help, the World Bank is supporting the Chiang Mai Municipality's vision of promoting “green mobility” with help from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It is a small pilot project that supports non-motorized transport, such as walking and bicycling, by improving city center's walk path and bicycle lanes in the city center.