Thursday, February 24, 2011

Integrating Transport Planning and Land-Use Strategy as a Solution: Case Study- Syria Part-3/3

Image: Emad Al Sagheer

Jihad Bitar. Ph.D.

Transport Planning Elements:

· Parking Policy

Parking Policy is a very important planning tool in balancing the supply and demand for parking spaces. With the objective of minimizing additional traffic by controlling and restricting parking we can decrease congestion and car usage while simultaneously ensuring the economic viability of the city centre and its popular spots.

A recent article5 by Ethan Baron in The Province led me to a very important study6 that was published by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, the study emphasises about the fact that “Parking policy can be a powerful tool to encourage people to take public transportation or to bike,” The study also blames the chaos of parking in the downtown areas of many cities world-wide on the absence of parking policies, which, evidently, is quite correct. It then concludes that “Parking regulation is the best way to regulate car use.”

Therefore, parking is a very critical part to any integrated transport system because it has a significant influence on car use. When parking is not available at our final destination, car usage will be questioned and consequently minimised.

Here are a few parking policy strategies that can be used in city centres to help decrease car dependency and return public spaces to citizens:

  • Limit or remove on-street parking in city centres. This way popular city spots will give the city the space it needs to breath and for its citizens to use as walkways, café patios, public spaces, parks, and even bikeways.
  • Build new smart parking where possible. Maximize or upgrade existing parking in the downtown core using stalked parking but freeze the numbers of car allowed in those parking areas.
  • Raise parking fees in downtown areas. This will result in reducing congestion and car dependency.
  • Encourage the use of public transportation and other modes of traveling .
  • With regards to parking policy in the residential neighbourhoods of the city; studies and research are highly recommended on the micro scale (neighbourhood and street) to determine where the best locations for the neighbourhoods’ residents parking should be.

By building and investing in smart parking that contains parked cars within the perimeter of each residence within each neighbourhood around the city we can perhaps be able to empty the streets from parked cars and create areas of high quality public spaces

  • Implement strict rules of how many cars any building can have according to its capacity
  • Encourage electric and compact-sized cars
  • Introduce the culture of car sharing and car-pooling

1- Baron, Ethan. Making Parking Difficult Makes for Better Cities. The Province, January 20, 2011.

2- Kodransky, Michael and Hermann, Gabrielle. Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation. Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, Spring, 2011.

· Traffic and Road management

“While travel is essential to economic productivity, many of the additional miles we are forced to drive simply because of the layout of our cities and a lack of options might be dubbed “empty miles”7

All city traffic consists of a hierarchy of road networks interacting with smaller local roads and various facilities and it is this connection that sometimes leads to conflicts. In order for the traffic on these road networks to flow properly it has to be balanced and therefore we need to have Traffic and Road management.

In general, the Traffic and Road management objectives are to:

  • Reduce the impact of arterial roads on activity centres and residential neighbourhoods
  • Reduce the barrier effect that arterial routes project over the city’s urban fabric
  • Increase public transportation priority and performance on the roads
  • Reduce private vehicle dependency going into city centres and popular areas
  • Reduce vehicle speeds in residential areas.
  • Improve safety for all road users

The following are several effective strategies that work in managing traffic flows:

  • Propose the Congestion tool/pricing as a tool for managing congestions in the downtown area. The income can be used for upgrading public transportation.

“A Congestion pricing or congestion charge is a system of surcharging users of a transport network in periods of peak demand to reduce traffic congestion.”

“This variable pricing strategy regulates demand, making it possible to manage congestion without increasing supply. Market economics theory, which encompasses the congestion pricing concept, postulates that users will be forced to pay for the negative externalities they create, making them conscious of the costs they impose upon each other when consuming during the peak demand, and more aware of their impact on the environment.”8

