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Trafi Talks with Arup: Mobility in the 15-Minute City

The way we define the layout of a city is changing. A hybrid approach to remote and office working has begun to reshape travel routines and behaviors. As people become more closely linked to their residential areas, the importance of designing urban areas in accordance with the fifteen-minute city (FMC) model is increasing.

The FMC concept is based on the idea that quality of life is improved when amenities and services are located a maximum of fifteen minutes away from people’s homes. In other words, the important things in life, such as schools, shops and hospitals, should only take fifteen minutes to reach by foot, bike or public transport – no (privately owned) cars needed.

When working from home or in a coworking space in our neighborhood, the additional hour that we would’ve spent commuting in the pre-corona era can now be spent doing other, more valuable things, such as walking the kids to school and grabbing a coffee from a café on the way, or enjoying a longer lunch break and walking around a local park in the afternoon. While we still need to visit places in other neighborhoods or go into the office from time to time, these trips are becoming far less routine.

At the global advisory firm Arup, which specializes in engineering, architecture, design and urban planning, transport planner Susan Claris and strategic transport advisor Terry Lee-Williams are firm believers of the 15-minute city model. We sat down with them to discuss how the FMC models affect transport planners, what other tactics urban mobility planners can use to encourage MaaS usage in modern cities, and a variety of other topics.

Remote work encourages the rediscovery of local neighborhoods.

What questions do changes like increased remote working and shorter travel distances raise for cities and urban transport planners? Which new scenarios seem likely to arise as a result?

Susan: Until recently, transport planning has tended to focus on the commute to work, neglecting local journeys. However, as many employees have switched to working from home because of COVID-19 restrictions, commuting has decreased. This is likely to continue in the post-pandemic era. In this scenario, planners will need to focus more on local journeys and address the over-consumption of transport, or ‘transport gluttony’, as I call it. We need to enable and encourage more walking, cycling and public transport. We particularly need to make these modes a more attractive choice compared to our current reliance on cars.

“People currently value space, health and environment over speed.“

The tradeoffs between space, speed, health and environment have become highly visible during lockdown, and it’s clear that people currently value space, health and environment over speed. Cities like Milan, London, Barcelona and Paris have incorporated numerous active travel measures into their systems, with public support for healthy and sustainable travel modes leading to a new dialogue on mobility in our cities. In Ireland, close to one million euro per day is being invested in cycling infrastructure.

Piazze Aperte in Milan, before…

…and after the Nolo district implemented new urban planning changes.

Terry: In terms of public transport, a fundamental change in planning, shift management, fleet distribution and many other technical factors will be required to cater to the new spreading of activity throughout the day.

That being said, while there is strong evidence of a shift away from commuting – look at Australia, where COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted – it’s important not to abandon existing networks until the pandemic is under control and the effects of these fundamental changes can be measured, particularly in local contexts.

Paris invested €150 million into a cycling expressway network.

How do you think the perception of private car use will change in the years to come?

Susan: While cars still represent freedom of movement for many people, we need to help people see that they can survive without cars. Even better, by giving up private cars, people can benefit from significantly reduced transport costs. Because of the pandemic, car owners are travelling less and realizing that many local trips are easily taken on foot or by bike.

“We need to help people see that they can survive without cars.“

Terry: If we encourage this change in travel behavior by providing attractive alternatives for trips traditionally taken by private car, people’s mindsets will shift away from the desire to maintain one “just in case”.

More than €240 million was recently allocated for cycling and walking projects in Ireland.

Indre: That’s an interesting point, and one that Trafi continually addresses through our product updates and other innovations – namely, how to make using a combination of public transport and shared mobility offerings genuinely appealing in the eye of the user. The ultimate goal is to transform MaaS into an exciting idea and to challenge the misconception that privately owned cars are the most convenient, freeing or ‘fun’ way to travel. Which leads us to our next question:

What alternatives to private cars or business models could we utilise to create an effective mobility system for helping people move within the fifteen-minute city?

Terry: While movement is not generally an issue within the FMC, infrastructural improvements can certainly be made to create a more effective mobility system. For example, the creation of ‘low traffic’ or ‘active’ neighborhoods – comprised of simple, well-planned interventions like modal filters, cycle streets, rain gardens, parklets and new crossings – discourages private car usage in favor of walking and cycling.

Susan: When creating active neighborhoods, transport planners can ensure the frictionless movement of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles on connecting roads by providing shared activity centers that integrate a variety of transport modes. A physical model, rather than a business model, can be used to create an effective mobility system for helping people move within the FMC.

Mobility stations in Berlin, created by the all-in-one Jelbi app, provide access to multiple transport options.

Indre: That sounds similar to what Jelbi did with BVG in Berlin: making a variety of mobility modes available at each strategically placed hub makes life easier for commuters and saves valuable space within the confines of the city.

What other improvements will be crucial to the development of efficient, long-distance trips around the city? And what should we focus on first: industry innovation, or governmental policies?

Susan: Both are needed. Governmental policies should set the framework and determine objectives and desired outcomes for long-distance city trips. After that, industry innovation will (hopefully) follow.

“If we provide attractive alternatives to cars, our mindsets will shift.“

Terry: A total network management approach that blends services like public transport and active travel interventions will be crucial to the development of efficient, long-distance city trips. This approach should combine costs, benefits, coverage, waiting time, travel time and customer satisfaction into a cohesive plan. In time, the creation of a single, or integrated, mobility market will greatly improve this.

Indre: Agreed: cohesion, integration and even standardization are key terms to keep in mind here. Having a single mobility market would be a great improvement, but it definitely requires the collaboration of many players from across the mobility ecosystem – we need to involve actors from both the private and public sectors to breathe life into the idea.I’m going to leave you with this question:

What three words or phrases best describe sustainable mobility to you?

Susan: Reduce vehicle dominance.

Terry: Equitable access to opportunity. (Apologies for the extra word!)

Curious to know more? Check out our newsroom for more sustainable mobility content or get in touch.


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