The field of mobility is governed by opposite priorities and concepts: On the one hand, the old credo that our civic liberties should include the right to unrestricted road use; on the other, the new ambition to reclaim urban space and transform it into a livable green ecosystem. The truth is to be found somewhere in between, for sure. But where exactly?
From today’s perspective, the world of mobility of the economic boom years after WWII looks wonderfully simple: At that time, an international leitmotif was the ‘car-friendly city’ – a concept for which the book of the German architect and urban planner Hans Bernhard Reichow provided clear and simple policy recommendations, which boil down to a somewhat provocative maxim: All power to the car! In concrete terms this meant that all urban planning measures were to cater to the free flow of automobile traffic, even if this involved substantial encroachments on existing urban building structures.
Serious doubts regarding this largely one-dimensional view emerged only following the publication in 1963 of the so-called Buchanan report “Traffic in towns“, which distinguished between necessary and optional car use. The British authors of the study advocated measures that would systematically restrain those optional journeys, the extreme increase of which they saw as one of the main causes for the traffic problems that were widespread already at that time – and growing. Moreover, the report was ahead of its time in proposing specific recommendations for context-dependent capacity restrictions and speed limits as well as drastic traffic restrictions in areas that were considered especially worthy of protection.
But no matter how far-reaching the developments that urbanization and climate change have already triggered or will sooner or later call for… most changes are still of the evolutionary kind. One true revolution is already in the making, however: Automated and connected driving will probably cause a more radical transformation of personal mobility than any other development since the invention of the automobile more than 130 years ago. The way in which we are moving about on our streets is in for a profound change – and with it the layout and appearance of our cities in their efforts to adapt to the mobility habits of the next generation.
An important point is that more people will be mobile: Just think of all those who, today, are not able or allowed to take the wheel themselves because they are too young, too old, or temporarily unfit to drive. To protect our cities from a potential flood of autonomous taxis, we need innovative public mass transit services that are efficient and convenient enough to compete with the new mobility modes.
Unconditional support for holistic solutions
Among the new parameters facing today’s traffic planners, futurologist Matthias Horx counts also certain deep-reaching changes in the motives that are behind our need to be mobile. “Over the course of human history, our reasons to move about have repeatedly changed in important ways. In the beginning we were all nomads, but later mobility became the privilege of aristocrats as well as an attribute of traveling craftsmen and tradespeople. With the onset of the industrial age, mobility was mainly an opportunity to gain personal or professional advantages. And in our present ‘knowledge society’ we are faced with a complex intertwined set of motives that is currently rearranging itself once again. Hence it is a mistake to believe that our desire to be mobile could always be met in the same old ways.”
The interaction of several mega-trends requires not only the integration of the different transport systems, but also close cooperation between the main players who are shaping these systems. Only if municipal authorities, mobility providers, car manufacturers and infrastructure specialists keep working together, they will arrive at solutions that turn challenges into chances. In an interview given the ITS Magazine in early 2011, Dr. Martin Zimmermann, then Head of Strategy for Daimler AG, unconditionally supported the development of holistic solutions: “To state one thing clearly: We welcome the trend towards intermodality, and we support it wherever we can. A challenge as huge as ensuring sustained urban mobility can only be properly mastered in the long term through close cooperation.”