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Building a Climate-Resilient City: Transportation infrastructure

This policy brief looks at measures that cities can take to improve their transportation infrastructure in order to build resilience to climate change impacts.
Multiple Authors
Carmen Bie


Climate change impacts involve threats and costs touching on all aspects of contemporary municipal life, and many of its effects on urban environments have yet to be effectively quantified. These growing climate risks have clear implications for local economies and the financial well-being of municipal governments. Well-planned adaptation measures can improve the quality of urban life as well as protect lives and infrastructure, strengthen community ties and improve economic performance.

The Building a Climate-Resilient City series was prepared for the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in collaboration with the University of Winnipeg’s Prairie Climate Centre. This series makes recommendations for steps that cities can take as part of their municipal adaptation planning to build their resilience to climate change. It explores three key principles of resilience building: robustness (strong design), redundancy (building extra capacity into systems to act as fail-safe networks) and resourcefulness (citizen empowerment).

This policy brief* examines ways of building resilient urban transportation infrastructure to reduce exposure to natural hazards, decrease potential risks by implementing risk management measures and enhance adaptive capacity in a changing climate.

*The text below provides the key messages and recommendations from the brief and summarises some of the economic and financial factors that can support the building of climate-resilient cities. See the full text for much more detail.

Lessons Learnt

  • Urban transportation infrastructure (roads, bridges, railways and runways) is heavily exposed to climate impacts such as rising temperatures and more frequent and intense rainfall.
  • Sustainable transportation systems are physically resilient to climate impacts, provide options in case one mode is disrupted by a climate shock and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Urban densification reduces the amount of transportation infrastructure exposed to climate impacts and allows re-deployment of resources to strengthen existing infrastructure.
  • Complete communities where residents can easily access goods and services by foot or bicycle improve urban climate resilience.

Envisioning Climate-Resilient Transportation Infrastructure

Transportation infrastructure is paramount to the prosperity of all cities and greatly affects quality of life by influencing peoples’ decisions about where to live, work and spend their free time. A resilient transportation system allows people to move into, out of and around their city despite climate shocks and stresses that degrade and damage infrastructure and lead to service disruptions. Greater resilience can be achieved by implementing planning and land-use policies that focus on building resilient design into existing and new infrastructure, promoting compact urban forms and encouraging the use of a variety of modes of transportation. Such policies can provide safe driving conditions and alternative routes to reach essential services in case of extreme weather events. They also can reduce overall expenditures on transportation infrastructure by limiting the total number of roads, bridges, culverts, etc. that need to be maintained and repaired due to damage caused by climate events.

There are a variety of ways in which a more resilient transportation system can be built, some of which are illustrated through interventions that enhance its qualities of robustness, redundancy and resourcefulness:

  • Building Robustness:Assessment tools like the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) Engineering Protocol developed by Engineers Canada can help identify existing vulnerabilities to extreme weather events and longer-term climatic changes so that design improvements which increase robustness and redundancies can be built into the system to account for future climate impacts. Integrating information from climate projections into land-use planning, the design of the transportation system, and the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by weather-related events can also help engineers and planners to build robustness. Additionally, promoting compact urban form and limiting urban sprawl can contribute to enhancing urban resilience by reducing the need to move goods, services and people across vast areas. Increased use of multifunctional green infrastructure can also enhance the robustness of urban transportation systems.

  • Promoting Redundancy: Greater redundancy in the transportation system can be achieved by diversifying transportation modes, corridors and infrastructure systems both within and between cities. Providing reliable alternatives to private vehicles reduces pressure on road infrastructure, particularly when primary routes are damaged by weather events, and aids in keeping citizens mobile if one mode is malfunctioning or damaged. By creating more seamless connections between various modes of transportation (e.g., bike routes, walking paths, bus routes), citizens also have greater choice in terms of the means by which they can move around the city in support of employment and access to goods and services. Expanding public and active transit can also provide co-benefits in terms of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and infrastructure maintenance costs.

  • Encouraging Resourcefulness:Resourcefulness within the transportation system focuses on encouraging individuals to explore alternative means by which to move around the city. Engaging citizens in efforts to improve public and active transportation modes is one means by which to ensure that these systems reflect people’s concerns and desires—thereby increasing the likelihood that they will be used as part of people’s daily routine or as an alternative if their usual transportation mode is disrupted. Example, approaches include mobile apps to engage citizens in decisions (regarding, for example, how transit routes are determined) and car and bicycle share and cooperative programs.

How Canada is and could be building robustness, promoting redundancy and encouraging resourcefulness in transportation infrastructure is discussed in much more detail in the brief. To read more about applying the above principles to transportation infrastructure in an urban resilience-building context, please refer to the full text.


The cities of Calgary and Edmonton could consider the following options when identifying ways to increase the climate resilience of their transportation infrastructure:


  • Undertake a full vulnerability and risk assessment of the city’s transportation infrastructure to identify infrastructure components that are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts and extreme weather events. This full understanding of the scope of associated costs can be used to prioritize investments for the development of cost-effective engineering and maintenance solutions to expand the lifespan of the infrastructure asset if necessary. It also highlights the full implications of short-term maintenance costs versus the need to hasten reinvestment given the new climate reality.
  • Commit to further development of integrated multi-modal transportation networks that provide alternative means by which to travel throughout the city.
  • Consider public-private partnerships to establish electric-vehicle charging stations across the city.
  • Strengthen communications with the public regarding the potential negative impacts of climate change on existing urban transportation systems and the resilience and long-term cost benefits of promoting compact cities and greater use of public and active transit options.


  • Consider using the PIEVC protocol (or similar assessment tools) and incorporating “build back better” requirements in the procurement of all infrastructure retrofits and new nodes (bridges and intersections) to enhance resilience against climate shocks and stresses.
  • Continue to promote sustainable urban planning processes, such as complete street design and the use of green infrastructure components, to reduce the impact of increased heat and precipitation due to climate change.
  • Optimize inter-modal bike-bus-walking routes by requiring new developments to consult with the municipal Department of Transportation so that: existing public and active transportation infrastructure can be properly linked to new areas; safety precautions are taken into consideration; and existing municipal policies and guidelines are being implemented during the design process.

Economic Instruments

  • Provide economic incentives to encourage shared and collective transportation models, such as parking rebates for car cooperatives and registered car share programs, and the use of public and active transportation through mechanisms such as equipment rebates.
  • Consider financing mechanisms such as taxes, levies, tolls, fees and green bonds to finance climate-resilient transportation infrastructure. For example, the City of Toronto financed its Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit through Ontario’s first ever green bond issue.

Voluntary/Community Linkages

  • Overcome barriers to effective implementation of new transportation modes as well as changes to existing infrastructure through interactive and participatory processes, so that intentions to achieve sustainable, climate-resilient transportation systems coincide with the outcomes of policy interventions.
  • Collaborate with local public health services to help educate the public about the benefits of active transportation, provide training and awareness about safe and accessible routes, and encourage people to walk and bike to work and school.

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