Dispatches from Rio: Keeping Crowding Cities Moving

Ching Bin/FEATURECHINA, via European Pressphoto Agency
A 60-mile-long traffic jam on a highway west of Beijing in 2010.

June 20, 2012, By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Source:  NEW YORK TIMES, June 20, 2012

While the world’s wealthy countries appear to be inching toward “peak travel,” a decoupling of wealth and miles traveled, that is far from what’s going on in the world’s fast-growing cities in developing countries.

Finding ways to keep such cities functional — and in particular mobile — as the human growth spurt hits a crest in the next few decades is vitally important if humanity is to experience a relatively smooth journey in what some have called “the century of the city.”

That’s why one of the more important developments at Rio+20, the United Nations sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro has nothing to do with the tussles over the language in the conference declaration; it came in a side event. Led by the Asian Development Bank, and nudged by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and other groups, the eight largest multilateral development banks have committed to lending $175 billion over the next 10 years for transportation projects that cut urban congestion and limit pollution and energy waste.

In a news release, the Asian Development Bank noted that traffic congestion, pollution, accidents and the like already shave some 5 percent from the gross domestic product in many Asian countries. Emissions of carbon dioxide from transportation are expected to rise 50 percent by 2030 without shifts in transportation technologies and planning, the bank said.

In a phone chat today, I asked Michael Replogle, the founder of the transportation and development institute, to characterize this commitment. He said that these loans typically leverage 10 or 20 times more public and private investment, meaning this initiative could shift trillions of dollars from conventional road-building projects to more sustainable transportation alternatives.

He said an important facet of the banks’ plan is a procedure for annual reporting and monitoring of lending and grants. “A billion people are moving to cities in the next 20 years,” he said. “Having banks that have focused principally on building massive new roads focusing more on public transit, safer walking and bicycling, pollution reduction and improved freight systems is a huge breakthrough.”

Here’s a video from the Asian Development Bank describing the initiative:

There’s more background, and excitement, about the project from Holger Dalkmann, director of the Embarq transportation program of the World Resources Institute. In a release, he explains:

This investment is not just about improving the way people move from point A to point B; it’s also about providing access and mobility for the poor and improving road safety, not to mention reducing transport-related greenhouse gas emissions. Transport is no small piece of the climate change pie: the sector represents approximately one-quarter of global CO2 emissions.

The lending plan is also a testament to years of work by Lee Schipper, thelongtime analyst of transportation options, costs and benefits (and a co-founder of the Embarq program) who passed away last year.

Via http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/20/dispatches-from-rio-keeping-crowding-cities-moving/

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