  • The old city of Damascus is a car-free zone 24/7 except for emergency and some commercial loading/unloading in specific hours between (cars being hazardous materials should a fire erupt)
  • Enforce and promote safe driving attitudes on the streets since driving habits play a major role in giving pedestrians a sense of security during travel and within their meeting places.
  • The frequency of public use of the streets will impact the vehicle speed zone. The more pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation vehicles on the streets the slower the traffic will be.
  • Promote the health and environmental benefits of walking, cycling and using public transportation. Introduce fun and constructive ideas for the public (i.e. Walking day, Car-free day, Biking Day, Painting pavement day etc.) Introduce incentives that encourage people to consider walking to work or use public transportation.
  • Create an inter-regional partnership of job-housing balancing system that will work on not only on the micro planning level but also on the macro planning level (Street, Neighbourhood).
  • Environmental justice needs to be addressed in detail for every neighbourhood and region of Syria. Through a special dedicated national fund Syrian citizens can support green projects such as brownfield rehabilitation projects and reviving natural elements (rivers, forests, green corridors)
  • Create a Department of Street and Public Life: Copenhagen, Denmark is an example where the public life and the way citizens interact with the city become an entity by itself.

3- Kooshian, Chuck. Winkelman, Steve. Growing Wealthier; Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, Center for Clean Air Policy, January 2011.


Integrating Transport Planning and Land-Use Strategy as a Solution: Case Study- Syria Part-2/3

Image: Wojciech Ogrodowczyk

Jihad Bitar. Ph.D.

Transport Planning Elements:

The main Transport Planning elements we need to integrate in the land Use strategy are; Public Transportation, Walking and Cycling, Parking Policy and Traffic Management.

· Public Transportation

It is necessary to develop a comprehensive public transportation policy that is embedded within the city’s vision, and integrating an accessible, safe, comfortable and clean transportation system.

Introducing a workable public transportation system is seriously needed if we want any Syrian city to have healthy growth and the ability to sustain that growth. This is the first step of many toward a sustainable urbanism in Syria.

The majority of our people already depend on public transportation, which means large volumes of transportation vehicles are needed in the streets to do the job. Yet, without any reduction of private car dependency, the outcome will end with even more pressure on an already maximized street capacity. A solution for this problem might be reducing car use while building high density, separated guideways for high speed and frequent service. This can be achieved by introducing several types of rapid transit including: the Subway system (Metro), Elevated system (Monorail/Skytrain) and Grade level system (Bus Rapid Transit BRT, Light Rail Transit LRT).

Thinking from a financial point of view, the BRT system might be the more affordable and more achievable system to adopt in the short-term for the Syrian cities.

Many cities around the world enjoy the BRT system: Curitiba, Brazil; Guangzhou, China; Ahmedabad, India; Johannesburg, South Africa; Tehran, Iran; and Istanbul, Turkey. If we provide this kind of high quality service that respects people’s dignity, they will use public transit more and help their city grow in a better way.

The ultimate goal however, should be a multimodal public transportation system (Subway and Elevated) for the long term if we decided to go full speed on improving public transportation.

To solve the many issues that our cities suffer from, including air pollution, pedestrian traffic, car dependency and traffic congestions, we must start with creating a reliable and sustainable public transportation system. Without it nothing can move forward not traffic nor development and definitely not the public spaces or aesthetic features we aspire for.

Additionally, let’s not forget the financial gain that public transportation introduces by creating new jobs, attracting private investments and promoting a new culture of urban development.

· Walking and cycling

“There’s no great urbanism without a walkable environment, without active streets, and without diverse communities.“3

Jan Gehl, the Danish urban designer, outlined in his latest book; “Cities For People”4,

that the first step in fixing our cities is to address the human dimension which has been overlooked and neglected in connection with urban development for the last 50 years and regardless of the city’s global location, economic viability and stage of development: “Making city life viable will require careful work with people’s conditions for walking, bicycling and using the city outdoor space” he wrote, and at the end of his book Ghel wrote this: “It is cheap, simple, healthy and sustainable to build cities for people” which I totally agree with.

The fact is walking and cycling have a valuable role to play in any integrated land use and transport planning strategy. These two activities are accessible to a large proportion of citizens and have positive social benefits yet minimal environmental impacts.

A pleasant walking and cycling environment needs to be created to encourage people to use these modes. By encouraging the culture of walking and cycling our society will receive tremendous health and environmental benefits. From a financial point of view, by reducing trip lengths and speed, people will start to notice, and will likely support, local businesses and services on their way to work, to school, or to where ever their daily activities takes them.

Walking in the streets of Damascus, for example, can be as stressful as driving. In this case, the problem is a combination of low quality pedestrian pavements with uneven surfaces and the absence of feeling safe. Vehicles are constantly taking over pedestrian spaces and there is a general lack of design standards that helps distinguish pedestrian pavements from the rest of the street.

