Even though cities have been centers of culture, ideas and industry since the Neolithic Revolution 12,000 years ago (!), today’s urban-centric global civilization is just a couple of hundred years old.

In 1800, six percent of humans were city dwellers; even in 1970, only New York City and Tokyo qualified as “megacities” that were home to more than 10 million residents. Today, the planet supports some 34 megacities, and cities themselves — occupying just two percent of the Earth’s surface — house more than half of the global population. What’s more, urban residency is expected to rise to 68 percent in the next 30 years.

Of course, the migration towards cities means dense populations and concentrated CO2 emissions from traffic and transportation. For example, in the US, traffic is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and globally, transportation remains a top contributor in urban centers.

Through intelligent urban planning, cities around the globe are working to improve the quality of life for residents while also tackling carbon emissions. How? According to C40, a global network of cities committed to addressing climate change, it starts with prioritizing “the movement of people rather than cars.”

For example, so-called “15-minute cities” and “complete neighborhoods” are two urban design strategies that operate on the same basic principle: They enable the majority of residents to access all their basic needs by foot or bike. This reduces gridlock and commute times, frees up space for walking paths and parks, and improves air quality — all factors that boost people’s wellbeing and physical health.

While cities like New York City, Paris and Copenhagen are already renowned for their people-friendly layouts, these cities are taking noteworthy strides to create a more sustainable way for residents to move around:

  1. Bogotá, Colombia, is decreasing their emissions through two main ways: Bussing and biking. TransMilenio — an impressive network of rapid-transit bus routes — opened in 2000. Within 10 years, it reduced the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 40 percent, and today its 1,500 buses make around 1.5 million passenger journeys each day. The city is also renowned for its ciclovia — the regular conversion of roads into car-free biking thoroughfares on Sunday mornings — and boasts the highest rate of intercity trips made by bicycle among all Latin American cities.
  2.  The Greater Montreal area already boasts some 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) of permanent bike lanes and paths. In an effort to open up the city after months of COVID-19 lockdown, officials closed a handful of major city streets in June 2020 to cars and other motorized traffic through fall 2020. Spanning 327 kilometers (203 miles), this transportation plan was intended to encourage residents to travel actively by connecting bicyclists to city parks, major commercial arteries and existing bike paths (like the Express Bike Network). Many hope that these pandemic-inspired road changes will lead to the establishment of  permanent bike routes going forward.
  3. Hoi An, Vietnam developed the “Hoi An Bicycle Plan” to increase the use of bicycles among  residents and tourists. To date, the city has improved biking routes and infrastructure, launched a public-private partnership to implement a low-cost bike-share program, and established car-free zones in an effort to encourage walking and bicycling.

Read the full article about green urban transportation by Meghan Miner Murray at Ted-Ed.