A new study released by BMW i and New York University (NYU) finds that, in the coming years and decades, fundamental changes in the demographic makeup of cities will profoundly alter the way people travel.
This report, prepared by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service with the assistance of Appleseed, a New York City-based consulting firm, examines several aspects of the challenge of urban mobility in the twenty-first century: the growth of the world’s urban population, and changes in the characteristics of that population; emerging patterns of urban mobility; and changes in technology design and connectivity.
The NYU-BMW i study—Urban Mobility in the 21st Century—predicts a future where growing cities will be inhabited by populations that, although less likely to own cars, will increasingly utilize a new generation of smaller, more efficient, sustainable and networked vehicles to get around.
Demographic factors such as an overall urban population boom, the increase in urban single-person households and rapidly aging urban populations—the population age 65 and older in New York City, for example, is expected to increase more than 36% by 2030—will lead to significant changes in urban mobility. These changes may include an increased emphasis on creating “walkable” city neighborhoods and an overall decrease in car ownership, though not necessarily car usage, as car sharing and other alternatives to ownership increase in popularity.
The next generation of smaller, sustainable cars—specifically designed to operate in densely populated cities—is poised to be a key part of the solution in conjunction with improved fixed rail systems, buses, ferries and other modes of transportation. Improvements in technology will transform these vehicles' role in urban mobility, with a trend toward creating highly connected, interdependent networks of vehicles, according to the report.
The NYU-BMW i study also reports that demand for parking is going to intensify in major cities. Increasingly, cities will need to invest in the “soft” infrastructure of information and communications systems, rather than improving streets and highways, as well as electric power generation, transmission and distribution systems, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Demographics. In 2010, demographers determined that for the first time, number of people living in cities exceeded the number living in rural areas. The US Population Division estimates that between 2010 and 2050 the world’s urban population will continue to grow by 80% to 6.3 billion people. During the same period, the population in rural areas is expected to decline by about 18% to 2.8 billion. Developing countries are expected to account for about 93% of all growth in urban populations worldwide.
Thirty urban areas with populations of at least 2 million that are projected to experience the fastest growth between 2006 and 2020 are heavily concentrated in South Asia and Africa, with some located in the Middle East and South America. No European or North American cities make that list.
Developing countries are also home to a majority of the world’s most densely populated cities. Fourteen of the fifty largest cities have densities of more than 10,000 residents per square kilometer, all but two of which (Tokyo and New York) are located in developing countries.
Further, the world is seeing rising trend in the number of people living alone. In Western Europe, single-person households are a larger percentage of total households (31%) than they are in North America. In Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, single-person households represent a smaller share of all households than they do in Europe or North America—but in all three regions, singles’ share of all households is growing more rapidly.
The report cites several factors contributing to this trend: In developed and developing countries alike, a growing number of young adults are marrying later, or not at all.
Like growth in the number of single-person households, the growth of the over-65 population is also a worldwide phenomenon. The UN Population Division estimates that China’s 65-and-older population will grow by 109% between 2010 and 2030 from 109.8 million to 229 million.
Growth in the number of city residents age 65 and older—both in absolute terms and as a share of total population—also has implications for urban mobility that go beyond those associated with growth in the number of single-person households. Older city residents have transportation needs and preferences and patterns of mobility that differ significantly from those of the younger population.
Emerging patterns of urban mobility. Since urban growth will be concentrated in developing countries, the report reasons, future approaches to improving urban mobility must consider the conditions of the cities in the developing world. This in turn will require developments in mobility that are within reach of people at various income levels in these countries and that are adapted to the extraordinary density of those cities.
Urban planners have long criticized the automobile as a source of urban problems, yet a new generation of cars—specifically designed for use in densely developed and populated cities—could become a major contributor to the improved quality of life in cities around the world.
The advent of a new generation of automobiles—cars that do not harm the physical environment—represents a major turning point in urban mobility. Clearly, cities will continue to depend on a multiplicity of modes in the twenty-first century. Fixed rail systems, buses, ferries, bicycling and walking can all contribute to improvements in urban mobility. For many cities and urban regions, the best strategy is likely to be “all of the above,” in whatever combination best fits local conditions.—Urban Mobility in the 21st Century
Changes in cars and the increase in use of car-sharing will in turn reduce the amount of land and building space devoted to parking—space which could then be freed up for other uses.
Technology, design and connectivity. The report highlights two major threads in the transformation of the automobile and its role in urban mobility over the next 30 years:
Changes in propulsion and control systems, and the impact of these changes on the design of automobiles; and
The automobile’s evolution from a stand-alone, independently operated vehicle to one that operates as part of a network.
A number of concepts have been developed to take advantage of the opportunities that new propulsion and control systems provide, many with significant differences. However, these cars have several features in common, the reports notes:
A smaller footprint than conventional cars.
The combination of electric propulsion and much lower weight makes these vehicles especially efficient.
The combination of small size and drive-by-wire technology can make these vehicles easier to maneuver.
Conventional cars are bigger, more powerful and faster, and have greater range, than is required for the great majority of trip—an excess of capability that is exacerbated by the fact that in the U.S. private autos are only driven about two hours per day. The new generation of automobiles will be much better suited to the needs of urban drivers—and to the needs of the cities where they live.—Urban Mobility in the 21st Century
The automotive ecosystem is shifting from one made up of individual units operating independently to one in which automobiles operate as part of a highly connected, interdependent network, the report notes. While some early pieces are in place (GPS, sensor-based driver assistance, on-board communication systems), elements of a more comprehensive network could include:
Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems, which allow a vehicle to transmit operating data in real time to other vehicles in the surrounding area, while simultaneously receiving data from those vehicles;
Other sources that feed information—about weather and road conditions, the availability of parking in downtown areas, etc.—into central data processing facilities;
Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems, which transmit data in real time from individual vehicles to roadside infrastructure and to and a central data processing unit, and send data back;
Supercomputer facilities that have the capacity to analyze rapidly massive amounts of data and transmit the results of its analysis back to individual users; and
Software that can make the system work.
Resilience. The study’s authors write that cities which have developed a mix of transportation systems, not solely dependent on one predominant mode of travel, are best able to adapt and recover in times of disaster. The fact that New Yorkers had the ability to access multiple modes of transportation was critical to helping the city and its people get up and running within days of superstorm Sandy.
As Hurricane Sandy, which struck the northeastern United States in October 2012 demonstrated, transportation is vital to the economic and social well-being of large urban centers. The ability to be mobile—to travel to and from work, home and other essential services—is essential for cities to survive and prosper. We can learn much from the way humans behave and adapt when their transportation choices are curtailed by a natural disaster—the closure of mass transit and commuter rail systems, limited access to bridges and tunnels, and serious shortages of gasoline to fuel vehicles.
The more pervasive the destruction from a disaster, the more we depend on transportation to evacuate people, rescue those in danger, provide emergency relief supplies, and mobilize for economic and physical recovery. In addition, cities that have a mix of transportation systems, that are not dependent on just one mode, offer more resilience and capacity for adaptation during and after a disaster.
...An urban center’s capacity to have multiple, varied modes of transportation is vital to that city’s ability to prosper and to withstand adversity.—Urban Mobility in the 21st Century