Most public policy discussions and decisions such as those having to do with macroeconomics are very short-lived. Even if it sounds a bit sacrilegious, it is irrelevant to the way people live today that most countries revolutions or wars of independence would have occurred a hundred years before of after they actually occurred, or in many cases that they would have occurred at all. Instead the way we build our cities affects to a large degree how our people will live for hundreds of years to come.
The task for all of us involved in creating environments where many generations will live is not simply to create a city that functions efficiently. It is to create an environment where the majority of people will be as happy as possible. Happiness is difficult to define and impossible to measure; but let us not forget that it is what all our efforts, collective or individual, are about. Over the last 40 years the environment became an issue of deep concern to all societies. So much that today any 8 year old is worried about tropical forests and the survival of mountain gorillas. Curiously, a similar interest in the human environment has not yet arisen. There is much more clarity in our time as to what the ideal environment is for a happy gorilla or a happy whale, than what the ideal environment is for a happy child. We are far from having a shared vision of an ideal human environment; much less of the transportation system for it.
Transport differs from all other problems developing societies face, because it gets worse rather than better with economic development. While sanitation, education and all other challenges improve with economic growth, transport gets worse. Transport is also at the core of a different, more appropriate model that could and should be implemented by Third World cities. More than a socio-political model, the model I will describe is a model for a different way of living in cities; but it has profound social and economic implications. If we are truly committed to social justice; environmental sustainability; and economic growth, we need to espouse a city model different from the one the world has pursued over the last century and up to now.
The core of the new model is a severe restriction of automobile use, with total restriction of cars and commercial vehicles during 5 or 6 peak hours every day. During those 2.5 or 3 hours every morning and afternoon, all citizens will move exclusively using public transport, bicycles, or walking. It sounds simplistic, yet I invite you to reflect upon the environmental implications in terms of noise, air pollution, energy consumption, land use. Socially, it would free immense resources currently devoted to care for roads mainly for the upper income citizens that could be used to invest in the needs of the poor; it would get all citizens together as equals regardless of income or social standing in public spaces, public transport or bicycles. And most importantly, it would allow cities to become a place primarily for people, a change from the last 80 years when we built cities much more for motor-vehicles mobility than for children's happiness.
A CITY FOR PEOPLE
The other structuring element of the new city model is abundant high quality pedestrian public space. There should be at least as much public pedestrian space as road space. Physically protected bicycle paths, large, exclusively pedestrian avenues and greenways should crisscross the city in all directions. No child should grow farther than 3 blocks from a park. Large tracts of land around cities should become parks; cross country pedestrian and bicycle paths through the adjacent countryside should readily permit all citizens a contact with nature; all waterfronts should have public access and have the basic infrastructure for it.
God made us walking animals: pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy. A bird can survive inside a small cage and even bear descendants. But one suspects the bird would be happier inside an enormous cage the size of an auditorium and even more flying free. As we could survive inside an apartment all our life, but we can be much happier if we can walk and run about, as freely as possible.
The importance of pedestrian public spaces cannot be measured. We cannot prove mathematically that wider sidewalks, pedestrian streets, more or better parks make people happier, much less measure how much happier. However if we reflect, most things that are important in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty are examples. Parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a happy urban life. There is a curious difference between parks and other public investments. If people lack transport, running water, or other traditional public services, they will feel very unsatisfied. But if they do have those services, they do not get much satisfaction out of it. On the contrary, if they lack parks or other pedestrian spaces, they will not be particularly dissatisfied. But if they do have them, they will derive out of it ceaseless satisfaction. It is so, because most government services are means to a better life; while pedestrian spaces are an end in themselves; they practically ARE a better life in themselves.
A few months ago I was impressed by a documentary about herons in a Brazilian wetland. As child herons were learning to fly, some would fall to the water, where crocodiles promptly devoured them. As I was feeling sympathetic towards the herons, I realized that children in cities faced a similar predicament. As they leave their homes, they risk being run over by a car. This is not theory. Thousands of children the world over are killed by cars every year. City children grow in fear of cars, as Middle Age children feared wolves. One of the main reasons for moving to the suburbs is finding environments children freer from the threat of cars. Another reason is to have a closer contact with nature and green spaces. The higher income groups always have access to nature, at beach houses, lake cabins, mountain chalets, on vacations to Alaska or Africa, or in more urban settings at golf courses or large gardens. Parks allow the rest of society to have that contact as well.
