On the move: Steering urban transport in a new direction
Pedestrian crossing

Chronic traffic congestion is one of many negative impacts resulting from an urban reliance on private automobiles. Photo by Mike Wegner.

This is the inaugural post of a new “Sustainable Urban Transport On The Move” blog series, exclusive to TheCityFix.

Ever since the mass production of automobiles began nearly a century ago, the prevailing paradigm in urban transport has been the domination of private cars. At first, the freedom and speed made possible by cars spurred great strides forward in quality of life and economic prosperity. As decades passed, however, reliance on the automobile generated increasingly negative impacts including air pollution, chronic congestion, traffic accidents, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and social exclusion. These challenges have pushed human society to a tipping point. The mobility of people and goods requires a more economically efficient, socially inclusive, and environmentally friendly system. The question is – how quickly can we achieve this transformation?

This “On The Move” series is dedicated to analyzing on-the-ground efforts to shift urban transport from moving cars to moving people. We propose the consideration of a new normal, in which cars are part of urban mobility, but not the main feature of our cities. The series will present emerging, trendy, and mainstream solutions leading this transition, and track progress being made by cities already adopting measures to enhance accessibility. We will focus on strategies that help avoid unnecessary trips, shorten the length of necessary trips, and encourage more sustainable modes of mobility, such as walking, biking, and public transport. By presenting the latest data and evidence, On The Move will showcase the increasing variety of popular alternative urban transport methods. Finally, we’ll argue for the establishment of bolder enabling policies, increased participation by the private sector, and greater public support for innovations in sustainable urban mobility.

This project was partially funded by a grant from Shell. The content of all posts is the sole responsibility of the author.

Why we need a paradigm shift in urban mobility

Transport systems are vital for economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, the status quo of today’s urban transport systems has generated crippling negative impacts to our society. The transport sector emits 14.5 percent of global green house gases (GHG) emissions. If we continue in the direction of increased private car motorization, energy consumption and GHG emissions from transport will increase 80% by 2050. The majority of emissions will come from cities – where over half of the world’s population now lives. Private motorized travel (cars, motorcycles…) is expected to account for 90% of the emissions growth from urban transport, a rapid expansion that would contribute to worsening air pollution and road safety problems in cities. Currently, over 2 million people die prematurely every year from air pollution, and more than 1.2 million people are killed every year from traffic accidents. Furthermore, the economic loss from chronic congestion, air pollution, and road safety is as high as 10% of GDP. In the face of unprecedented urbanization and motorization, these shocking figures have almost been accepted as business as usual.

Business as  usual

Chart by EMBARQ.

In order to reverse the unsustainable trends depicted above, there must be a conscious, global effort to avoid unnecessary trips, shift necessary trips to the most efficient modes of transport, and improve the energy efficiency of transport systems and vehicle operations for the necessary trips.

Three terms to remember for the A-S-I framework: Avoid, Shift, and Improve

Improving vehicle technologies has already contributed to increased energy efficiency and reduced emissions from the transport sector. However, these efforts still fall short of our need to keep global temperature increase below two degrees by 2050 – a climate change scenario known as the 2°C Scenario, or 2DS. The International Energy Agency has also analyzed a 4°C Scenario (4DS) and 6°C Scenario (6DS), the effects of which would be even more harmful than 2DS.

The daunting implications of these climate change scenarios are why the transport sector needs to avoid, shift, and improve. These actions produce benefits including reduced traffic fatalities, increased physical activity, better air quality, and more equitable transport options, all of which enhance the accessibility, affordability, and quality of life in cities. Further, it makes economic sense to reduce expenditures in fuel, vehicles, and road infrastructure – and to do so as quickly as possible. Research by the International Energy Agency reveals that savings will be about $50 trillion USD more in the 2°C climate change scenario than in the 4°C scenario.

In this blog series (this is just the first post), we’ll share emerging positive trends from across the transport sector, and document best practices for the avoid, shift, and improve framework, which we argue are moving urban mobility towards a new norm.

Comparing mobility in emerging and industrialized economies

Implementing avoid, shift, and improve strategies in countries with emerging economies requires a shift away from the prevailing car-oriented development that has become standard in industrialized economies. Important factors that will impact the success of these strategies in the developing world include consumer preferences, culture, and the cost and quality of alternatives to private vehicle ownership.

It’s also crucial for countries with industrialized economies to improve their transport behavior, with a particular focus on modifying vehicle technologies and types of fuel. The choices that cities in both the developing and developed world make regarding mobility and urban development will have profound impacts in the long run.

Stay tuned for the next On The Move blog post, which will examine behavior and preferences among the younger generations.

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