Sustainability Perspectives for Amman

amman-sustainabilityIs Amman a sustainable city? No, it is not. That isn't a very surprising statement if you've ever lived in or visited Amman. By all means, it's a beautiful city, with plenty to offer visitors and residents alike. It is a diverse city with a wide range of experiences to offer between East and West Amman or Downtown to Abdoun.

The fact remains however that it is not a very sustainable city. We as residents are not being kind to the city we call home. When I look at Amman I happen to see all the things I like, but also all the potential our city has to improve.

Below I examine only a few factors that contribute to the unsustainability of Amman. These are not the only issues we are facing as Ammanis but they are some of the factors affected by high level policy making in Greater Amman Municipality.

Transportation in Amman
"Amman is a city that is built for the convenience of cars and drivers". This is a statement I heard from a TEDxAmman speaker just weeks after I moved back to Jordan from abroad, and it was a shock to hear it phrased in that way. Although I was aware of the obvious lack of public transport and alternative means of getting around the city, I had never realized the extent of how true that statement is.

Any investment in the city’s transport infrastructure goes to build and improve the quality of our roads, bridges and tunnels with no consideration of public transport investment. The one time that Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) attempted to invest in a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, it turned into a very controversial topic, with accusations of corruption and mismanagement of resources all around with the project still not close to being completed.

Amman is also not a very pedestrian friendly city, with virtually no sidewalks found on the streets. Or even worse, the sidewalks we do have are in fact pots to plant trees which makes it very difficult for pedestrians to use it for what it's meant for; to walk. Additionally, there are barely any pedestrian crossings.

Amman is indeed a city built for the convenience of cars and their owners, with almost a 10% increase in car ownership annually in the city, even in low income families. 

Historically speaking, our current transportation system worked well up until the mid-1900s when the population of the city grew from a few hundred thousand people to 2 million. Recently the city has reached a little under 3 million inhabitants with the same road infrastructure minus a few improvements here and there. 

This is obviously a challenge that our 3 million Jordanians have to endure on a daily basis, whether it is by fighting traffic every day or by long waits on the very little number of buses that we have. 

Even less obvious is the environmental impact of such transport habits, with one estimate being that for each passenger in the city we need to plant 17 trees every year to cover our annual CO2 emissions of 1,464.4kgs. 51 million trees need to be planted every year in Amman to cover our transport emissions!

Waste Management in Amman

"Out of sight, out of mind" is probably best applied to our waste in Amman, or indeed in all of Jordan. We all know that we have garbage trucks passing around the neighborhoods collecting garbage once or twice a week. And we all remember the garbage collecting "crisis" Amman went through in 2012 when garbage was piling up and the out of maintenance trucks couldn't collect it all. 

However what we forget is what happens to all our waste once it's collected. If we had a developed recycling system, we could slightly reduce the amount of waste produced by residents of Amman. Since recycling is not an option we cannot ignore the 1,400 tons of waste produced every year by Ammanis. This translates to more than half of the waste produced in the country – the remaining cities across Jordan only produce 1.1 tons of waste.

This means that 1,400 tons of waste is transported to landfills outside of Amman, but very close to residents of other cities. Once the garbage in those landfills becomes too much to handle, they burn it to empty up space for even more trash. If you've ever been to Zarqa, you are very well aware of the smell from the burning garbage in the landfill along the way.

Urban Sprawl
In my opinion, urban sprawl in Amman is the most important issue Amman is facing. It is also an issue largely ignored by our officials and citizens alike. It has reached a very critical condition because large areas of previously agriculture land is now all converted to residential areas and the very little agricultural land we have left is under immediate threat to be converted to residential neighborhoods. 

I was actually very surprised to find out that areas such as Sweileh, Wadi Alseer, and Al Jubayha were separate towns in the early 1900s and not a part of Amman. Now however they're so urbanized that they're considered another district in the city.

There were actually some recommendations in the 1950s by a group of international experts to separate Amman from these towns by designating green belts around them to limit construction in those areas. All their recommendations were of course ignored. Now other areas are under the same threat of urbanization and loss of agricultural land especially on the road between 7th circle and the Airport.

Of course, till now GAM is licensing agricultural land around Amman for construction of residential areas with no consideration to its importance to our agriculture which is already suffering greatly. 

Ingredient of a Sustainable City

There are quite a few factors combined that affect the sustainability of a city, or lack thereof.  Based on the broad definition of Sustainability (meeting present needs while ensuring that resources are available to meet future needs), the definition of sustainable cities broadly would be cities that ensure that the current needs of its residents are meet without compromising on the needs of its future inhabitants.

