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How can mobility systems increase urban resilience?

Feb 25, 2022

Celine Krstulovic

Head of Division New Mobility, Arcadis Germany

Cities have long had to deal with disruptive developments and crises. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, which is leading to extreme weather events with consequences ranging from floods in southern Germany to severe fires in California, are changing urban centers. With millions of people pouring into cities daily as commuters and a global urban population expected to double between 2000 and 2030, cities need to develop more resilience to crises and more development flexibility to be able to handle transformation pressures more constructively.

A crisis requires cities to adapt and recover. Urban resilience enables cities to adapt quickly to new situations. We have all seen the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on urban transport, the complex decision-making processes at a political level, the introduction of new regulations and the adaptation of our transport behavior. Investing in a robust and sustainable mobility system will help cities gain an advantage to be prepared for challenges. But what are the requirements for the mobility systems of the future? Based on the concept of urban resilience, the key dimensions of adaptability, connectivity, optimization and sustainability can serve as a guide.

Adaptivity

The assessment of the 'adaptivity of mobility systems' focuses on institutional structures and people-centered factors. The institutional structures determine how well we are organized to formulate, coordinate and implement integrated strategies. An integrated approach requires cooperation between stakeholders at different levels. In Germany, for example, it was decided to coordinate and implement the safety regulations at state level during the COVID-19 pandemic. Berlin was one of the last German states to decide to introduce a mask requirement on buses and trains.

Mobility behavior is only partly determined by rules and regulations. It also results from factors such as transport costs, system trust and cultural influences. For example, during the pandemic, the use of public transport in Berlin fell by 80 percent. E-scooters were suddenly perceived as a low-infection alternative to public transport. In combination with high reliability and user friendliness, this led to a change in behavior. Providers of micromobility were able to increase their market share compared to public transport.

Connectivity

Today we see a clear development toward the networking of transport providers, mobility systems and travelers and commuters. The physical networking of all services offers a higher user orientation and is increasingly organized in so-called mobility hubs. Virtual networking is reflected in the growth of online platforms that provide citizens with an integrated mobility service throughout the city. It requires mobility providers to cooperate and be willing to plan and book their services on common platforms. For example, the city of Berlin has developed the Jelbi app in collaboration with the transport operator 'BVG.' With this app, residents and visitors have access to transport services on offer. It connects providers, travelers and information on one platform.

In times of crisis, high connectivity within the mobility system enables the networking and distribution of people and information to optimize transport measures. However, as cities become more intelligent, cyber attacks pose an increasing threat. Higher digital connectivity also requires increased efforts to protect our increasingly networked systems.

Optimization

Analyzing and optimizing infrastructure assets and using data for strategic decisions are key to optimizing mobility systems.

Consistent data orientation offers great potential, especially in times of crisis. Health risks could be reduced through intelligent routing and passenger traffic distribution. Traffic modeling and the development of new algorithms help cities to optimize their mobility management while taking real-time traffic loads and travel times into account. Apps enable travelers and commuters to plan their routes in the best possible way, taking into account sustainability, efficiency, tolls and travel time.

Local decision-makers in Berlin have closely monitored the market entry of many new transport providers into the urban transport network. The transport data collected by many of the new providers can provide important information about urban mobility. A mandatory interface standard enables cities to analyze and better organize transport. However, compared to other cities in Europe, Berlin lags behind in developing an open data standard.

In order to optimize the infrastructure, existing resources must be evaluated and developed for new mobility concepts. Berlin benefits from an established and well-used subway system. Strengthening intermodal services, establishing seamless connections and creating digital access security solutions can help to optimize train stations and reduce the number of individual motorized traffic. Mobility stations with an intermodal transport option and the integration of digital solutions can optimize the transport network and become cornerstones of our urban environment.

Sustainability

Resilience and sustainability are two different but closely related concepts. Resilience focuses on regeneration and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. With sustainability, "we guarantee the well-being of present and future generations (Léon, E. 2021, metropolis.org)." Our mobility systems will be designed for longevity and at the same time remain adaptable to cope with progressive urbanization and climate change. Sustainable measures are aimed at reducing CO₂ emissions, implementing a circular economy and providing safe systems.

The current public transport system in Berlin is in need of renewal and modernization in many aspects. Many stations are very outdated in terms of technical equipment and possibilities. Optimization of the public transport network based on its intermodal offer and efficiency can become the backbone of a sustainable urban transport system. It can also become the driver of integrated, sustainable urban development, which will secure the future of urban centers as living and economic spaces.