Walkable cities

Urbanization is growing, cities are growing, traffic is growing. Especially the number of cars is growing which is a major threat to the quality of life, although many people think they cannot life without their car. The main question in this article therefore is how mobility can be improved and the number of cars can be reduced.

Commuters in Los Angeles spend 119 hours each year in stationary traffic; in Moscow 210 hours. In the US, there are as many as 2 billion parking spaces (eight times more than there are cars), often on valuable urban land that could otherwise be used for housing or parks.

Logo of series Future Cities - Smart CIty Hub

Walkable cities is part thirteen of a series of essays on how cities can become more humane. That means finding a balance between sustainability, social justice and quality of life. This requires far-reaching choices. Once these choices have been made, it goes without saying that we use smart technologies to achieve these goals.

The essays that have already been published can be found here.

Autonomous cars will change everything. Will they?

When the first ‘self-driving’ vehicles appeared, many believed that a new urban utopia was within reach that would save millions of lives and contribute to a more livable environment. However, this is the dream scenario.  Dan Sperling writes in his book: Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future (2018)The dream scenario could bring huge public and private benefits, including more transportation choices, greater affordability and accessibility, and healthier, more livable cities, along with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The nightmare scenario could bring more urban sprawl, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and unhealthy cities and individuals.

The dream scenario

Need to go somewhere? An autonomous car will stop at your door on demand within minutes to make the desired trip, it leaves you as soon as you arrived at your destination, and sets out for its next destination. Until recently, companies like Uber and Lync dreamed of the day that all drivers can be fired and they can offer their services in autonomous cars at much lower prices, multiplying their clientele. In this scenario, no one wants to have their own car. Fast calculations by the believers in this scenario show that the number of cars required for passenger transport can decrease by a factor of 20(!).

The nightmare scenario

This calculation might be a little too fast: its validity depends on a perfect spread of all trips over day (and night) and over urban space. What you do not want to think about is that outside the rush hour, the larger part of the fleet of autonomous cars is parked or drives around aimlessly. Moreover, the dream scenario fails to recognize that many users formerly used public transport or a bicycle. Rather than improving our cities, autonomous cars have the potential to ruin them even further, as Robin Chase, cofounder of Zipcar explains.  Taxies already contribute to traffic jams in major American cities (see picture).

New York City taxis. (Photo Pascal Subtil – Licensed by Creative Commons Generic CC BY 2.0.)

Both visions are based on conjectures, expectations, extrapolations and wishful thinking too. Unfortunately, this is also is the case with the growing body of scientific research based on projections of actual behavior, surveys of citizens’ preferences and model building. 

A study of the Boston Consultancy Group based om traffic data from the greater Boston area and surveying residents shows that – once self-driving cars have made their appearance, approximately 30% of all trips will be on demand but that sharing trips will be  not popular. A significant portion of these trips will be made by (former) users of public transport. The result is more cars on the road and more traffic jams.

This is exactly what is already happening. A study in seven major U.S. cities found that 49 to 61 percent of all ride-hailing rides would have been made by walking, cycling, transit, or not at all. As a result, rail ridership has decreased by 1.3% annually and bus ridership by 1.8%. At the same time congestion has increased.

A scenario study in the city of Porto (Portugal) provides a more optimist picture, but assumes that autonomous cars are shared and public transport is not cannibalized. In that case rush-hour traffic becomes even quieter. The short video below presents a more detailed overview of the results of this study.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

The wrong discussion

Looking for the contribution of mobility to the quality of urban life, we have entered the wrong discussion by speculating about the effect of autonomous cars.

Whether autonomous cars will contribute to the efficiency of urban transport, can be doubted. Moreover, the question has arisen in recent years whether it is feasible at all that cars can drive autonomously in busy urban environments in a safe way. Cars will certainly be equipped by devices that take over parts of the driving, but the presence of a driver that can interfere immediately is likely to remain mandatory for many decades to come.

As a result, future mobility needs must be discussed without making assumptions about the impact autonomous vehicles will have upon it. We must therefore first discuss what a liveable city looks like, and next how traffic fits into it.

