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Applying Transit-Oriented Development in low-income cities: new tool launched

A new tool developed by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is one of the first of its kind to explore how cities in Eastern Africa could benefit from the growing trend of transit-oriented development (TOD.)

TOD is an approach to urban development focused on building cities around walking, cycling and public transport to enable residents to live closer to jobs and services. The aim is to allow people to have shorter commutes, better lifestyles, and to make more efficient use of city resources. Existing TOD-based guidance tools are mostly designed for high-income countries, but little has been done to assess benefits and challenges of TOD in low- and middle-income countries.

In a recently published report as part of HVT’s research, ITDP, aims to address the circumstances observed specifically in eastern Africa, and to consider if these findings can be valuable across the African region and in other low- and middle-income countries.

The tool focuses on local development plans (LDPs) around transport stations, especially in informal, residential areas in large, fast growing cities, commonly home to the poorest communities. Development is typically low-rise with inadequate space for streets and public spaces and public transport has often failed to keep pace with the rapid and sprawling growth. These issues combined with limited government capacity for intervention can result in unsanitary conditions and lack of access to opportunities.

Based on ITDP’s research in Tanzania, Ethiopia and India, the project aimed to link transport and land-use planning in places with rapid economic growth and to rebuild or remodel the informal housing areas while supporting the needs of disadvantaged communities. To do this, it had to demonstrate what inclusive TOD might look like in lower income countries and how it could be achieved. Jacob Mason, Director of Research and Impact at the ITDP explains:

“One of the goals of our research was to identify the key aspects of TOD that were most essential but weren’t happening in low- and middle-income countries, and especially in informal settlements, so that Governments could focus and be really targeted in their efforts to use their capacity most effectively to create walkable communities that are most inclusive.”

Case study research and discussions with local stakeholders in Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam found that the main obstacles to creating TOD included a lack of government capacity and complicated institutional structures, but there were other, more fundamental issues too, says Jacob Mason:

“We found there are some key principles that governments would want to focus on. And perhaps the most important was just basic infrastructure and services. So water, electricity, sanitation, sewers, drainage, were really critical to enabling everything else to function effectively. Those things can be challenging and expensive but are well worth the investment from government to create places that people want to be and people can move around in effectively.”

The tool comprises a series of sections beginning with an overview of TOD planning and its benefits. This is followed by sections on planning steps for LDPs; developing shared visions and goals; data analysis; planning scenarios and finally implementation planning. The tool is based on the definition of inclusive TOD in the TOD Standard, IDTP’s assessment framework for measuring TOD:

“We developed the TOD standard to create a simple way of assessing the design elements of development or a station area as it supported walking, cycling and public transport,” says Mason.

This framework consists of eight core principles supported by performance objectives and 25 metrics which can be used to assess neighbourhoods and developments on a 100 point scale. The core principles are:

The report includes numerous examples from cities around the world where these principles have been implemented, demonstrating the many ways that urban areas can benefit from construction around walking, cycling and public transport. People can move about much more efficiently than by building cities around driving, meaning less infrastructure and less roads need to be built, leading to less time spent sitting in traffic and lower pollution levels.

“Once we show and inspire leaders that different models of cities and urban development are possible, then we can start working on specific projects to demonstrate that those are real and then embed those ideas into broader policy, such as citywide planning, ” says Jacob Mason.

As lessons are learnt about how to do this, and these lessons are documented, the cities working on developing those plans can be connected, he explains:

“And so our role can be to connect them and to spread these ideas and these experiences to other places.”

The report Inclusive TOD in Eastern Africa: A Guide to Local Development Planning, is available to download now.