Cities need to rethink urban mobility as they plan for the future

Cyclists in Copenhagen, Denmark. The city is a leader in human-centric sustainable urban mobility.

The Danish capital Copenhagen is a leader in human-centric sustainable urban mobility. Image: Flickr/Kristoffer Trolle

Shefali Rai
Project Specialist, C4IR India
Nirav Shah
Partner - Cities and Urban Mobility, PwC
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This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation

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  • As the global population shifts inexorably toward cities, it is essential that we make them as liveable as possible for residents.
  • Key to this is improving urban mobility, which has knock-on effects for various aspects of city life.
  • These three cities each have used their long-standing advantages to innovate in urban mobility, for the good of their citizens.

Tourism has unexpectedly surged this summer. The future of work is increasingly hybrid. In response to these developments — and if we are to keep improving the collective experience of urban living — the urban landscape must be reshaped and improved. Perhaps the largest and most fundamental aspect of this is urban mobility. How cities tackle this issue and bolster urban mobility will determine their resilience in the face of pandemic-like challenges moving forward, and the quality of urban living in the future.

It is essential that we understand the economic impact on productivity, health and well-being — and overall quality of life — of urban mobility.

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3 cities leading on urban mobility and quality of life

As we examine how to build cities and urban mobility systems that work for people and the planet, three key cities emerge as stand-out examples.

Singapore: At the intersection of mobility and economic productivity

Singapore's integrated public transportation system is a testament to the positive impacts of strategic planning.

Urban mobility is no longer about reaching the destination and has instead become a critical parameter of economic vitality and human interaction.

The ease and efficiency of mobility within a city directly impacts the productivity of individuals and businesses. Studies have proven that inefficient transportation systems can stem from multiple factors, such as lack of necessary infrastructure or sub-optimal transport planning. All these result in traffic congestion, translating into longer commuting hours and fatigue, reducing productivity.

Conversely, well-planned mobility solutions, as seen in cities like Copenhagen, which has an efficient public transit, or in Amsterdam with its world class cycling infrastructure, have minimized commute time. This allows for an increase in individual productivity and time to spend in more meaningful pursuits.

The benefits far outweigh investments: every $1 invested in public transportation can ensure economic returns of approximately $4 . Technological solutions, too, have been used to optimize traffic flow and minimize congestion. These directly impact productivity and sustainability. In the US alone, efficient public transit prevents road delays to save 865 million hours, and the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.

Copenhagen: The public health imperative

Copenhagen has transformed itself into a haven for cyclists, reducing traffic congestion and promoting a healthier lifestyle.

The on-road congestion, excessive reliance on fossil-fuels in transportation, inadequate and hence overcrowded public transport systems all worsen physical and publis health issues. Respiratory issues result from poor air quality, high blood pressure related issues from long hours driving hours and mental stress is caused by inefficient mobility solutions leading to among other things road traffic crashes. As per estimates, 1.35 million road traffic related fatalities occur every year. UN SDG Target 3.6 is to reduce the injuries and fatalities from road traffic accidents by at least 50%.

Cleaner air from a decrease in traffic congestion and use of renewables is recognized as the most tangible outcome of efficient urban transportation systems. Some cities have already successfully undertaken efforts to tackle traffic congestion: Milan has introduced electric delivery vans with sufficient range for daily use, Vienna has successfully integrated electric microbuses into the bus network, New Delhi has a very strong network of more than 100,000 electric rickshaws that are providing a greener option to last mile micro mobility. Adopting sustainable modes of transport like ride sharing, cycling and electric vehicles lead to lower levels of noise pollution and local air pollutants from emissions. This alone can substantially enhance the well-being of residents.

Further, investment in sustainable infrastructure such as cycling infrastructure and electric vehicle charging stations will reduce the reliance on private vehicles and decrease carbon emissions.

Barcelona: Social interactions and quality of life

Barcelona's famous superblocks concept has transformed streets into communal spaces, encouraging inclusive social interactions.

A high quality of life in a city is determined by a variety of factors — and inclusiveness and ease of commute are among the most important.

Transforming urban mobility with inclusive urban design can enable more interconnectedness within the city. Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods, green spaces, safe cycle lanes and shared parking spaces help citizens engage with their surroundings and increase social interactions and community engagement. Such initiatives enhance the economic value of cities. For instance, Lancaster spent $11.5 million on a smart streetscape project to convert the downtown in the city into a pedestrian friendly centre and was able to generate $273 million in economic output and attract $130 million in private investment.

How other cities can follow

Cities that embrace the urgency of reshaping urban mobility can lead the way. Besides prioritizing investment in public transportation to encourage frequency in usage, urban mobility solutions need to become more accessible and efficient. This can be further enhanced through awareness campaigns that highlight the benefits of sustainable mobility through electric vehicles, micro-mobility and ride sharing solutions. Finally, urban mobility needs to reflect usage regardless of socioeconomic status.

All these factors can be addressed by a shift towards multi modal, green public transport, which can be facilitated by building quality urban infrastructure, leveraging technology to its fullest capacity, and encouraging residents to lead more healthy and productive lives by embracing smarter urban mobility solutions.

Copenhagen, Barcelona and Singapore have shown it is possible — other cities should follow suit, using their unique advantages, culture and people to build the best urban environments possible.

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