At least four sources offered inspiring answers to this question. They are the already mentioned book of Dan Sperling: Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future. In the second place: Autonomous Vehicles and Cities: Expectations, Uncertainties, and Policy Choices, by Rohit Aggerwala (in: Digital Decarbonization: Promoting Digital Innovations to Advance Clean Energy Systems,  20. In the third place the studies of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Studies Institute on infrastructure, data, new modes of transport, travelers’ experience and automated vehicles and lastly the study below, An integrated perspective on the future of mobility by Bloomberg and McKinsey.

An integrated perspective on the future of mobility by Bloomberg/McKinsey

Fundamental changes in traffic are inevitable to remain mobile at all, to reduce its lethal character caused by air pollution and accidents, and to mitigate global warming. The video below gives a comprehensive view, based on a Bloomberg/McKinsey report. It is based on three trends, shared mobility and autonomous cars, electrification, and public transport and infrastructure. Given the large differentiation in size and wealth between cities, these trends lead to three models. In all of them electrification (in cars, buses and freight traffic) will dominate, but the degree of sharing and the implementation of autonomous traffic will differ.

As previously mentioned, the unconditional believe in the electrification of passenger cars, the speed at which they become autonomous, and the willingness to shared use, must be seriously questioned.


Urban development is currently determined mainly by the aim to restore the balance between benefits and costs of concentration. Thanks to the smart growth movement and New Urbanism, we know how.

  • A varied range of residential houses of good quality for all income groups.
  • Use of new techniques, such as building with wood and the use of prefabricated elements, leading to lower construction costs and healthier buildings.
  • Sufficient space for pedestrians and two-wheelers.
  • Using criteria such as comfort, safety and efficiency in channeling traffic and transport flows.
  • Mixing of urban functions (living, working and shopping), reducing the need for (distant) daily trips.
  • Mix of high and low buildings, with easy access to green areas and play facilities, especially for families with children.
  • Increase the average residential density, given a mix of higher and lower density areas.
  • Healthy air, plenty and varied greenery and water.
  • increased safety in any possible area, especially for children and minimize the number of fatalities and injuries, in buildings, public spaces and transportation.
  • Blurring of the separation between urban buildings, nature and agricultural areas.
  • Sufficient and diversified public spaces with regard to the facilities offered for socializing, shopping, playing and recreation.
  • Involvement of residents in the design of the living environment and participation in the implementation of neighborhood-oriented public facilities.

Below, the desirable mix of components of mobility in cities is explored, considering these principles of a liveable city.

Less mobility: more liveability

According to all experts, the impact of the aforementioned insights with respect to liveability is that the length and frequency of our trips and the use of cars will decrease. This enables redesign of the urban space. This redesign includes more space for green, pedestrians, two-wheelers and public transport. Walking and cycling are stimulated anyway when urban functions become more mixed. Public transport is stimulated by intensifying urban activities near stations, financial incentives and making it easier to live without a car.

The short video below shows the inadequacy of the car-based mobility structure of Los Angeles.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

The best way to organize traffic in a comfortable, safe and efficient way is the combination of public transport, walking, (shared) use of bicycles and scooters, shared minibuses with or without a driver, and shared cars incidentally.


In this article, I refrain from speculation about the impact of the current corona-crisis on living in cities, although it deeply concerns me. It is clear that social distancing, shared mobility and growing density are at odds. But this applies to living in cities in general as well. I trust that Covid-19 will be overcome. I also hope that this will strengthen our efforts towards a more liveable, healthy and save society and the following makes a full contribution to this.

Public transport

Public transport is the only efficient way to handle massive passenger flows.  In cities such as London, Paris, Moscow and New York public transport already is the most important mode of transport in the work-home connection. Not to mention Chinese cities, where many new metro lines have opened, but where rising incomes make driving more popular and huge amounts of money are also invested in roads, without solving the unprecedented congestion.

To maintain and improve its position, public transit needs to be modernized from four angles: comfort, availability, frequency and speed. In addition – real time – information is necessary.


