Globally more people now live in cities than in rural areas, and the number of city dwellers is climbing. According to the UN, by 2050 the urban population is expected to rise to 62% in Africa, 65% in Asia, and 90% in Latin America. Urban expansion creates challenges for policymakers in terms of managing air and noise pollution.
This is particularly the case in the transport sector which accounts for the greatest proportion of air and noise emissions in cities. As people and goods concentrate, intensification of commuting and logistics flows creates more opportunities for efficiency savings but also adverse impacts on people's health and wellbeing.
If the cities of tomorrow are to succeed, policymakers need to continue their efforts to design and implement better measures to mitigate noise and air pollution in more and more densely populated cities. This cannot be achieved without considering the impacts of transport on social inequality. It cannot only rely only on relatively expensive technologies like electric cars but needs to provide clean, safe, reliable and secure public transport and space for cycling. Getting commuters to change commuting habits is part of this. Policymakers should also ensure solutions are city-wide.
Panellists agreed that better air quality outcomes can only be achieved through a combination of policies that include encouraging a shift to less polluting transport modes, effective implementation of low-emission zones and, fundamentally, better integrated land use and transport policies. Dense mixed-use zoning and transit-oriented development remain key to making transport more sustainable.
There was nevertheless a consensus that technology has a very important role to play, particularly through the deployment of electric vehicles and offering shared mobility solutions to travelers. In order to reap the benefits of technological developments for their citizens, governments should not shy away from building effective partnerships with the private sector. One new opportunity toward making this a reality is for cities to embrace shared cars, shared rides, in addition to public and non-motorised transport, with the potential to vastly reduce off-street parking and convert on-street parking to other uses.
Reducing negative transport impacts in cities should not be constrained to passenger traffic but include policies to manage city logistics. Discouraging passengers from using their cars often leads to increased demand for already popular e-commerce and home delivery which in turn puts more vans and trucks on city roads. There still is a lot to be done to deploy more environmentally friendly vans and trucks on the streets. While the technology is available it still is expensive and investment is needed to improve the business case. Electric vans are perhaps more central to addressing urban air pollution than electric cars and there is great potential for electric trucks, including for example in waste removal.
Panellists discussed how access to real-time location applications can significantly reduce congestion and contribute to enhancing quality of life, but also increase the attractiveness of cars for consumers. As remarked in an earlier panel, a green traffic jam is still a traffic jam. This should be addressed through pricing car usage in congested areas and offering affordable public transport alternatives.
Finally, a culture of acceptance needs to be built around real-time data collection and usage in order to enable governments and other third parties to realise its potential to the full extent. With applications in demand management and traffic management through intelligent parking and congestion pricing, in systems that identify free parking spaces – based on mobile phone data or sensors on cars to identify free spaces, something BMW is already testing. The full exploitation of the potential offered by big data can only be realized with collaboration between government and industry, in particular in regard to protection of privacy.
Managing Director, HERE Berlin
Director General, UNIFE
Director of National Policy and Project Evaluation, Institute for Transportation Policy and Development
Vice mayor, Mobility, Sustainability and Culture, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Moderator, New Cities Foundation Senior Fellow