Thus, when looking at the mobility system, what really has changed? How did local governments across Europe respond to the new landscape in the mobility sector and what measures will linger after the pandemic within our societies?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, people were just waiting for it to go away and quickly return to the normal. But once it was clear that it was not going back to what it used to be, people started to look towards the future. Thus, the window of opportunity is more open than ever. Politicians should not only be worried about the pandemic but also about how to change their cities for the future.”
– Peter Vest, Business Creation Manager, EIT Urban Mobility Innovation Hub North
In partnership with EIT Urban Mobility, a team composed of BABLE, CARNET, CTAG, DTU, and UPC, with the support of Miljöstrategi AB wanted to address this topic. Thus, a survey was conducted across 16 European cities to understand and analyse mobility strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. This built the basis for a study on urban mobility strategies during COVID-19.
Considering immediate changes, what changes has COVID-19 brought to the urban mobility field? In leading cities, the conditions created by the pandemic have been used to accelerate the achievement of long-term mobility strategies already in place. This acceleration opportunity is evident mostly in the following aspects:
- The increase of tactical urbanism to temporarily reclaim road space (for widening sidewalks or provide more room for bar terraces) can lead to a permanent redesign of public space to improve neighbourhood walkability.
- The development of the bike network (both at the level of urban lanes and express inter-urban corridors) as a response to the decrease of public transport capacity can consolidate this mode of transportation.
- The increase in e-commerce and home deliveries during the pandemic can propel cities to implement actions to improve urban freight transport.
- The time factor management has emerged as a key factor to deal with COVID-19 (for instance, fixing time slots to exit home during the lockdown) and point to the interest of time regulations to share some public spaces between different uses.
- Neighbourhood life under restrictions, with fewer cars on the streets, may raise the social awareness of the quality of life associated with clean and calm environments with proximity services.
- The intense use of digital technologies to track the pandemic can foster the use of mobility data and applications of Mobility as a Service.
- The acceleration of technologies such as autonomous driving, multifunctionality increase and air cleaning solutions research and development have been continued by industrial players.
“In city administrations there has been a redeployment of strategic personnel into other urgent tasks to tackle the pandemic, as well as challenges with home-working and increased sick leave. There is a lot of willingness to do more; however, it is challenging for cities to allocate resources, especially for strategic issues.”
– Dr. Anna Clark, Innovation Lifecycle Manager, EIT Urban Mobility Innovation Hub North
Working with innovation across boundaries and silos internally in a city administration is a challenge. Even more of a challenge is working both across silos and with diverse groups of external stakeholders. Understanding each other and creating trust and a common vision is key to find the best solutions and innovative measures. Thus, multi-stakeholder involvement (external and internal) is key for the success of innovation in the urban context.
Also, resources are found as another very important point when improving urban mobility, or any other type of urban innovation. On the one hand, staff or general capacity of the city administration level and an innovation team/officer are found to be crucial for driving the innovation strategy within a city, acting as a cross-silo integration. On the other hand, finance is also a pressing issue. In times of crisis, both of these resources tend to be scarce and affect how the city will manage its future work. Above, you can find the needs of the surveyed cities to address these concerns. One of the best ways understood from the study to tackle financing challenges is to use public-private partnerships as a development mechanism.
Urban systems, and particularly, urban mobility systems are in constant adaptation. In fact, the pandemic and social distancing measures have fundamentally affected the forces shaping our cities. They have affected the housing market, the layout of economic activity, and mobility flows.
The window of opportunity is still open for cities to leverage on the behavioural changes that the pandemic created, and fast forward with a sustainable transformation of their urban mobility. However, it will not be easy since there has been an increase of behavioural patterns, i.e. the increased use of cars, that will play against that transformation. Furthermore, sustainability and climate goals still require an urgent need to act, so relevant actions should take place to achieve them on time. In this context, local governments and transport authorities will need to pay close attention to the economic effects of the pandemic in the transport sector and the role of key enablers (innovation) to tackle existing and current challenges. Lastly, the pandemic is producing shifts in the interplay between transportation, housing and job markets, which have to be carefully calculated in future strategic decisions.
This blogpost features content from the study: Urban mobility strategies during COVID-19.
Content and report authors: Albert Gragera (University of Barcelona & Danish Technical University), Daniel Albalate (University of Barcelona), Germá Bel (University of Barcelona), Gretel Schaj (BABLE GmbH), Hector Cañas (BABLE GmbH), Inés Aquilué (CARNET — Centro de Innovación y Tecnología de la UPC), Jana Helder (BABLE GmbH), Lara Espindola (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya), Miguel Mósca (BABLE GmbH), Mikael Edelstam (Miljöstrategi AB), Miquel Marti (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya), Nikita Shetty (BABLE GmbH), Paul Barton (BABLE GmbH), Dr. Philipp Riegebauer (BABLE GmbH), Pierre Filohn (BABLE GmbH) Raúl Urbano (Centro Tecnológico de Automoción de Galicia), Yoann Le Petit (EIT Urban Mobility).