At first it may seem that in Third World cities with so many unmet needs, high quality pedestrian spaces would be a frivolity. On the contrary, where citizens lack so much in terms of amenities and consumption, it is quicker and more effective to distribute quality of life through public goods such as parks, plazas, sidewalks, than to increase the personal incomes of the poor. It is impossible to provide citizens certain individual consumer goods and services such as cars, computers, or trips to Paris. It is however possible to provide them excellent schools, libraries, sidewalks and parks. Low-income privations are not really felt during work time. It is during leisure that the difference is felt. While the upper income people have cars, go to clubs, country houses, theater, restaurants and vacations, for the poor public space is the only leisure alternative to television. Parks, plazas, pedestrian streets and sidewalks are essential for social justice. High quality sidewalks are the most basic element of a democratic city. It is frequent that images of high-rises and highways are used to portray a city's advance. In fact, in urban terms a city is more civilized not when it has highways, but when a child in a TRICYCLE be able to move about everywhere with ease and safety.
Parks and public space are also important to a democratic society because they are the only places where people meet as equals. In our highly hierarchical societies, we meet separated by our socio-economic differences. The CEO perhaps meets the janitor, but from his position of power. In sidewalks and parks we all meet as equals.
For all the above reasons I concentrated an enormous effort during my term as Mayor of Bogotá in the creation of public pedestrian spaces: Hundreds of thousands of square meters of tree-lined sidewalks, more than 200 kilometers of bicycle paths, a 45 kilometer greenway connecting rich and poor neighborhoods, more than 300 small parks proposed and built by poor communities themselves, a total of 1123 new or reconstructed parks. Two blocks away from the Presidential Palace, in the city core, we demolished more than 600 houses in a totally deteriorated area that had become perhaps the world's largest crime center and a 20 hectare park is being built there. It should become a magnet for residential development. We converted one of downtown's main streets into a pedestrian one. We also built a17 kilometers long pedestrian street lined with trees, lamps, benches, through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Latin America, where most motor vehicle streets are not yet paved. The political battles were not easy. I was almost impeached for getting cars off the sidewalks. In the end Bogotá changed from being one city intensely resented and rejected by its inhabitants, into one loved by its now proud citizens.
CONSEQUENCES OF UNRESTRICTED CAR USE
We cannot talk about urban transport until we know what type of a city we want. And to talk about the city we want is to talk about the way we want to live. Do we want to create a city for children and the elderly, and therefore for every other human being, or a city for automobiles? The important questions are not about engineering, but about ways to live. A premise of the new city is that we want society to be as egalitarian as possible. For this purpose, quality of life distribution is more important income distribution. The equality that really matters is that relevant to a child: Access to adequate nutrition, recreation, education, sports facilities, green spaces and a living environment as free of motor vehicles as possible. The city should have abundant cultural offerings; public spaces with people; low levels of noise and air pollution; short travel times.
Urban transport is a political rather than a technical issue. The technical aspects are simple. The difficult decisions relate to who is going to benefit from the models adopted. Do we dare create a transport model different from that in the so-called advanced world cities? Do we dare create a transport system giving priority to the needs of the poor majority rather than the automobile owning minority? Are we trying to find the most efficient, economical way to move a city's population, as cleanly and comfortably as possible? Or are we just trying to minimize the upper classes traffic jams?
The new city should have a high population density, in any case of more than 120 inhabitants per hectare (12,000 inhabitants per square kilometer). We want cities to have a high population density, for reasons as the following:
-Low cost high-frequency transit
For reasons such as the above, practically all urban experts in the world coincide in the desirability of density. Now, UNRESTRICTED CAR USE INEVITABLY BREEDS SUBURBAN DEVELOPMENT. First it brings about traffic jams. Traffic jams in turn create enormous pressure to invest in more, bigger, road infrastructure; which in turn stimulates suburban development.
