A Breath of Fresh Air for Tomorrow’s Cities

More and more cities are becoming congested and suffering from poor air quality. Two mobility trends promise relief: e-mobility, combined with shared use of vehicles. A study conducted by Siemens explains how shared e-mobility can improve quality of life.

 

by Christian Buck

What a difference! A strip of grass lined with trees divides a long boulevard. To the right and left of it run the lanes for buses and other vehicles filled with passengers. Further out from the strip of grass are lanes for electrically powered cars, scooters, and rickshaws. Pedestrians stroll along wide walkways, stopping now and then at numerous stands offering food and beverages. And every few blocks, passersby stream in and out of the entrances of a new subway line, which was opened in 2045.

 

About 20 years earlier, the street scene at the same location looked completely different. A confusing medley of cars, rickshaws, buses, and pedestrians resulted in constant congestion. Everyone was trying to somehow get through this teeming mass in one piece. During rush hour people needed over 50 percent more time to reach their destinations. Traffic was not only chaotic and agonizingly slow – it was also life-threatening.

Welcome to an “emerging economy high-density city” somewhere in the growth regions of Asia, South America or Africa. This city is home to about 13,500 people per square kilometer, who live packed close together in tiny apartments. The city’s population grew from seven million in 2018 to ten million in 2050 – a prosperous, vibrant boomtown. However, this upswing has also had its downsides. Over the years, traffic congestion grew worse. So did air pollution and the cost of congestion. As was the case with many other major cities all over the world, city authorities decided to counteract these effects with new concepts.

New Uses for Public Spaces

In a study titled “Powering the Future of Urban Mobility,” Siemens transportation experts investigated the possible effects of the combination of two mobility-related megatrends on traffic in tomorrow’s cities and its residents’ quality of life. The experts examined electrically powered vehicles and shared mobility, in which multiple users share one vehicle. The study came to a clear conclusion: Shared electric mobility can make urban living better. “It decreases greenhouse gas emissions, improves air quality, cuts costs, and reduces land usage,” says Julia Thayne, Director of Innovation and Technology for Cities at Siemens and one of the authors of the study. “Such a city’s residents can develop completely new ideas about how to use public and private spaces – especially because most of the parking spaces we need today will become superfluous and charging stations will be available everywhere.”

The positive effects of shared electric vehicles would be felt all over the world – in our boomtown as well as in a “high-income, low-density” city (such as Los Angeles) and a major city in the “high-income, high-density” category, such as London. In London, the current traffic system and the real estate market are already reaching their limits. There’s simply not enough space for additional roads, bus lines or residential buildings. Here, shared mobility can create not only green spaces but also new residential areas. In the model city described by the study, which has just over four million inhabitants, an estimated 258,000 new apartments could be built on former parking lots by 2035. By 2050 that number could reach 653,000. The environment would also benefit from the expected electrification of private cars and busses (60 percent) and shared cars (90 percent). Ideally , greenhouse gas emissions due to traffic would be reduced to zero by 2050, and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would be almost eliminated if compared to a scenario with 0 percent transport electrification. 

The results are clear: Shared e-mobility leads to a healthier environment and enables people to reclaim cities for themselves.

The balance sheet would look very similar in a “high-income, low-density” city with just under two million residents. In this scenario, greenhouse gas emissions would be completely avoided, and airborne NOx would be reduced by as much as 60 percent – assuming 100 percent electrification of public buses and 60 percent electrification of private vehicles. Finally, the inhabitants of our boomtown would also breathe more freely. Greenhouse gases and nitrogen oxides produced by traffic would be reduced to just ten or twenty percent of their present volume by 2050. Besides, by 2050 there would be room for 660,000 new apartments.

Shared e-Mobility Can Be Implemented Quickly

All in all, the results are clear: Shared e-mobility leads to a healthier environment (because of electric drives) and enables people to reclaim cities for themselves and have more space for housing, because a decrease in private transportation creates more space. So, it’s no wonder that after holding discussions with its customers and partners all over the world Siemens is convinced that shared e-mobility offers an effective and quickly implemented solution for urban traffic problems – but only if the responsible parties act in concert.

 

This might include municipal electricity utilities, municipal departments of transportation and construction, and local public transportation authorities. Among other things, these groups must ensure that there is enough investment in the charging infrastructure for shared electric vehicles to make this form of mobility attractive. And they will have to act fast: “It’s true that many cities have set long-term sustainability targets for themselves that will not come into effect until 2035 or 2050 – but our study has shown that planning and investments must start now,” says Thayne. “Today the power to make urban traffic more humane is in our hands – because the future will be what we make of it.”

2018-10-31

Christian Buck

Picture credits: from top: 1. picture gettyimages; 3. gettyimages, 4. Photographer's choice

 

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