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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

4. Urban Transportation


The rapid urbanization occurring across much of the globe means not only that more people than ever before will be living and working in cities but also that more people and more goods will be making more trips in urban areas, often over longer distances. How cities--especially the rapidly growing cities of the developing world--meet this burgeoning demand for urban travel has implications for the environment, the economic efficiency, and the livability of these areas.

Cities have traditionally responded to travel demand by expanding the transportation supply. In much of the developed world, that has meant building more roads to accommodate an ever-growing number of vehicles, thereby creating a new urban form: the sprawling metropolis. Motor vehicles offer undeniable advantages such as speed and convenience; indeed, during the early stages of development, motor vehicles are vital to economic growth (1). However, the costs of increasing dependence on cars in the world's cities are becoming all too apparent. These include expensive road building and maintenance; clogged, congested streets that undermine economic productivity; high levels of energy consumption, with its attendant economic and environmental costs; worsening air and noise pollution; traffic accidents; and social inequities that arise when the poor find transportation services increasingly unaffordable.

These problems are evident to varying degrees in cities across the globe and threaten to become particularly acute in the developing world, where urban populations are growing rapidly and demand for motor vehicles is expected to skyrocket. Bangkok, Thailand, for example, is already plagued with notoriously high levels of air pollution and congestion, even though motor vehicle ownership per capita is low (72 vehicles for every 1,000 residents) compared with that in many developed cities (where ownership aver ages about 500 per 1,000 residents) (2). Even so, 300 to 400 more vehicles are being added to the streets of Bangkok every day (3). Will rapidly growing cities such as Surabaya, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines, follow in Bangkok's footsteps, or will they be able to implement sound transportation policies to avoid the problems of gridlock and pollution (4)?

The high costs associated with urban transportation are not inevitable. Indeed, considerable opportunity exists to design more efficient transportation systems and, in the process, create more livable cities. A critical step for developed and developing countries alike is to move toward managing urban travel demand rather than simply increasing the supply--in particular,by reducing or averting overreliance on the privately owned car.

In cities in the developing world, the greatest transportation challenge is to improve the mobility of urban residents and the efficiency of transportation systems. In many of these cities, motor vehicle ownership is still low and land use patterns are still evolving rapidly. These cities have the option of avoiding the mistakes made in the developed world and designing urban transportation systems that facilitate walking, bicycling, and public transportation. However, doing so will not be easy. To alter the current path toward motorization could be as politically difficult in developing countries as it is in the more developed world. Nevertheless, given the dramatic growth of the world's motor vehicle fleet, especially in developing countries and countries in transition, the case for precautionary action to limit car use in cities is strong (5).

In the developed world, many cities are already heavily dependent on cars and have a fixed urban form that would be difficult and expensive to alter. For these cities, the challenge is to improve existing transportation systems and manage urban growth more effectively, in part by increasing the efficiency of existing road networks and providing attractive alternatives to the car. Improving the efficiency and cleanliness of existing vehicles can also help reduce fuel consumption and air pollution.

Topics Covered in Chapter 4

•Urban Transportation Trends
•Impacts of Urban Transportation Trends
•Moving Forward: Key Strategies and Tools


•The Indian Transportation Paradigm
•Setting Limits Pays Off in Portland, Oregon
•Nonmotorized Transportation: What's To Become of Bicycles
                              and Pedestrians

References and Notes

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