Cities must innovate to improve transportation to reduce emissions

Cities must innovate to improve transportation to reduce emissions

In order to tackle the persistent challenge of reducing emissions from transportation, cities must rely on alternatives that do not require cars, such as active transportation and public transit. In order to take advantage of disruptive technologies in transportation, like ride-hailing applications, cities must also engage effectively with private companies. Urban pundits are divided on this issue.

However, my research on ride-hailing, regulation, and cities, suggests that both strategies are needed.

What is the difference between a car-free zone and a car-lite zone?

Ana Maria Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, successfully eliminated cars from the Seine River’s quayside. This strategy has been made possible by extensive investments in public transportation, improvements for pedestrians, and significant policy will.

Singapore is moving toward a car-lite society. In this city-state unique to itself, the right to own a private car is awarded by lottery. The government also limits the number of vehicles that can be operated. Singapore also boasts an internationally acclaimed public transport system with a continuous construction of transit stations, integrated bus networks, and strong transit connectivity to mixed-use neighborhoods.

Singapore’s transit system is well-designed. Shutterstock

Vancouver has developed a strategy that encourages active transportation — walking and bicycling — through investments in improvements to the public realm and protected bike lanes. The Greenest City Action Plan set a goal to have 50 percent of trips made by walking, cycling, and transit by 2020. This represents a 10% increase since 2008. The city achieved this goal in 2018, reaching 53%.

Sidewalk Labs proposes that private automobiles be prohibited in Toronto’s Quayside neighborhood. If approved by the city, active transportation, public transport, and a shared vehicle system would be the main mobility options for this proposed community.

Different cities have different approaches to the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Many places have had success with three different strategic directions to change transportation options, travel behavior, and, ultimately, transportation-based emissions.

Conducting pilot studies.

Governments are increasingly using pilot studies, also known as trials, to see if and how a new idea will work in reality. Pilots may be restricted geographically and have a time limit for testing.

The King Street Pilot is a great example of a city-developed transportation pilot. The initiative was first implemented in the fall of 2017 as a test. It prioritized transit along a 2.6 km stretch on a congested downtown thoroughfare. The city’s most popular surface transit route is the 2.6 km stretch of the crowded downtown thoroughfare, where the initiative was first implemented as a trial in the fall of 2017.

The transit priority was established for the route, which resulted in an overall increase of 16 percent in ridership. Seven out of 100 respondents to a survey conducted in the fall of 2018 said that they switched from driving a car to riding on the King Street Streetcar. The King Street Pilot became permanent on April 16, 2019.

A police constable talks to a streetcar driver on the second day of King Street Transit Pilot. Doug Ives/CP

Transit agencies are also testing innovative technologies in order to increase ridership. On-demand bus-hailing is a public transportation service that uses algorithms and technologies similar to ride-hailing applications; in September 2017, Belleville, Ont. On some routes with low ridership, Belleville replaced its nighttime buses with an on-demand bus-hailing service. The trial saw a 300 percent increase in ridership while the number of kilometers driven per vehicle decreased by 30 percent.

Find workarounds

Often, companies will look for ways to test new transportation options. In New York, for example, autonomous vehicles cannot be driven on public roads. Private streets, however, have their own rules. A pilot autonomous vehicle running on private streets in Brooklyn Navy Yards provides an opportunity to test technology, build trust among the public in driverless vehicles, and prepare for the future when self-driving cars are allowed to operate on public roads.

Bird Scooters, taking a leaf out of the playbook for workarounds, launched a test in Toronto’s Distillery District in September 2019. Although the company was criticized for testing the scooters in the Distillery District, it chose to do so because the Distillery District is a private property. The firm avoided government regulations by doing so. The firm might have hoped to encourage the city to allow scooters on Toronto streets, but the city chose to do the opposite – unlike Edmonton, where scooters are used. Council voted shortly after the trial to ban scooters from city streets and sidewalks pending further study.

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