Dec 162014

Passengers alight from an EZ-10 driverless electric shuttle developed by the Ligier Group. The first fleet of its vehicles will operate by 2015 at the Michelin International Centre for Research of Ladoux. Photo by KAP MACEDA AGUILA

CHENGDU, China – “Civilized countries are not ones where the poor have cars, but are ones where the rich take the public transit,” said Guillermo Peñalosa, commissioner of parks, sport, and recreation for the City of Bogota in Colombia.

Yes, think about it.

Speaking at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum’s so-called TEDCity 2.0 Salon, the Colombian public official asked attendees to reconsider the way mobility is thought of in a context of development. TED is a “non-profit devoted to spreading ideas… beginning in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment, and design converged.”

Started in 1998, the Bibendum, so named as a nod to the French tire maker’s famous mascot, has been drawn up as an annual event to explore the avenues towards sustainable mobility. The 12th edition held here in China’s fourth most populous city, sought clear goals to “(set) ambitions C02 reduction objectives worldwide, (create) ultra-low emissions zones in cities, (deploy) door-to-door transport solutions, (reinvent) last-mile delivery logistics, and (promote) public and private investment.”

Indeed, mobility is what drives economic growth, and yet transportation can also spawn a host of problems that society can ignore at its peril. Peñalosa rued that 1.2 million lives are lost every year in traffic accidents. Of these, 270,000 are killed walking in sidewalks or on the streets; an additional 30 million more suffer injuries. “These are not accidents; they can be avoided,” he declared urgently.

Peñalosa is correct to note the distressing truths in our megacities, which are being pushed to the brink of collapse – stressed beyond what planners originally intended and readied for. Metro Manila residents, for instance, do not even need to be reminded of woeful conditions. We have learned to live with flash flooding after but a few minutes of rain, pedestrian-unfriendly streets, and, of course, the paralyzing traffic.

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We are not alone in our traffic woes, too. Globally, congestion costs countries more than 100 billion euros (P5.5 trillion) annually. And as you suspect, transportation accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gases, and corners 17 percent of total energy consumption. If we keep at our trajectory, Peñalosa believes that a respite isn’t in the offing. Today, mankind owns about a billion cars – expected to swell to three billion by 2050. “If you think we have traffic congestion today,” he underscored.

United Nations special advisor on sustainable development Brice Lalonde takes an even wider perspective. “The world is smaller, more vulnerable,” he said, and described the challenges we face as having “planetary dimensions.” Lalonde continued: “We are damaging the very foundations of life – the physical machinery… that hosts life.”

He narrated that some scientists insist we are in the Anthropocene epoch (anthropo for “man,” and “cene” for new). A Smithsonian Magazine piece explains that this movement has gain traction because “human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.”

“If humans are responsible, they must act responsibly,” declared Lalonde simply, and lamented that even if there has been a climate change summit for two decades now, it has largely been ineffectual. “The core of the problem is that we have 190 sovereign states discussing together, and each sovereign state tells its negotiator not to give up anything until the others give up also. Nobody speaks on behalf of the planet… the seas… the atmosphere.”

Thus, the solution, according to Lalonde, is to create “planet policies implemented as if Planet Earth was one country.”

For Guillermo Peñalosa, it starts with making cities livable again. “We need to create great cities for more people,” he said, and added, tellingly: “We need to build cities for all – not just for those 30 and athletic.” While extolling the virtues of effective public transportation, the public-sector planner wants to encourage walking and cycling. “They are not a frivolity, but the only way of mobility for children all over the world,” he said with conviction. “We need to dignify pedestrians and cyclists.”

In the final analysis, sustainability – mobility or otherwise – provides a path to “create health, wealth, and happiness.”

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