Many people with physical and mental disabilities find it difficult to find their way. WayFinder – made by AbleLink Technologies and available in the US – lists routes that counselors pre-program. The short video below, shows a participant practicing with this app. WayFinder uses GPS signals to provide location-based vibrating alerts, pictures and audio cues to help special needs users and other travelers ride the bus independently. Find here more useful apps that will improve the sociability of cities.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

Comfort in particular needs most attention. This includes more comfortable seating and a better spread of capacity demand by enabling working at or near home and during flexible times.

The availability of public transit is partly determined by the structure of old towns, where trains and buses connect the center and the main station with residential areas via a radial pattern. Due to the growth of cities, circular lines have become indispensable.

Smaller passenger flows can be served with trams and busses, but frequency and speed should not be affected. A hybrid form between a bus and a tram has been developed in China. It has the capacity of a tram but does require any additional infrastructure. Watch the short video.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

The frequency, speed and density of the network determine the competitiveness of public transport with passenger cars. This means that busses and trams must always drive in free lanes and may cross streets with priority. No high tech is required for this.

Fares can be a problem, especially for people who already own a car and have to pay a significant amounts of tax and insurance. Congestion pricing and more flexible tariffs are a solution, for example lower road tax for motorists with a public transit subscription.

One of the main competitive advantages of the private car is uninterrupted traveling from starting point to destination. The use of public transit always requires bridging the ‘first and the last mile’. A fifteen-minute walk or bike ride is a pleasure when the weather is fine and if save bicycle sheds are available. Otherwise it becomes a nuisance; definitely the worst alternative is a low-frequency bus with poor connections to metro and train.  

(Autonomous) Minibuses and taxis

(Autonomous) minibuses are a very comfortable way to bridge the first or the last mile (or both). These vehicles pick passengers at home and bring them to the nearest transit or vice versa. The presence of a driver will make a service like this less affordable, but it is cheaper than the all-inn price of a private car. The level of the boarding fee must discourage using it for very short distances.

The video below shows that in some cities driverless minibuses have already been implemented.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

The word Micromobiliy has appeared out of nowhere for the past years and includes lightweight (electric) vehicles such as scooters, bicycles, skateboards and the like. Together with walking, these devices already represent a greater percentage of trips worldwide than by car.


Bicycling has been the most popular form of micromobility for years in Denmark and the Netherlands. Not only to bridge the first and last mile but also the whole distance between home, work and other destinations. It used to be very popular in China, but here other forms of mobility took over.

The largest bicycle parking in the world can be found near the Central Station in Utrecht, but in the Netherlands and Denmark there are also comfortable bike lanes that allow almost non-stop rides within cities or between cities and suburbs.

Nowadays, many other cities facilitate cycling by constructing cycle paths and offering docked bikes for occasional rides.

Shared scooters

As of 2017, dockless electric shared scooters have been swarming the streets in many cities mostly before city authorities could have even thought about regulation. A study by Populus in 2018 – a research group focused on shared mobility – described the appearance of shared electric scooters as a micromobility revolution. The group expects the number of scooters to increase rapidly, due to their popularity among many citizens, rich or poor and male or female (see chart).

Public perception of e-scooters in US cities.

Electric scooters are inexpensive and easy to use. Unfortunately, with many unexperienced drivers, moving with a speed of more than 20 km/h, the risk of injuries is not negligible. Rental companies advise to wear a helmet, which hardly anybody does.

Since docks are not necessary, shared scooters can be found everywhere which is an advantage but at the same time creates a major inconvenience: Many users leave their scooters haphazardly on the sidewalk, to the anger of pedestrians and people in wheelchairs. This already resulted in a temporary ban of shared scooters in San Francisco. Since then, rental companies have started to cooperate with the municipality, which reduces the number of excesses. 

In the US, scooters and bicycles are becoming increasingly popular for short rides. They accounted for 84 million rides in 2018, more than double the number of 2017. In March 2019, there were over 85,000 app-based scooters available for rent in about 100 U.S. cities. The city of Austin has collected user data since early 2018, showing that the number of users has grown very quickly to 500,000 per month and seems to be stabilizing. However, the number of scooters has grown to 18.000, which equites to one (!) ride per day for every scooter. The average active lifetime of a scooter is 2 – 3 months.  

