Mobility is a key dynamic of urbanization, and the associated infrastructure invariably shapes the urban form – the spatial imprint defined by roads, transport systems, spaces, and buildings – of cities. By 2005, approximately 7.5 billion trips were made in cities worldwide each day. In 2050, there may be three to four times as many passenger-kilometers travelled as in the year 2000 (infrastructure and energy prices permitting). Freight movement could also rise more than threefold during the same period.
Cities of today are traffic-choked, road crashes kill a total of 3,287 people a day, and transport-related emissions are on the rise. The world needs to move towards safe, affordable, accessible, integrated and sustainable transport systems while unleashing the potential of emerging technologies to bring down congestion, air pollution and the incidence of road traffic accidents.
So far, the standard response to addressing urban mobility issues typically has been to increase infrastructure, mostly for cars, such as building more roads, highways, flyovers, or tunnels. Unfortunately, these developments engender a vicious circle: more infrastructure stimulates urban sprawl because access to peripheral urban areas is eased, increasing the use of cars which, in turn, calls for further infrastructure development, and so on.
A paradigm shift in urban planning: towards sustainable mobility concepts
Addressing the mobility challenge calls for a paradigm shift in urban planning, encouraging compact cities and mixed-land use as a way to increase accessibility and to reduce the need for transportation altogether. Understanding that the purpose of mobility is to gain access to destinations, activities, services and goods, urban planning should therefore be resident-centered, so that functional endpoints – the reasons for travel – are as close as possible to each other, in effect reducing distances and transportation needs.
Thus, urban planning and design should focus on how to bring people and places together, by creating cities that value accessibility, rather than merely adding urban transport infrastructure to increase the movement of people or goods. Simply put, city residents should be able to address their needs using as little travel as possible.
Likewise, the current global bias towards private motor vehicles needs to change in favour of more sustainable mobility concepts, such as public transport systems that have high passenger capacity and area coverage and are low in energy use and carbon emissions. To cut reliance on private motorized transport, cities need to develop attractive, accessible, and affordable public transport systems that are within geographical and financial reach of all residents, especially the urban poor.
Because most trips involve a combination of several modes of transport, cities need to provide multi-modal transport systems and address modal integration as a major component of any urban mobility strategy. For example, high-capacity public transport systems – metro, light rail, or bus rapid transit (BRT) – need to be integrated with other forms of public transport that serve as feeder services to ensure full utilization of their conveyance capacity. Emphasis is therefore to be placed on “last mile access,” to allow residents easy access to the public transport system.
The urban space needs to be rethought in order to optimize flow of traffic, but also to increase and encourage the use of non-motorized transport, such as pedestrian movement or cycling. Streets need to be adapted, with walkways, crossings, and cycling lanes. Transport junctions need to be established to create connection points between different transport modes, thus facilitating access to and extending the range of a public transport system, on both the macro level – the city, the region and beyond – and micro level – the neighbourhood.
UN-Habitat’s projects and solutions
To help address the mobility challenge, UN-Habitat offers a comprehensive package of knowledge, advocacy, and technical assistance to support national governments and local authorities in the development and implementation of sustainable urban mobility plans and investment strategies. In consultation with partner governments, while building on previous engagements and partnerships, UN-Habitat will first initiate and support a broad consultation process of stakeholders to develop metropolitan mobility strategies that are adapted to local needs and particularities, and feasible in terms of initial financing, construction, maintenance, and operations.
In the context of assisting partners towards drafting strategy documents, UN-Habitat will avail international expertise and best practices. It will also strengthen the technical capacity of local and national governments through training on planning for compact development, institutions, and system arrangements for public transport systems, planning better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, and combining different modes of transport in a city. To ensure realistic implementation perspectives, potential financing partners at the domestic or international level will be closely incorporated into the process.
News and Stories
Related Sustainable Development Goals
Donors and partners
Addressing the mobility challenge requires strategic planning and coordination from national and local governments. Working towards accessibility, UN-Habitat offers a comprehensive package of knowledge, advocacy, and technical assistance based on international best practices to support governments in the development and implementation of sustainable urban mobility plans and investment strategies. UN-Habitat, in collaboration with partners, promotes broad consultation processes of stakeholders to develop mobility strategies that are adapted to local needs and particularities, with a focus on groups in vulnerable situations.