Resilient Urban Mobility Solutions

Urban life 9 August 2020 Jukka-Pekka Pitkänen

With ridership on public transport plunging globally in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, this article examines short-term response measures as well as practical steps that cities and transport authorities can take to ensure transport systems are sustainable and resilient to future shocks.

Articles
5 mins

Following the outbreak of the current Coronavirus pandemic, ridership on major public transport systems in European and US cities has plunged by more than 80% since mid-January. Transport for London predicts that the financial implications of the coronavirus could be up to £500m, whilst the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority projects losses of as much as $52 million per month.

Evidence from Chinese cities shows that private cars, walking, and cycling have each increased their share of the modal mix. Rental car and shared car scheme usage has also remained relatively buoyant – most likely because the perceived risk of infection is lower than on public transport. According to Hertz and Europcar for example, long-term car rental subscriptions in Finland have increased by more than 50% during the first wave of the outbreak.

In this context, short term response measures and longer-term resiliency solutions need to be put in place to mitigate the impact on transport systems. 

Short term response measures

As the pandemic has unfolded we’ve seen street space allocated in new ways with more space given to citizens who choose to walk, cycle or scoot - providing them with safe and connected networks whilst alleviating the need to use cars. 

Cities such as Berlin, Bogota, Brussels and Budapest have all embraced pop-up bike lanes and the benefits they bring of enabling social distancing and encouraging physical exercise. Meanwhile in Helsinki, Ramboll is helping the city authorities to pilot the transformation of a busy coastal road into a street that prioritises pedestrians through the installation of street furniture and traffic calming measures. The idea is to create attractive, safe, and less congested recreational spaces for the city’s residents that encourage walking over car use.

 

Another example is in Ireland where Ramboll is working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to deliver safe walking and cycling routes as a key component of their ‘Active School Travel’ Initiative. Three routes will be joined together and existing infrastructure upgraded to encourage increased walking and cycling amongst pupils when they return to school after the summer holidays. The benefits of the initiative are threefold: it will serve to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections, enhance the public realm, whilst also encouraging physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

Whilst some of these initiatives will be temporary responses to the pandemic, making them permanent presents an excellent opportunity for fast-tracking actions that support the green transition, which we can see remains a top priority for cities globally.

Technology as an enabler

Technology also has a part to play. For instance, in Manhattan in New York, Ramboll has been working with Tom Tom and Inrix to compare traffic density and speed on the city’s streets using anonymised vehicle GPS data. Such insights can help inform decisions such as capacity adjustments and traffic control methods of the street network, for instance, finding the most promising locations for pop-up bike lanes. The data also helps to validate the expected impacts of the introduced measures almost in real time. 

And technology can be used to keep trains running in a way that optimises capacity whilst ensuring safe social distancing. For example, existing surveillance equipment can estimate the current number of passengers on a train and identify the coaches with available space. Displays or announcements on the platform can then indicate which coaches are full and which have spare capacity. 

 

Within train stations and other transport hubs, digital crowd modelling tools can be used to simulate people’s movements and identify places where social distancing will not be possible. The simulations can then test how the introduction of measures such as physical obstacles will affect crowd movements with a view to improving distancing.

Building resilience

So how can cities and transport authorities plan effectively for the future to ensure that transport systems become more resilient? Modelling is a strong starting point as it enables for testing and evaluation of different scenarios before measures are implemented and before significant costs are incurred. 

Using anonymous data, Ramboll’s BRUTUS modelling tool provides authorities with an unparalleled level of detail regarding how, why, where and when each individual travels through the transport network. By looking at demographic parameters, the tool generates an understanding of which groups of people are in need of public transport or are the most likely users of new mobility modes such as micro mobility services. For instance, people who do not own a car, but need to pick up their children from school, or people who cannot otherwise get to work.

The model can be used determine the probable impact on travel behaviour of implementing a particular measure such as introducing new bike lanes etc. The findings of such modelling thereby enables authorities to determine how best to organise their operations in a way that is safe and economically viable whilst providing accessibility to those who need it most.

 

Ramboll’s Brutus modelling tool being applied to a study where the potential of a new micro motility service is being evaluated in downtown Helsinki, Finland.

 

We also see e-mobility solutions playing a role in increasing resilience in public transport systems – in relation to reducing energy consumption. For instance, the muncipalities of Oslo and Akershus in Norway have committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 50% and realise significant energy savings by 2030. And to achieve this, Ramboll is assisting with an assessment of electrifying the bus fleet and introducing motion-charging battery buses in the region.  

Conclusions

As transport systems start to re-open we are likely to see a new normal. Ridership on public transport will remain suppressed for some time to come and new shared modes of transport may emerge to fill the gap. A key focus will be on building resiliency into transport systems so that they are better able to cope with future shocks. Digital modelling will prove to be an invaluable tool in helping authorities to plan and achieve improved resilience.   

 

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