State of the art and challenges of urban mobility

When you take a look at everything you need to know about urban mobility, it's easy to see how the movement of people and goods in our cities represents a considerable environmental, social and economic challenge, as well as a quality of life issue in urban areas.

In France, as elsewhere, large cities are faced with multiple challenges raised by urban mobility: facilitating public travel and managing the transport of goods while limiting the impact of the latter on the environment and public health.

We therefore propose to take stock of urban mobility, its difficulties, its repercussions, but also the projects and solutions of today and tomorrow, both locally and nationally.

Quel état des lieux pour la mobilité urbaine ?-1

Defining urban mobility

What is urban mobility? The concept of urban mobility refers to the flows and modes of movement of people within a city, as opposed to inter-city mobility, which is more concerned with transportation from one city to another.

Urban mobility thus includes all trips made by the inhabitants of a city, whether for work, shopping or any other type of travel (leisure, entertainment or outings).

The place of the car

Traditionally, in France at least, most urban travel has been based on the use of a car, a symbol of freedom and autonomy. However, for several years now, this feeling of freedom provided by the private car in the city has been diminishing, and the general trend that determined the travel choices of millions of urban dwellers has been gradually changing, giving way to a realistic vision that makes car ownership a source of constraints and expense.

Indeed, with the exception of those who have a garage or secure personal parking space in close proximity to their home, owning a car in the city is synonymous with difficulty in getting around, wasted time and ever-increasing cost. There are many obstacles to smooth and fast travel by car, with the iconic traffic jams in our city centers and the sometimes impossible task of finding an authorized parking space after each trip.

As far as the costs related to cars are concerned, we have to take into account the price of fuel, parking spaces, or maintenance linked to an increasingly severe and restrictive technical control. If we add to the individual consequences the collective problems (polluting emissions and noise pollution from thermal vehicles), it appears that the state of urban travel is hardly favorable to individual cars.

Multimodal travel

The positive side of this observation is a direct impact on the behavior and choices of today's urbanites, who no longer have the same relationship with the car and are adopting gentler, cleaner, more fluid and more economical modes of travel. This is why we speak of multimodal urban mobility, i.e., mobility using several solutions and modes of transport to get from point A to point B.

It is now accepted that it is possible to move around the city using a variety of modes of transport: bicycle, scooter or electric bicycle, public transport, car-sharing, not forgetting walking, which remains the most ecological means of transport. If we take the example of the logistics sector of goods delivery, multimodal transport is already a daily reality, with the best example being the problem of "last mile delivery". Goods are transported by traditional means to the outskirts of our cities, and then brought into the city centers by cleaner means that are better adapted to city traffic (electric vehicles, cargo bikes, etc.).

This trend is not a coincidence, as it is the result of both government restrictions such as theLow Emission Mobility Zones (LEZM) and initiatives by transport companies to change their image and contribute to more liveable cities. The search for a balance between economic activity and urban mobility is a central element that must mobilize all the actors involved and possessing concrete means of action.

The means of action of public authorities

It is also important to note the important role of public authorities in policy decisions related to urban mobility. They are both decision-makers and project developers capable of reducing the impact of travel on the quality of life of urban residents. They are also required to provide the right answers to users and the population, by improving public transport supply and services, or by redesigning the plans of our cities by allocating a better place to bicycles, electric bicycles or cargo bikes.

The creation of dedicated lanes, reserved for the gentlest modes of transport, is an essential point to encourage urban populations to change their travel habits while improving road safety. Indeed, the cohabitation of cars, bicycles, scooters and pedestrians is one of the issues that must be resolved to build the cities of tomorrow.

Urban planning is inseparable from the evolution of urban mobility, which must lead the public authorities responsible for urban development to initiate changes on the occasion of each new urban development project and to accompany users towards a more sustainable mobility, at the service of all.

Quel état des lieux pour la mobilité urbaine ?-2

Sustainable mobility: optimizing travel modes and traffic plans

Urban mobility is therefore at the crossroads of ecological considerations, the need to maintain the economic attractiveness of urban areas, and the desire to include all inhabitants in public policies relating to travel modes.

There is, therefore, a link between urban mobility and sustainable mobility. This link lies in the mobility solutions that can accelerate the ecological transition with the main objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fine particle emissions, which can be summarized as decarbonized mobility.

Decarbonation is a key lever for improving the quality of life in cities and reducing the impact of combustion engine vehicles on the health of urban dwellers, with a focus on the following points

  • limiting the use of combustion-powered cars and vehicles that are not adapted to travel or transportation needs
  • encouraging the switch to individual electric vehicles (subsidies and grants) or other motorization methods for so-called heavy mobility (buses, trucks, utility vehicles);
  • develop soft and shared mobility offers (public transport, electric car fleets, carpooling);
  • Involve and inform users and associations in each city;
  • optimize traffic plans and urban mobility services with connected technologies.

A favorable context for better urban mobility?

To understand why the context is favorable to urban mobility, we can take several elements of reference and comparison between the current situation and the cities of yesterday.

First, there is the change in attitudes, largely due to the renewal and rejuvenation of urban populations. Take the example of a young couple living and working in Paris or the Île-de-France region: is the acquisition of a car a priority project, as was often the case in the past? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is no.

As we mentioned earlier, owning a combustion engine car in a metropolis has become a source of stress and a financial burden, representing several hundred euros per month, in addition to the purchase price of the vehicle. The modern urbanite now prefers to turn to other modes of travel. On the other hand, it must also be said that public transport alone cannot solve the difficult equation we face.

The recent health crisis, in Paris as in all major French cities, has shown that urban populations still want to travel individually, as evidenced by the sales figures for two-wheelers and electrically assisted bicycles. Urban policies cannot therefore rely entirely on public transport and must continue their efforts to promote new clean and connected modes of travel.

New technologies have a positive role to play in the emergence of a more responsible, efficient and fluid urban mobility. Thanks to smartphones and mobility applications, it is much easier to travel multimodally, with all the information available in real time to determine the fastest, greenest or cheapest mode of transport, depending on one's needs at the time.

What are the benefits of urban mobility solutions?

In an ideal world, where cities and their inhabitants have found the perfect balance between the need to move, thriving economic activity, ecological transition and quality of life, many benefits could be seen, in many areas.

The main benefits of urban mobility solutions are:

  • Ease of travel: multimodal transport and "à la carte" transport, leaving the choice of the best option at each moment thanks to the connectivity of mobility solutions;
  • improving the quality of life in the city: pollution and noise are factors affecting the health and stress level of urban dwellers;
  • better road safety: urban plans dedicated to new modes of travel, separate from cars, contribute to reducing the number and severity of road accidents;
  • Socio-economicinclusion: the more mobility solutions a city offers, the more attractive it remains for its inhabitants of all social levels, and the more competitive it is in retaining and attracting businesses.

Urban mobility is therefore of considerable importance for our medium and large cities, with major challenges to be met, but also with solutions available and just waiting to be put into practice.

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