Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
November 1, 1998
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Strategies for Solving Urban Transportation Problems in Developing Countries

Transportation planners in developing countries face a number of problems "that require innovative solutions." Large increases in urban population and pollution have seriously compromised existing transportation systems and significantly increased the challenge of creating future transportation systems. And "despite extensive spending on urban transportation systems," the problems "seem to only get worse."

Razat Gaurav, Ernst & Young LLP, and C. Jotin Khisty examined these problems and their potential solutions in "Urban Transportation in Developing Countries: Trends, Impacts, and Potential Systemic Strategies," a paper prepared for the Transportation Research Board's 77th Annual Meeting (January 1998). They concluded that "a more holistic approach . . . would be very essential" in tackling the problems. The authors suggested three policy strands involving practices, innovations, and sustainable development and emphasized that "together they [the three strands] could substantially reduce the economic, environmental, and social costs of some of the negative trends and impacts" of urban transportation systems in developing countries. In addition, the authors cautioned that developing countries would be wise to learn from the mistakes made in developed countries such as the United States and to develop solutions specific to their own needs, as opposed to simply copying approaches used by developed countries.

URBAN TRANSPORTATION TRENDS

The authors noted that the complex urban transportation problems in developing countries "are triggered by certain trends," all of them interrelated. Urban population growth is one such trend. For example, "in 1995, approximately 45 percent of the world population lived in urban areas; by the year 2025, this figure is projected to go up to 60 percent." And "a staggering 90 percent" of this growth will occur in the world's developing countries, primarily in Africa and Asia.

Growth in population naturally causes growth in car ownership, and while "car ownership levels [in the developing countries] are far lower than the developed countries at present, . . . it is in these developing countries that the greatest growth rate[s] in motor vehicles have been seen in the past few years and are expected in the future," primarily in urban areas. In Asia, most of this growth stems from the increase in vehicles with two or three wheels. Rapid growth rates of these vehicles are also expected in China and India. The mobility and affordability advantages of these vehicles are diminished by their pollution disadvantages, notably high levels of "carbon monoxide and unburnt hydrocarbon emissions."

An increase in public transit systems seldom accompanies this growth in population, mainly because of high capital costs and "urban form." A city's form "greatly influences and is influenced by travel patterns (the classical land use-transportation cycle)." The authors noted "that the development of urban form has been one of the root causes of many transportation problems throughout the world." The rapid, unplanned, and uncoordinated growth of cities has dispersed their populations, with more people moving from the city centers to their "urban periphery." This dispersion reduces access to public transportation and makes the cost of building and maintaining new public transportation systems prohibitive. Overall, "non-motorized modes of transportation even in the urban areas of developing countries can only remain viable options if there is a suitably high population density and a mixed land use development pattern."

IMPACTS OF THE TRENDS

The environmental and social impacts of these trends are significant "because they are directly related to quality of life and urban productivity." These impacts include congestion, energy consumption, air pollution, and traffic crashes. The authors noted that "congestion is perhaps the most visible manifestation of the failures in urban transportation planning," and its costs are significant. For example, in Bangkok alone, yearly congestion cost estimates vary from $272 million to more than $1 billion. In terms of traffic crashes, "in general, motorized urban traffic and pedestrian accidents form a higher proportion of accidents in developing countries than in developed countries." For example, "in 1993, an estimated 885,000 people died in traffic accidents," and "the majority of these deaths were in developing countries."

In addition to the "huge amounts of energy" transportation consumes, "motor vehicles produce more air pollution than any other human activity." In city centers, where traffic congestion levels are high, "traffic can be responsible for as much as 90 to 95 percent of the ambient carbon monoxide levels, 80 to 90 percent of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, and a large portion of the particulates, posing a major threat to human health and natural resources." Lead emissions from the combustion of leaded gasoline also cause "an estimated 80 to 90 percent of lead in ambient air." In response to the health threat posed by lead, most developed countries have reduced the lead content in gasoline, but in most developing countries, "ambient lead levels greatly exceed the health standard." These emissions have a global as well as local impact: "The transportation sector is the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions-- that is, emissions of chemicals that have the potential to contribute to global warming."

STRATEGIES AND CONCLUSIONS

The authors emphasized that "urban areas in developing countries require new approaches to addressing their transportation problems." These countries must make these approaches "city specific," even for cities within the same country. In addition, they must realize "that solutions designed for cities of developed countries cannot directly be applied to the urban areas of developing countries." However, developing countries can and "should learn from the mistakes already made in developed countries (like the United States) where unbalanced transportation systems are exacting enormous costs."

Developing countries must also acknowledge "the interrelationships that exist between different urban trends and impacts." Addressing problems in isolation "would not be very effective because of the complex and whole nature of the urban transportation system." Interrelated problems require "integrated strategies" implemented over time, from the immediate and short term to the gradual and long term.

With these factors in mind, the authors suggested three policy strands. The first, known as "Best Practice," involves using "the best techniques that have been tried and shown to be effective." Such techniques include using cleaner fuels, retrofitting engines, improving existing public transportation, coordinating interdepartmental efforts, and enforcing stricter traffic rules. The second strand, "Policy Innovations," includes managing traffic and travel demand, forming public-private partnerships, and using traffic calming and alternative fuels. The "Sustainable Development" strand involves promoting non-motorized modes of transportation, integrating land-use and transportation planning, expanding public transit, inspecting and maintaining vehicles, increasing education levels, and controlling urban population growth.

The authors concluded "all three strands would be needed to meet some of the challenges that are facing transportation planners in urban areas of developing countries"; however, time sequences and approaches are flexible and adaptable to various urban areas. In other words, "each city would need to develop its own version of these policy strands." Overall, "a coordinated effort with plenty of communication between the different governmental departments and stakeholders could go a long way in addressing the challenges that large cities in developing countries are experiencing."

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.



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