EghtesadOnline: The Fourth Transit-Oriented Development Conference is scheduled to take place in Tehran on Jan. 16, 2019.
The event will bring together officials, academicians, engineers, experts and potential investors to survey the latest developments in the plan to implement the newly-introduced idea of TOD in Iran’s transportation network and urban development projects.
If you live in Iran, you have experienced the nerve-racking traffic jams, clogged streets resembling permanent parking lots, inaccessibility of urban services when you don’t own a personal vehicle and pollution. This has been exacerbated by the culture of tagging “prestige” to the use of personal cars.
What’s worse, this is not confined to metropolises, and the malfunctioning transportation and urban development systems, inherited from years of mismanagement and wrong priority settings has, in the past decade, spread to smaller cities as well, Financial Tribune reported.
> Where It Sparked From
TOD, a form of urban development maximizing the amount of residential, business and leisure spaces within walking distance of public transport and creating compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use spaces centered around efficient train systems, is a fast-growing trend in developed countries.
Nonetheless, one would consider it as a far-fetched goal for Iran to want to implement such an ideal concept.
Abbas Akhoundi took office as Iran's minister of roads and urban development in 2013 and has ever since been thinking big on the issues under his jurisdiction.
In an interview with Financial Tribune, the advisor for urban development to the Roads Ministry’s deputy for transportation said Akhoundi floated the concepts of non-motorized and door-to-door public transportation and integration of urban development and transportation in all the departments of his ministry and its affiliated organizations.
“This is important when you consider that back then the dominant mindset prevalent among officials and organizations dealing with transportation favored the old notions of expanding highways as much as possible, constructing rail stations outside city boundaries and building shopping centers and leisure spaces just about anywhere to make them 'convenient' and within reach," Marziyeh Barikani added.
> Need for Paradigm Shift
So the first step was to bring about a “paradigm shift” among the decision-makers, she said.
The official, who doubles as caretaker of the Ministry’s Economic Evaluations and Transportation Productivity Management Bureau, noted that in August 2014, Akhoundi addressed letters to the former head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, Mohsen Pourseyyed-Aqaei, the head of Roads, Housing and Urban Development Research Center affiliated with the ministry, Mohammad Shekarchizadeh, and his architectural and urban development deputy, Pirouz Hanachi.
Akhoundi urged them to hold meetings and seminars with experts, administer workshops and courses, and do everything necessary to design a roadmap out of the transportation dilemma that people are struggling with in Iranian cities on a daily basis.
“So we started doing just that and in the process realized that Akhoundi was putting forward TOD as mobility theories when fully developed. We also worked to rectify the common misconceptions surrounding the idea. TOD is not limited, for example, to constructing shopping centers and other buildings around transport stations per se,” she said.
> Incorporating TOD in Master Plans
“Soon we decided that we're done with speaking. If we wanted to see something happen, we had to incorporate the concept and steps needed to be taken for preparing master plans and legislations. But at the time, transportation officials and urban development authorities did not see eye to eye,” Barikani said.
The advisor noted that the problem, which still persists today, was that all of Iran’s urban development projects are automobile-oriented.
"We needed a master plan that would support the new viewpoint and obliged mayors, governor generals, advisors and experts in the field to comply with," she said.
“Last May, this master plan was written and ratified in collaboration with the High Councils of Transportation Coordination and Urban Development and Architecture as decision makers in the field. It was then notified nationwide to all bodies involved. We wrote a guideline showing the path that needs to be taken from automobile-oriented transportation to transit-oriented development. Now we are looking to put all the words into action.”
> TOD to Be Piloted in 4 Cities
In last year’s TOD conference, which was held in winter, Barikani said, four cities were introduced for piloting TOD.
“We chose Tehran since it is a metropolis and a capital city. Qazvin because it is considered a suburban city to Tehran and there are a lot of daily travels back and forth between the two cities. There is also a suburban railroad between Qazvin and the capital. We picked Parand (situated 35 kilometers southwest of Tehran) since it is a new city located in the vicinity of Imam Khomeini International Airport," she said.
"And lastly, we chose Yazd as it is a historical city and we want to analyze the effects of TOD in a city with this characteristic. Yazd will also be hosting the next edition of International Next Station Conference in 2019.”
Next Station is a world-renowned biennial event for sharing information and experience on the development and operation of a new generation of rail stations across the world, which meet the needs of mobility and society while respecting the aims of sustainable development.
“In this year’s TOD conference, I will be heading the scientific committee where authorities in charge from the pilot cities are required to present what they have done so far and the projects they have designed,” she said.
If their work is accepted by the committee, it will be unveiled and presented at the conference.
“We are hoping as designers, coordinators and decision-makers in the field that guided by our management, TOD projects in Iran, starting with the pilot cities, will bear fruit within the next few years. The annual TOD conference can be a platform to monitor the yearlong activities of responsible bodies,” she said.
According to Barikani, as TOD projects are highly lucrative for investors, there is no need for government resources to fund these projects.
She said Iran has a TOD plan, which was non-existent in the discourse among transportation officials just five years ago.
"Everyone in the ministry as well as other bodies involved like the Plan and Budget Organization, IRIR, the Iranian Parliament and lawmakers, city councils, municipalities and provincial governorates are now talking about it," she said.