The above occurs regardless of availability of mass transit. Paris is the best example of growing car use and suburbanization despite a beautiful city and top quality public transport. It is important to understand why people go to the suburbs, so as to provide that in cities. Ironically, it seems that one of the main attractions of suburbia is a relatively car-free environment, for children to play and ride bicycles safely. Greenery and green spaces also pull people to the suburbs. The new city can provide ample exclusively pedestrian streets and green spaces. Contrary to what is supposed often, a high density city needs not have very high buildings: Five-story buildings can easily yield high population densities.
The unsustainable nature of the car-based transport is illustrated by the fact that the problem gets worse as societies grow richer. Unless car use is restricted severely, society will be worse instead of better with progress:
In a city where the poor do not use cars, road building and improvement in order to relieve congestion is very regressive. It takes up very scarce government resources leaving the poor needs unattended.
Car use in Third World cities is very regressive: It absorbs massive public investments for road infrastructure building and maintenance, taking resources away from the more urgent and important needs of the poor; creates jams that hinder the mobility of the bus riding majorities; pollutes the air; makes noise; road arteries primarily for private vehicle users become obstacles to lower income pedestrians; it leads to a progressive invasion of scarce pedestrian spaces by parked vehicles. There clearly are contradictory interests between motor vehicles and human beings: The more a city is made to accommodate motor vehicles, the less respectful of human dignity it becomes; and the more acute the differences in quality of life between upper income and lower income groups. Children, the old, handicapped and vulnerable populations are particularly alienated by increasing motorization and the processes that come with it.
International experience has made it clear that trying to solve traffic problems building more, bigger roads is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. In the United States time lost in traffic increases every year, despite enormous highways. A new highway stimulates new development around it and particularly at its extremes and thus generates its own traffic. Let us imagine a new 10-lane highway from the center of a city to any location in its outskirts. Immediately after it is completed, or even before, new housing projects, shopping malls, factories, are built around the new road and in the countryside near its extreme. The new road stimulates urban expansion, lower densities and longer trips. Ten years after the road is built, traffic jams are just as bad as ever. But now average trips are longer. For traffic considerations, doubling the number of vehicles is the same as having the same amount of vehicles travel twice the distance. For all the above, building new road infrastructure in order to solve traffic problems not only is regressive and dehumanizes a city, but it is also useless. To build more road infrastructure in order to solve traffic problems appears as logic and it is as wrong as lowering interest rates in order to lower inflation. Despite the overwhelming evidence that this is wrong, we continue to do it throughout the world.
RESTRICTING AUTOMOBILE USE
The only real solution is to have people move by public transport rather than by individual automobile. Some propose high user charges in order to restrict automobile use: Tolls, vehicle registration fees, gasoline taxes, or varying road charges according to type of road and hour of the day. I have objections to such schemes: Charges never adequately cover the immense costs society pays in terms of road space real estate value; noise and air pollution; road construction and maintenance; policing; roads as obstacles to pedestrian life and danger sources for children. Road user charges may create a situation where a few upper income drivers have the street network all to themselves.
While advanced country cities may have more than 650 cars per 1000 inhabitants, developing country counterparts have less than 200 and in most cases less than 100. Unchecked, the combined effect of population growth and motorization will create ever more severe quality of life and equity problems in Third World cities. If we believe in democracy and participation, people should have a clear understanding of all of the above. And they should be able to vote on it, for example mandating a ban on car use during rush hours. Is there any doubt that the majority of the population that does not drive a car would only to gain from such a restriction? It would have shorter travel times as traffic from cars does not slow buses down; cleaner air; less noise; a more egalitarian relationship with car-owners; more public resources available for priority investments; a more humane, less dangerous environment for children to grow; less high velocity arteries destroying neighborhoods. That such a measure is not adopted is yet one more evidence that the priorities of the political and economic system are not to solve the needs of the poor, or even to benefit the majority of the population, but rather to favor the ruling upper income groups. If the IBRD has a different position on this matter, it should be expressed somehow.
In October 2000, the majority of the voters of Bogotá approved a referendum asking them whether they wanted all cars off the streets every week-day between 6 AM and 9 AM and between 4:30 PM and 7:30 PM from January 2015 onwards. Constitutional interpretations later demanded a higher voter turnout for the referendum to be become a legal mandate. Nevertheless it proved that it is possible for people to conceive a different, perhaps better for them, ways of organizing city life and city transport. Beyond the environmental advantages of a city that moves basically without cars, the economic implications are significant. The private savings in garages, vehicle depreciation, fuel, can be spent in other goods.
