Which urban mobility solutions have the least ecological impact?
In France, the transportation of people and goods is responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. This figure represents an average for the entire country, which means that in cities, urban travel has a greater impact on the environment and quality of life.
Urban mobility is therefore at the crossroads of multiple challenges: to be part of a sustainable development and ecological transition logic, to increase the number of less polluting transportation services and solutions, while maintaining the economic attractiveness of urban areas.
In such a context, it is natural to try to compare the different urban mobility solutions, with the aim of reducing the impact of one's trips in the city and more particularly those for which the use of a car is not fundamentally necessary. We therefore propose to identify the most environmentally friendly modes of transport and vehicles for the air quality of our cities and metropolises.
Why is it necessary to reduce the number of cars in the city?
If the current situation raises the issue of the impact and place of the combustion engine car in cities, it is primarily because of its unflattering record: pollution, traffic jams and fossil fuel consumption.
Indeed, on a typical urban journey of less than 5 km between home and work, the use of a car is not only the least environmentally friendly mode of transport (80% of carbon dioxide emissions in cities), but also the most expensive (purchase, fuel, maintenance, parking). Moreover, as is easy to see on a daily basis, the majority of car journeys are made with only one person on board, the driver, thus underlining the low collective interest of the car.
Cars occupy about 60 percent of the available road space in cities (roads and parking spaces), but account for only 15 percent of urban travel. To reduce this imbalance between the space occupied and the actual participation in urban mobility, many cities have accelerated their policy of restructuring urban spaces in favor of clean solutions.
Several solutions are already being applied or are in the process of being applied, starting with the banning of cars and commercial vehicles in certain urban areas: low-emission mobility zones (ZFE-m). In France, several cities are also considering the possibility of applying a congestion charge, like London's, where the rate would depend on the ecological impact of vehicles.
To fight against "auto-solism" (use of a car by a single person), it is important to emphasize car-sharing, car-pooling and multimodal urban mobility, offering a solution for using several modes of travel according to current needs.
When talking about electric vehicles, it is important to differentiate electric cars from other types of vehicles (bicycles or scooters). Indeed, according to the experts of the ecological transition, it is essential to take into account the ratio between the weight of a vehicle and the weight it carries on a daily basis.
In fact, electric cars, which are still heavy vehicles, have a positive impact on air quality in the city, due to the absence of polluting emissions. However, when it comes to congestion and participation in traffic jams, there is no real difference between an electric car and a combustion engine car. The purchase and use of an electric car are therefore the first steps towards the ecological transition and a cleaner urban mobility, but they are not enough to solve all aspects of the problem. Moreover, the lack of charging stations in urban areas means that people have to travel to the outskirts of the city.
Electric bicycles, on the other hand, have a much more positive ecological balance, again depending on the ratio of vehicle weight to weight transported. The public authorities and those responsible for the larger cities have an important role to play in encouraging the use of electric bicycles. The first step is to offer financial incentives for the purchase of an electrically assisted bicycle (EAB). Secondly, road safety for cyclists must be improved. To do this, cities must absolutely solve the equation of cohabitation between users of all modes of transport, by significantly increasing the development of dedicated lanes (bicycle paths) and car-free spaces.
Electric bicycles represent a real alternative to the car, with the main proof being a very interesting and encouraging figure: 71% of electric bicycle users previously used a private car.
To be complete on the subject of electric vehicles, we must also mention the EDPM, such as scooters, gyropods or electric skateboards.
It is impossible to talk about urban mobility management without mentioning the role of public transport. Public transport is obviously an essential link in multimodal mobility and in making cities more pleasant to live in. Indeed, for the same urban journey, public transport uses 10 times less energy than a car.
Public transport is less polluting and just as fast as the car, but it is also appreciated for its ability to avoid the stress of traffic jams and the often long, costly and tedious search for a parking space in the city.
To fulfill their function, public transport must provide reliable, safe services that are perfectly integrated into multimodality. The major French cities that have opted to develop a modern public transport network have immediately noted the public's enthusiasm and the lasting impact on the reduction of urban pollution and the systematic use of the car.
Walking and cycling
Unsurprisingly, the most environmentally friendly modes of transport are those that use human energy to get around: walking, cycling, skateboarding, roller skating or any other non-motorized means.
Here again, the protection of pedestrians and cyclists is a primary criterion for encouraging environmentally friendly practices and travel for short distances. Short trips of less than one kilometer are the most numerous in the urban space, which should encourage cities to redesign their traffic plans to favor and protect the least polluting users.
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