Are Electric Vehicles Key to the Development of Sustainable Cities?

In recent years, the automobile industry has been pushing the electric car technology, presenting it as an urban mobility solution for climate change, decreasing noxious emission levels and the greenhouse effect. In fact, in theoretical conditions, an electric car would help boost a better and healthier world but, is it enough? Can humanity and the current market adapt to this change?

From an environmental perspective, it seems like a proper solution with a logical marketing perspective: I use the car to commute, it does not contaminate and it initially uses a carbon-free technology. On the other hand, if we take a deeper look into the theme, there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

A car, regardless of its power source, like every product, has its own carbon footprint which has to be taken into consideration along with the emissions during its use. In fact, some recent studies show that the implementation of a massive switch to electric car technologies would not result in a drastic change in the level of emissions due to the sourcing of electrical energy (for example, coal). Besides this, there are other challenging issues such as waste generation, resource consumption, batter manufacturing and recycling that must be taken into consideration as well.

Despite that, there is no doubt that, with the enforcement of suitable public and private policies, it can be a tremendous tool to face the global warming problem. It must be seen as a challenging opportunity and not as a threat.

The role of electric cars in urban mobility

When it comes to urban mobility, a technological switch in car engines is not a big deal. The notion still remains in the same mobility conceptual scheme from the 50’s that brought us to the present situation.

The transport externalities are actually reduced in terms of air pollution (up to 50 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) emission level by 2050) , noise (silent) and urban health (zero noxious gases). However, when we consider combined efficient mobility solutions which include electric technologies and e-car, human-scale city planning and sustainable mobility modes, they seem to tackle a wide range of problems such as: land use, congestion, urban segregation, social inequity, urban sprawling, road safety, food deserts, mental health and sustainable mobility in general.

Also, this global solution fits better in the sustainable virtuous chain: Reduce, reuse and recycle and, if it is not possible to finish the process with the three previous concepts, optimize the non-renewable resources so as to diminish its impact for future generations.

To sum things up, the technological evolution will not solve the problem by itself. But, planning our cities, understanding its motives (citizens and their quality of life) and reshaping it with global decided initiatives will guide us to a feasible sustainable future. We might find that the collective prevails over the individual for the sake of every one of us rather than the profits of a bunch of companies.

Do you think electric vehicles are important to the development of sustainable cities? If yes or no, tell us your reasons in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Car and Bike Should be More Friends than Enemies

In the past few years, sustainable mobility has been revealed as an effective political tool to attract the vote of the more environmental conscious citizens in western world and more recently in Latin America. These are generally well known good news for the planet and urban life. The problem lies on the fact that this political eagerness sometimes turns into bad public policies which go against the same purpose they aim for.

Radicalism and non-agreed political direct decisions on urban mobility planning, especially bike boosting programs, must be taken seriously or they can be potentially dangerous. The basis of good urban planning and social comfort is coexistence and not confrontation.

Bike boosting programs, whose target is to promote biking as a real commuting alternative, were initially carried out by social organizations which pushed the political willingness afterwards. The conceptual basis of these initiatives was on the right track, looking for equity in the public space use and reclaiming the citizen right of equal opportunities for each citizen independently of his means of transport. Especially if that transport mode is more efficient at peak hours, how it happens with bike use over car domination.

Misunderstandings and repeated mistakes in bike boosting mobility policy

As the Spanish saying goes, “Humans are the only animal that trip over the same stone twice.” The problem does not consist in the goal, but the current methods. The defense of this bike boosting mobility policy is misunderstood creating the assumption that there is a war to be won against the car.

To think about mobility justice as giving the right to bikers and other users to share the space formerly dedicated to cars on main vehicular avenues is a large planning conceptual mistake that has terrible and sometimes irreversible consequences in bike use promotion.

First of all, the war “bike against car” loses its point considering that they are simply machines whose only purpose is to let us commute every day. Every citizen is as rightful as the next one to move as he considers most convenient, always following the logical convention of social civic behavior. In conclusion, a biker has the same mobility rights as a driver and this concept is important to bear in mind.

Secondly to classify driver and biker needs as the same pattern of needs technically is also a mistake. Moreover, if we consider the matter from the point of view of coexistence and street hierarchy for the different mobility alternatives, car and bicycle are completely compatible, in fact, they are complementary.

