Congested Tehran Lauded For Transit Improvements

Tehran is working to clear its air. Photo: kamshots / Creative Commons.

Smog-choked, traffic-clogged Tehran may seem an unlikely candidate for an environmental honor, but the Iranian capital's aggressive recent moves to improve its public-transit infrastructure were acknowledged this month by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, which nominated the city for its 2011 Sustainable Transport Award.Tehran "stands out as a model city in the region," the ITDP wrote, explaining that it had worked to "improv[e] quality of life by having [an] integrated, available, safe, easy, comfortable, and clean transportation system, delivered within limited resources."

High Levels Of Pollution, Traffic Fatalities
The need for such moves has been little short of dire. According to the Middle East environmental news site Green Prophet, industrial factories and a dramatic rise in automobile ownership -- combined with geographical and meteorological conditions, and, some say, poor-quality local petrol -- have made Tehran one of the most polluted cities in the world. Citing a BBC report, the site wrote that "27 people a day die in Tehran from air pollution-related diseases."

According to a report by The Guardian in December, "unprecedented levels of air pollution ... have repeatedly forced the closure of universities and schools in the Iranian capital in the past month." The country overall also has the world's highest rate of traffic-accident fatalities.

Better Urban Planning
Poor urban planning in the past left Tehran "playing catch-up," but the city is doing so successfully, according to the sustainable-transport news blog TheCityFix.com. Changes instituted over the past two decades include:

  • Improved air-pollution monitoring and awareness;
  • Creation of both small and large parks throughout the city;
  • Limiting of car traffic downtown during peak hours;
  • Construction of Iran's first metro system;
  • Development of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system;
  • Creation of an affordable bike rental program;
  • Implementing congestion pricing; and
  • Converting historical streets in the city center to pedestrian-only use.

In its nomination of Tehran, the ITDP heralded the construction and expansion of the metro and BRT lines, as well as the integrated fare system implemented last year for the metro and public buses. Thanks to the BRT lines, public-transport ridership has increased up to 35 percent, with commute times reduced by up to 42 percent.

Guangzhou, China, Wıns Award
Despite its major, and much-needed improvement, Tehran did not win this year's Sustainable Transport Award, which went to Guangzhou, China, for its new BRT system that integrates with bike lanes, bike sharing stations, and metro stops.

According to the ITDP, the annual award "goes to a city that made the most progress over the year to increase mobility, while reducing transportation greenhouse and air-pollution emissions and improving safety and access for cyclists and pedestrians." This year's other nominees were León, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and Nantes, France.

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Tags: Awards | Cities | Iran | Public Transportation | Urban Life