Urban Researchers Roundtable: “Bridging the Urban Transport Divide”, 24 March 2010
Contemporary global challenges of urban Mobility
Effective transportation networks are fundamental for the functioning of cities and towns across the globe and a precondition for economic prosperity and the wellbeing of their residents. At the same time, the economic and social benefits of mobility are frequently accompanied by negative side effects such as congestion, social exclusion, accidents, air pollution and energy consumption.
Since the mid-20th century, the negative side effects of urban transportation have particularly become apparent in the metropolitan areas of developed countries. Rising car traffic volumes and congestion are increasingly causing lost economic productivity, environmental degradation and affect overall quality of life. With the documented contribution of the urban transport sector to global greenhouse gas emissions, there is a heightened level of urgency to apply new approaches and technologies for mobility in urban regions of developed countries.
Developing countries are increasingly facing similar challenges due to rapid urbanization and motorization in recent decades in combination with insufficient investment in transport infrastructure, often accompanied by urban poverty and social exclusion. While vehicle ownership rates in most developing nations are still low in comparison to wealthy countries, motorization is rising rapidly and is creating major challenges in the expanding “megacities” of the South. Although still only 10 to 20 percent of urban residents own and operate a private automobile, cities in developing countries are already facing stifling traffic congestion and worsening air pollution. The annual increase in the motorization rate of many developing countries has approached 10 percent, which is substantially higher than ever experienced in industrialized countries. As a result, energy use by the transportation sector in developing countries has been increasing at over four percent annually over the past 20 years, far exceeding the global 2.7 percent rate of increase.
Consequently, a major challenge for cities all over the world in the 21st century is to meet the mobility needs of their residents in a socially inclusive, economically efficient and environmentally sustainable manner. At the same time, the provision of adequate, efficient and safe transport infrastructure and services in urban areas is frequently constrained by a complex set of financial, institutional, environmental and political factors. Frequently, the barriers are not necessarily financial or technical in nature, but due to political, social and institutional factors preventing progress in the urban transport field towards sustainability.
As a result, severe disadvantages can be observed in terms of the availability of transport infrastructure and services for different societal groups as well as in terms of the impacts of urban mobility. Inequity due to unequal access to employment opportunities, housing and basic services and the uneven distribution of the negative effects of mobility represents ‘the urban transport divide’ and is the focus of the Urban Researchers Roundtable.
The Urban Researchers Roundtable: Focus and expected outcomes
The Urban Researchers Roundtable, to be held in the context of the Fifth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF 5) under the motto “The Right to the City: Bridging the Urban Divide”, will provide a forum for urban researchers to present experiences and solutions for addressing the policy challenges related to bridging the urban transport divide in the World’s Cities.
At the center of the discussion will be the current state of the urban transport divide in urban areas of both developing and developed countries and effective practices and policies to bridge this gap.
Within the urban transport divide, the following inequalities could be addressed:
- The social divide: the unequal access to mobility for different groups and locations in urban areas.
- The environmental divide: the positive and negative implications of urban transport for global climate and health in cities are unevenly distributed across neighbourhoods, cities and countries.
- The economic divide: the benefits of efficient transportation systems for employment opportunities and poverty reduction are unevenly distributed spatially and socially.
In this context, the discussion could explore how models and approaches that have successfully overcome the urban transport divide can be applied and politically communicated at a universal scale. These include innovations in the following areas:
1. Linking transportation to urban planning to reduce motorized trips.
2. Expanding non-motorized transport infrastructure.
3. Establishing new public transport systems.
4. Traffic demand management.
5. Vehicle technologies and fuel efficiency.
For UN-Habitat, the World Urban Forum is a key outreach event. The outcomes of the Urban Researchers Roundtable will inform UN-Habitat’s ongoing work in urban transport and the preparation of the 2013 Global Report on Human Settlements, which will focus on ‘Sustainable Urban Transport’.
The discussion and outcomes of the Roundtable will be made available to the public through a summary report.
Organization of the Urban Researchers Roundtable
The roundtable intends to continue the policy dialogue on implementing policy solutions for sustainable urban transport in the World’s cities.
As input to the discussion, 5 leading researchers from different regions will give short presentations on the urban transport divide and related policy responses. This will be followed by a discussion of the key challenges, innovative practices and policies to move towards sustainable urban transport and mobility. Beyond the five formal presentations, practitioners and policy makers will be able to share their experiences and learn about sustainable urban transport policies and practices. In preparation of the event, an electronic dialogue among prospective participants was implemented in late 2009 with several contributors highlighting the importance of bridging the “urban transportation divide” in cities of developing countries.
The roundtable can also serve as a platform to discuss the implications of the recent UN Copenhagen Climate Summit for sustainable urban transport policies and the uncertain perspective to what degree initiatives and investments necessary for sustainable urban transport systems can be implemented at a larger scale in the World’s cities.