Some of the criteria that help create sustainable cities are the following:

  • Resource recovery and waste management – collection and disposal of non-recyclable materials, frequent and adequate collection of bins as well as creating a broader waste management strategy
  • Litter prevention  – well placed litter bins in public areas and city centers, litter education and awareness programs and integration of litter management with a broader waste management strategy
  • Environmental innovation and protection – establishing partnerships between community, government and industry to protect environmental resources, establishing local conservation groups, develop and implement public/open space plans for local community, among many others.
  • Water Conservation – innovative water conservation and re-use initiatives. 
  • Energy Innovation – innovative energy efficiency measures, renewable energy, and addressing climate change issues.

How Can Amman Actually Become Sustainable?
Obviously there is quite a journey ahead of Amman, and Jordan as a whole in fact, in becoming sustainable. While GAM is the main entity able to create the needed environmental regulations, channel investments into sustainable public transport, allow innovations in renewable energy,  and guide the many other initiatives we cannot ignore the role of individual citizens. 

In a micro level, each individuals behavior, regardless of how insignificant it may seem to them does indeed influence the overall sustainability of the city. Enumerating the various water conservation, energy efficiency, or waste management methods would probably be repetitive however one request I make of myself and other Ammanis is to be constantly thoughtful of our impact and try to reduce it as much as possible.

One way to remain thoughtful is to remain informed. We should all be aware what the impact of our actions is. Whether it pertain to CO2 emissions of our cars, or the lack of actual waste management. 

We should be informed to be able to influence decision making as well. There will come a day when we have proper communication channels with GAM and other government officials and we will be able to shape the decisions that will make our city more sustainable.

Till that day comes, don't ignore your responsibility as an aware, thoughtful citizen of our beautiful city.

References

  1. The Road Not Taken, Jordan Business, Hazem Zureiqat 
  2. Traffic in Amman, Jordan, Numbeo.com
  3. Municipal Solid Waste Landfills in Jordan – Current Conditions and Perspective Future, Mohammad Al Jaradin & Kenneth Persson
  4. Urban Sprawl, Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE), Mohammad Al Asad
  5. Sustainable City Criteria, 2012

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Airports: Viable Places for Green Initiatives

Bahrain-airportCan airports ever be green? This is an overwhelming concept in a carbon-driven, and carbon-intensive industry. The reality is that air travel is often the only realistic option for the movement of both people and cargo in the current lifestyle and demands encompassed with time constraints. This is especially critical for the island nation of Bahrain that is so heavily dependent on air travel in terms of food security. With over 90% of all goods: perishable and manufactured, imported into the nation, this carbon-intensive industry is not going to disappear.

Airports themselves, may only contribute 5% to the carbon emissions attributed to the aviation industry, never the less, airport infrastructure could ensure a lowering of emissions, especially nitrogen oxide levels [1]. The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) has statistical evidence of improved fuel efficiency and better CO2 performance over the past 15 years[1]. It is viable for airports to reduce the nitrogen oxide levels around airports by developing ground transportation infrastructure for transferring passengers and deploying employees across the airport terminals, ground handling of personal baggage and commercial cargo, as well as the catering services, in a more eco-friendly mode of transportation.

Scope for Green Airports

Airports are viable places for adoption of green initiatives. A significant portion of the emissions are from vehicle transportation onsite at the airport is from moving employees and passengers between terminals and aircraft carriers. Plus all the freight movement, personal baggage and inflight catering and servicing. To secure adequate food products for Bahrain, the greater part of all food produce that is available on the market (93%) is flown in on a daily basis. The dependency on aviation is long-term but the ground handling is an option for energy efficient initiatives.

There is an opportunity to move from fossil fuel vehicles to those running on clean such as hybrid, electric, bioethanol, biogas or hydrogen-fueled vehicles. As road transportation is a major contributor of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, greener, cleaner vehicles are a desirable consideration for protecting a fragile environment.

Role of Environmental Awareness

Greater awareness of renewable energy sources is necessary before developers can even start to appeal to the business sector to adopt viable alternatives of transportation energy. New airport development and expansion projects need to assess the feasibility of alternative mode of transportation which in turn will require electrical charging locations as well as hydrogen filling stations [2]. This can also be marketed to eco-friendly rental companies to avail themselves of green initiatives.

