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Jan 6, 2012 | The new urban landscape

I had the opportunity to visit the Design With The Other 90% exhibit at the United Nations lobby today and it was a stark reminder about how so much is happening around the world that I must not to lose touch with, and I think one of the more powerful insights I gained was how so many cities around the world are making successful transitions to more efficient people transportation in ways that have so much positive ripple effects.

I think Colombia takes the lead in this regard, and for that I was fairly surprised. Colombia recently unveiled its 28-story escalator in the Comuna 13 neighborhood of Medellín, Colombia, that helps reduce a 1,260 feet, 35-minute walk into a 6-minute free ride. In what otherwise would have been disregarded as a slum without any prospect of development, city officials invested $6.7 million in order to provide a service that I suspect will have powerful effects in changing access to better lifestyles. We talk about how education is one of the most important Millenium Development goals but a big part of that is access to that education, and while sometimes that access is a financial or social barrier, I suspect that physical barriers play a big part too.

Medellín also has another fantastic implementation of a gondola system called Metrocable which has been in operation since 2006 and consists of three lines that propel residents up steep hills, reducing a 2.5 hour commute to 7 minutes on a line that zips up to 10 miles an hour. The system was so successful, in fact, that unexpectedly long queues are common. Both the Metrocable and the escalator’s succeses are being replicated in other South American cities, such as Caracas and Rio de Janeiro.

As if the accolades on Colombia don’t seem enough, its capital Bogotá sports a successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system called TransMilenio that provides dedicated roads for buses that navigate efficiently throughout the city. Because of the dedicated roads, buses can skirt traffic congestions and move 1.7 million passengers a day, and a prepaid fare system reduces boarding time. Its implementation reminds one of subway systems, except there isn’t the need to drill underground for this to work. TransMilenio has been in operation since 2000 – New York City would only unveiled its own BRT system in 2008.

Clearly lots of countries are jumping on the bandwagon – it’s an exciting and revolutionary design, and certainly one that accounts for the 90%.


If you’re fascinated with BRT systems I’d recommend heading over to my classmate Anson’s blog where he chronicles his Watson year doing the same.

Flickr images from CUP Projects
The Gondola Project (PDF)
Manager defends Bogota’s Transmilenio mass transit system

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