Urban Mobility: What Are The Challenges?

This blog seeks to establish the challenge of urban mobility in today’s cities. Primarily, why mobility is such an important element of the urban sphere, and identify the drivers which define the need for a new approach to mobility.
Mobility underpins everything we do as individuals; as communities; as regional, national and international economies. People need to move around to secure basic human needs, but mobility is also a luxury, contributing to quality of life by enabling exploration, leisure and recreation. In the city, high quality mobility is a necessity for the success of other urban sectors and the creation of jobs, and plays a key role in cultivating an attractive environment for residents and business.
As urban populations increase, existing and emerging cities face the challenge of meeting rising demands for efficient mobility within limited physical infrastructure capacity. Simultaneously, citizens’ expectations are changing continually, influenced by ongoing innovations around low carbon and efficient vehicle technologies and improvements in infrastructure management.

The combined influence of population growth, demographic change and changing urban form leads to increasing demand for travel in city centers, suburbs and between the two. Demand for improved intercity mobility is also growing, to create faster and more direct connectivity between settlements. As demand rises, so too do concerns about transportation as one of the leading contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, noise and poor air quality in cities. This growing demand converges with an inadequate supply of physical transport capacity in many cities, which can result in crowding, congestion, and an unpleasant experience of the city.

Historically, mobility has been viewed largely as a product, which includes the vehicles, physical infrastructure and fuels required to move people around. Increasingly, however, mobility is approached as a service: the method by which we procure food, engage in economic activity, access entertainment or meet with friends and family, all through seamless movements from place to place.

In the move towards Smart Mobility and a more sustainable transport, demand will be addressed as part of a package of long-term strategies to eliminate the negative health and environmental consequences of mobility per se.



The Problem Of The Peak

One of the key challenges of urban sustainability is to maintain economic vitality while reducing resource use. While many growing cities respond to increasing peak travel demand by building new physical infrastructure (roads, rails, bike paths, etc.), this cannot be the whole solution. The key is to maximize the utility of existing and planned infrastructure by distributing demand across modes, routes and time, allowing cities to do more with less.

A holistic response will look at both the supply of and demand for mobility services, by:
• Actively managing capacity over time to make the most efficient use of existing physical infrastructure (operational efficiency); and
• Distributing reliable information to travelers about the relative costs and benefits of different travel options, thereby promoting behavior change.

Together, these two approaches will help to reduce the peak demand for travel on any single mode or route and distribute the overall demand over time and across modes. It is important to acknowledge that these two approaches do not address the fundamental need for mobility in a city. Reducing the overall need to travel remains a vital objective of urban planning practice. The approach presented here addresses the management and distribution of demand – allowing for reduced peak hour congestion and improved operational efficiency of transport infrastructure.


The Daily Cycle Of Mobility Demand

The majority of city residents, commuters and visitors want or need to travel during short (peak) periods of the day. This places pressure on the transport system at peak times, which leads to overcrowding, congestion and a negative user experience. The supply of urban transport capacity is static over time, and must therefore be designed to absorb the peak demand as far as possible.
However, travel demand outside peak hours is dramatically lower, creating surplus capacity in the system for long periods of the day and night. While this may provide a more comfortable and reliable experience for off-peak travelers, surplus capacity implies an over-engineered transport system and under-utilization of physical infrastructure.

Urban mobility is one of the most intractable challenges faced by city governments, presenting economic, social and environmental implications. The provision of physical infrastructure is fundamental to enable mobility, yet there is a tipping point at which additional supply will no longer provide an efficient means to service demand. Patterns of mobility in many cities mean that there is significant under-utilized capacity on existing infrastructure for long periods of the day. As part of a package of measures, smart solutions can help to improve the efficiency of the system and redistribute demand across modes, routes and time.

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