The U.N. projects that the world population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. An estimated two thirds of that population, 6.46 billion people, will be living in cities. If cities expand traditionally, it’ll mean increases in road congestion, pollution, and strains on logistics. To respond, city infrastructures like those in London, New York, Amsterdam and Madrid will need to work smarter, not harder.
When city populations expand, transit needs expand alongside them. Residents need to commute to work. Supplies and deliveries for homes and businesses increase. Traditionally, these needs are met by building more roads, making wider lanes, adding to public transit, and creating more parking spaces. In fact, nearly 60% of public spaces and roadways are reserved for cars.
With this view, the formula for trouble is clear. More people means more vehicles. More vehicles mean more congestion. Growing congestion increases pollution, detracts from productivity, and takes its toll on the population.
The good news is that both city planners and city residents are already responding. Major metropolitan areas around the world are already committing to measures that will ease the stresses that traditional expansion would create. For instance, the U.K. and Paris have vowed to ban new gas vehicles by 2040. Madrid, Lisbon and Mexico City will ban the most polluting vehicles by 2025, just eight short years from now.
The reduction of combustion engines is only part of a smart solution. Residents themselves are demanding that their neighborhoods be smarter. Millennial spending trends demonstrate a preference of paying for access, rather than ownership. Thus, public transit, bike-sharing and car-on-demand services are thriving. The decrease of cars on the road opens the ability for cities to turn streets into bike lanes and create pedestrian greenways.
These demands are not going un-noticed, and cities are responding. Melbourne, for instance, offers free public transit in the heart of downtown. Barcelona has created “Super Blocks” where only local, private cars are allowed at significantly reduced speed-limits, allowing for more pedestrians and cyclists.
As city dwellers and planners work in conjunction to make everything work together, the need for data increases. Even with reduced combustion vehicles, roads will still be needed. So, planners will need to be armed with the best information on which roads are critical for infrastructure versus those that can be given back to communities.
Companies that already offer car-on-demand services will be the first to offer autonomous cab services. Those services will need to be intelligently driven, and the data they provide on traffic will continually influence how roads are used and optimized.
The other good news is that the data systems that provide a picture of how city roads are being used is already available. HERE is working with four European cities in trials right now, and will be publishing the results early next year.
What does the optimized city look like? Electric cars and more efficient transit will be a part of the landscape for certain. While that future is still on its way, however, thoughtful planners are already looking at how they can use data to create truly smart cities.