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Traffic at Rio+20 highlights challenge of growing cities

Take Mumbai: its infrastructure is groaning under the pressure of a decade-long economic boom, as people travel for business and rising incomes put more private vehicles on the road.

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An Indian woman prepares a meal for her family at her roadside makeshift tent in Mumbai, India, Thursday, June 21.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

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As an estimated 50,000 people gather at the Rio+20 sustainability conference this week, they need only ride to the Riocentro where the main events are held to see a key issue confronting cities: traffic congestion.  Water and sanitation may grab bigger headlines, but the sheer ability to move around cities whose populations have outstripped their narrow roads and poor (or nonexistent) public transportation looms as a top concern. Sustainable transportation affects everything from access to health care to the ability to hold down a job.

Just look at Mumbai, India. On a hot June morning, Mohammed Idris Murtaza Ali inches his black-and-yellow taxi down a narrow lane in the heart of old Mumbai. The veteran cabby slows to go around a worker pulling a cart piled with pipes, hits the gas – then slows again for a double-parked van.

Mr. Ali says traffic has significantly worsened in the past eight years. "It's never been this painful to be on the roads," he says.

India's infrastructure is groaning under the pressure of its decade-long economic boom, as people travel for business and rising incomes put more private vehicles on the road. Nowhere is the pressure more palpable than on the congested streets of Mumbai, whose efforts to meet the needs of its 12.4 million population reflect the challenges faced by megacities the world over. By 2050 the majority of the world’s estimated 9 billion people will live in cities.

As cities increasingly drive economic growth, urban transit gains priority, says transport specialist Arun Mokashi. "But progress is slow," he says. "Many projects are still [realities only] on paper."

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