Monday, May 20, 2013

Shifting Away from Automobilities

As we've covered previously, Mexico City has experienced dramatic change over the last five years to its transportation system. Long regarded as one of the worst commuter cities in the world, Mexico City has seen such growth that they received the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). This can be attributed to the city's system-wide shift away from automobility planning towards a multimodal approach emphasizing transit and active transportation options.

As found in many major cities, studies began to surface on the negative externalities of automobiles and the intense disparity between modal transportation spending. In 2012 a study was conducted to quantify the negative impacts of car use in Mexico. They found a loss of 4% to the total GDP of Mexico and 4.6% loss for Mexico City directly resulting from the negative impacts of car use (Table below). Congestion was by far the largest contributor to this loss, followed by accidents and smog.

With this data in hand, Mexico was able to begin shifting transportation funding towards more sustainable options. Mexico City capitalized on this with the opening of several new bus rapid transit routes and a promotion of active transportation options, including a bike share program, a parking management policy (ecoparq), and a type of Sunday Parkways program (Muevate en Bici). While Mexico City (DF) has made considerable strides towards readjusting transport spending, this has not caught on throughout Mexico. Most Mexican states remain decidedly car-centric in their spending (Figure below).

This disparity in spending between transportation modes across the Mexican states has, in part, led to a reassessment of urban policy at the state and federal level. While Mexico City has seen great success in the last few years in developing an active transportation network, it still needs much more comprehensive support at higher levels to continue shifting away from the car-centric urban reality.

To achieve this, a new urban transportation paradigm has been proposed in the report: Transforming Urban Mobility in Mexico Towards Accessible Cities Less Reliant on Cars. This report touches on several key theoretical points we've discussed in class, most directly the difference between mobility and accessibility. Mexico City has experienced some aspects of the evolution from capacity planning to mobility planning and finally accessibility planning. Now this needs to be accepted by the states and federal government as well. The figure below highlights the differences between these planning mandates in both implementation and effects.

This should also be familiar to transportation planners in the U.S. Capacity planning has long been the hallmark of transportation planning with constantly expanding highways and road networks. The mobility paradigm can be seen in the Columbia River Crossing project with its focus on the more efficient movement of people through an expanded highway and added public transportation. This paradigm is all about moving more people farther and faster. However, this most often leads to more dispersed development, more VMT and the negative impacts associated with it.

The accessibility paradigm has been catching on in places both in the U.S. and Mexico, but is not the norm by any means. In Mexico, there needs to be major institutional and regulatory changes put in place to reach this third paradigm, and much of this will be centered on active transportation options. The full report (linked below) goes into the specific strategies necessary for Mexico to move beyond capacity and mobility planning, but what matters most is that Mexico and Mexico City have publicly declared a continued determination towards improving their urban form and footprint. Mexico City was awarded a great honor last year for their improvements to sustainable transportation planning, but the renewed efforts at the city and federal level can lead to a fully realized active transportation city.

Figures pulled from report: Transforming Urban Mobility in Mexico Towards Accessible Cities Less Reliant on Cars.

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