A city may follow a more timid approach and simply structure an excellent bus-based transit system on exclusive lanes and not restrict automobile use. But why should the rest of society tolerate that car-using minority that generates noise, air pollution and other costs to society?
The public savings in road construction and maintenance, traffic Police, hospital costs of people hurt in vehicle accidents, can be used not only to provide excellent public transport, but also for schools, libraries and parks, to mention only few. Of course people could always own cars, to use at off peak hours, or to travel to the countryside on weekends. Or they could simply rent them when need be. Freed from the pressure to find ever more room for cars, authorities can concentrate in more civilizing endeavors, such as creating more public pedestrian space.
A city such as that proposed here would become a world example of sustainability, quality of life, social justice and social integration. And it would become extremely attractive to highly qualified professionals and investors. If in the past capital investments were attracted with subsidies of different sorts, in the new knowledge economy perhaps the most crucial competitive factor is urban quality of life.
Let us imagine that 1000 wealthy individuals in a large city decide to use private helicopters for their daily transport. Helicopters are very loud. Why would the rest of society forgo its silence, that natural resource that belongs to all? Why should the majority suffer great noise for the benefit of a few? Yet the car-using minority generates much more costs for the majority than helicopters would. Because cars destroy the common silence; pollute the air; require extremely costly road space and infrastructure that absorbs scarce public funds. The most important point illustrated by the helicopters example is that it is possible for a few hundred people to use helicopters for their transport; but it would be impossible for everyone in a city to do so. The same happens with private cars. While only an upper middle class minority uses cars, despite enormous costs and injustice, the system works. But it would not be possible for every citizen to use a private car for his or her mobility; otherwise jams would be massive and high velocity roads would destroy the city human qualities and structure.
No city in the world has yet implemented a system of radical automobile use restriction. Yet nobody in the world had yet made a revolution like the French when the French revolution occurred. Blatant sources of inequality eliminated by the revolution had been accepted unquestioningly for centuries.
During my term as Mayor of Bogotá we implemented several schemes to reduce car use. Through a tag number system, 40 % of all cars have to be off the streets during peak hours every day. Each car has this restriction two days every week. This reduced daily travel times by about 48 minutes and lowered pollution levels. Gas consumption went down 10.3%.
Bogotá has had a tradition of CICLOVIA, the closing of main arteries to motor-vehicle traffic for 7 hours every Sunday. We doubled the kilometers closed to traffic: Now 120 kilometers of main city arteries are closed to motor vehicles so that people can use them for bicycling, jogging, and getting together. More than 1,5 million people come out there every week end in a marvelous community building celebration. We started a new tradition, closing the same 120 kilometers a night close to Christmas, for citizens to come out and see the Christmas lights. Almost half the city's population, nearly 3 million people of all ages and social standings come out. The exercise constructs sense of belonging, of community.
Another collective adventure we launched was a car-free day. A Thursday, our nearly 7 million inhabitants city went to work leaving all cars home. It worked fine. 98% of people went to school and work as usual, by bus, bicycle or taxi. People enjoyed the adventure. Afterwards in the referendum of October 2000, nearly 64% of voters approved establishing a car free the first Thursday of February every year. Polls taken the day after the 2002 Car Free Day found that 82.7% of the population supports it. The importance of the exercise, much beyond transportation or environment, has to do with social integration, as people of all socio-economic conditions meet as equals on their bicycles or in public transport.
We built more than 200 kilometers of protected bicycle paths. Riders are increasing steadily. Moreover, bike-paths are a symbol of respect for human dignity and of a more egalitarian city. As are high quality sidewalks. Both show that a city is for ITS PEOPLE and not for the motor vehicles of its upper classes as it is so often the case. Bicycles can also be very efficient feeder systems to mass transit.
The single project that we implemented that most contributed to improve quality of life and gave citizens confidence in a better future was a bus-based transit system we called TransMilenio. Starting from zero, inspired by the Curitiba system, we were able to design, build the infrastructure, create the private partners that would operate it, get out the thousands of buses that previously operated there, and put the system in operation in 3 years. Today the incipient system accounts for more than 630.000 daily trips and the main line is carrying more than 40.000 passengers per hour, more than many rail systems. TransMilenio users are saving on average 223 hours annually; 9 % of them used to go to work by car. We should have TransMilenio moving more than 80% of the city's population by 2015.