Electric scooters have also appeared in some European cities, such as Paris. They are prohibited in the Netherlands. Legislation varies from country to country, even from city to city. An overview of regulations regarding the use of shared scooters can be found here.

I will spend some attention to the logistics behind shared electric scooters, the way they move around the streets, and their impact on traffic in the future.


As a potential user, you need to download an app of one of the rental companies, Bird, Lime, Scoot and the like. The app tells you where to find the nearest scooter. Once you succeeded, you enter your credit card, scan the scooter’s barcode to unlock it and off you go. On arrival, you also end the ride with the app. Sometimes you will ask to upload a photo to prove that you left the scooter tidy. All scooters have GPS units and 4G data connections to track their moves exactly. Their range is 45 kilometers.

The companies use mobile teams to maintain and charge scooters.

Shared electric scooters – Jefferson City (Photo: Tony Webster. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.).

Shared scooters can make a significant contribution to improving mobility in cities where bicycling is not common. Scooters are normally used for rides up to 3,5 km. Since 40% of all car journeys in the US are less than 3.5 km, there is great potential to replace the use of cars with scooters or bicycles. Scooters can also lead to an increasing use of public transport, as they provide a fairly comfortable solution for the first and last miles.


Freight transport will also change. As for urban transport, the development that is already underway will continue: Hubs are being built on the outskirts of cities where goods are shipped in electric cars and underground routes for small autonomous delivery vans are likely to emerge in the future.

People chose. The case for disruptive innovation

Designing the most efficient transport system is not that difficult; its acceptance is. Many people see the car as the extension of their home, where they – even more than at home – can listen to their favorite music, smoke, make calls or meet people. In public transport you have to admit many people to your intimate space. You are limited in your behavior and sometimes a journey by public transport takes more time than by car, although you can sometimes read or work. At the same time, a growing group of people realize that using the car also has disadvantages for society and the environment. These people are often also aware of the real costs of their car.

Such considerations can lead to disruptive innovation. Horace Dedui, a senior fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute considers leaving the car as primary mode of transport as a bottom-up process, albeit with top-down support. According to Dedui, disruption starts when people have tried one of the alternatives, such as public transport or micromobility solutions like cycling, using a scooter or walking. This contributes to the development of a mindset in which they unbundle their mobility needs into different types of trips, each of which is best served by a different mode of transport. Instead, cars are a pre-paid option for taking all these trips just with one bundle, which makes the price of some of those trips unnecessarily high. In the future, the availability of autonomous cars and shared minibuses will further increase the number of mobility options. Against this background the emerging concept of Mobility as a service must be valued. Watch this short TEDx talk by Hubert Hays-Narbonne.

Content not available.
Please allow cookies by clicking Accept on the banner

Mobility as a service

There are many transportation options available to replace your own car. As stated above, whether car users will use these options, depends on their willingness to unbundle their mobility needs. But even then, two conditions must be met. In the first place, all transportation options must become seamlessly integrated in a multimodal transport system in which all providers work together. Secondly, potential users must not have to worry about all available options. Given their need to travel from A to B, at a given time and within a given timeslot ‘the system’ must propose a few alternatives including their costs. This is what Mobility as a Service promises. No worries about departure times, means of transport, tickets, reservations and paying. Moreover, ‘the system’ provides alternatives in the event of disruptions. If you are on your way to the airport, an alternative is organized timely. Amsterdam will start in May 2020 with its first full-pilot on the Zuidas, its commercial district.

Mobility as a service (MaaS) is strongly promoted as a comfortable solution to live without a car, or at least without always using it.  The market is slowly maturing for this idea. There is also a role here for governmental and private organizations: instead of generously making available lease cars, organization can give their employees a budget for MaaS, such as the Dutch company Arcadis.

That the market is maturing is also evident from a program that Lyft has set up in 36 cities across the United States and Toronto. The program provided 1,900 participants with passes for cars, scooters, and public transit if the participants promised to not use their cars for a month. Around 130,000 people (!) signed up. It is not known how many participants gave up their car afterwards, but a disconcerting conclusion was that most of them made more kilometers in a car through ride-hailing than they would have driven in their own car.

