When the rubber hits the (paved) road

Simon L’Allier has just begun his 6-month CIDA internship with SCI, where his work will focus on greenway planning.

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The need of transportation is common to every human being on the planet. Whether it is the tiniest village or the biggest city, every human settlement faces transportation challenges commensurate with their scale and local characteristics. Human beings are imaginative, and always find ways to move from point A to point B.

Given the current state of the world (climate change, air pollution, resources depletion, increasing urbanization, etc), the question planners and decision makers should ask themselves when thinking about transportation is: “how can transportation networks become more sustainable, taking into consideration the local challenges and unique characteristics in which they operate”. This means making transportation less polluting, more equitable, less energy intensive and more efficient. In terms of modes, it also means prioritizing active transportation and transit.

In the case of Cabo San Lucas, challenges are plenty; tilting the balance in favour of sustainable transportation modes has been proven difficult. As Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” One of these difficulties is the lack of pavement on most local streets.

Article published in the local newspaper, Tribuna de los Cabos, July 26 2012

In this city, characterized by an arid climate, precipitations are erratic and usually come with hurricanes and tropical storms. I was told the last major rainfall dates back to about seven years. Hence, unpaved roads are defacto sand roads, and you can imagine the amount of dust produced by vehicular traffic circulating on sand roads!

This situation, in addition of being problematic for the local population, also creates challenges for public transportation operators. Unpaved roads slow down vehicles travel speed and increase vehicles maintenance costs associated with higher decay and damage. Understandably, transit operators, also known as transportistas, would like to see the roads they used be paved in priority, but this wish list doesn’t always coincide with priorities identified by other levels of governments.

This is where it becomes interesting. In support to the transportistas, IMPLAN has agreed to analyze different roads in terms of impacts on the local population and in relation to current bus roads. By knowing the amount of people and jobs located along each unpaved road, it is possible to prioritize the next investments in road pavement, and hopefully improve the transit network at the same time! This project has brought municipal officials from various departments on board; it seems to be the first time everyone comes to sit together at one table to agree on which roads should be paved next.

What is more interesting is that we discovered the majority of transit vehicles, usually second-hand school buses of at least ten years of age (purchased from the US or Canada) have been equipped with GPS and automatic passenger count (APC) systems! This technology, which has been adopted only recently in TransLink, provides data on time travel and passenger flows with great precision, which would have otherwise required lengthy observation and manual counts. What a great surprise to see these old vehicles fitted with the most recent technology! Unlike in most modern transportation system, fares are collected and handled by drivers. There is no fare box. This system allows the operators to ensure drivers bring back the exact amount of cash after their run. It also allows them to track scheduling reliability, as they can see exactly the time it took for each vehicle to complete a run.

In addition to using this data for the pavement study, I will work with IMPLAN to produce a bus network study suggesting improvement and optimization options. Improving the efficiency of the system is crucial to providing a better service, as there is NO public funding for transit operators, which explains the limited coverage. In other words, to ensure profit, fares are high and buses run only on the most profitable streets, leaving a large amount of the population without easy access to transit services.

Moreover, this ridership data is paramount in understanding mobility patterns in the region, and will be extremely useful in proposing an adequate bicycle network that addresses the needs of the local population as well as those of tourists.

This shows that from a very precise problem, namely unpaved roads, a newly agreed cooperation between all parties will allow us to gain access to key data and hopefully contribute to a better, more sustainable transportation network.

 

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About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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