Thirdly, every mobility network, independent of the transport mode, has his primary, secondary and local streets. From the 50’s, cities have been planned having the car as its priority so this idea has been also established in the people’s idiosyncrasy, including the pro-bike social platforms.

The mindset that vehicular primary avenues are the core of the urban life has to change. Car use must be discouraged as well as land use and streetscape improved, but these avenues should not become more complex in terms of their mobility and road safety.

Implementing bike lanes or other bike infrastructure in vehicular avenues?

Vehicular avenues are vehicular priority streets, main car mobility connectors within the city. Their main planning objective should be to attract, concentrate and canalize car flows as fast as possible from their origins to the most important mobility attractors such as the city center.

For this reason, these avenues are generously wide with car dedicated lanes, each one of them 3 to 3.5 meter wide, having traffic light prioritization and lots of connections with lower hierarchy streets that are not always controlled by traffic lights.

On the other hand, cycle tracks or bike lanes are exactly the same for the bicycle network. This dedicated infrastructure is the “vehicular avenue” for bikers: High quality standard infrastructure which provides comfort, connectivity and continuity so as to attract, concentrate and canalize bike flows. Furthermore, the less noisy or polluted and the more beautiful the street is the more attractive it becomes for cycled mobility.

What do you think about the bike and car war in urban planning? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Urban Street Hierarchy Concept Could Solve Car and Bike Issues

Current methods of boosting bikes in urban transport systems have the right goals, but at the end they generally do not justify the means. The use of wrong methods such as implementing a bike lane in a vehicular avenue with a high vehicular flow may not be convenient for both means of transport regardless the quality of its implementation. On the other hand, an urban mobility planning technique – “the integrated urban road hierarchy concept” could create positive synergies between car and bike networks.

As long as there are not a lot of wide car lanes, making it possible to narrow the lanes in order to free enough space for the bicycle dedicated infrastructure (at the moment the bike lane is placed directly on the avenue). The dedicated space for private vehicles is reduced in terms of traffic lanes or parking lanes.

In the first case, the number of traffic lanes is affected, which implies a direct increment of congestion, worsening the travel experience for drivers, creating more car-associated negative externalities, and increasing the likelihood of dangerous aggressive maneuvers. In the second case, the elimination of parking spots does not initially impact traffic flow, but it may eventually generate illegal parking maneuvers within the bike lane zone.

Traffic light intersections get more complicated, slower and more dangerous when the number of commuters and movements increase, creating higher travel times for everyone. Car left turns and driver’s reaction times rise because of the new interaction with bicycle movements.

At non-traffic light intersections, usually local streets, the incorporation of drivers to the main corridor also increases its chances of having an accident and spending more time.

Creating good dedicated infrastructure for bikes

Bikers are affected by the levels of pollution, noise and road safety risks, including transit and public transport stops in case it exists in the corridor. Bikers need to overcome too many intersections, drowning the quality of experience and raising the odds of a fatal accident. The most common spot where bikes suffer major accidents is at intersections with high traffic flows.

In order to improve the travel experience for bikers, it is fundamental to allow them a continuous flow, minimizing stops. This is almost impossible in corridors where car flows are the priority.

Good standard dedicated infrastructure always attracts more users no matter where it is placed. This effect is especially notorious in cities where incipient bicycle networks are under development.

So, the adequacy of this measure cannot be justified by the increment of users, but it also proves two facts: providing a good infrastructure and network generates more bike trips and reorders traffic flows. And second: designing mobility from the aspect of controlling the demand is possible via a goal-oriented urban design.

Applying street hierarchy to the car and bike issue

Using the insight of those points, the proposal is to locate the bike infrastructure at a street parallel to the vehicular avenue with the same origin-destiny and linearity, but lower in the vial hierarchy. This could be a local street, aiming for neighborhood traffic and on-street bike flow, keeping away segregation as far as possible.

This method of city planning puts aside the preconception that all streets have the same purpose and/or configuration in different scales. The strategy is to prioritize their use depending on the street features and urban mobility needs, always aiming for mutual reinforcement between the different mobility networks [car, bike, public transport, pedestrian, etc.] and citizen preferences.

In this case, the pretension is specifically reinforcement in bike and car primary networks. Defining the bike dedicated infrastructure at a local street, whether it is a bike lane or shared space, car flow capacity is markedly reduced by the reduction of car lanes in one at least and speed diminution on shared streets.