Shared mobility

Shared mobility is a contribution to more efficient and affordable transport. Two different modes of shared mobility must be distinguished: In the first place, sharing the same means of transportation at the same time, for instance: all kinds of public transport, minibuses, and taxis who combine rides from or to different destinations. This does not apply if these (autonomous) taxis replace journeys by public transport, cycling or walking instead of only journeys by car.

Secondly, sharing means that different people successively use the same means of transportation individually. This applies to shared bikes, scooters or cars. As aforementioned, shared scooters appeal to many, because they are cheap and can be taken and left at any place. In a growing number of cities, shared scooters have been accepted after their use has been regulated, and – as mentioned before – their role is defined in relation with other modes of transport.

As owning a private car becomes less common, car-sharing services will become more popular because most people without a car will want to use a car every now and then. Many millennials in particular are less sensitive to the ‘magic’ of your own car and have other priorities. They use public transport whenever possible, but they will use a car for traveling to locations that are less accessible by public transit services or traveling out of town with family or friends.

The shared mobility market for cars started to develop rapidly around 2010 when the total number of users worldwide exceeded one million. In 2017, there were already around 10 million people using this type of service, and by 2025 their numbers will reach 36 million, maintaining an annual growth rate of 16.4%, although 2020 will show a major decline. The value of the global car sharing market by 2024 is expected to be $11 billion. Western Europe and the US are currently the main markets. Asia will experience the fastest growth in this area.

Number of users of car sharing 2017 -2025. (Source: Frost & Sullivan, Future of Car Sharing Market to 2025.)

There are four types of car sharing: stationary, free-floating, B2B and P2P.  Stationary models are used for longer journeys and replace rental cars or car ownership, free-floating models provide higher flexibility, and compete with taxis. B2B car sharing is a closed system in which employees have access to vehicles on a sharing basis, and is a powerful alternative for corporates to operating their own fleet. At P2P car sharing, individuals offer their own car for rental by private users through a platform. P2P corresponds more to an alternative to short-term car rental or carpooling. An overview of recent developments on the world market can be found here.

The role of policy

Disruptive innovation is bottom-up; governments have a stimulating, facilitating and legislative role, which includes:

  • Improving the availability, affordability and comfort of all alternatives to car use.
  • Conversion of roads and parking places to make more space for pedestrians, micromobility, and public transport and building car-free neighborhoods.
  • Limitation of the construction of roads.
  • Introduction of financial incentives for using public transport, micromobility, and rewarding becoming car-free.

Improving the availability, affordability and comfort of all alternatives for car use

In cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, public transport, cycling, and walking represent together the largest number of trips. In both cities, the facilities for bicycles (save and extended lanes, parking opportunities in the city and near stations) are world class.

Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit and hopes their residents will no longer own a car within 10 years.

Another city that is preparing rigorous measures is – of all places – Los Angeles. In ten years’, the city wants most new cars and all city buses to be electric. 20% of journeys currently in single-occupant cars must be replaced by public transport and micromobility. The city also studies road pricing, along with free public transport.

Transforming roads and parking places in public space and room for pedestrians, micro-transportation and public transport and building car-free neighborhoods

One of the first road closures was a main artery in Copenhagen, the Stroget. Business owners were terrified; but it turned out to be the anything but a disaster. Neighboring streets followed and the city thrives as never before, despite persistent restrictions on car use and the city’s almost complete transition to bicycles and public transport.

A few years ago, the city of Paris introduced a package of measures to reduce the high pollution level (in France, air pollution kills 48,000 people every year) and the heavy traffic. This package includes 1,400 kilometers of cycle paths, banning petrol-powered cars by 2030, redesigning intersections in favor of pedestrians and a 200 km expansion of the metro system. Street closures met most opposition.

Brussels and Ghent are banning cars from much of the city center and some main arterial roads to reduce air pollution. These roads will be converted into public spaces, bicycle lanes and green areas. Barcelona and Birmingham are also closing an ever-growing number of selected streets for cars. Amsterdam has comparable plans.

