Who Are City Streets Serving?
Feb. 2, 2021—Methods of transportation are evolving from personal vehicles to autonomous fleets to micro-mobility, but the infrastructure remains unchanged.
During the Consumer Electronics Show, hosted by the Consumer Technology Association, professionals from across the industry gathered virtually to discuss what it would take to create a smart city, and why there has yet to be one.
Tara Pham, founder and CEO of Numina, a company that maps human movement, said her dream is to create cities that are truly flexible and responsive to the way people move. In order to do this, she said the public, lawmakers, city planners, and drivers alike will have to reimagine the way in which we allocate space, and, to whom we are allocating it.
“We have seen mobility patterns change a lot in the last few years, accelerated by people wanting to get out of their houses,” Pham said, noting the onset of the pandemic has further accelerated this trend.
Kunal Chandra, vice president of autonomous mobility at Siemens Mobility, believes that the future of mobility should be able to provide convenient and affordable transportation. The future of mobility is shared mobility, Chandra said, specifically autonomous shared mobility.
But in order to prepare for the future of mobility, the current infrastructure must support it. “The future of mobility has to account for resilience,” Pham said.
The ‘Incumbent User’
During the virtual event, Adam Kovacevich, the head of North American and Asia Pacific government relations at Lime, brought up the idea of an “incumbent user” when it comes to city space.
Kovacevich said city officials are reluctant to shift space away from cars to other mobilities, but the pandemic, he said, has given cities an opportunity to think outside the norm, even converting city streets.
Now, he said officials are rethinking, ‘What is the purpose of a city?’ because the usual draws such as downtown nightlife or an exclusive school district, are less pressing due to the effects of COVID-19.
“Maybe it’s time to shake up that incumbent case,” he said.
Pham said the onset of the pandemic has accelerated “street flexibility” across the country, with many cities allocating streets for outdoor activities such as dining.
Numina works with cities of all sizes and Pham said many were quick to adopt “slow streets” which prioritize travelers who are walking and biking.
In order to create infrastructure that is versatile, Pham said cities will have to stop planning around concrete, “which they expect to lay for 30 years,” and instead look at other infrastructure options that can serve a variety of purposes, like parklets.
Parklets are small parks, roughly the size of a parking space, and work to counteract harmful emissions, Pham said.
“We have a very long road to solving climate change...and movable infrastructure is part of a resilience plan,” she said.
Do Cities Need Micro-Mobility?
Kovacevich said his primary role is to work with cities, oftentimes persuading them to allow scooters in the first place.
He said Lime can help cities by improving the flow of traffic. For shorter trips, individuals can hop on a scooter and head down a bike lane, avoiding the headache that comes with finding a parking spot or waiting at an off-ramp for hours.
Kovacevich said micro-mobility was compelling to cities pre-COVID-19 and he expects it to continue, with an added interest in private partnerships as the popularity of mass transit systems declines.
Kovacevich said having Lime in a city could function as an incentive for travelers.
“Cities need to incentivize people to come,” he said, “Especially with the pandemic, there is no draw.”