Urban transportation and sustainability concerns

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By Peter Makwanya
URBAN resilience needs to be at the centre of rapid and expanding cities in Africa where communities are flocking to urban areas in large numbers, making cities their destination of choice. Many African cities are on the frontline of growing physical risks and hazards associated with climate change. While cities are home to more than half of the world’s population by 2050, the figure is projected to rise by 68%, according to a Report by C40 Cities Climate Leadership and McKinsey analysis 2021.

In this regard, issues to do with urban resilience are not sufficiently foregrounded and mainstreamed in terms of climate change and climate proofing, thereby escaping the sharp and analytic perspective of research and general understanding.

Issues that have dominated the urban resilient agenda are the usual urban agriculture, wetland farming and destruction, sustainable rainwater harvesting, among others, leaving out transport-related emissions, pollution and effects of the carbon footprints untamed and unexplored.

With many cities around the world a cradle and outpost of pollutions and related carbon emissions, the reduction of transport emissions becomes centred at the heart of net-zero emissions and sustainable urban mobility.

Moreover, modern infrastructure and its operations are closely connected as a system.

Therefore, a failure in one part of a system can affect the entire system resulting in multiple disruptions and damages.

Flooded roads, road networks and parking systems can affect the transport systems which are at the centre of urban sustainable mobility. Sustainable mobility fosters social inclusion and SDGs 10, sustainable cities and communities, SDG 11, life on the land, SDG 6, affordable and clean energy and SDG 8, industry, innovation and infrastructure, including SDG 7, work and economic growth and SDG 2, good health are key. These SDGs do not operate independently and in isolation, but are very much fused and integrated to contribute to the envisaged sustainable and inclusive whole. Obviously the new urban agenda would be to situate and localise the SDGs as much as possible so that they make sense.

With Africa and Asia urbanising so fast, so are the choking emissions which should not be viewed in isolation but in relation to human concerns and health wellbeing together with their ecological impact. In this view, the social and ecological function of the land needs to be central to urban design, planning, architecture and engineering.

Roads as part of sustainable infrastructure have exposed many urban authorities when it comes to application and implementation where they would present lots of mobility headaches, when all the transportation virtually cannot permit any mobility, undermining all the gains of sustainable cities and economic growth.

Climate proofing African cities for sustainable mobility is key and a climate justice tool too, including the management of the ever-increasing volumes of traffic in sub-Saharan cities a major concern and a source of carbon emissions. Besides poor planning and management of road networks, sub-Saharan African cities and urban areas are home to unregulated, overused and second-hand vehicles imported from Japan which emit more carbon emissions and e-waste gases. Instead of contributing to sustainable mobility, these transport systems also contribute to global warming, not forgetting aviation which is emission intensive and also noise polluting.

Transport as a whole is the fastest growing major source of greenhouse gases. It is only road transport that at least, can be mitigated towards less carbon intensive initiatives, that is why sustainable mobility is assumed to have many co-benefits in terms of emission reductions. Low carbon motoring is the greatest envy of sustainability practitioners but as long as there is continued use of fossil fuel products like diesel and petrol, carbon emissions and e-waste toxins would continue to dominate urban resilient worries and concerns. It is only in developing countries where walking and cycling are considered cheap, less affluent and one of the last choices, that is if the kind of thoughts can ever cross their minds.

Transport defines all urban mobility concerns and it is the duty of urban planners, designers, engineers and human capital to play a sustainable role. It is also the aim of sustainable green living to come up with more efficient, reliable and clean energy efficient means of transport systems.

Reducing transport-induced pollution and carbon footprints is paramount for urban resilience. Improperly managed transport networks and parking zones have become an eyesore and a cancer in most African cities, compounded by winding traffic jams, retarding smooth and efficient transport mobility and that of pedestrians too.

Therefore, it becomes key for city and urban planners to mainstream climate change adaptation in their designs and mitigations so that carriageways are dual, multiple and wide, making parking accessible, easier and affordable.

In this regard, sustainable mobility should contribute to safer and congestion-free cities, for cushioning the public by overcoming numerous structural gaps and mobility barriers currently inherent in the traffic management systems in developing countries. These deficiencies and gaps curtail movement, eat into productive time while endangering the health and wellbeing of citizens and the environment.

With more and more increase in awareness in knowledge and information on what contributes to smart cities and sustainable mobility, one day it would dawn to the majority of the countries that their health and that of the environment comes first and foremost.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com