As a result of less capacity and lower speeds, car drivers prefer to choose streets with a more convenient features for their needs (vehicular corridors), leaving a less traffic congested street for bikers. This effect soars with every extra bike-aimed measure, such as calming street designs (for example, chicane) or operational bike prioritization measures (for example, green waves).

In conclusion, the planning decision of bike infrastructure location makes the difference in advance in terms of positive or negative synergies for the urban mobility planning.

Good and bad practices in mobility oriented urban designs

There are several examples of good and bad practices in mobility oriented urban designs that show how important the urban planning is in the first stages. In these particular examples, it is relevant to highlight how cheap, fast and effective the proposed streetscapes are. Therefore, map images are used to make clear the differences between the past and the present or to compare the two streets.

Example 1: The first case is located in the Eixample Esquerra (Barcelona, Spain) and it is focused on the good practice implemented in Enric Granados Street which redirected the car flow to Balmes Street, a main corridor headed to the city center.

The two streets run to each other and have the same flow direction. The difference lies in the width: Balmes Street is far wider than Enric Granados, a more local character street. Balmes Street is a four-lane vehicular corridor with an exclusive bus lane.

Initially, Enric Granados Street was a typical local street of Eixample Esquerra neighborhood, a two-lane street with a unique flow direction. As a result of the eager decision of Barcelona municipality to boost the bike use and the integrated mobility plan conceived for the city, the mobility department defined criteria for establishing a hierarchy for every transportation mode.

They transformed Enrique Granados radically, turning the street into a comfortable and peaceful street for living, leisure time and bike mobility. A car lane was erased and the other one was tightened so as to locate an on-street two-way bike lane with a multi-use wide buffer (ornaments, bike racks and bike sharing system spots or motorcycle parking lots).

Moreover, the street boundaries were pedestrianized in a large scale, cutting vehicular flow totally and allowing free and save entrance for bikes and a calmed neighbor traffic flow.

Calle Enric Granados

Calle Balmes

Example 2: The second scenario features Ricardo Lyon Avenue versus Suecia Street (Providencia, Santiago, Chile). This is a recent application with the old bike boosting planning scheme where the bike infrastructure is placed in main vehicular corridors, in this case Ricardo Lyon Avenue instead of Suecia Street, one of the several North-South direction vehicular closest alternatives in the urban network.

As depicted in the next images, both streets have quite similar features to the streets from the Barcelona example in terms of width, purpose and number of lanes. So, it would have been possible to redirect the traffic flow like in Barcelona, but the decision was to put the cycle tracks on the least convenient street instead, raising several safety issues.

Avenida Ricardo Lyon

The following two pictures explain some of the different related road safety problems with this kind of design, such as the disconnection of the public bikesharing spot and the cycle track, stressful trip conditions for bikers at congested streets, crossing a pedestrian sidewalk, a two-way cycle track and three car lanes for a driver or a non-traffic light access which creates high odds of an accident.

Avenida Ricardo Lyon – disconnection between public bike sharing system

Non-traffic light access to Ricardo Lyon Avenue

Do you think an urban road hierarchy concept could solve car and bike issues? Share your opinion in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

The Optimal Implementation Model for Bikesharing Systems

Since 2007, after the launch of a large-scale public bikesharing system in Paris and its success, bike sharing programs have been spread around the globe as a new trend of public transportation. These programs appeared in the continental Europe as a public way to promote the use of more sustainable means of transport, but the question is: are they as useful as they appear to be? Moreover, are there better alternatives to boost and improve the quality of bike network or biker experience?

Every new urban mobility system is an additional option in a bunch of already established means of transport and has to justify its utility, investment and maintenance costs. This situation is specifically important for public transport systems as they normally go with public subsidies or private sponsorships.

Bikesharing systems: financial evaluation

When it comes to financials, the investment in bike sharing systems is remarkable, especially if it is compared to the demand that it can satisfy per station.

Referring to the first case of Barcelona’s public bike sharing system, operative since March 2007, the global initial budget was 15.9 million Euros for 6,000 bikes, 400 stations and logistic transportation to move bikes from one station to another. Adding to this, the figure increases with maintenance and staff costs, reaching 18 million Euros per year.

In conclusion, since its inauguration, the municipality has spent around 144 million Euros. Moreover, if the cost of maintenance of each bike per year is included, the cost is between 2000 to 3000 Euros. The same is the case in the city of Seville, both cities being in the list of the 20 most bicycle-friendly cities of the world.

