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How Transit-Oriented Development Can Advance Climate Action in India

Under the Paris Agreement, by 2030, India has committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33-35 percent as compared to 2005 levels. Since economic activity is concentrated in urban areas, cities need to take the lead in achieving this target. Therefore, cities need to pursue development in a clean, green, inclusive, equitable and sustainable way, while reducing GHG emissions.

The transportation sector is responsible for 23 percent of the overall global energy related emissions, and road transportation accounts for 72 percent of total transport emissions. In 2010, India’s transport sector was responsible for 9 percent of India’s total GHG emissions.

Urban areas can actively reduce their GHG emissions by promoting Transit Oriented Development (TOD). TOD integrates compact, high-density development with mixed-use provisions, multi-modal public transit networks, inclusive public spaces, environmental and cultural landscapes, and walking and cycling infrastructure within 500-800 meters of mass transit stations. This approach has the potential to transform cities from automobile-oriented to public transit-oriented. If implemented in the right way, TOD can play a significant role in advancing national policy action, improving urban livability indicators, and encouraging a low-carbon lifestyle.

Advancing National Policy Action

The National TOD policy and Metro Rail policy mooted by the central government in 2017 provides guidelines and mandates to states and cities to develop TOD policies and strategies. To mitigate the impacts of climate change and control GHG emissions, these policies propose interventions such as accessible public transport with an aim to improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and connectivity and reduce the number of private vehicles on the road by disincentivizing driving. Through such interventions, cities can not only advance the National TOD, Metro Rail, and other specific policies, but also help the country meet its climate commitments on the global stage.

Improving Urban Livability Indicators

TOD encourages green space per capita along with environmental and social sustainability interventions. According to a Brookings Institution study, car-dependent households emit three times more GHGs as compared to urban households that walk. Other global studies show that people who include a minimum of 30 minutes of active commuting – walking or cycling – as part of their daily commutes are healthier and happier. TOD promotes walkable communities within its influence areas – 500-800 meters around mass transit stations. As urban centres grow, their livability index will play a significant role in attracting greater economic opportunity.

Encouraging a Low-Carbon Lifestyle

TOD has the potential to reduce dependency on driving by 50 percent as compared to non-TOD neighbourhoods. For instance, people who live in transit neighbourhoods in the Washington DC metropolitan region, drive 30 to 70 percent less than the regional average. Similarly, Hong Kong SAR, China, achieved a reduction in CO2 emissions in transportation and road gasoline consumption per capita by about 10 percent.

TOD: Other Global Examples

In Curitiba, Brazil, a 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions per vehicle was achieved by implementing TOD. The city directed its growth along five linear mixed-use bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors. This was complemented with car-free areas, pedestrian-friendly walkways, and bicycle pathways and bicycle parking areas throughout the city. This resulted in 75 percent of the population using this system to commute to work.

In Chicago, the car ownership index in the TOD region is 0.9 as compared to 1.6 in other regions of the city. Some of the measures undertaken included reduced parking spaces, increased floor area ratio (FAR), and replacing car parking spaces with bicycle parking spaces. In the process, the city reduced 43 percent of its transport sector GHG emissions.

In the Indian context, further evaluation is required to ascertain the extent to which GHG emissions can be reduced by TOD, taking into consideration the demographics and constitution of Indian cities. However, the lessons learned from global cities, along with the National TOD Policy, will play a vital role in guiding effective TOD implementation in India. At the regional level, political willingness will also play a key role in incorporating TOD principles into the city’s main development agenda.

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