Last year marked an important tipping point: for the first time, half of the global population lives in cities. Cities currently add 1.4 million people each week and this population growth comes with new buildings, roads and transport systems.
In fact, 75 percent of the infrastructure that will be in place by 2050 does not exist today. With cities poised to invest now in infrastructure that will last for decades, huge opportunities lie ahead. But without major shifts now in how we manage established as well as rapidly growing cities, we risk losing out on the potential of urbanization to create more inclusive and prosperous societies.
2015 offers a big chance for the international community to help put cities on a more sustainable path. We at the World Bank and the World Resources Institute (WRI) believe that we must seize this opportunity, because cities and urban mobility are key to a sustainable future.
Business-as-usual urbanization patterns come at a hefty price. Cities already produce 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and traffic crashes claim 1.2 million lives per year, with developing cities carrying the greatest burden.
Traffic congestion cost Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo a combined $43 billion in 2013 alone, equivalent to 8 percent of each city’s GDP. In Beijing, the costs of congestion and air pollution are estimated at 7-15 percent of GDP. Urban sprawl costs the United States alone $400 billion per year.
This is not the future we want for our cities.
Air transport is an increasingly critical area for trade and trade facilitation. As such, our World Bank trade teams are always searching for global good practice and promising policy results.
This search recently brought us to Armenia, where an “Open Skies” policy has been in place since late 2013. For a country with a long legacy of tight regulations in its commercial aviation market, this new policy signaled a sharp break from tradition.
Although there are no single accepted definitions of Open Skies, it refers to a set of provisions typically agreed on a bilateral basis, that enable each party to set freely the number of flights, carriers, types of aircraft and destinations; but also pricing freedom, as well as establishing the conditions for fair competition and provisions for carriers to engage in commercial cooperation.
Armenia’ Open Skies policy is particularity important when considering the country’s historically limited connectivity with international markets – partly determined by geography, and partly determined by geopolitical considerations. Besides being landlocked, the country has open land borders with only two of its four neighboring countries.
Every year, more than 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes worldwide, equivalent to nearly eight Boeing 747 plane crashes every day. As developing economies grow and private car ownership becomes more mainstream, the number of associated crashes and fatalities will continue to rise.
The challenge of traffic safety often flies under the radar in cities, where the social and economic challenges of accommodating growing populations take precedent. Without meaningful change, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that traffic crashes could become the fifth leading cause of premature death worldwide by 2030. This takes a particular toll on cities, which are already home nearly half of global traffic fatalities. City leaders must prioritize traffic safety measures to ensure that their citizens have safe, healthy and economically prosperous cities to call home.
With Urban Growth Comes Traffic Safety Challenges
While there are a number of factors that contribute to traffic crashes, two of the primary challenges are rising motorization trends in cities worldwide and the issue of road equity: the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are most impacted by traffic crashes. On top of that, these users, typically lower-income, don’t always have the power or capacity to create the necessary changes.
The number of privately owned cars on the road hit the one billion mark for the first time in 2010. If we continue business-as-usual, that number will reach an estimated 2.5 billion cars by 2050. All of these new cars will lead to an increase in traffic congestion in cities worldwide, increasing the probability of traffic crashes and resulting fatalities.
Transparent, competitive bidding is a sound way for the public sector to buy goods and services. It is also standard procedure for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Besides reducing opportunities for corruption, this approach generally attempts to achieve the best value for money and is perceived as fair by all stakeholders. When the sums involved are big, for example, in large infrastructure projects, transparency in government procurement becomes even more critical. Unsurprisingly, competitive bidding is considered best practice in most countries, not only in the public sector but also for corporations and institutions such as the World Bank Group.
This system works well when a government knows exactly what goods and services are procured for infrastructure development that best serve the public interest. But in many developing countries, governments may not have the requisite capacity and resources to define the scope of the project, or to prepare the tender documentation. Such situations often lead to inadequate infrastructure development. Sometimes the private sector uses such opportunities to proactively submit proposals for infrastructure projects on their own without waiting for a government initiated tender.
When the private sector submits such types of proposals, they are called Unsolicited Proposals, or USPs. USPs are an exception to the typical government-initiated approach and allow a private company to initiate the process. A private-sector entity (“USP proponent”) reaches out to the government with a project proposal to develop an infrastructure project. Typically, such a project may not have been identified within the government budget or policies, and the project’s purpose and need may not have been defined. In some instances, a USP may be nothing more than a mere idea or concept when it is presented to the government.
Accessibility offers a powerful lens to assess how a mobility system is serving an urban area. For example, road congestion is a more severe constraint in a dispersed setting with few transit, walking and cycling options (such as the Atlanta metropolitan area), compared to traditional mixed-use downtowns (such as New York City), where residents can access jobs and other opportunities walking, cycling and using mass transit.
Accessibility indicators are not just conceptually powerful – they are also easy to operationalize: the number of jobs accessible within a 60-minute timeframe is a popular and powerful indicator to evaluate how well the mobility system is serving a particular spatial area, or group of people (such as the most vulnerable).
Note from Let's Talk Development Editors: Co-authors Michael Keen and Ian Parry were not mentioned in an earlier version of this blog post, this has been corrected.
The central focus of climate talks that concluded last year in Lima has been on building wide agreements to restrict national emissions of greenhouse gases. But some important emissions are hard to allocate to individual nations: Those from international aviation and shipping. These currently constitute about 4% (and rising) of global carbon emissions, and are subject to almost no charges. This current state reflects heavy resistance to such charges, from industry and many governments, but also tax competition: Taxing these sectors by any one country can be hard due to their geographic mobility and international nature.
In many developing cities, transport infrastructure – whether it be roads, metro systems or BRT - is not growing fast enough, and cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demand for urban mobility. Indeed, constructing urban transport infrastructure is both expensive and challenging. First, many cities do not yet have the capacity to mobilize the large amount of funds needed to finance infrastructure projects. Second, planning and implementing urban transport infrastructure projects is tough, especially in dense urban areas where land acquisition and resettlement issues can be extremely complex. As a result, delays in project implementation are the norm in many places.
Therefore, solving urgent urban transport problems in these cities requires us to think outside the box. Fortunately, the rapid development of ICT-enabled approaches provides a great opportunity to optimize and enhance the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.
An understanding of trip origins and destinations – and how trip-makers select routes, modes and destinations – are required to plan extensions or changes to a road or public transport network; to assess the viability of a new investment; and to assess how well the existing transport system is serving the population and businesses in a specific area.
Indeed, in our roles as transport specialists in the World Bank, much of our job is about supporting clients’ ability to develop this understanding and to use the results to evaluate and appraise investments.
At the core of this process is an Origin-Destination (OD) survey: essentially a matrix of trips between different zones of a region (referred to as an OD matrix). Traditionally, getting this information in the context of an urban area has been a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process. We are often talking about millions of dollars for trip activity surveys of thousands of households, complemented by extensive analysis of socio-economic data. We also count data at strategic points on major roadways and transit routes to calibrate the results.
This process can take up to a year, and many stages need very specific technical skills and a lot of quality control. Survey design, sample design, training the surveyors, ensuring they are accurate (not making up data, not entering data erroneously), and subsequent stages of analysis all require significant technical capacity to implement, as well as an almost equal level of technical skill to supervise the work.
All of us who do this have horror stories from processes on which we have worked. The result is that the basic information needed to test alternatives and make decisions about transport investments is collected too rarely – at best no more than once every decade – and even the results of existing surveys have suspect deficiencies.