Although the system is bus based, its operation is more similar to that of a rail based system. Articulated buses operate on exclusive bus-ways, using one or two lanes in each direction. Passengers board the buses only at stations. They buy a ticket when they enter the station, or in stores outside. In this way, when the bus arrives and opens its two doors simultaneously with the station doors, a hundred passengers can go out and a hundred may walk-in in seconds. The bus floor is at the same level of that of the station, making entering and exiting the bus a rapid and safe operation, as well as making the buses fully accessible to the handicapped. The drivers, devoid of any incentive to pick up passengers off the stations do not do it. But it would be difficult to do it even if they tried, because doors are 1,5 meters off the ground.
TransMilenio uses articulated 165 passenger buses with clean diesel engines that comply with Euro Two environmental standards. Contractual arrangements guarantee that buses are extremely clean, well lighted, and are changed before they are in less than perfect shape. Drivers wear uniforms and have to approve training programs. While some buses stop at all stations, others operate express routes stopping at only a few. Passengers can change from a local to an express bus with the same ticket; as they can also change from a bus on one route to another on a different one without any extra cost. Feeder buses not on exclusive lanes but sharing streets with the rest of traffic give people in marginal neighborhoods access to the system. TransMilenio buses run in the middle of avenues and not on the sides, so that vehicles entering and exiting driveways, or delivery vehicles, do not become obstacles. Also, in this way one station is required in each place, instead of one in each direction. Passengers through handicapped-friendly pedestrian bridges access most stations. Although TransMilenio is the fastest means today to move about Bogotá, it could be made even faster at a low cost, building under passes for the buses at busy intersections. This can easily be done at any time in the future. There is nothing technically complex about TransMilenio. The issue is whether a city is ready to get cars off several lanes in its main arteries, in order to assign them exclusively to articulated buses. If the common good is to prevail over the private interest, it is very clear that it must be done.
The main advantage of TransMilenio over rail systems is its low cost. Our public investments were US $ 5 million per kilometer. Even this cost is high, because we chose not only to build a transit artery, but to improve
dramatically the public pedestrian space around it, with sidewalks, plazas, trees and the like, so as to improve the city quality of life and to attract more users to the system. Operating costs are also low. While almost all rail systems in the world require operational subsidies, at US $ 0.40 per passenger, TransMilenio private operators do not only cover costs but also make a profit. With problems of malnutrition, lack of clean water, sewerage, schools, parks, paved roads, developing country cities cannot afford costly rail transit systems. They should not in any case, because too many critical investments required by the poor necessarily are left unattended if rail solutions are chosen. Often the political shine of rail projects, or the financial facilities offered by the vendor countries lead local or national governments to acquire sophisticated subway systems. But at $ 100 million or more per km, and usually unable to generate revenues to cover even their operating costs, such systems are an enormous financial drain for developing country cities. With resources of that magnitude, basic water and sewage infrastructure, schools, housing projects, or formidable parks to improve the quality of life of many generations could be created.
Often Third World upper classes insist on rail systems because they oppose bus-systems use of space they rather have for their private cars. Generally they prefer subways not because they would like to use them which mostly they do not where they exist, but simply because they imagine that putting the poor underground traffic problems will go away. Rail or bus based, surface transport systems are more humane. It is much nicer to travel looking at buildings, people, trees, stores, than to travel underground like a rodent. When rail systems are chosen in Third World cities limited funds only permit building a couple of lines that rarely serve more than 15 % of daily trips. Buses serve the rest of public transport trips. In all Third World cities, the majority of public transport is bus based.
We have been building cities more for automobile's mobility than for children happiness. It is time to give more importance to public pedestrian space than to motor-vehicle roads. The advanced cities car-based suburbanized model is not working well. It is wasteful in physical and human resources, is not environmentally sound and leaves much to be desired in terms of human interaction. Depression is one of the fastest growing illnesses in the advanced world. On the other hand, Third World countries will not likely overtake the advanced ones level of GDP per capital. If they measure success in terms of GDP per capita they will have to define themselves as losers probably for hundreds of years to come. Their frustrated youth will be afraid to dream, to conceive things different, many of those most capable will migrate abroad. A different, more appropriate model is necessary, as much for equality and environment, as for cultural identity and self esteem.
