In addition to global climate change, increasing congestion and air quality problems in cities are challenging transport policy makers all around the world. Congestion hinders local economic growth and accessibility, while air quality problems and pollution caused by motorized traffic create health issues and decrease quality of life in many cities. Climate change is casting a shadow over the whole world and we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. Case in point, the European Union aims to reduce emissions by 80–95% below 1990 levels by 2050.
This required reduction in greenhouse emissions is huge and cannot only be addressed with greener transport technology. The change requires the simultaneous use of a wide variety of tools. The keys to success include: affecting people’s behavior towards more sustainable transport modes; planning land use and transport to provide more optimal solutions (better accessibility) to cut increases in travel mileage – and providing decision makes relevant data to support these changes.
The main issue is that our current transport system is highly oil-dependent. Many countries and cities around the world are now emphasising greener transport modes in their transport policies. The challenge is in finding a way to invest in greener transport modes without penalizing car traffic excessively and increasing overall accessibility. Good green accessibility is a great asset in today’s world. Cities with great accessibility attract international companies and innovative individuals, creating jobs and city growth.
People nowadays are increasingly aware of the needed emission reductions and their own role in the work. According to the European Commission, urban transport is responsible for about a quarter of the CO2 emissions caused by transport and 69% of road accidents occur in cities. Many cities are now issuing new transport policies that aim to reduce car dominance and highlight green transport modes, as well as new mobility service concepts such as MaaS (Mobility as a Service).
In cities where the population density is high, the average trip length is relatively short. This makes walking and cycling the most convenient and often fastest way to get around. For elderly people the positive health impacts of walking and cycling cannot be overestimated, and should be paid attention to by policy makers. Cycling is booming in many cities around the world today, including those that are traditionally categorized as “car cities”. Cycling is a highly independent and individual travel mode, and, especially for younger generations, it is a part of the urban lifestyle and people’s self-expression.
To keep up with this positive trend, cities have to invest on high quality cycling infrastructure, because poor accessibility, congestion and traffic safety can quickly drain the positive changes. Restraining the positive change of this new urban culture rising from the grassroots should not be on the agenda of any city! Facilitating walking and cycling should become an integral part of land use planning and infrastructure design.
Digitalization is an ongoing process, which enables us to use completely new kinds of approaches to tackle these challenges. The opportunities provided by digitalization and data collection must be understood and addressed in today’s transport policies. The Internet of Things is already here, and so are or the players of the transport system. Every car and individual is always connected, and the amount of data available to us is exploding. This creates opportunities for cities wishing to use data and new analytical methods to reinforce their planning and decision making. The availability of user related data and reliable GIS-data opens doors for sophisticated approaches, for example simulating individual user behavior instead of the traditional approach of modeling average behavior in large urban zones.
Speed, safety and effort are the main factors affecting our everyday mobility choices and result in all kinds of traffic on pathways, streets and roads. So far there has been no reliable way to relay these user needs to planners. Now, however, this gap can be closed as the relations between user needs, detailed planning solutions and changes in behavior can be calculated and demonstrated clearly.
Due to the advances in transport modeling, as well as the accuracy of open mobility related data, it is now possible to analyze daily cyclist and pedestrian flows in a region or a state on a highly accurate level. With the help of new model developments, well prepared and assessed transport plans are no longer a privilege limited to car based transport. Important decisions no longer need to be made blindfolded.