Designated pedestrian networks are needed. A comprehensive study of how to give pedestrians dedicated routes for a safe and connected journey throughout the city must be introduced if we want to encourage people to walk and become less car-dependent. Many studies have proven that when people live in connected areas they use their cars less often. This is precisely what we need in Syrian cities.

While Damascus is not a mega city by international standards, it is compact and dense and yet somehow still a charming city, full of potential. Its surface area is still manageable, which makes possible the implementation of some simple and affordable ideas for pedestrian and public spaces.

Promoting cycling will be a challenge in the Syrian culture especially when the general view of cyclists does not go beyond the stereotypes of ‘the poor’ or ‘food delivery workers’. However, this image can easily change when people discover that modern cyclists in the city are often just the average high school or university student, the working youth and the average middle class educated citizen.

To encourage cycling to and from educational institutes and city centres, a good start could include building safe bike lanes around the university and the major schools and paralleled to the BRT roads. Doing these projects should not be seen as luxury but an evolution toward a healthier lifestyle and better environment. Bike culture is a green and healthy culture that is missing in our cities today and we need to begin introducing it.

Bike sharing and renting can also be implemented later in the second or third phase of the plan after a sound foundation of cycling networks has been laid.

Once introduced, to continue to grow this culture of walking and cycling we need to integrate the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into any new development and to ensure new developments are permeable for pedestrians and cyclists.

1- Interview with Calthorpe, Peter. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. February 08, 2011.

2- Gehl, Jan. Cities For People, Island Press, September 6, 2010.

Integrating Transport Planning and Land-Use Strategy as a Solution: Case Study- Syria Part-1/3

Image: Samer Kallas

Jihad Bitar. Ph.D

“What we build – where and how – has a tremendous impact on how we sustain our communities, protect the environment and bolster prosperity.”1

My trip to Syria first started with the snow storm mess in Europe where I, like many other travellers, had to connect through different airports to reach my destination – Damascus.

When I finally arrived in Damascus in the morning, I had to get through the city’s usual rush hour - it was a stressful 30 minute journey.

The chaos, danger and pollution that those thousands of vehicles bring to the city’s streets is unacceptable, especially in a city struggling to show its beauty.

The absence of any rules that organize and manage the numbers of vehicles on the streets is stunning.

One day, in the very near future, street movement of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia and many other major Syrian cities will come to a standstill. Unfortunately this dark reality will only become much worse if we don’t take responsibility and deal with this problem today. Even now, we are already too late.

Undoubtedly, we have no other choice but to try and stop the increase in daily use of private motor vehicles just so our city’s streets can breathe again. It will be extremely difficult, however, if it’s done, we can return our public spaces to places of movement, experience and public activity.

In my humble opinion what Damascus is missing is a comprehensive integration of Land Use Strategy and Transport Planning. This will help reduce the growth in car numbers and car use which, consequently, will reduce street congestion as well as air, noise, and visual pollution. Land Use Strategy is the most important planning instrument for any city to create the image it wants, while Public Transportation, Walking and Cycling, Parking Policy and Traffic Management are the main elements of the Transport Planning system.

The main objectives of integrating Land Use and Transport Planning are to:

  • Promote the long-term investing strategy in public transportation projects
  • Promote the use of public transportation by increasing Land Use densities and mixed uses around transport nodes and corridors
  • Encourage people to reduce car dependency
  • Promote developments that support sustainability, walking, cycling and public transport use, like Smart Growth and Transit-Oriented Development TOD
  • Management of traffic and parking in city centres and popular spots.

Working with people, helping them to understand the integration plan and engaging them in the process are essential steps in making a plan work and for growth to happen. In other words, education, transparency and feeling of inclusiveness are the keys to success. In Bogota, Colombia the first step of progress was by educating the citizens and introducing ‘the culture of citizenship’:

“Mayor Mockus defined the culture of citizenship as “the sum of habits, behaviours, actions and minimum common rules that generate a sense of belonging, facilitate harmony among citizens, and lead to respect for shared property and heritage and the recognition of citizens’ rights and duties.”2

The main goal of the integration process is not to abolish vehicles in our city; it’s more about targeting bad habits that have substantial effects on our public street life and managing those habits to a point where we, the human, can have our spaces. This is why it’s so important for citizens to take part in the solution and become full partners in their neighbourhood’s development process. Secrecy and ambiguity regarding planning for people’s neighbourhoods, communities, and cities has never been a solution. It didn’t work yesterday and it definitely won’t work today or tomorrow. Communication and engagement is a must.

