Islamabad, Pakistan: 20 September 2008 (IUCN) – Pakistani cities are growing at a rapid rate and will collapse in a matter of years if an efficient, inexpensive and sustainable public transport system is not put in place immediately, said former Mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, Mr. Enrique Penalosa Londono at a seminar in Islamabad on Saturday.
The politician-turned-international development adviser from Latin America said that public transport should be given priority over private vehicles, with city governments focusing on open public spaces and amenities such as parks, pedestrian streets, playgrounds, bicycle lanes and waterfronts.
Mr. Penalosa was speaking at a seminar, "A Different Vision for Urban Development and Mobility", jointly organised by IUCN Pakistan, the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Pakistan Clean Air Network.
Speaking on the occasion, he warned that excessive vehicular traffic, particularly in urban areas, is becoming a grave challenge for governments. He said that every citizen has the right to a clean environment, pollution-free air and a decent quality of life.
The answer to these urban challenges lies in building an efficient public transport system, providing footpaths for all citizens whether rich or poor, demarcating car-free zones, developing open public spaces and seeding a simpler lifestyle in society. The excessive use of cars adds to urban pollution, while burning fossil fuels accelerates the pace of climate change and adds an extra burden on the national fuel import bill.
He further said that measures should be taken to improve democratic values and promote equality among citizens. A city in which public amenities such as parks, open spaces and footpaths are abundant is a city whose citizens will remain in touch with nature. This creates a feeling of equality, and reduces the daily stresses of urban living. It is crucial to designate spaces for parks to be developed in the future.
He was of the opinion that a habitable city is one where its people do not feel the need to remain inside their homes. A habitable city is one where children can be seen playing outdoors. A city that is good for children, the elderly, the handicapped and the poor is also good for everyone else. He pointed out that people need to walk just like birds need to fly.
While quoting examples from the developed world, Mr Penalosa said the city should have three- or four-storey buildings, at most. In the Netherlands, the government promoted the use of bicycles. As a result, today in the Netherlands a citizen on a $40 bicycle is as important as one driving a $40,000 car. In Amsterdam, 50 per cent of the population uses bicycles, even though per capita income in the Netherlands is higher than in the United States.
He urged city planners in Islamabad/Rawalpindi to provide bus-ways and sidewalks. Highways do not solve the traffic problem, he noted, and scarce public resources can be better spent on schools, parks and hospitals. He maintained that it is not an engineering decision, but a political decision.
Mr Penalosa observed that there is an opportunity in Islamabad/Rawalpindi to implement the best available sustainable transport policies. He said that traffic problems in the twin cities cannot be solved by having more cars and a rail-based mass transit system, such as subways and light railways. Rail-based systems are expensive to construct, and their operation and maintenance costs are high. Bus-based systems have the same capacity as rail-based systems but are easy to deploy.
Giving an example of the Colombian capital, Mr Penalosa said he introduced the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, known locally as TransMilenio, with specified bus ways and specially-built bus stations, which solved the transport problem in that city. Since the system was fast and efficient, and the buses comfortable, many car owners also began to use it. He said that today TransMilenio carries more passengers than the Delhi subway.
There should be a single transport authority to operate buses, collect fares and manage infrastructure. Mr Penalosa also discussed various aspects of the BRT system with respect to financing, operations and maintenance.
Oscar Edmundo Diaz of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Mahmood Akhtar Cheema of IUCN Pakistan and Arif Parvaiz of the Clinton Climate Initiative also spoke on the occasion.