Freight and delivery corporation could also avail themselves of alternative power sources as petrol subsides are reduced over the coming years. Ultimately, sustainable energy sources will become more attractive. Together, a sustainable transportation model along with other sustainable life-cycle models will all help reduce the carbon footprint of the airport industry.

Airports are considered ideal sites for promoting electricity-powered vehicles because one has a captive audience. If the options are already determined for the clients, the clients experience the use of electric cars in a win-win situation.

Rapid Increase in Passenger Flow

During the month of November, 2016, almost 674,000 passengers passed through the Bahrain airport [3]. There was over 8,500 total aircraft movement and almost 20,000 pieces of cargo and mail in the 30 day period. (Data source: Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications). Based on the November data, the numbers could be extrapolated out for a 12-month period with over 8 million passengers per year, over 100,000 total aircraft movement and 240,000 pieces of cargo and mail.

Similar information based on the official Airport Councils International (ACI) statistics from the World Airport Traffic Reports for the 10-year period from 2005 to 2015 [3]. The reports indicate a yearly average of 7.8 million passengers with over 95,350  total aircraft movements and over 304,000 metric tons of cargo. The steady increase in usage of airport facilities [4] is driving the modernization plans for the Bahrain International Airport to be designed for an annual passenger flow of 14 million persons [5].

Heathrow Airport – An Upcoming Role Model

Heathrow Airport in London handles more than 76 million passengers each year. Heathrow is already conducting trials for electric buses and personal electric cars, as part of a sustainable model, which requires a major input for developing recharging infrastructure. Such a large airport in the heart of a metropolitan centre has the advantage of a well developed public transportation infrastructure.

Electric vehicles at Heathrow Aiport

Electric vehicles at Heathrow Aiport

Both travelers and employees use the public transport systems which allows the advanced planning in other sustainable green technology for other transportation systems. Passenger car parks as well as company car parks have charging points for electric cars. The airport strategic plan is to have all cars and vans electric rather than fossil fuel powered by 2020.

Perspectives for Bahrain

Aviation transportation is vital for Bahrain’s survival and daily operations. Therefore, a eco-friendly infrastructure is a viable option for implementing green technology in the form of onsite transportation. However, the modernization of the Bahrain International Airport has limited its eco-friendly inclusion to ground service equipment such as the transformer substations, pre-conditioned air systems and pop-up units and the 400Hz power supply system all contracted to Cavotec Middle East [5].

This is one step towards achieving the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decision to implement a global carbon offset for the aviation industry. It would be great to see the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications reach out to other green initiatives for the modernization of the national airport.

 

References

1. Can airports be green? http://www.airport-technology.com/features/feature100283/

2. How airports uniquely placed to boost the adoption of electric cars. https://www.theguardian.com/heathrow-sustainable-mobility-zone/2016/nov/21/airports-uniquely-placed-boost-adoption-electric-cars-emissions-reduction?CMP=ema-1706&CMP=

3. Airports Council International, World Airport Traffic Reports, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2020, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Traffic by Calendar Year, Official ACI Statistics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahrain_International_Airport

4. Bahrain International Airport witnesses a 25% increase in passenger movement http://www.mtt.gov.bh//press-centre/press-releases/210914

5. New Passenger Terminal Building, Bahrain International Airport, Manama, Bahrain http://www.airport-technology.com/projects/new-passenger-terminal-building-bahrain-international-airport-manama/

Saudi Arabia’s Road to Fuel Economy

Saudi Arabia is a private car-oriented society, and has one of the world’s highest per capita fuel consumption in the transportation sector. This is primarily due to lack of efficient public transportation and current fuel subsidy policy. The country is witnessing an escalating demand on its domestic energy needs and it is imperative on policymakers to devise policies for conservation of energy resources and reduction of GHGs emissions in the transportation sector. Adapting energy-efficient fuel standards will help Saudi Arabia country to bridge the gap with the developed countries. The enforcement mechanism for the establishment of Saudi fuel economy standards will lead to achievement of strategic energy conservation objectives.

Energy intensity in Saudi Arabia has set high records reflecting the growth of the economy and the increasing demand on fossil energy in the domestic use and heavy industries operations. Energy intensity in the Kingdom was twice the world average in 2010 and with unbalanced growth between energy use and economy, this should rang the bell for the Saudi government to adapt a bundle of energy policies that curtail the increasing growth of energy demand domestically.

