Urban mobility challenges on agenda at Latin America Infrastructure Conference

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Sheila Watson speaking during the panel.
Sheila Watson speaking during the panel.
Watch the Conference Panel session.

Rapid growth of cities, and the challenge of providing safe and sustainable mobility were on the agenda at a major infrastructure conference for Latin American countries.

Sheila Watson, Deputy Director of the FIA Foundation, spoke at the CAF-development bank of Latin America Infrastructure Conference in Buenos Aires on 25 April.

At a panel on infrastructure planning, she discussed how current urban mobility models in Latin America, and across the world, are not sustainable in terms of air quality, climate degradation and safety.

The challenge to address these key areas is felt most keenly in rapidly growing megacities. In 2016, almost 55% of the world's population lived in urban settlements. By 2030, however, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally, and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants.

The world faces a huge mobility challenge - how to balance the benefits delivered by motorised mobility against the negative impacts on environment, air quality, congestion and road safety.

Building mobility infrastructure which works for all requires re-thinking of how we provide and use roads, and a dramatic change in prioritisation of road users away from cars in favour of active mobility – pedestrians and cyclists; and modernisation of public transport to be clean, attractive…and affordable. The key groups whose specific needs require targeted planning are children, women and non-motorised users, all typically neglected in traditional urban and transport planning. This requires a significant change in approach.

Discussing the research project Ella Se Mueve Segura (She Moves Safe) [LINK] study by the FIA Foundation and CAF, Development Bank of Latin America, Sheila Watson described the patterns of public transport use by women in Latin American cities. Despite the fact that women are increasingly dependent on public transport, concerns about harassment are on the rise. In Buenos Aires, women make up 54% of public transport users, and a staggering 89% said they had experienced such harassment at least once.

Speaking at the conference, Sheila Watson said: “If these groups don't have mobility infrastructure built around their needs, they simply won't choose use active or public transport, and will instead use personal vehicles, for themselves and their families. The projection of vehicle growth is staggering and unsustainable in terms of energy, pollution and safety and we must ensure that people don't feel that personal vehicles are the only safe option.

“The work of the Foundation identifies solutions to these challenges and focuses on capacity building and approaches that can be adapted to meet the challenges of sustained mobility.”