Sustainable cities, two related challenges: high quality mobility on foot and efficient urban logistics (Part I) ​

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Peatonito is a Mexican transport specialist using humor to interact with drivers and create awareness about the need to respect traffic rules. Photo: Peatonito / Flick

Walking is the cheapest, most non-polluting, and possibly healthiest mode of transport. And dense cities seem to be a pre-existing condition for enabling us to meet our daily walking needs, along with diversified land uses, typically called “mixed-use development”. Densification and “mixed-use development” are currently seen as a strategy for designing sustainable cities, and many high-quality mobility plans, which consider the interactions between land use and transport, also pursue this type of urban development.

But densification and “mixed-use development” present (at least) two challenges. The first is how to provide quality pedestrian infrastructure that encourages non-motorized mode choices. The second is how to efficiently deliver the large quantities of goods required in these dense cities. These were the themes of successful seminars recently held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, thanks to a World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility grant.
The “mobility by foot” seminar was a four-day learning event on pedestrian mobility organized by Brazil’s Associação Nacional de Transportes Públicos.  In Brazil, as in most cities in Latin America, around 35% of people’s daily trips are on foot, and there is evidence that this number is underestimated given the limitations of current data collection methods. Given the priority in reducing the impact of our carbon “footprint” (or “carprint”), governments need more evidence and incentives to move the sustainability agenda forward.

(Video - In Portuguese) Desafios da mobilidade a pé

The event brought together some 600 participants from 12 Brazilian states and 37 cities, including representatives from national, state, and local governments, academia and civil society (ITDP, WRI/Embarq, SampaPé!, Red OCARA, Cidade Ativa, Carona a Pé, Bike Anjo, to name a few). Specialists from Spain, Argentina, San Francisco, Helsinki, UK, as well as local specialists presented on various topics, including: mobility on foot and health, quality of life, road safety, pedestrian infrastructure, urban design, universal accessibility, and public policies. The seminar also included technical workshops, panel discussions, Pecha Kucchas, as well as street events.
(For a description of the Logistics event, click here.)

Peatonito & Super-Ando
Peatonito & Super-Ando, Road Safety Heroes.
Photo: Peatonito / Flickr

Besides the rich technical discussions, the frisson and media attention came when two super-heroes, Peatonito and Super-Ando, showed up. Peatonito is a Mexican transport specialist from La Liga Peatonal. Peatonito uses humor to interact with drivers and create awareness about the need to respect traffic rules and improve road safety. Super-Ando, which is a contraction of “Superhero” and “Walk”, also means to “overcome”. “We are all pedestrians” is their main moto.  In an interview with Folha de Sao Paulo, Peatonito said that Brazilians have a tough challenge: “Here half of the drivers got angry with my interventions, in Mexico, only 10% react negatively.”

Improving pedestrian safety
The seminar was indeed a big push on pedestrian safety. The city of Sao Paulo, for example, started safety initiatives back in 2011, mainly due to an increase in road traffic fatalities in recent years. City authorities recently announced a plan to invest $12 million in upgrading sidewalks (equivalent to 1.5% of the Municipal budget for Transport in 2014). This is commendable but not enough, considering that in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo, 25% of total travel time is on foot, 25% on cars, and 50% on public transport, according to the 2012 Sao Paulo Origin and Destination Survey.  

One of the main bottlenecks for improving sidewalks is institutional/legal, or more specifically the jurisdiction over sidewalks’ maintenance. Antonio Carlos Pannunzio, mayor of Sorocaba (around 650k inhabitants), spoke on behalf of the “Mayors for Mobility”.  Pannunzio said: “ It was a mistake to leave the responsibility of sidewalk maintenance to the citizen: before at least we had a standard, now each one uses its imagination to build the most beautiful sidewalk they can think of”.

Most cities have not managed to figure out an efficient way of enforcing established guidelines, and the fines, when applied, seem ineffective to change the lack of compliance.
The results of ignoring this problem can be disastrous; estimates from 2007 point to 100,000 falls on sidewalks in the city of Sao Paulo, which represents 840 accidents per 100,000 inhabitant per year. For a given month in 2005, half of the 600 traffic accidents registered in one of the main hospitals in Sao Paulo were categorized as “falls on sidewalks”.

The city of Sao Jose dos Campos, on the other hand, might offer a good counter-example. Their program “Calçada Segura” (Safe Sidewalk) seems to have found a way for improving pedestrian safety: after approving the necessary legislation, the city also trained more than 200 “calceteiros” (specialized workers) and senior citizens as volunteer agents who performed more than 35,000 visits to improve awareness on sidewalk safety among property owners. (Who better than a senior citizen to create awareness on this theme?) Only then, they started to fine non-compliers, starting with the most critical cases. This initiative enhances what is actually a PPP, where the government builds the sidewalk, the property owner maintains it, and government enforces the quality of that maintenance.

There are indeed some effective examples showing the way forward for improving pedestrian mobility and safety, while encouraging more walking in today’s cities. Any other good examples of win-win projects in transport?

Read the part II of this blog article


Bianca Bianchi Alves

Urban Transport Specialist, World Bank

Georges Darido

Lead Urban Transport Specialist, World Bank

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