Carlos Felipe Pardo is an urban planner living in Bogotá, Columbia, who faces fundamental problems of mobility in megacities daily: gridlock, traffic chaos and chronic congestion. For Pardo, the solution isn’t imposing new limits on mobility, but introducing intelligent alternatives instead.
Carlos Felipe Pardo, you’re a psychologist specialised in modern urban planning. What does that mean?
I specialised in this field at the London School of Economics. For me as a psychologist, the complexities of mobility in megacities constitute a critical challenge in our times.
You’ve been a member of a number of expert commissions around the globe – in China, India, Thailand, Mexico, and in Colombia where you also live. Is it a coincidence or a consequence of the fact that these are Third World or emerging markets, that mobility and urbanisation are greater challenges there than in the First World?
It’s a fact. The developing countries are those being confronted with dramatic migrations to urban centres. Without well-planned mobility models, these burgeoning megacities will collapse in traffic chaos.
What exactly is your challenge as an expert in mobility?
I focus almost exclusively on mobility technology challenges arising in urban centres. I develop and implement solutions for the complex problems that emerge in this context.
What’s at the heart of the problem?
All megacities suffer from chronic congestion and traffic jams. The lack of space allows for almost no possibility of effective traffic regulation. The crux of the problem is that existing structures for city-wide mobility are too dependent on car usage. In developing countries the number of cars in the cities might be somewhat less than in that in industrial countries, but in the developing countries the problem simply is just too little public transportation that’s affordable. People don’t lack mobility per se, just reasonable access to the right means of transportation.
Dramatically expanding cities demand ever-increasing travel distances for people getting to work. More and more time is spent in the car or on public transportation. Without any public transportation infrastructures in place, people living in the suburbs aren’t even offered the choice of using a public transportation system as an alternative to travelling by car.
What does that mean to those affected?
Studies show that every individual spends on average an hour a day getting to his or her workplace. And of course that’s only the hours clocked, not the mileage traversed. People around Bangkok and Mexico City are spending an average of two solid hours each way to work, meaning, four hours per day – just in order to get to and from their jobs. That’s extravagantly uneconomic and unecological.
The price of being too mobile?
You can’t really put it that way. Mobility isn’t a negative phenomenon. The question is, exactly for what purpose mobility is required. No one should be expected to spend two hours travelling each way to work. And if that really is necessary, the city should provide the public with a transportation infrastructure to prevent traffic infrastructure breakdown.
How would that work?
It’s imperative to establish sustainable mobility concepts that encourage consciousness raising and it’s imperative that we abolish the illusion that travel by car is somehow quicker or more comfortable.
Make travel by car more difficult?
We do have to limit single-passenger car travel and open new transportation options and travel routes. In some European cities such concepts have already been implemented, and the expansion of the transportation network demonstrably increased user frequency. Providing the ability to conveniently navigate a city by bike plays a major role in our planning concepts for megacities.
How will you get people onto a tram or a bike?
One strategy is what experts call the "Push-Pull" technique: increase the appeal of one form of behaviour while discouraging the undesired behaviour. Increased gasoline prices, raise parking fines, road charges foster the use of public transportation and bikes, provided that appropriate infrastructures for these modes of transportation exist.
What do you recommend for financing such solutions?
Cross-subsidising. For example, calculating the real costs that automobile usage incurs and charging those costs back to the car users. That would effectivley finance the public transportation and bike lanes.
"Road pricing"? You want to penalise drivers?
I appreciate that people want to have their own cars. The question is how often do they really need to use their car? I, for instance, never use my car to get myself to work. I ride my bike instead because parking the car in the city is too expensive.
And what should people do if they have no access to public transportation?
That’s precisely the problem! We have to create environments where everything we need is available within a 10 kilometre radius; workplaces, schools, shopping centers, doctors – all accessible by public transportation. That would effectively manage mobility. To implement this requires political motivation.
You live in Bogotá and collaborated there on a new transport concept. How did that develop?
Bogotá is an example of what can be achieved when there’s a will to change. Between 1998 and 2000, they began reducing parking spaces and transforming those spaces into a system of bike routes. Of eight million trips made in the city everyday, 3 to 4 percent are made by bike. They also completed construction of an 84 kilometre-long bus line and transit system. It transports 1.7 million people per day.
Are there countries and cities that have been able to learn to significantly change their mobility behaviours?
China. The Chinese have experienced a period of dramatic rapid growth in the last ten years. Within four years they constructed a 1,300 kilometre-long high-speed train stretching between Shanghai and Beijing. This was record construction time. They’re also known to respond very quickly with city planning strategies.
If these concepts are implemented, in 20 years Bogotá and Beijing will be full of bikes while the cars are left at home?
That’s difficult to say, but I’m optimistic. In twenty years we’ll be better off than we are today. The automobile industry shouldn’t worry, people will keep buying cars. But the auto industry also will become much better at what it produces.
Is it possible that with improved technology we might actually be able to continue with mobility as we now know it?
It’s a fact that as techology evolves, mobility improves. High-speed trains become an alternative to airplanes. And digital technology like Skype and the Internet can make travel simply unnecessary too. Right now we’re conducting this interview together via Skype – neither one of us has had to physically move anywhere to meet in person. For reasons like these I’m optimistic that technology will help streamline mobility.
Please contact WPR Agency:
Tel 0121 456 3004