Oslo implemented a more gradual plan that was widely accepted, after initial criticism. It began to limit parking places and convert them into more space for pedestrians and cyclists. The same goes for closing King Street in Toronto. The Dutch city of Utrecht is building a neighborhood for 12.000 people without any parking place, except for shared cars (picture below).

The proposed Merwede neighborhood, directly adjacent to the city center of Utrecht. (Visualization Marco Broekman and OKRA. Community of Utrecht.)

In many cases, for instance London, Oslo and Paris unpopular measures have been offset by improvement of public transport.

Restriction of road construction

Decades of scientific research prove that transportation is more supply- than demand-driven. The construction of new roads reduces traffic pressure only temporary and attracts more users. Reducing road capacity encourages people to look for other opportunities. After King Street in Toronto closed, tram use increased by 20% and travel times were shortened.

Introducing monetary incentives for using public transport and micromobility solutions

The most effective policy measure is ‘free’ public transport within the city. This will not be feasible for most cities and will also cause unnecessary rides.  Another incentive for public transport is a flat pricing structure, which encourages people to use micromobility solutions and walking for short distances.

Amsterdam started to simulate households to become car-free, by giving up their parking permit in exchange for a free subscription to public transport. Personally, I find this compensation too limited, also in a psychological way. Instead, a free bundle of various transport solutions as offered in Maas allows them to use of a car if necessary.

Subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs)

Electric cars are preferable from the point of view of environmental sustainability perspective. However, a large amount of greenhouse gases is released during their production and the production of lithium-ion battery packs has other negative environmental and social effects. Still the environmental footprint of an electric car that uses gray electricity is 22% lower than that of a petrol-fueled car.

It is commendable that people go electric when they buy a new car. Considering the requirements for the development of a liveable city replacing patrol-powered with electric cars is a right step into the wrong direction. Waiving a private car at all must be the first policy priority. Therefore, governments should immediately stop subsiding the purchase of electric cars and instead supporting not having a car at all. Better is to announce banning the sale of new and used gasoline-powered cars within a decade, as Denmark and Norway intend and stepwise increasing their taxation.

Moreover, subsidies for electric cars privilege the highest incomes. The University of Berkeley Pacific Institute has published a study of that found that from 2010 to March 2015, 79% of tax rebates for purchasing an electric car went to people with incomes in excess of $100,000.

Electric vehicle plug-in tax credit received by adjusted gross income; 2014 tax year. (Source: The University of Berkeley Pacific Institute.)

Introduction of financial disincentives for using cars

London introduced congestion charge in 2003, reducing the number of incoming cars in the city with 44%. This allowed the city to invest heavily in improving public transport. Singapore and Stockholm followed. Mexico City was the first city that implemented ‘no drive’ restrictions based on license plate numbers, other cities followed, for instance Athens. 

An important discouragement from using taxis and car-hailing is requiring a high boarding fee, to discourage rides that can be easily replaced by micromobility and walking.

The outcomes: a more liveable and safe city

A radical change in the balance between traffic by car, micromobility, public transport and walking enables profound changes in the design of cities that improve the quality of life, health and safety.

Three principles will be dominant:

  • A redistribution of the available area, resulting in more space for pedestrians and micromobility, public transport and green.
  • Different types of roads based on the requirements of their primary users, each with its own maximum speed.
  • Minimization of collision risks, if necessary by physical barriers between different kinds of traffic and lower maximum speed.

Redistribution of space makes the city more quiet, sociable and safe.  As for traffic, the design of the streets will depend on who is the dominant user. Sidewalk labs differentiates four types: laneways, accessways, transitways and boulevards (figure below).

Four types of roads. (Source: Sidewalk labs.)

The first, laneways, prioritize pedestrians. They are narrow (10 m wide) and their maximum speed is 6 km/h. The major part of the second group, accessways (15 m wide) is dedicated to micromobility modes like bikes and scooters (maximum speed: 20 km/h). A wave of green led lights suggests an optimum speed to avoid stops at intersections. The third category, transitways (25 m wide) prioritize public transport, like light rail, and buses (maximum speed 30 km/h). Lastly, boulevards (30 m wide) are for all modes. Following complete streets principles, their maximums speed is 40 km/h. Here, all traffic modes are separated.