Third World cities are at a stage in development where it is yet possible to avoid the failings of advanced country cities and to create a different city model. IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO THINK AND ACT DIFFERENTLY. The most important difference is that automobile use can be restricted and a much more pedestrian and public transit based society can be organized, since motorization is still only a fraction of that in advanced cities and much of the 2050 cities is yet un-built.
A Third World city will never have a Notre Dame Cathedral, or other architectural jewels of European cities. Yet precisely because of its lack of many architectural treasures, it could for example have a 20 kilometers long very ample pedestrian avenue lined with giant tropical trees, something beyond Paris possibilities. Disadvantage can be turned into advantage: Low income and its resulting low motorization and unavailability of highways, as well as crime, have kept much of the land surrounding Bogotá free of suburban development. Land values are therefore relatively low. US $ 500 million could buy 10.000 hectares of land surrounding Bogotá, an area roughly equivalent to one third of the urbanized area. Can anyone conceive of a better use for $ 500 million for the Bogotá of the future than to reserve a 10.000 hectare green park, 34 times the area of New York's Central Park?
A 10.000 hectare park surrounding Bogotá would generate quality of life for the next 1,000 years or more; but it would also construct equality, because it will give the 10 million inhabitants of the 2,050 city access to a natural green environment, sports facilities, bicycle paths. Usually the quality of life resource most difficult to provide the poor is green space. In most developing country large cities upper classes have access to golf clubs and country houses, but the poor truly live in concrete jungles. And the park would also favor competitiveness and economic growth, by making the city more attractive to highly qualified individuals and corporations interested in setting up shop in the region.
We must keep ever present that our goal is not to generate as much income as possible, but to generate as much happiness as possible. However, to seek quality of life and happiness may turn out to be the best investment in competitiveness and economic growth. A country's competitiveness in the information age will depend largely of the quality of life in its cities. We acknowledge today that as land was the source wealth and power in agricultural societies such as were most developing regions until recently and some still are; and capital filled the role of land in the industrial stage; today that source of wealth is knowledge, be it that of a movie director, or an engineer. While land and capital had a value of their own, the knowledge that creates wealth today is attached to individuals. It is they, themselves who create wealth. If in the Middle Age neighbors had to be conquered in order to acquire their wealth creating land; and until very recently with an industrial society perspective subsidies and various stimuli were extended in order to attract wealth generating industries and capital investment; now it is necessary to create environments to which wealth creating people are attracted. In other words, city life quality can be the most important competitive factor in the new economy.
We must keep in perspective however the limitations of economic growth. It is only a means and not an end in itself. And it does not solve society's problems as effectively as it is supposed at times. Recently a title in The Economist made reference to "The Colombianization of Brazil" as if it were a form of cancer. It went on to show that while Bogotá's murder rates have been declining very rapidly over the last 7 years, Sao Paulo's are skyrocketing. Ten years ago Bogotá's murder rates doubled those of Sao Paulo and today Sao Paulo's double those of Bogotá. Sao Paulo has an income per capita closer to that of an Italian city than to Bogotá's. Over the last few years Bogotá as the rest of Colombia has gone through the worst recession in history, with unemployment rates close to 20 %. Bogotá is also a city in the middle of a country at war. It could be pointed out that Bogotá's murder rates are also lower than those of Washington DC. I cannot present a clear scientific explanation crediting an incipient city model. All I can say is that it is at least evident that "Man does not live by bread alone."
It is essential to construct a shared vision of what a city should be. How would that ideal city be? How would its blocks be, its sidewalks, the height of its buildings, its pedestrian spaces, its transportation systems. This vision is particularly necessary for the Third World, where cities are in very dynamic creation processes. We cannot continue being second rate imitations of advanced cities, because our reality is different and because advanced cities are not very successful themselves. Third World cities have the formidable opportunity of learning from successes and failures of advanced cities, in order to create a new more appropriate and better city model. It does not matter if the shared vision can only be reached in 100 years or more. Middle Age Cathedrals took more than 200 years to build, not out of any crisis in the process, but because building was designed to take that long. It is time for us to dream up our cathedrals.