“The science is clear. Climate change is already costly and shaping development,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s chief climate representative, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. “The problem is this poor trade-off has been set-up: we can either have growth, progress, prosperity, or we can halt all our dreams to reduce carbon emissions. It’s not a vote getter.” Kyte believes sustainable development needs to be sold differently. With a smarter, more sustainable approach, “we can live differently, that’s exciting. We can live in cities with clean air, that’s exciting. We can create new jobs in a greener economy, and that’s exciting. It doesn’t have to be zero-sum; we can all benefit.”
“Transportation currently accounts for 15 percent of global carbon emissions. If we do nothing, it could account for 50 percent in 20 years.” Kyte said this kind of tired, hectoring narrative no longer works. “We need to step back and revolutionize cities and make them exciting.” What excites you about cities and transportation?
A group of panelists were tasked with answering this question:
For Kevin Austin, with C40, a group of leading mayors fighting for climate-friendly development, what’s exciting is out of the C40’s list of the top things cities can do to reduce climate change, 14 relate to transportation and urban development. “These things include more compact, transit-oriented development; reclaiming brownfields; congestion charging; electric vehicles; and non-motorized transportation.” Austin said what also excites him is more global cities are actually committing to achieving measurable targets. “When cities commit, they achieve three times more.”
Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, said “technology is what’s exciting as it enables us to share assets in a transformational way. The old idea of one household and one car is going out. Using technology, we can achieve 100 percent shared vehicles. We can even achieve shared trips on shared vehicles.” Chase pointed to the rise of Zipcar as well as Uber and Lyft as an example of how a new system can come out of “many small parts.” Today, she said most car-owners spend 18 percent of their income on their vehicle, but end up using it only 5 percent of the time, a huge waste. Car sharing, Chase believes, can also work in non-compact cities. “We could use just 10 percent of the cars on the road today to satisfy needs.”
And Vincent Kobensen, PTV Group, thinks it’s the ability of new technology to “spread out existing infrastructure.” Given so few cities have the money to build brand-new infrastructure or even significantly upgrade it, technology can be deployed to “optimize multi-modal systems.” Already, 2-4 percent of global GDP is wasted due to congestion. In the future, congestion could disappear as more people take advantage of car sharing. It could be: “I don’t own a car, but I want to use one.”
According to Holger Dalkmann, head of EMBARQ at the World Resources Institute, Mexico City’s recent gains are a cause for excitement, as is its new mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, a “champion of sustainable urban transportation.” The city has just created a new mobility law, which aims to give each of its 17 million inhabitants the right to people-friendly transit, with complete streets, safe sidewalks and bus stops, and an easy, consolidated payment system for all public transportation. There are also ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction targets (40 percent).
Alain Flausch, International Association of Public Transportation, pointed to the growing global commitment to reach his organization’s target of doubling public transportation worldwide. “We have 110 networks that have made 350 commitments.” Flausch added that “public transportation needs to lead the pack in the climate fight. We need new fuels, vehicles, and systems.”
And for Patrick Oliva at the Michelin Group, setting urban transportation emission expectations low is what’s exciting. London’s low-emission zone, made possible with a congestion charging scheme, was launched in 2003 and has resulted in positive action on traffic and car-related emissions.