CAFE Standards

Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standard (CAFE) was first enacted after the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 in the USA. That policy was due to energy security concerns and environmental objectives. The USA current standard is 27.5 mpg for passenger’s vehicle and 20.7mpg for light trucks. Similarly to the USA CAFE objectives, the Kingdom approach is to reduce gasoline consumption and induce conservation and increasing efficiency of the light-duty vehicles (LDV).The proposed standard mandates require that all new and used passenger vehicles and light trucks either imported or locally manufacture should comply with new fuel standards. The framework for this law to be effective will start by January 1, 2016 and fully phased out by December 31, 2025. The Saudi Energy Efficiency Center (SEEC) and other entities including the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization, Saudi Customs, and Ministry of Commerce and Industry have been asked to monitor the implementation of the CAFE standards.

The purpose of the fuel standards is to commit the light-duty vehicle manufactures sell their cars in the kingdom and comply with the Saudi CAFE. This standard has a double dividends from the automobile manufacturer side its incentivize them to introduce the up-to-date efficiency technologies and cut the supply the low-efficient technologies to the Saudi market. The Saudi CAFE standard targets an improving in the overall fuel economy with an average of 4% annually. This would lift up the Kingdom’s fuel economy LDVs from its current level of 12 km per liter to 19 km per liter by 2025.

The Saudi CAFE standard shows a focused strategy to setting long-term standards over the course of a given time frame and its committed efforts to manage both newly imported or used LDVs. According to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud, the Saudi transportation sector consumes about 23 percent of the total energy in the kingdom and about 12 million vehicles consume about 811,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel per day. Moreover, there are 7 LDVs entering the market every year with a forecast to reach 20 million by 2030.

Conclusion

Saudi Arabia’s CAFE standard is a means to stimulate energy efficiency and encourage resource conservation and contribute to the environment. This will enable consumers to save money, reduce fossil fuel consumption and strengthen the Kingdom’s role in the fight against climate change.

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Connected Vehicles – Enabling Green Transport

Connected vehicles technology is a wireless-based technology which enables vehicles (light as well as heavy) to instantly communicate with each other, through an onboard installed device that receives warning signals ahead of time about road closures, pile-ups and other potential hazards related to weather conditions. Connected vehicle aims to enable safe, inter-operable networked wireless communications among vehicles, the infrastructure, and passengers’ personal communications devices.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) defines this revolutionary technology as achieving “cleaner air through smarter transportation.” DOT, in coordination with major automakers and other public and private sector innovators, has been working to advance vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology to help prevent traffic crashes before they happen. 

The network captures real-time data from equipment located on-board vehicles (automobiles, trucks, and buses) and within the infrastructure. The data are transmitted wirelessly and are used by transportation managers in a wide range of dynamic, multi-modal applications to manage the transportation system for optimum performance.

Multiple Advantages

An important role of this system is to mitigate environmental impacts of using roads and highways as it generate as well as capture environmentally relevant real-time transportation data and use this data to create actionable information to support and facilitate "green" transportation choices. The system focuses on improving air quality, reducing GHG emissions and decreasing fuel consumption. Connected vehicles technology is a good tool to mitigate climate change and achieve emissions reduction targets.

Through connected vehicles, drivers will have advance information about traffic congestion etc which will enable people to reschedule, postpone, cancel or carpool their trip. Informed travelers may decide to avoid congested routes, take alternate routes, public transit, or reschedule their trip — all of which can make their trip more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly.

People can also shift to public transportation which will result in fewer GHG emissions caused by significant reduction in fuel consumption and less traffic congestion thus enhancing the air quality. The traffic agency can also introduce a fine “pricing policy” in heavy traffic areas. Connected vehicles technologies promote eco-driving by advising drivers to minimize fuel consumption or directly control engine brakes without requiring the driver’s intervention.

Potential in the Middle East

Connected vehicles have the potential to solve transportation woes and ease traffic mobility in major Middle East cities like Jeddah, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai which are plagued by heavy traffic volumes. Moreover, deployment of this technology will enable people to take a real-time situation decision and maintain sustainable traffic practices. In addition, connected vehicles will be a handy and efficient tool to mitigate environmental impacts of the rapidly growing transport sector. Moreover, connected vehicles, ranging from cars to trucks can relay important safety and mobility information to one another which may help in saving lives, preventing injuries and easing traffic congestion.

