Cities for all must have access for all

25th April 2017

By Clayton Lane, CEO, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

It has now become clear that our world’s cities are going to continue to grow rapidly, to the point where, by 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban. This change will be even more pronounced in developing nations in Asia and Africa, where a staggering 90 percent of this shift will occur. This offers those of us in the sustainable transport community a huge opportunity to influence the development of these cities for the better, and is why everyone is talking about equity.

The glaring transport inequities that are now the urban status quo affect everything. Access to the city means access to jobs, healthcare, community, a stronger political voice, arts and culture, and just about everything that defines quality of life. Unfortunately, very few cities are investing in the rapid transit systems that serve the less wealthy communities living outside of the urban core, even in Europe and especially in North America.

At the UN Habitat III conference in Quito in October, whose theme was equitable cities, ITDP introduced a new metric, People Near Transit (PNT), which defines, in the simplest terms, what planners and activists already know: cities everywhere have, for years, been expanding rapidly without adequate transport planning. Even cities known for great transport systems, such as Paris, London, and New York, are serving half of their total population, at best, with transit.

Our report, People Near Transit: Improving Accessibility and Rapid Transit Coverage in Large Cities, measured the number of urban residents who are within a short walking distance (1 kilometre) to rapid transit. For the 13 cities in industrialised countries that were scored, the average PNT was 68.5 percent, while those cities’ metropolitan regions, in other words, including areas where the majority of the poor live, averaged 37.3 percent. The metro regions of the six US cities did even worse, 17.2 percent. For cities in low- and middle- income countries, the average PNT score was 40.3 percent, while the metropolitan regions averaged 23.7 percent. Almost all of the other systems only served a small fraction of the population living in these outlying areas.

Mass transit systems should grow as cities grow; yet in most cities, governments still rely on automobile traffic as the primary way of getting people around. In today’s megacities, road space is already massively congested with car ownership presently at only 10 to 30 percent, yet building more roads remains a misguided top infrastructure priority. Governments need to better serve the other 70 to 90 percent of the population, providing better mobility choices for everyone.

Cities today do not exist in a vacuum. People in the outer regions cannot thrive without better transport connections to the core and other outer communities, and private car ownership must not be the only option. Cities must build more transit, that is clear, but more transit alone will not solve these inequities. Rather, governments must rethink the car- oriented, segregated-use zoning, low- density sprawl that got us here in the first place, and is unfortunately endemic to the majority of North American and global south cities, but also growing in European cities outside the urban core. The replacement is obvious: Transit- Oriented Development. Dense, walkable neighbourhoods oriented to transit, with a mix of uses, incomes, and, crucially, all kinds of jobs, is the just and equitable solution for people and the planet.

People Near Transit: Improving Accessibility and Rapid Transit Coverage in Large Cities is available for free download at

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