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Embarking on better health.

The winds of change are blowing in Mexico City; the prospects for reducing the city's tragic congestion and air pollution--which ranks among the worst in the world, with particulate concentrations running at about double the World Health Organization's recommendations--may have improved slightly this year.

The change has been catalyzed by EMBARQ, also known as the World Resources Institute (WRI) Center for Transport and the Environment. EMBARQ is a name coined by the program's partners--the London-based Shell Foundation, which provided the seed capital to launch EMBARQ, and the Washington, D.C.-based WRI, which independently directs and manages the work. EMBARQ's goal is to help policy makers develop and implement sustainable urban transportation strategies. EMBARQ chose Mexico City as its first project in part because the city had "an empowered decision maker who wants our help," says center codirector Nancy Kete.

At EMBARQ's advice, instead of just building more roads to relieve the city's notorious congestion, Mexico City officials will develop a "bus rapid transit" system. These systems combine aspects of traditional bus and light rail systems, such as dedicated corridors, bus priority at traffic signals, and clean, comfortable vehicles. The buses will offer the latest in clean-burning technology, based on local testing of several fuels and engine types. The city also is crafting a major retrofit program to reduce emissions from existing bus and truck engines, along with a program to increase pedestrian and bicyde traffic.

Whether the approach helps reduce air pollution remains to be seen. Many other issues--such as land use planning, car and truck management, emissions reduction, and intergovernmental cooperation-must be addressed concurrently (some efforts are under way). And the city's high-altitude setting in a hemmed-in mountain basin means stagnant air will always be an obstacle.

But EMBARQ'S push has set the wheels in motion for a city test of bus rapid transit, with the first corridors expected to be operating by the end of 2004. Five-year funding for the Mexico City project is expected to reach about $13 million, Kete says, with major cash contributions from the Shell Foundation, the World Bank, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and large in-kind contributions from the city and bus and fuel manufacturers.

As EMBARQ phases out of its Mexico City role in a few years and leaves the work in the hands of the local Center for Sustainable Transport that it helped establish in mid-2002, it plans to move on to other cities. It is negotiating with Shanghai, another huge city facing different challenges, and hopes to then take on a "small" city--maybe around 1 million people--possibly in India, Indonesia, or South America.
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Title Annotation:Air Pollution
Author:Weinhold, Bob
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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