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Future of Urban Transportation in Saudi Arabia

Transportation sector has played a prominent role in the socio-economic development of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, there are a wide range of current and future issues which should be tackled to ensure sustainable development in the country. More than 75% of the total population of Saudi Arabia lives in urban areas. Given the worldwide trends and statistics on urban population growth, many have regarded the 21st century as the urban century, understanding the prominence and importance urban areas have played and will continueto play in the future. Therefore, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must focus its attention in the re-planning and re-designing of existing cities in order to absorb the pressure of increasing urban populations, in a manner that will improve environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. In re-fitting urban areas for expected expansion, the future of urban transportation will be a much needed but thoroughly thought-out strategy to ensure the cities’ lifelines are able to cope with the needs and demands of the increasing urban population.

Prevalent Scenario

Accordingly to a 2014 article published in The Peninsula Times, Saudi Arabia had 15.9 million licensed cars at the end of 2012. The article also mentioned that an analysis by Al-Eqtisadiah (a Saudi newspaper) estimated that the number of cars was expected to increase to 18 million in 2014. Therefore if we were to do a ‘rough’ calculation using the projected number of cars for 2014 and the total population of persons in 2013, then for approximately every two persons there is one licensed car. For urban areas, a ‘rough’ calculation using the 2010 urban population figure and the ‘roughly’ calculated ratio of one licensed car to approximately every two persons, means that if at present, over 22.9 million people live in the urban cities, then there is a high probability that there are over 11.4 million licenced cars in the urban areas of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The reality that such figures exist in the Kingdom for licensed cars in urban areas, solidifies the importance of reviewing present modes of urban transport.Such modes of urban transport must be seen as energy efficient, compactable, aesthetically pleasing, safe, reliable and environmentally-sustainable. A key area in applying such type of urban transport is through the urban public transportation system. This can be done through the implementation of urban mass transit systems, for example, bus and extensive rapid railway systems.Such systems will encourage the city inhabitants to forego personal vehicles for public transport. Fortunately, the Kingdom is well on their way in this regard, having an already functioning public bus and railway system. These two public systems are governed under two separate organizations, Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company, and Saudi Railways. Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company has an inter-city and inner-city bus system, while Saudi Railways is responsible for passenger railway transport in the Kingdom. The railway organization has many projects in the pipelinesand is working on implementing their Master Plan, which speaks of the creation of a railway for urban transportation, Urban Transit. 

Future Outlook

Even though the Kingdom is in the process of planning to implement extensions of those transport systems on a larger scale for urban areas, that type of infrastructure will take a number of years to complete. In the interim, simpler alternative modes of public transport, which can bring about positive changes to the country’s urban transportation sector, can be installed and implemented. One such alternative is a bike –share system. Although it is seen as child’s play, bikes have traditionally been used for transport. However, with a bit of innovation and creativity, bike-shares having smart and green technology have popped up all over the world, in many of the mega-cities with huge success. In the case of Saudi Arabia, new city developments and economic zones can easily incorporate such a system into their plans and designs. The bike-share concept can also be incorporated on university campuses and other large-scale development centres throughout the Kingdom. There are numerous advantages to a bike-share, such as improved health, air quality, urban environment and urban aesthetics. The Kingdom can successfully create its own version of a fashionably green urban bike-share system but it will require support from all stakeholders, especially the city dwellers.

Aside from the current usage of the public transport system, a lot more can be done to promote and encourage modes of public transport, as well as other initiatives to ‘nudge’ the urban population to reduce the number of personal cars in cities. One such initiative could be, ‘Use Public Transport Day’ or ‘Car-pool Day’. Another approach to ‘nudging’ urban residents to reduce the need for cars, can be through the installation of pedestrian zones or pathways,where the entire roadway of a certain part of the city is free of cars, allowing for a better flow of pedestrian traffic. These along with many more examples, can be found in case studies on cities like Mexico City, Copenhagen, Malmo, Curitiba and Vancouver.

Conclusion

Prioritising and revitalising urban transport in Saudi Arabia is indeed a requirement as the urban population increases. It is encouraging to see Saudi Arabia taking strides to increase modes of urban transport for cities. However, the Kingdom needs to implement short and medium term strategies that will get the urban population to begin transitioning from conventional modes to environmentally-sustainable modes of transport. The needs of future urban populations are what should be considered by traffic and transportation planners, not future projections of the number of cars. We must begin to think of the future needs of the population, in particular the urban population, for more proactive solutions to emerge in the transportation sector in Saudi Arabia, escially in big cities like Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam. 

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