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The future of urban mobility lies in sustainability

Opinion

Published by:

8 July 2019

Author: Luke Miles

Image: Project 1 by EAV and New Territory

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Forget the behavioural whims of generation X, Y or Z – travel in tomorrow’s cities will be grounded in environmental necessity.

A lot of discussions about designing future mobility are framed around meeting the anticipated needs and character traits of the next generation. For example, how can we make concepts like autonomy, co-ownership and car-sharing work for a generation who may not prioritise ownership and are accustomed to convenience? But this approach is a well-trodden path and can be a limiting way to look at future mobility.

Instead, we should be designing future mobility around the challenging global realities we’re facing – climate change, public health crises and over-densification – and look at what, by necessity, our mobility solutions will have to look like to respond to these.

Firstly, our buildings, towns and cities need to urgently adapt to facilitate new and emerging modes of transport. Ideas such as Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels, a high-speed tunnel system for electric vehicles to bypass traffic and congestion above-ground, and Sweden’s eRoadArlanda, a highway that charges electric cargo trucks as they drive, are interesting. But looking at mobility in isolation means they ultimately treat a symptom, not the main problem.

If we truly want to address the big issues facing future generations, then we need to take a much more composite view of how we plan, envision and design our cities and the relationships between people, buildings, pavements, roads and vehicles.

For example, with Uber set to launch its fleet of flying taxis in 2023, and the city of Paris looking to launch similar services in time for the Olympic Games in 2024, we have to ask ourselves if our buildings are ready to start receiving passengers in a completely different way. Rather than stand-alone monoliths, buildings need to act as conduits for seamlessly transporting people and goods in and out, both by road and air, to ease congestion and over-densification. We’re certainly not there yet.

Back at ground level, I recently worked with EAV to launch Project 1, an electric-assisted cargo bike that transforms last-mile delivery systems, combats pollution and congestion, and starts to address the porosity between vehicles, people and buildings. With a much smaller physical and carbon footprint, and a less intimidating presence than conventional delivery vans and trucks, it’s part of EAV’s mission to create future mobility solutions that don’t harm the communities they serve and blend more seamlessly into the urban environment.

Project 1 by EAV and New Territory
'With all this talk of future vehicle typologies, we mustn’t forget the greenest, healthiest and least-congesting mobility solution of them all: walking'

Other simple but highly effective interventions are the growing number of conventional bicycles that fold out into cargo bikes, such as the Convercycle and Cargo Node. They increase the number of use cases for bikes and dramatically cut the physical and carbon footprint of a journey that may well have otherwise been taken by car or taxi.

Developing a green public transport infrastructure to the point where it runs so smoothly and timely that cars and taxis are no longer desired should be another aim of city governments. Many are conducting trials in this area, such as Singapore’s trials of Volvo’s autonomous buses. But the real paradigm shift won’t come until we have integrated networks of autonomous public transport that are fuelled by live data from passengers, allowing for services to react, adapt and tailor themselves in real-time.

With all this talk of future vehicle typologies, we mustn’t forget the greenest, heathiest and least-congesting mobility solution of them all: walking. Paris is a leader in the pedestrianisation of cities, controversially transforming key arteries in the city centre into pedestrianised streets in a bid to cut air pollution. It’s also unveiled plans to turn the roads around the Eiffel Tower into a mile-long garden. Meanwhile, Quayside in Toronto, Google’s ‘smart city’, includes plans for a network of heated walkways and cycle paths, making walking and cycling the safest and more preferred modes of transport even in winter, when these types of journeys usually drop by 73%.

In my view, pedestrianisation will not only help to solve looming public health crises and over-densification woes, it makes business sense too. A recent visionary study in Auckland discovered that delays caused to pedestrians by traffic and road congestion can cost the city NZ$11.7 million (£6.1m, €6.9m, $7.8m) a year, leading the city to consider prioritising the pedestrian from an economical – as well as environmental – perspective.

Whatever lies ahead for future generations, we won’t do them any favours by designing mobility solutions that pander to their perceived habits and behavioural whims, rather than real-life and increasingly urgent scenarios. The sooner that governments, corporations, planners and designers act on this point, the better we’ll be able to make the towns and cities of the future.

Luke Miles is co-founder and creative director at New Territory, a design studio exploring new ways of living, working and moving.

For more ideas and innovations that will shape the future of the mobility sector through 2030 and beyond, explore LS:N Global's Mobility Far Futures series.

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