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On World Habitat Day, UN spotlights sustainable modes of transportation in cities

Urban mobility in Cairo, Egypt.
Urban mobility in Cairo, Egypt.

On World Habitat Day, UN spotlights sustainable modes of transportation in cities

The United Nations today marked World Habitat Day by encouraging city governments to expand access to sustainable modes of transportation and draw more travelers out of cars and onto trains, buses, bicycle paths, and sidewalks.

“Urban transport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, whose theme this year is urban mobility. “The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Rapid urban growth has led to an increase in the use of motor vehicles, particularly in cities in developing countries, many of which are struggling to meet the demand for investment in transportation.

“Mobility is not just a question of building wider or longer roads; it is about providing appropriate and efficient systems that serve the most people in the best, most equitable manner,” Mr. Ban said. “This includes encouraging a transition from car use to trains, buses and bicycles, and bringing more pedestrians onto well-lit sidewalks.”

In addition to negative environmental effects, Mr. Ban noted that millions of people are denied the benefits of public or private transport due to cost; persons with disabilities and the elderly are regularly excluded due to practicality; and women, young persons and minorities are concerned with safety.

“People need to be able to get to work, school, hospitals and places of recreation safely and quickly. Getting mobility right can regenerate urban centres, boost productivity and make a city attractive for all users – from investors to visitors and residents,” Mr. Ban said.

In his statement for the Day, Executive Director of UN-Habitat (HABITAT) Joan Clos emphasized that the costs of cars have become “abundantly apparent – including urban sprawl, air and noise pollution, climate change, road traffic accidents, and the physical separation of people by class and race.”

He added that mobility is not just about increasing the length and capacity of the urban transport infrastructure, but also includes urban planning that focuses on bringing people and places together.

“By optimizing urban densities and minimizing land zoning, we start to make the city work for its citizens; proximity of goods and services exploits the urban advantage and encourages investment and opportunity,” Mr. Clos said. “Compact, well-designed cities can also be cleaner and have less impact on their environment per resident than more spread out areas.

“In an environment characterized by scarcity, this is not only preferable to our standard of living but vital if we are to grow our urban space in a sustainable and desirable way.”

Observed annually on the first Monday of October, World Habitat Day seeks to spark reflection on the state of towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that everyone has a responsibility to shape the future of cities and towns.