Reinventing the Wheel
October 11th, 2013 Albert Seubers
We need to rethink urban transport if cities are going to thrive
As cities become more vital than ever and pressured by a huge variety of forces, traditional transport approaches are breaking down owing to major challenges to infrastructure, maintenance, resource usage, etc. But perhaps we should look not at transport networks themselves but at the real needs people and urban governments have for better Mobility, Access, and Availability. By looking at these, we can see how to deliver a simpler, more seamless and sustainable transport solution for cities. But how?
Simplifying mass transit
To simplify and enhance transport to deliver the essential mobility, access and availability we need, we can make different forms of transport integrate and connect together. Huge amounts of inefficiency are created (time cost to business, poor use of materials, drain on resources and wear for infrastructure) through siloed approaches to transport where car networks, rail, tram, bus and subways aren’t linked. By connecting them all and ensuring that citizens can see how their rail journey and bus journeys are interacting for example, we can not only save time and resources, we can help people be calmer, more engaged and more productive. By driving inter-service communications, we can build transport around the ways people use it, not just around point-to-point travel.
Kill the car?
Could we do away with cars altogether within cities? Well, many cities practice strong anti-car measures – and creation and management of controlled zones for traffic is standard practice. With careful planning, the result can be positive – but zoning can easily lead to poor planning and in fact greater inefficiency, as well as negative feelings towards the city’s government. But you can’t easily get rid of roads as a whole without a huge impact on efficiency, business, and of course freight: how do you get essential goods into a city without roads?
A new urban transport future
Perhaps we need a new form of transport, such as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, launched in concept only a short while ago, to shorten the distance between urban centers. But there are other answers to the car problem that are more practicable in our car-addicted world. Through ‘connected cars’ we can make the car part of the wider integrated transport network, aware of blockages, able to plan around them and interact with other areas of transportation, reducing loading on networks, resource consumption, heat, etc. Other solutions might look outside transport, for instance at better communications infrastructure that enables successful telecommuting – reducing road use and unnecessary travel.
But in the end the answers lie not only in technology but in how people use systems. Most of all, city governments need to discover what their people want and need and involve them in the decision making process – because no two cities are the same: a program of bicycle promotion in one won’t work the same way in another. Switched on city and regional governments are actively seeking answers and involvement from their populations to decide on the next steps towards an integrated transport future – where connected services for transport and communications are vital, but people are the key to how everything can move forward.
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