The Urban Vision in partnership with Columbia Business School’s Energy club, Social enterprise club and Green Business club hosted a forum on sustainable transportation in Columbia University, New York City as part of The Urban Vision’s “Climate Month” celebration between September 15 – October 15 2009 leading up to the historic Copenhagen Summit scheduled for December 2009. The “Climate Month” featured a series of Forums and Symposiums with major thought leaders of our times to evaluate solutions to moving our planet into a sustainable path.
This Sustainable Transportation forum highlighted several projects and innovative processes that would benefit us in climate change mitigation while improving the overall quality of life.
Prathima Manohar from The Urban Vision set the tone of the meeting by reminding the audience of some facts like climate change being greatest challenges faced by our planet and cities being at the heart of this problem. About 80% of carbon emissions can be attributed to the cities, and automobiles contribute to the half of carbon emission. Prathima added that while other sectors like industry have been able to reduce carbon emissions; the transport sector has steadily increased their carbon emissions.
Earl Jackson, Associate Director at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) showcased the projects and design ideology of SOM. Earl focused on two main projects: – Tyson’s corner in Fairfax County, Virginia and Maytas forest Hills, Hyderabad. SOM was involved in developing a master plan with a focus on transit for Tyson’s Corner. The plan was to introduce four new metro stations on the site to reduce the automobile dependency and increase pedestrian traffic. The concept of this design was to develop a pedestrian friendly neighbourhood for community living while including the infrastructure associated with these metro rail stations.
The design programme for Maytas Forest hills included a special economic zone and only two site accesses. The integration of this project to the Hyderabad city depended on the local /regional buses, which would enter the site through these main access points. A major road loop where local /regional buses would run was created with the accesses and a smaller internal loop was designed to intersect the major loop where the energy efficient buses serviced the internal site area. The proposal had highest density around the special economic zone to facilitate residences for people to live where they work. The plan also included watersheds to harvest rainwater, preserved existing orchards and used locally available material to reduce the community’s carbon footprint.
Fred Kent the Founder and President for People for Public Places (PPS discussed concepts of place-making which involved using the community to develop public spaces. PPS works on ideas like the comfort, place-making, power of 10, zealousness of public, and acknowledging community is an expert to develop places in cities. Power of 10 concept advocates that each community needs to have 10 places with things to do, 10 destinations to go to and 10 such communities would make a region interesting. Fred discussed the case study of downtown New Hampshire where PPS was successful in creating a people friendly place with their approach of involving the community. Fred introduced some experiments in the presentation which defied the general notion of traffic functioning. These changes in road design by PPS have proved to reduce crashes according to the data collected. Fred also went on to explain the sustainability of traditional markets, shop fronts and suggested using green design as a integrated concept as compared to the specialised type of design.
Dan Collins, IBM, USA showcased how technology can be used in shaping sustainable future of transportation. An average person today experiences increased commute time to work which is a non-productive time for the commuter. To address this concern IBM is working on tools for congestion management which would reduce commute time. Dan explained infrastructure solutions like cordoned pricing or dynamic pricing for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes. Solutions to predict traffic jams based on traffic motion are also being implemented which would predict a jam up to 90 minutes before traffic actually stops. This system is being used in Singapore and gives commuters an opportunity to choose the best available route during congestion. The case study of downtown Stockholm traffic involving IBM technology of dynamic pricing mechanism reduced carbon emissions, traffic congestion and increased the use of public transit. The city of Atlanta is also in the process of implementing cordoned pricing on its highway I-85 which is notorious for traffic jams.
Aaron Naparstek, the editor- in –chief of Streetsblog talked about the challenges of sustainable transportation in New York City (NYC). Average New Yorker emits 1/3 of the green house gasses as compared to average American because of the well connected transit systems. Aaron suggested some alternative sustainable transport solutions to reduce the green house gas emissions further. Bike infrastructure for American cities was an idea suggested in presentation which showed very successful examples from Germany and Paris and NYC. Bus rapid transit system was another successful idea which was used in Bogota and later in cities like Sao Paulo, Auckland and Paris. This type of mass transit system was said to be more sustainable than the way buses are managed at present. Some other ideas Aaron covered were parking management by pricing and availability, traffic congestion pricing on urban roads and making streets more liveable. Aaron went on to explain the significance of having liveable streets and gave some examples of efforts taken around the world for the cause like Parisian Summer gridlock on the Pompidou expressway, Williamsburg walks in NYC, Sumer street event in NYC and public space reclamation in Times Square.
The last contributor of the evening was a medical practitioner from NYC, Dr. Joseph Habboushe who was also working on a new tryp of mass transit idea to solve the crisis of transit in sprawled cities. Joe presented a proposal for perpetual express train to address the sprawl city of Los Angeles, which he and his colleagues designed. An interesting feature of this design was allowing the passengers would be able to transfer between trains via while trains are in motion, eliminating the need to transfer at the station. This idea, if implemented will divided the city of L.A into well connected pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods of 10 min radius each having a stop for perpetual express train system.