Commitment in implementing and monitoring a plan is another necessity in order for progress to happen. The strategy should be reviewed annually for evaluation and revision.

In addition, the environment is not presented here as having a separate element in the integration process; rather, it is highly dependent on the success of a plan. Every positive change we make in the transport system of a city, regardless how small, will have major consequences on its environment. A cleaner and healthier environment is a sign of a working strategy. The greener we are the more we protect our childrens’ future and make our cities good places to live in.

There are no magic solutions, it’s hard, it takes time, extensive research, a great deal of experimenting, monitoring, and rules, and large amounts of money. It needs everyone’s engagement if we really want our city to become a better place to live in.

1- Kooshian, Chuck. Winkelman, Steve. Growing Wealthier; Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, Center for Clean Air Policy, January 2011.

2- Montezuma, Ricardo. The Transformation of Bogota, Colombia, 1995-2000: Investing in Citizenship and Urban Mobility. Global Urban Development Magazine, Volume1, Issue1, May 2005.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What happens in Hagen stays in Hagen

Recently, I’ve been having some trouble understanding what truly happened in COP15 (Conference of the Parties). Everything I have read or listened to thus far has described a piece of this elephant but nothing has given me any clear explanation of what really happened in Copenhagen. How successful was this expensive environmental party? How did it fail? Even the final accord fell short of what was expected from world leaders.

To make this post short, I’ll use the words of the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, to outline the issues that Copenhagen was supposed to address:

“The four essentials calling for an international agreement in Copenhagen are:

  1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
  2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?
  3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
  4. How is that money going to be managed

If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points I’d be happy,” says Yvo de Boer.”

But Mr. de Boer wasn’t made happy because none of those essentials were discussed. Yet strangely, another accord emerged from a last minute meeting held behind closed doors between only 5 out of the 192 countries represented at the conference. These select countries include USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Without getting too political, the key points of the ‘historical’ accord included:

  1. To keep the maximum temperature rise to below 2°C
  2. To list developed country emission reduction targets and mitigation action by developing countries for 2020
  3. $30 billion short-term funding for immediate action till 2012
  4. $100 billion annually by 2020 in long-term financing
  5. Reiterating past intentions such as providing mechanisms to support technology transfer and forestry.

I believe that our environment is intricately related and directly affected by economics and politics so if we can’t figure out a way to utilize these elements to improve our pressing climate problems then nothing will ever get fixed.

I also think that as long as the price of oil stays low, all renewable and green energy resources, like wind and solar, won’t develop into easily usable and attainable resources that we’re expecting it to become. So unfortunately we may be doomed to live in a fossil fuel culture until the next international summit. Let’s hope that ‘what happens in Mexico 2010 doesn’t stay in Mexico’!


Published on VIA Architecture Blog, Jan 19 2010


The image is by Joachim Ladefoged

Hopenhagen site for spreading Hope

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Salvation of Our Environment Lies at the Feet of the Poor

After three days of intensive lectures and presentations about the environment, climate change, ecology, economy, development, theories, corporate progress and grass root success example; there were a lot of messages flying through the air of Canada Place ballroom. Yet, at the end of it all, I grew rather depressed reading all the data and equations of how long we as human have time on earth before we totally corrupt it.

In the midst of this ‘Smart’ jungle, I was reminded of a great message from Paul Hawken’s speech and lecture. When asked whether he is an optimist or a pessimist about the future, he replied with what became his most famous quotation: “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” And then Hawken later used the word ‘heart’.

For me, I’m a scientist with a heart, which by Hawken’s definition, makes me a pessimist-optimist. But when I thought of Hawken’s words, the scientist side of me linked Hawken’s inspiring ideas to Hernando De Soto’s theory which talks about giving the poor full rights over their illegal properties they live on as the first step toward a better future for us all.

These two ideas may sound different at the beginning but, in my humble opinion, when we link property rights and social justice with sustainability and green development; we are actually working towards greater social justice for the people who need it while simultaneously developing their neighborhoods into a safe and sustainable environment. This is the very soul of the current global movement of sustainability and what it means to be green. We must be just and fair to everything around us: air, soil, plants, animals and, above all, humans.

