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Virginia Tech's Ralph Buehler contributes to United Nations and European Union sustainability report

October 19, 2016

Ralph Buehler on a bike.
Ralph Buehler, associate professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, is an expert contributor to a joint United Nations/European Commission report.

Virginia Tech Associate Professor Ralph Buehler’s research to make global transportation more sustainable is part of a joint report published by the United Nations and European Commission.

The report, “The State of European Cities 2016: Cities Leading the Way to a Better Future,” was released this week at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador. It is the first report by the U.N. and European Union to address how European cities can support priorities of jobs, growth, migration, and climate action in an era of rapid urbanization. The report will contribute to a global "New Urban Agenda" adopted by U.N. member states at the conference.

Buehler, an associate professor in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ National Capital Region, was approached by the EU/U.N. team in 2014 because of his prior research comparing international transportation policies. Working with John Pucher, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, Buehler highlighted transportation best practices in European cities and analyzed how urban transportation can be made more sustainable. 

“The transport chapter of the report shows that technological improvements alone can’t make urban transportation sustainable,” Buehler said. “It’s crucial to have policies that make walking, cycling, and public transportation more attractive, while reducing the attractiveness of driving. My hope is that national, regional, and city policymakers, and transport planners – in the EU and worldwide – will look at the results of the report and consider how to implement or adapt other cities’ successful policies.”

The report recommends that more national, regional, and local governments implement policies that have already been proven to make urban transport more sustainable in successful European countries and cities. Cities like Vienna, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen have adopted policies that prioritize regionally coordinated public transit, bike, and pedestrian systems, while also reducing traffic speeds, increasing the cost of parking, and designing cities to be less car-dependent.

“U.S. cities can learn a lot from these European cities,” Buehler said. “In most indicators, American cities lag behind the vast majority of EU cities, for example, when it comes to carbon emissions from daily travel or traffic safety – especially for pedestrians and cyclists.”

The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development convenes U.N. member states in Quito through Thursday to address collective global challenges, including population growth, climate change, urbanization, and economic progress. The objective is to adopt a “New Urban Agenda” for a coordinated global commitment to sustainable urban development.

“It was a great honor to have the opportunity to work with this great group of practitioners and researchers,” Buehler said. “I learned that translation of academic research results into practical solutions is very important and that research findings have to be made accessible to practitioners, who typically do not have time to read thick academic books or often inaccessible peer-reviewed academic journals.”

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