Infrastructure 2014: shaping the competitive city
Highest infrastructure priority: improved public transit
One of the most striking themes to emerge from both the survey and the interviews was a focus on upgrading public transit systems—including bus and fixed-rail systems—as a strong priority for future investment. In the open-ended questions at the end of our survey, the need to invest more in transit was frequently mentioned.
- 78% of survey respondents saw improved transit services as a top or high priority.
- 71% rated investments in road and bridge infrastructure as a high priority.
- 63% are looking for improved pedestrian infrastructure.
- Public and private sector respondents were both likely to rate transit as a high priority, although public leaders were more likely than private ones to rank transit highly (84% versus 71%).
- Global respondents were more likely to prioritize transit services than US respondents, with 84% saying that sufficient public transit was a top consideration or very important.
Priorities for investment are, in general, the inverse of perceptions of quality. Pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, bicycle infrastructure, and car sharing received the lowest quality marks in our survey, with roads and bridges receiving middling marks.
When it comes to assessing infrastructure quality, public and private sector respondents were in general agreement about which are the best and the worst.
The link between transit and pedestrian infrastructure—and current perceptions of poor quality for both—help explain the desire to invest in and upgrade these infrastructure services. Other factors driving these priorities could be growing densities in urban areas, environmental sensitivities, and the cost of driving and parking.
Although many transit systems globally are no doubt of very high quality, increasing ridership coupled with underinvestment has added up to poor conditions in some places. Many cities are making aggressive investments in transit, and the results of the survey support these efforts.
Transit and the push toward density
Demographic shifts are at play here, and are driving a need to dramatically upgrade and expand infrastructure categories that may not have been priorities in the past.
In developed countries, market demand for higher-density living in city cores works in tandem with local government desires to become more financially efficient by concentrating urban development in areas with high-quality transit.
Improved public transit is also important in developing markets such as those in Asia, although for different reasons. There, ongoing urbanization is drawing ever more people from rural areas into cities already overcrowded and choked with traffic. With these problems only set to worsen, economies structurally underserved in transit infrastructure must now make major investments to avoid gridlock.
Given the high cost of installing new rail networks, planners are also looking to make more cost-effective transit improvements, often aimed at improving efficiency. Better interconnections between different transport networks were mentioned repeatedly in interviews. Smart solutions using new technology also featured prominently.
When it came to quality, car sharing received low marks in our survey, perhaps reflecting the limited reach of those services at this time. Interviewees suggested they lacked “critical mass” in many places. With more progressive cities in pursuit of a variety of “new mobility” approaches, however, current policy initiatives may accelerate their uptake.