The Future of Sustainable Urban Mobility: Change People's Behavior
The key to a city's culture is its non-car activity like markets, biking, parks and walking. Photo by Christian Haugen.

The key to a city's culture is its car-free activities, like biking and walking, and people-only places, like markets and parks. Photo by Christian Haugen.

This post is part of a series analyzing the solutions highlighted in the report and toolkit, “Megacities on the Move.” The report, written by Forum for the Future in partnership with FIA FoundationVodafone, and EMBARQ, offers six sustainable mobility solutions for massive cities that include examples of solutions currently in practice and those in development. For a summary of the report and more information on the project, check out a previous post on TheCityFix.

Changing human behavior is the key piece of ensuring urban sustainability. According to “Megacities on the Move,” “cities need to think about ways in which mass behavior and social norms can be influenced to get people to think about their current patterns of travel and ways of living.”

The best way to influence behavior is to design good transport solutions focused on people, not cars.

Streets as Public Spaces

Land use and transportation planning influences lifestyle behavior. Safer streets encourage walking and cycling. In broadest terms, they encourage socialization and communication. We wrote about research by the University of the West of England, Bristol that found “residents on busy streets tend to have 75% fewer friends than those living on similar streets with less traffic.”  The study found that those living on heavily trafficked streets don’t communicate unless they have to, and heavy amounts of traffic disrupt a sense of community.

Street designs that are safe for everyone, specifically women, the elderly and other vulnerable users, allow people to move in ways other than driving personal cars. For example, bike sharing “fills a niche” by making it “easier to not own or drive a car,” says Clayton Lane, chief operating officer and acting director of EMBARQ (the producer of this blog.) People can spontaneously pick up a bike and use it to solve what Lane calls a “last-mile issue.”  As we’ve said before, bike sharing should be seen as a new mode of public transportation, serving a similar purpose to automobiles: exclusively personal mobility. As an added benefit, as more people bike, bikers tend to feel safer. And most cities that have implemented bike sharing systems have also built the corresponding infrastructure, which is essential to getting people to use streets in alternative ways.

Landscape design and traffic calming can also help create a sense of place and encourage people in a community to find other ways to travel besides a car. These design changes can include things like narrower road widths, pedestrian furniture, creative crosswalksabsence of traffic lights.

Good Solutions and Service

Part of shifting behavior means providing good transportation options that act as a substitute to the car.  This involves making light and heavy rail, buses, biking and walking reliable and convenient. Only good transportation alternatives will get people to think beyond the car to other modes of transportation.

And good transportation means reliable and predictable service with corresponding Web and mobile technology to inform users when the next bus or train is coming. Other solutions and services should include easy linkages between transportation hubs, like bike share options, streetcars, shuttle buses or express services.

Clean service that people perceive as safe, easily accessible and convenient for all riders – not simply low-income people, which is often the misconception – is essential. Public opinion of public transportation is important, and many companies and transit agencies are taking this into consideration. For example, Greyhound bus company recently developed a significant brand redesign.

How the media portrays public transit is also important. A recent post by Erik Weber explains how in the U.S., for example, poor communication plagues bus rapid transit (BRT). He says the “cycle of misinformation” spurs “poor transit investment choices and disappointment among public transit riders and personal vehicle owners. . . ‘American BRT’ has failed because cities have over-hyped and under-delivered the benefits that can come from the key features of BRT.”

Ultimately, good design, governance, planning, transportation and housing that incorporates the needs of all people in smart, sustainable ways will help cities thrive.

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