This division is based on functional criteria, principal users and maximum speed, not on a radical separation of transport modes. For example, bicycles are allowed in laneways, provided they adapt their speed to that of pedestrians (maximum 6 km/h) who always have priority and parking is not allowed, except for designated spots for a limited time. The same applies to a taxi. This principle allows for much a more ‘organic’ use of the space without reducing flexibility.

Traffic in the humane city

Sometimes, moving by car in a city is practical. The problem is that millions of other citizens do the same. Instead, the use of a car for bridging distances where satisfying alternatives are available is devasting the quality of life in cities and 1,35 million lives too.

Traffic has become a serious deficit in humanity and changing mobility patterns has the highest priority in making cities more humane.  Neither electric nor automated cars are structural improvements. Instead, the solution of the problems begins with the intention to become a liveable city.

Once a widely supported vision of the quality of urban life has been decided, the anatomy of future mobility pattern can be sketched. This article has explored the main pillars. The preferable solution for commuting is public mass-transit, assuming it is safe, frequent, affordable and comfortable. Walking, use of (shared) bikes and shared electric scooters are essential components of mobility during the first and the last miles. In both cases (shared and/or autonomous) cars, taxis and minibuses are supplementary. Local and national authorities will have to encourage the right behavior by (dis)incentives.

Without dedicated and restrictive policy, replacement of ordinary cars – petrol fueled or electric – by autonomous cars will bring even more cars on the road than now, and causing unprecedented traffic jams.

Aligning mobility and sustainability, liveability and safely has to start right now. In most cities, the USA in particular, cars (or their drivers) have appropriated an unproportionable share of the available space. Pedestrians, cyclists, users of scooters, trams and busses struggle for the rest. Therefore, authorities must redistribute space in a way that does justice to citizens’ changing mobility preferences and that is aligned with sustainability, liveability and safety objectives. Thus, the focus of the discussion will shift from the assumptions of the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous cars to the quality of our living environment.

Below I summarize the essence of the contribution of mobility policy to a humane city.

Principles for the contribution of mobility policy to humane cities

  1. Mobility policy starts with a comprehensive and citizen-supported view of the sustainability, livability and safety in the city, and its impact on mobility and transportation modes.
  2. Putting the quality of life at the center requires a shift from the primacy of car traffic to a dominant role for pedestrians, bicycles, public and other forms of shared transport.
  3. Providing comfortable, clean, affordable and safe public transport is the most efficient way to accommodate large passenger flows.
  4. Digital tools, as provided in Mobility as a Service, support the choice of the most efficient means of transportation in any situation, using a real-time information system, including departure times and duration of the journey and options for ticketing and payment.
  5. In urban areas, pricing policy has to disincentivize the use of cars in general and for short distances, car-hailing included, in favor of walking, (shared) bikes and scooters (micromobility) and additional (autonomous) minibuses.
  6. In suburban areas, (autonomous) minibuses with a dynamic routing system, in addition to micromobility, will connect houses and apartments with metro- bus- and train-stations.
  7. The pricing policy always is occupancy-based, prioritizing the use of public transport and incentivizing traveling outside the rush hours too.
  8. Road- and occupancy-based pricing are the most important tools to manage the number of (autonomous) cars and to promote their shared usage.
  9. Reducing the availability of parking spaces in front of the door, especially in high density areas, contributes to a rational choice of available mobility solutions, as offered by Mobility as a Service.
  10. A dynamic traffic control system increases safety, manages the priority of trams and busses and reduces noise and CO2 emission.
  11. The presence of different types of roads, based on prioritizing certain user groups and limiting speed, contributes to the quality of public space, its safety included

Written by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.

Header image: Traffic jam in New Delhi by Carlo van de Weijer  – posted at 4 November 2018 in Innovation Origins: https://innovationorigins.com/author/carlo-van-de-weijer/

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *