Clearing the Air: Why Low-Carbon Transportation is Critical for Cities


Clearing the Air: Why Low-Carbon Transportation is Critical for Cities

By  and  | Originally published on The City Fix by World Resources Institute on September 14, 2023   

Pedestrian lanes added to Hatir Jheel Lake Bridge in Dhaka, Bangladesh, combat congestion and improve mobility for the city’s 20 million residents. Photo: Salman Preeom/Unsplash

You start the day frustrated, your alarm clock ringing 30 minutes earlier than usual to try to beat the thousands of other morning commuters out the door. Battling bottlenecks has become your daily drill, from the side road shortcuts to paying more for express lanes, anything to try to outsmart the gridlock that will make you late – again. It’s just a few kilometers, but it would be even longer by bus, and cycling is too dangerous. The grumbling engines and impatient honks create a dissonant symphony, a maddening soundtrack to accompany the unsettling orange of the sky, as cars idle bumper to bumper, inching their way somewhere.  

Transport and mobility issues in cities affect almost everything in our day-to-day lives, from access to jobs and education, to air quality and climate emissions. The current trajectory for most cities is not good. Congestion is returning to pre-pandemic levels, with drivers in London and Chicago wasting an average of 155 hours in commuting traffic in 2022. In Germany, 51% of urban areas saw more delay than in 2019. Globally, road crash deaths reached 1.35 million in 2018 and are increasing, ambient air pollution is linked to an annual 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide, and transport is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in cities.  

But, at the epicenter of these challenges, many cities are also leading on the innovations needed to create a sustainable and more equitable future.  

The Toyota Mobility Foundation Sustainable Cities Challenge is an opportunity for cities wanting to resolve difficult problems related to sustainable mobility. The Challenge program presents a unique opportunity for cities to spur innovation in a new way, by connecting to local and global mobility innovators who can bring new ideas, processes or solutions. Advancing low-carbon mobility is one of the three thematic areas for the challenge, inviting participation from cities that want to explore ways to boost environmentally sustainable transport and expand residents’ access to opportunities.  

Identifying Local Challenges 

Cities all over the world are plagued with the same underlying set of connected problems: high rates of motorization coupled with low density sprawl fuel rising pollution, congestion and traffic collisions. The interplay between land use and transportation systems reinforces these challenges, creating a persistent, self-perpetuating “lock-in” effect. To escape this cycle, solutions cannot be one-size-fits-all, as each city has unique circumstances, from funding availability, demographics, infrastructure, weather patterns, social and cultural norms, and much more.   

For example, Lima, Peru, has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, and as people’s wealth grows so does private motorization. However, of the 8.9 million people living in Lima, 1.