Taking a second look at urban mobility

Heavy vehicular traffic

Presently, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. And by 2050, conservative estimates have it that two-thirds of all humanity – 6.5 billion people – will be urban. To perform essential functions like working, healthcare delivery, shopping, schooling and travelling, some form of transport is relied on.

General prosperity and the rise in income levels have meant that motorized transport has become the commonest mode of transport in our cities. With it comes traffic congestion. In a 2000 study, the average speed of cars in some cities was estimated to be around 10mph (16kmph).

Closely related to congestion are noise and air pollution. Dangerous air pollution levels in cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Beijing are all too familiar. Though not all of it is caused by emissions from vehicles, it is thought that vehicles are a big part of the problem. And that’s making no mention of the effects of accidents resulting from the use of vehicles and the lack of physical exercise among some vehicle owners.

All of this means there is a need for a renewed approach to managing urban transport.

Sustainable transport

Experts note that sustainable transport should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It ought to enhance the physical and mental well-being of humans and also enrich the overall urban experience. Adam Ritchie in his book Sustainable Urban Design notes that going forward, three changes are required to achieve these goals;

Reduction in the need for travel and the overall distance

“To reduce travel, urban areas should be planned to mix uses within a single area. Unlike zone-based planning, which divides suburbs from workplaces and retail malls but links them by roads, a mixed-use urban form, which is found in settlements of the pre-car era, is inherently less car-dependent. Providing for many different, basic needs within one area not only reduces the need to drive between home, work, and retail or leisure destinations, but it can create a better quality of place that does not encourage the desire to escape elsewhere.” 

Changes in our mode of travel

Changing from driving to walking or cycling for short journeys and using public transport for longer ones are two ways of effecting these changes. This requires more investment in public transport in cities where it is non-existent, or else poorly managed. High-speed rail networks, dedicated lanes for public transport do not come on the cheap. Safety, comfort, and competitive fares should be at the forefront of any such initiative.

Again, new roads being constructed must provide adequate and dedicated pedestrian and cycling lanes, well protected from the elements of the weather. Secure parking and dedicated changing rooms for cyclists should also be seriously taken into consideration. This will make cycling and walking a more appealing alternative to urban dwellers.

Finally, we need to make vehicles that emit fewer toxic fumes

Whiles this post rightfully defers details on the components of fumes to scientists more knowledgeable in that field, there ought to be strict regulation of the toxic fume emissions by vehicles. The disturbing images of dark plumes of fumes accompanying some old vehicles should be a thing of the past. It is heartwarming to learn of the research and investment that has gone into eco-friendly hybrid vehicles thus far.

But what if…..

A sustainable urban transport mode will depend first on local circumstances and context. It must be appropriate to the local setting and meet the wider needs of the intended beneficiaries. Sometimes, local consultations are required, and there must be a buy-in from the residents, on whom the initiatives are going to have the greatest impacts.

Obviously, emergency services should feature just as prominently in urban transport design models. None of these approaches suggested here should be adopted in a way that restricts the operation of emergency and security services. Again, moving the aged and disabled around requires the most convenient form of transport, and this should not be altogether neglected. In some cases, this could be private cars.

Think about how long your trip home, to work, or on shopping takes and carefully consider how some of the points raised in this piece apply to you. Let’s rethink the way our cities are planned.

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Boat Sekyere

Boat Sekyere

Boat is a valuer fascinated by sustainable urban land use planning. He was recently selected as a Local Pathways Fellow of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Youth) - a global Fellowship of 128 young leaders who will champion SDG 11 in their cities. When he's not reading another e-book, he's out photographing an event (@rsbpictures) or cycling in his hood, binge listening to his favorite podcasts. Say hi at boat.cridbox@gmail.com

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