Urban Mobility of the Future

We’re living in an urban age: 50% of the planet’s population today live in cities, consume 75% of energy and produce 80% of CO2 emissions. In 40 years, even 70% of the planet’s population are expected to live in cities. Due to this rapid growth and the innovative strength of urban areas, it will be decided in our cities if we manage the transition to a low carbon society.

This is where mobility plays a central role. As Ute Woltron recently stated in the Austrian newspaper “Die Presse”: “Traffic is the key issue in all big cities, bot in environmental and social terms: Cars exhaust the planet and catastrophically accelerate global warming.” As Georg Günsberg mentions, we need a “revolution in mobility (…) to make it environmentally friendly and socially acceptable”.

At the core of modern urban mobility are solutions that are already available but whose potential isn’t fully used due to wrong priorities in traffic planning: New pedestrian areas, more bike lanes and attractive transit are first steps to a mobility revolution in terms of a multimodal approach where people regularly use these different means of transportation based on their individual advantages.

“The most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding. On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. (…) The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context.” (SustainableCitiesCollective)

Bicycles probably have the biggest potential to challenge the car’s status as the primary transportation mode in many cities as I’ve learned two years ago in Copenhagen. Worldchanging.org also states that “around the world, bicycles are becoming a potent talisman of our urban post-carbon future”.

Moreover, while electric cars are expected to change and improve our cities, we should be aware that they still need the same amount of space for streets and parking lots, thereby limiting cyclists’ and pedestrians’ mobility. So, as WIRED already stated in 2009, “it’s time for cities to favor people, not cars“.

So, as the Guardian mentions, future urban mobility solutions not only include technological solutions such as electromobility but especially also behavioral solutions which are usually easier, quicker and cheaper to implement. These also include an urbanen focus in intelligent spatial planning or innovative approaches in urban housing (such as the Bike-City in Vienna).

Further solutions are carsharing and bikesharing, smart traffic systems or providing more useful information on alternative transportation modes as well as more creative solutions: If everyone would work from home one day per week, this would decrease work-related traffic by 20%.

Tomorrow’s urban mobility definitely needs a change in our lifestyles. According to Harald Welzer, it is not these changes that require sacrifices but the current mobility system: “Our current urban practices require huge, daily sacrifices. As soon as a child learns to walk, it is not allowed to run on the streets as it would be killed by a car in that case. This might be rational but it’s a huge sacrifice that’s based on the idea that mobility should focus on cars and that we build cities that only consist of cars.”

In contrast, future urban mobility doesn’t sacrifices but gains: A gain in sustainable and efficient transport options that are tailored at people’s specific mobility needs. A gain in space especially for weaker and environmentally-conscious traffic participants. A gain in quality of life due to less emissions, noise and stress. And finally a macroeconomic gain as public transportation investments are better in terms of employment than investments in roads.

So, future urban mobility should be embedded into an overall strategy for urban sustainability that also includes renewable energy, smart grids, energy efficient buildings and other measures. According to Sue Zielinski, “the goal is not transport, but accessibility – more productivity, more mobility, more beauty in one day.” So, it’s our turn to act, e.g. based on these recommendations by the “Megacities on the Move” think-tank:

How to make a city flow

Megacities on the Move has identified six essential priorities for action. They should be relevant for everyone involved in rethinking cities, whether you’re a government official, urban planner, transport provider, corporate hot dog or the Mayor.

1. Integrate
How we get about, how we shift our supplies, and how we access the things we need can no longer be considered in isolation. A new, holistic approach is needed – as well as much more talking and decision making across sectors.

2. Prioritise the poor
Everyone has to be able to access services, food, social hubs, jobs and information – whatever their income. Good transport can go a long way to help people make money, but it has to be affordable.

3. Think people, not just cars
There are already one billion cars in the world, projected to grow to two billion within decades – but cities are already struggling with impossible levels of congestion. Designing our cities around people could help lure us out of our cars and onto our foot (or our pedals).

4. Get online
Mobile apps and web-based services have enormous potential to reduce the need for travel altogether – but they can also help coordinate the journeys we do make, with massive efficiency wins.

5. ‘Re-fuel’ our vehicles
We need significant investment in alternative fuels, electric vehicles and battery technology – as well as smart infrastructure to encourage super-efficient driving.

6. Change values and behaviour
Pushing low-carbon, healthier urban lifestyles into vogue could take a huge weight off our roads and transport systems – and off our thighs, too…”

P.S.: This blogpost is part of the blogparade “Urban Mobility” of the “ÖkoEnergie-Blog”. It aims at providing comprehensive and sustainable answers to the questions “How can cities react to their growth and the connected mobility challenges?” and “What are your proposals for mobility in your city?”.

Posted on September 25, 2011 in Sustainability

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out Vienncouver.com and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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