Magazine article USA TODAY

Redesigning Urban Transport

Magazine article USA TODAY

Redesigning Urban Transport

Article excerpt

THE WORLD'S CITIES are facing unprecedented problems. In Mexico City, Tehran, Kolkata, Bangkok, Shanghai, and hundreds of other metropolises, the air no longer is safe to breathe, and respiratory illnesses are rampant. In the U.S., the number of hours commuters spend sitting frustrated in traffic-congested streets and highways climbs higher each year. In response, forward-thinking city planners are seeking ways to redesign cities for people--not cars. They have begun to realize, points out Lester R. Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, Washington, D.C., that urban transport systems based on a combination of rail and bus lines, bicycle pathways, and pedestrian walkways offer the best of all possible worlds in providing mobility, low-cost transportation, and a healthy urban environment.

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A rail system can be the foundation for a city's transportation system. Rails, either underground or on the surface, are geographically fixed, thus providing a permanent means of transportation that people can count on, Brown confirms. Once in place, the nodes on such a system become the obvious places to concentrate office buildings, high-rise apartments, and shops.

Some of the most innovative public transportation systems, those that shift huge numbers of people from cars into buses, have been developed in Curitiba and Bogota. The success of Bogota's bus rapid transit (BRT) system, TransMilenio, which uses special express lanes to move people quickly through the city, is being replicated not only in six other Colombian cities, but elsewhere: Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Hanoi, Seoul, Taipei, Quito, and several urban locales in Africa. In China, Beijing is one of 20 cities developing BRT systems. Even industrial--country cities such as Ottawa and Toronto in Canada, and Minneapolis and Las Vegas in the U.S., and--much to everyone's delight--Los Angeles have launched or are considering BRT systems.

Some cities are reducing traffic congestion and air pollution by charging cars to enter the city, Brown reports. These include Singapore, London, Stockholm, and Milan. In 2003, London adopted a 5 [pounds sterling] charge on all motorists driving into the center city between 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m., immediately reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Within a year, bus ridership increased by 38% and delays dropped by 30%. In July 2005, the fee was raised to 8 [pounds sterling]. Overall, since the congestion charge was adopted, car and minicab traffic into the central city has dropped 36%, while bicycle traffic has increased 50%.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, when elected, in 2001, faced some of Europe's worst traffic congestion and air pollution. He decided traffic would have to be cut 40% by 2020. The first step was to invest in better transit in outlying regions to ensure that everyone in the greater Paris area had access to high-quality public transit. The next step was to create express lanes on main thoroughfares for buses and bicycles, thus reducing the number of lanes for cars. The third step was to establish a city bicycle rental program that, by the end of 2007, had 20,600 bikes available at 1,450 docking stations throughout Paris. Accessed by credit card at inexpensive daily, monthly, or annual rates, the bicycles are proving to be immensely popular, Brown relates. …

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