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Mobility in transformation

28. April 2021

Mobility behaviour is changing. This transformation – alongside numerous socio-cultural and economic parameters – is determined to a great extent by innovation and progress. In a study on the future of inner-city mobility produced as part of polisMOBILITY, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) reveals how the city of tomorrow’s mobility society could be shaped.

Mobility in transformation

Mobility in transformation: Photo: ©iStock/Sven Loeffler

The paradox of urban mobility

There is an inherent contradiction to inner-city mobility: In some forms, it poses, over the long term, a threat to the urban life it makes possible in the first place. Participation in social and economic life is restricted if it is not possible to reach the places where social interaction takes place and essential activities are pursued. At the same time, roads crammed with polluting vehicles, overcrowded buses and parked cars result in compromised air quality, increased stress and little room for public life. This dilemma, then, is one of the key challenges for a future-oriented city and transport planning: reconciling cuts in emissions that are harmful to human health and the climate on the one hand, and making sure that mobility is accessible for all on the other.

Cars still the priority in metropolises

Motorised private transport dominates the modal split in rural areas because of the often-inadequate public transport infrastructure. However, the percentage of passenger kilometres travelled in private cars also continues to be high in metropolises such as London, Paris and Berlin – despite extensive public transport networks. According to the new DLR study “Challenges and solutions for a sustainable mobility in future-oriented cities”, which was commissioned by polisMOBILITY, motorised private transport makes up 34% of London’s modal split, and the figure is even higher in Paris at 36%. Berlin, at around 25%, is doing slightly better, and also boasts the highest percentage by far of kilometres travelled by bike in all of the surveyed cities, at 18%.

The average share in the modal split for cars in German metropolises is 27%, a figure that grows by an additional 10% when passengers are included. The smaller the city, the bigger the percentage: Motorised private transport accounts for 50% in cities, 59% in large towns and 66% in small towns. A corresponding reduction can be observed in the other mobility forms, especially in public transport, which is often poorly developed in smaller towns. It makes up 21% of the modal split in metropolises and only 7% in small towns.

Avoid, switch, improve

Bearing in mind Germany and the European Union’s climate policy targets, which were defined in the Paris Climate Agreement, these figures are clearly not satisfactory. According to the agreement, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector must be cut by at least 40 to 42% by 2030, compared to the 1990 figure, and by 80 to 95% by 2050. To achieve that, holistic concepts employing a three-pronged approach will be needed: “avoid, switch, improve.” Non-essential journeys must – as during the coronavirus pandemic – be avoided, people should cycle or take the train instead of driving, and the technology used in each mode of transport needs to be optimised.

Technological transition to achieve climate targets

One of the key basic principles is the switch to environmentally friendly fuel sources both in private transport and in the public mobility sector. Falling battery cell prices and longer ranges on a single charge are currently leading to relatively fast growth in the market share of electric vehicles. Norway, the uncontested leader when it comes to the number of new purely battery-electric vehicles registered (market share 54.3%), will be ending the sale of diesel and petrol cars in 2025. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Slovenia will be following suit five years later. Although Sweden is the only one of those countries to have a market share greater than 5% at

The popularity of the car trails in second place

Despite its frequent use, the car is – according to a Civey survey – not the most popular mode of transport in Germany. 83% of respondents to this survey stated that they liked to walk, while 77% said they prefer to travel by car. Cycling followed in third place with 60%, and public transport came in last with 34%.

There could be many reasons why cycling is in third place as a mode of transport, one of those being the marginalisation of cyclists in urban traffic. Even in a “bike city” such as Münster, each person has an average of 4.8 m2 of car parking area available, while the cycle path network offers a meagre 13 cm of lanes per head. In Berlin, the respective figures are 3.5 m² and 12 cm, and that ratio is even more striking in the majority of the other big cities. As long as cyclists have to share main roads with cars and lorries, cycling will never gain widespread popularity as an everyday means of transport. This may also be the reason why 52.3% of the 2,500 respondents support car-free zones in urban areas in order to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

As part of the La ville du quart d’heure initiative in Paris , a municipal parking space management programme was introduced to limit the number of private cars, and the cycling infrastructure was developed at the same time. The programme was a success: In 2003, there were 166,000 publicly accessible on-street car parking spaces and the cycle lane network was 282 km long. By 2018 there were 25,000 fewer parking places. By 2014, the cycle lane network had grown to 700 km, and that is set to be doubled in the next step.

Incentives required for cycling

Incentives such as these can – as the Paris example shows – be implemented on a local government level to establish cycling as a safe mode of transport in metropolises too. German cities are now also making similar efforts to remove barriers such as safety issues and unnecessarily indirect routes, and that with success. In Berlin, cycling made up 18% of the modal split in 2018, around a third higher than in 2013. Over the same period, motorised private transport dropped four percentage points to 26% in 2018, putting it in third place.

Political interventions can have a remarkable impact on the distribution of bicycle, foot and car traffic. Norway’s example shows that turning away completely from internal-combustion engines is not a utopian dream – with the right policies, such as tax concessions and parking advantages, it can be achieved in a relatively short time. Urban mobility does not have to be a contradiction in terms, after all – it can be characterised by progress in all sectors.

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