Bikesharing systems: cost-effective solutions

Considering these figures, the implementation cost for these kinds of systems is high when compared to other alternatives like extending the existing bike infrastructure with more kilometers, which would mean up to 225 extra kilometers per year in the Barcelona case using the same budget. The same idea could be applied to calming street programs for a better and more friendly neighborhood.

For instance, a subway system costs far more than a bike sharing system, but the comparison between the demand that can satisfy each one of the system is substantially different.

A subway system is the prime example of massive public transportation system, for example, at peak-hour L1 Metro Santiago W-E direction amounts to 60,000 pax per hour. Santiago (and mainly in the rest of the cities) Metro represents 22 percent of labor commutes and bike only 5 percent (mainly private bikes). Furthermore, both measures help citizens, but Metro positive externalities are remarkably higher in terms of quantity and global impact. In the Barcelona case, they need more or less the same rate of subsidy as Metro or Bus.

For the same budget, another option could be giving subsidies to create buying incentives for high-standard bicycles or even electric bicycles. For example, in the Barcelona case, currently the bike sharing system has 6,000 bikes. Only with the maintenance costs, the municipality could distribute between 40,000 to 60,000 high-standard bicycles for free to its citizens (considering the estimated bike price: 300 Euros).

Indeed, Barcelona had the option of buying either 320,000 high-standard bikes or building up to 1800 kms of on-street bike lanes since 2007 with exactly the same amount of money.

Do you think bike sharing systems are the right approach to improve urban mobility? Share your opinion in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

What Will Urban Mobility Planning in the 21st Century Look Like?

Nowadays, sustainability and resilience of cities can be considered as the trending topic of urban planning, the discussion mainly focused on technological alternatives or products so as to find out the most suitable solution. On the other hand, some decision makers consider urban land use and mobility planning as the core solution, leaving these technological innovations as a very useful sort of complementary options which may be used at the right time for a specific action.

In this list of alternatives are included technological devices to improve mobility, new transportation options or futurist prototypes, car optimization or auto occupancy rate improvement, big data and the Internet of Things applied to the transportation branch, new sophisticated engine technologies to reduce emissions and optimization of fuel, among other options.

There is no doubt that all of them are such incredibly useful tools, but are these technological applications a core solution?

In essence, what really matters is a remarkable reduction in commutes, travelling distance, travel time, emissions and car use in rush hours. An appropriate land use policy and a proper integrated urban mobility with an established short, medium and long term action plan should be the core solution for this global peril.

Democratic streets

Nowadays, cities have turned into a net of links, connecting different points and being dehumanized to embrace wildly the car and its conception of “freedom”. As a result, urban areas are a nest of congestion and pollution which is soaring beyond the limits. Here is where urban mobility planners need to rethink the city to provide a more balanced, fair and sustainable streets for their citizens.

Conceiving urban areas as a map and leaving aside the buildings, what remains is the public space, mainly streets, which is available to be used for the sake of citizens. This opportunity is a great responsibility which has to be taken very wisely.

Streets are an integral part of the transportation landscape. Every street is different from another – an important vehicular avenue is different than a local street in a calm neighborhood or a crowded shopping street. Why should streets be designed with the same parameters?

Moreover, the same applies to the different alternatives of mobility. Car drivers, bikers, pedestrians or public transport users have their own needs and features in terms of design, preferences or space demands.

An integrated urban road hierarchy

This is what an integrated urban road hierarchy consists: distribute the planned available street space for mobility between the different means of transport equitably taking into account street physical limits and the variety of commuter’s needs, always focusing on their comfort, road safety and net connectivity and prioritizing the most sustainable and humane means.

Applying this idea in urban mobility planning, the city is organized as a combination of a complete hierarchized network for each mode of transport, having defined the primary, secondary and local streets for that specific mean, and not only planning the city for cars.

These networks need to co-exist and not compete. In fact, if urban mobility plans are correctly worked out, the final output should free enough space in order to ease coherently the use of sustainable means of transportation, maintaining the car functionality as planned.

The result is a more balanced, livable and resilient city where the sustainable habits of mobility are encouraged by design, thus providing a better quality of life, urban economy, diversity and prosperity for all.

What are the important factors urban planners should consider to make cities more livable? Share your ideas in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.