#34 - 26 June 2020

Lowering carbon intensity and initiating economic recovery

No more lockdown! Cities are coming alive again and the negative externalities associated with mobility are returning. Indeed, the presence, even reduced, of the virus continues to exert a strain on mobility and especially on public transportation. In the United States, some public transport networks, perceived as vectors of transmission, have seen their ridership drop by 80 to 90%. At the same time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. federal agency responsible for public health protection, recently recommended that Americans avoid public transport and favor individual travel, particularly by car. Secondly, this strong rebound in car use has serious consequences that run counter to the objectives set for lowering carbon intensity in the mobility sector. In France, a recent study showed that Paris was the European capital where the resurgence in air pollution levels was the most abrupt. Voices are now being raised to ensure that this recovery – and at the same time this resurgence in mobility – has as low as possible in carbon intensity. The stakes are high since the lack of appropriate aid means that public transport, the backbone of urban mobility, runs the risk of service discontinuity.

How can this be fixed? In France, in a recent letter, the Groupement des autorités responsables de transport (Group of Transportation Authorities) warned of the risk that some public transportation authorities may no longer be able to meet their contractual obligations to their delegated authorities. They could thus find themselves obliged to reduce the amount or even suspend payment of their lump-sum contribution, thereby bringing the public mobility service to a halt. To offset this risk, several rescue plans have been put forward by user associations, operators and public transportation authorities... without calling into question the mobility funding system and its limits.

There is a completely different atmosphere in Cincinnati, Ohio, where, in the midst of the epidemic crisis, a majority of citizens voted in favor of a 0.8% increase in VAT in Hamilton County and a 0.3% reduction in the Cincinnati municipality's income tax (the main resource for funding mobility) to fund a major transport recovery plan designed before the epidemic crisis. Starting in January 2021, this transformation of the mobility funding system will provide the public transportation authority of Hamilton County (817,000 inhabitants and 1,070 km²-wide area) with additional $130 million annually to fund public transport (75%) and road infrastructure (25%). This transformation also means that the issue of funding mobility on a larger scale than that of the municipality will now be considered at the county level, an area that is four times larger.

While the crisis in mobility funding is not new, the Covid-19 epidemic has amplified its effects. Moreover, this crisis has not erased the issues related to lowering mobilities’ carbon intensity, quite the contrary: the proven risk of a predominantly automobile recovery could potentially wipe out several decades of efforts to develop public transportation and active modes. These two strategies show the varying ambitions of territories in terms of mobility and carbon emissions. Lowering these emissions in the mobility sector will require additional efforts, particularly in terms of funding, since it is necessary to deploy low-carbon transportation offers, particularly in urban areas where mobility is predominantly car-based. The efforts made by cities and public authorities indicate their ambitions to bring about a funding model compatible with the injunctions for lowering the carbon intensity of mobilities. The issue of decarbonation undoubtedly deserves more than just patches. – Camille Combe, Project Manager



No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

WILL MEGAPROJECTS GO EXTINCT? – Sidewalk Labs’s recent announcement that it will no longer pursue its Quayside project in Toronto due to COVID19-related “unprecedented economic uncertainty” is leading observers to wonder whether plans for similar megadevelopments will be folded. CityMetric examines two projects currently in the works in Chicago: Lincoln Yards and the 78. – Marie Baléo, Head of Studies and Publications

 Related: our Toronto City Portrait (with developments on the Quayside project) and our ongoing exploration of major projects and democracy.

Such is the name of Rotterdam’s 233 million-euro plan to develop seven urban projects by 2030. The goal of this operation is to add greenery to the city and overcome its “concrete nightmare” image. Improving Rotterdam’s quality of life also involves making the city “coronaproof” by accommodating homeless people and making sure places such as playgrounds and sports fields are distancing-friendly. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our stop in Rotterdam during our world tour of cities in (sanitary) crisis, where we interviewed Carola Hein, professor at Delft University of Technology.

CHANGING STREETSCAPES – Embark on a virtual urban expedition thanks to the vivid – and comprehensive – picture painted by Bloomberg of cities’ transformations due to the coronavirus, from reconfigured road sharing and the creation of new recreation areas to an increase in the number of delivery workers. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our project “Across cities in crisis” explores ideas that can help rebuild urban systems in the face of the 21st century’s first pandemic.

– For cities to get benefits from the American government, they’d better be populous! Associated Press published a call for help from ‘small’ American cities currently going through great troubles due to the pandemic and excluded from the 2 trillion-dollar aid voted by Congress. To qualify for financial support, cities must be home to at least 500,000 inhabitants. Beyond the American context, this raises the question of the fate of less visible territories in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. – Romain Morin, Research Assistant

HOUSING: OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS A recent report by the Center for Cities analyses the ongoing British housing crisis and proposes several solutions. Some involve reforming the country’s entire planning system to promote faster, easier, better construction and “a flat 20% levy” to make sure developers contribute to funding local communities. Yet some observers argue that such solutions may work on the long term but do not tackle the urgent matters of homelessness and affordable housing. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our insight on the affordable housing crisis in European metropolises.

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