Most of us would agree that mobility is essential to health, happiness and well-being in modern cities. There’s also a tendency to believe that complex mobility challenges can be solved largely by creating effective multi-modal transportation systems. Unfortunately, this assumption can lead to bad outcomes.
The concept of mobility encompasses far more than cars, buses, trains, taxis, bicycles and e-scooters. In their carefully researched book, Smart Cities, Smart Future (Wiley, 2018), authors Mike Barlow and Cornelia Lévy-Bencheton argue persuasively that accessibility is a primary element in successful mobility strategies.
“In most parts of the world, lifespan has increased dramatically. We’re remaining socially and economically active longer than ever before in history,” says Barlow. “The typical 21st century organization often includes five generations of workers: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and Generation Zs.”
Commuting to work and maneuvering around the workplace poses different challenges for workers of different generations. Common physical obstacles, such as stairs and curbs might pose few problems for Millennials and Gen Z’s. Yet, those same obstacles could make travel more difficult for certain boomers, people with disabilities or impairments, parents with young children, and caregivers of the elderly.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh, they can just take an Uber or a Lyft,’ but ride-sharing isn’t a universal solution for mobility,” says Barlow. “Genuinely smart towns and cities will make accessibility a top priority. “Instead of being an afterthought, accessibility will be designed and engineered into all types of transportation systems from their inception,” says Lévy-Bencheton. “We foresee a future in which full accessibility will be the default mode, not the special case.”
For example, smart towns and cities will have pedestrian traffic signals with audio cues that can be easily understood by people with visual impairments. Some cities are testing systems that signal approaching drivers when children or people with special needs are using a crosswalk.
“Smart communities understand that safety is absolutely essential,” says Lévy-Bencheton. “That’s why the work of organizations such as Vision Zero, which is aggressively promoting the elimination of traffic fatalities, is so incredibly important. Cities that have adopted Vision Zero programs have seen significant reductions in traffic deaths.”
Many of the accessibility and safety challenges facing cities can be solved with changes or modifications in the built environment. In lower Manhattan, for example, “complete streets” provide physical separation between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Each “complete street” has three lanes, separated by sturdy barriers, in both directions.
“From our perspective, these kinds of streets do more than simply offer protection, safety and accessibility. Their presence encourages people to use them,” says Barlow. “Ideally, that’s what a city street should do.”
In their book, “Smart Cities, Smart Future: Showcasing Tomorrow”, the authors share their admiration for Jane Jacobs, the legendary urban activist and writer by stating:
“She was a strong and vocal advocate for safe, accessible and welcoming streets,” says Lévy-Bencheton. “I think she would have appreciated a lot of what we’re hoping to accomplish with the smart city movement.”
Franco Amalfi is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He leads the go to market strategy for smarter government for Oracle Public Sector North America. Franco advises government officials on how to leverage modern cloud-based solutions and emerging technologies to help government organizations deliver personalized government services. In addition to working with customers, Franco authors, publishes white papers and articles on leveraging technology to drive business value for governments. He is also a frequent speaker at government conferences. He is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada and has completed an Advanced Certificate for Executives in Management, Innovation, and Technology at MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, USA. You can read his posts here.