Think about it, when the majority of the world’s population lives in poverty that means all the development we have today is only happening for the lucky few of us who don’t live within the black market with no access to credit, proper basic services of energy or water and live in concentrated and highly polluted environments.

Do we dare imagine we are contributing to world-wide social justice and cleaner environments when only few of the world’s population reap the benefits? And of that few only roughly 3% to 5% are consciously taking measures to be environmentally friendly? How can we achieve the goals we set for our planet if we don’t include the majority of us – the poor – into our plans?

My straight answer is – we cannot. Period.

Regardless how much we recycle and build green; or how much we develop and force corporations to do their clean duty; or even how much we try to produce environmentally friendly materials and programs; it is all fruitless if the majorities of us humans don’t or can’t participate in the global movement.

Therefore, we must address the issues of poverty in order to tackle the problems with our environment.

To illustrate further I would like to give a short and quick explanation of De Soto theory:

It explains that unregistered properties under any person’s name means there is no proper ‘value’ to that land. For instance, if a person were to take an unregistered piece of land, build on it and use it, the property will still have no value because it is not officially legal. If this person decides to sell their developed land to someone else there is no proper documentation that can connect this person to that property or transfer the property title from one name to another therefore anyone or any governments can simply take the land at any time because it is not properly registered and push those people outside without any legal protection for them and as a result, these properties are entered into the ‘shade’ or black market and are not accounted for in the official market.

In order to grasp the magnitude of this problem, we need to multiply this one property by a million to understand that entire neighbourhoods, communities and even villages that have residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural value currently exist only on the black market. And since these groups are not officially recognized on paper, they do not have any official value to support them in the real market.

So the first step we need to take to get these ‘shade’ properties into the market is to connect each property to its owner and then help them enter formal markets. There, they can retain official value of what they own and have the ability to engage in real business or apply for legitimate loans and credits without fear from any person, organization or law that may have intimidated them before.

Yet before we can implement such a theory, where it is needed, and for it to work properly, several supporting steps need to precede it. This includes remedial action such as fixing political problems and fighting corruption, as well as providing awareness and incentives for environmental improvement and sustainability

We also need to factor in the cultural, traditional and custom layers into the property right laws to discourage any corruption among the poor. We simply want to make business easier to do in these communities instead of killing it.

Educating the poor about property rights and then teaching them to be responsible land owners and how to incorporate green practices into their daily lives would be our best contribution to help slow down climate change. Meanwhile, we must also continue pushing corporations to do their share in research and find new ways to clean up the earth that includes everyone, even the poorest one of us.

Majora Carter, one of the speakers at the Smart Growth Conference, shared with us her success story of bringing justice back to her own neighborhood of South Bronx, New York. Carter worked with her community to improve their run-down neighborhood by treating polluted areas, planting parks and building community centres that introduced education programs to help improve community wellbeing.

Yes, we must educate the poor. Yes, we must improve their corrupted systems. And yes, we have to introduce a democracy to them in the way that works for the main goal and not to our western standards. I believe that we can achieve it all by connecting theories and working with organizations that have clear visions and passionate people who work hard for their community, like Majora Carter. This is the key to slowing down environmental deterioration and it is for this reason I have chose the title to my article.

I started my post with Paul Hawken and now I will close with him saying:

‘Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich’

Resilient Cities, Urban Strategies for Transition Times, Vancouver, Canada, October 20-22, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

m9d9n Initiative, Task one: Damascus 2040, Population 10M

Should we plan for Damascus in 2040 to be a city with a population of 10 million?

Or in a more general context: Should we be planning for growth or trying to slow it down?

m9d9n Intiative

m9d9n initiative

As an Urbanist and an Architect I want to start this mission to build a virtual group of professional planners, architects, writers, designers and developers committed to our Syrian cities and urban issues by donating articles and comments that explore issues relating to urban affairs, regional development, architecture and public art.

I want to engage our ideas with other public and professional organizations who participate in the shaping of our cities and work with them to get the best results.

I believe that the promotion of smart public involvement in the evolution process of our urban environment and being part in the decision making will help us to reach our goal faster which is to build better developed and sustainable cities with enhanced visual environment and smart growth.