Climate Change

In its first month of operation, this ridership on this bus rapid transit system in Guangzhou, China was second only to Bogotá's Transmilenio, with more than 800,000 boardings per day.

Paving the Way for Green Transportation

ISC hosted its second Climate Leadership Academy in Chicago to tackle transportation carbon emissions.

Opening the Climate Leadership Academy in Chicago, keynote speaker Enrique Peñalosa said, “A great city is one where a child can go anywhere by tricycle.” Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, is best known for his overhaul of Bogotá’s transportation system that reshaped the city. He told the audience that he was “almost impeached for getting cars off sidewalks,” but as Bogotá’s streets began to unclog, support for his efforts grew. Now 1.4 million people ride the TransMilenio bus rapid transport system every day.

ISC's second Climate Leadership Academy, a three-day workshop held in September 2009, focused on transportation efficiency, smart growth and urban development. It brought together teams of senior municipal, regional and state officials from 17 metropolitan areas around the country for intensive peer-learning and networking. The purpose was to help them tackle transportation carbon emissions, which are responsible for nearly a third of all greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, a number that continues to grow every year. Mitigating the environmental impact of these emissions is vital, especially in increasingly sprawling, automobile-dependent U.S. cities.

The question is how to make it happen. Officials are working with land-use and funding models that are often antiquated and car-centric; long-term transportation infrastructure projects can be extremely expensive (a challenge exacerbated by the current state of the economy); effective solutions often require collaboration across city, state, and regional lines; the cost-effectiveness of public transportation can depend on urban growth and density, yet those factors themselves often depend upon transportation options; and real improvement often requires convincing a diverse public to change its behavior on an individual level. Indeed, “greening” the transportation sector is no small task.

The good news is that many cities are coming up with creative, innovative ways to implement environmentally friendlier transportation systems and related land use initiatives. Yet the spread of these “best practices” has been too slow. ISC’s Climate Leadership Academies accelerate the transfer and adoption of promising practices in local climate solutions, in part by providing opportunities for city-led teams of practitioners and a faculty of leading experts to share how they’ve addressed their unique local challenges to achieve positive change—from building public demand for climate-friendly transportation choices to the creative collaboration and financing models that make them possible. “It’s not often you get so many ideas that are of immediate use,” said Salt Lake City Director of Sustainability Vicki Bennet.

City-led innovations showcased at the academy included Atlanta’s Livable Centers Initiative, a regional planning effort that includes annual competitive development grants, which give planners an incentive to link land use planning to transportation investments. An example presented by the New York City team emphasized that soliciting public input was a key component in realizing a bus rapid transit system and a “Car-Free Broadway” there. The city teams were excited about the potential of adapting these projects in their own cities.

“I found (the Chicago CLA) to be an excellent opportunity to discover fresh ideas that could be transformed to apply to our local conditions, and to hear about lessons learned,” said Bubba Needham, Director of Transportation Planning and Development for the Texas DOT and part of the Austin delegation.

In addition to presentations from city teams, ISC assembled a faculty of speakers and panelists that included leading experts and public officials in the world of smart growth and transportation. Mayor Peñalosa’s keynote address was consistently cited by academy participants as one of the most inspirational aspects of the event, encouraging a willingness to think big. “Before proposing transportation solutions it’s important to know what kind of city we want, how we want to live and what makes us happy,” said Peñalosa. “Then it’s not really about transportation planning anymore. Solutions are not technological—they’re political and ideological.”

Participants in Chicago welcomed the academy’s team-oriented approach, and were grateful for the rare opportunity to network and collaborate not only with their counterparts in other cities, but also with officials from their own communities. Because of the regional nature of most transportation issues, as well as their connection to so many other questions of growth and sustainability, bringing such a diverse group of influential players to the same table is an uncommon occurrence—and one that may be crucial in helping officials take the next steps in improving transportation efficiency in their cities.

“The September Climate Leadership Academy was perhaps the most useful training event I have attended in my 24 years of public service. I really feel that these partnerships and networks can make a positive and significant difference to North America and the world,” said Mark Vander Schaaf from the Minneapolis delegation. “Potentially one of the most momentous events of my career.”

The Chicago convening was the second in a series of Climate Leadership Academies—each module focusing on a different topic—that help city leaders dream big when it comes to tackling climate change, making more livable cities, and reducing the rapidly escalating costs of energy inefficiencies. The first academy, known as the “Green Boot Camp” and held in partnership with Living Cities in June 2009, focused on how cities can retrofit old buildings on a large scale rather than one by one. Next up, ISC will host two more academies in 2010, one focusing on green job creation and the other on climate adaptation.

Each academy consists of three components: a two to three-day intensive workshop for leading practitioners and experts; a resource guide that synthesizes the best available resources and showcases promising practices; and an ongoing, virtual peer-learning and networking program. Officials from more than 25 cities have participated so far.

Visit our Climate Leadership Academy page to learn more, or download the Chicago CLA Resource Guide.