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Future mobility: smart, innovative, sustainable

Digital format, 18/06/2020, National Roundtable

The Covid-19 emergency has forced millions of people into quarantine and has interrupted the ordinary flow of local and international traffic. The sudden emptying of urban spaces traditionally perceived as dense and congested is the most glaring evidence of the alteration in lifestyles and of the impact of thousands of city dwellers’ inevitable recourse to more streamlined and flexible work solutions. This new condition has led to reductions in the production and consumption of goods and services along with the emergence and predominance of forms of mobility that were already being promoted and tested in many cities (micro mobility, soft mobility, intermodality and so forth), but that will hardly be able to replace public transportation entirely.

Moreover, limitations on traffic flows have drastically lowered air pollution levels in many urbanized areas, in line with the European Green New Deal agenda and thereby encouraging additional investment in the transport sector. To what extent it will be possible to incentivize the use of private and pedestrian modes of public movement will have to be seen. While it is true that these have been tested successfully in many cities during the immediate reopening phase after a lockdown aimed at flattening the curve of virus containment, it is going to be necessary to consider how to ensure their safer and more efficient and sustainable use in cities.

The need to coordinate traffic flows over the coming months by modifying the traditional weekly schedules of industry, commerce, public offices and schools, has convinced some cities to experiment with an upgraded and more complex interaction of resources that makes use of technology, artificial intelligence and big data; indeed, contemporary infrastructures are now being built not only of asphalt and concrete, but silicon as well.

Nevertheless, the diversity in physical and social conditions and the state of current infrastructure (intermodality, micro mobility, etc.) must be kept in mind. What has emerged globally over recent months is a rise in the demand for home-delivery services, along with many companies’ interest in considering the possibility of having a significant portion of their employees working full-time from home in the near future, and the considerable reduction in the cost/productivity ratio that would involve.

It is hard to say what the future has in store. Prominent possible scenarios include the repopulation of small towns and rural areas, or a re-densification of metropolitan areas following the successful and significant reduction of global emissions have made human settlements more secure, reliable and sustainable, and after the adoption of accessible, cost-effective and integrated “smart” forms of mobility.