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Vol. XXXI No. 10, September 1-15, 2021

Active Mobility – Walk, take a bicycle…

by Dr. V. Sumantran, Celeris Technologies

Chennai can create satellite cities to address the burden of infrastructure, mobility and manage densification

Over the last 150 years the world has significantly transformed into an urban society. While in 1900 one out of every six inhabitants of the world was urban, it grew to 4 out of every 6 during mid-century. This phenomenal growth persuaded people, irrespective of the continent, to agglomerate and therefore migrate to urban centres. India, which is still an agrarian economy, is increasingly becoming urbanised. So there is obviously a dramatic change in the socio-economic conditions of individuals migrating to cities in search of better job prospects and the city employers find a larger labour pool. Equally important is urban infrastructure. An airport or a metro rail should be near an urban dweller. Providing efficient fibre optic connections in densely populated areas is much easier in urban infrastructure. The kind of urbanisation we see post the Covid-19 pandemic, has implicitly meant that we have very high density of people. Our trains and buses are overcrowded and bursting at the seams. In Mumbai everyone is prone to catch the virus due to the density of population. Covid-19 is not going to be the last pandemic. We, as a society, are going to deal with this pandemic in more mutations.

Create Satellite cities…

Paris metro has started experimenting with a 15-minute city where they want to create more localised, self-contained clusters of urban population. That makes logical sense. Human traffic activity is restricted to contained areas and limited connections between clusters. Chennai must look for creating such satellite cities to address the burden of infrastructure, transportation and mobility and at the same time manage the duality of densification and efficiency. Unplanned urbanisation will lead to chaos. We have already lost two-thirds of the farm-land in Chennai over the last 25 years. The city is spreading out but not in a planned way leading to chaotic transport infrastructure.

Align urban living to mobility architecture

With the onset of the pandemic it’s high time to rethink on how we live. Cambridge Professor Frances Cairncross’s book The Death of Distance narrates that in the world of telecommunications, mobility demands would significantly increase and that there would be an opportunity to communicate, collaborate, interact and socialise from a distance. In her perspective we have not seen any meaningful development. All of a sudden, 20 years after the book was launched, we have found the meaning of death of distance. Today’s webinar is an example of this. Work from home, home entertainment, online shopping… all these have reduced the demand for mobility. This also means heavy dependance on digital infrastructure to substitute moving around very large sections of people.

Sharing Mobility…

This too has its own challenges. Cyber crime and cyber security are major issues. Just like we have to fix and maintain roadways, we must protect and secure digital communication channels. This new environment has made us rethink mass transit and public transportation. In every major city, whether it’s Singapore or London, it’s a 20-year exercise to get people out of cars into public transport. That is the right solution. We have to find better ways of sharing mobility and yet being safe.

Greater use of Micro Mobility

To shun the use of public transit and use our own cars or other private transportation, is not the right answer to tackling congestion and unhealthy air quality. So we’re going to find more efficient, more compact and more personalized mobility modes. Micro mobility, very often electrified, is becoming a hopeful choice in many cities. But a mobility architecture will demand a certain het-erogeneity of modes with a range of options, because, we have a variety of needs for people who want to move. Access-related consideration will see a safer public transit, very likely electrified. There are significant advantages with it – eg. more compact mobility. We’ve had effective homegrown solutions (eg. share autos). We have to transform the concepts to be relevant to a new world with a newer set of possibilities. Even a simple bicycle. London is now looking at active mobility, ie. walk wherever possible and if not, take a bicycle: Indian cities used to have a higher dependence on non-motorised modes. We’ve almost abandoned bicycles and have moved on to non-sustainable, personal mobility. The challenge we will face is again on recreating a new portfolio of heterogeneous solutions aligned to this new reality of sustainable and affordable mobility. Now we face the additional constraint: it has to be safe for people in close proximity! – (Courtesy: Industrial Economist.)

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