Unpacking a Sustainable Mobility System 🚆🚃🚘
Exploring Accessibility, Affordability, Reliability, Efficiency, and Comfortability in our Mobility Systems.
Welcome to Fostering Our Earth, a space for untangling the complex systems needed for a sustainable future, from infrastructure and policies to lifestyles and cultures.
This week, we are diving into Sustainable Mobility Systems! Mobility is how we move through the world around us. Despite its apparent simplicity, it can become complex quite quickly. As we transition to a cleaner future, a sustainable mobility system is transit-oriented, shared, active, and electrified. Consider this week a broad introduction to all things sustainable mobility.
The Gist 🎯
Mobility is essential for everyday activities, whether commuting to work, traveling for leisure, or getting groceries. However, we live in a world that makes exploring it inefficient and harmful to ourselves and the environment. Here's how:
Inefficiency — American commuters waste 54 extra hours a year in traffic delays.
Harmful to humans — According to the CDC, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for young people (5-29).
Harmful to the environment — transportation is currently responsible for 27% of emissions, actively driving climate change (pun intended).
And to hammer home how much cars dominate our lives — here is a map of the most common commute mode in each state and the percentage of people using that mode:
I’m not blaming you specifically for driving or saying we should ban driving — we’re merely victims of our poor mobility system. Mobility should mean freedom and choice. Instead, it is dangerous and often stressful for people. For us to truly combat climate change and build a sustainable future, we need to rethink mobility, starting with values. Regardless of existing infrastructure and means, a sustainable mobility system must be accessible, affordable, reliable, efficient, and comfortable. None of these mean banning cars, but they mean rethinking freedom and connectivity.
Accessibility means that our mobility system is designed to provide equitable access for all people regardless of their physical ability, socioeconomic status, or location. So whether you’re in a wheelchair or living in a low-income or rural area, everyone deserves access to move around. One way to think about this is the following design pyramid:
Mobility Pyramid showing an equitable hierarchy of infrastructure design
If we design our world for the least able, everyone will benefit.
Affordability means that our mobility systems should not be financially burdensome for individuals, and from a system perspective, they should provide good value for the money. For individuals, the total costs of mobility should be minimized, which could include the costs of vehicle ownership (including purchase, operations, and maintenance) or equitable fare structures for public transportation (including making transit free!). For governments, it means reevaluating transportation infrastructure investments to ensure that they truly improve our mobility systems and provide value for the money. This may require shifting resources away from expensive highway expansions and towards more sustainable alternatives.
Reliability means that our mobility system should be available whenever or wherever we need it. Although we often think that our cars are reliable, what is the cost of that reliability when our safety or patience is on the line? For public transit, this means it runs on time and frequently. But, more importantly, it’s connected— you can rely on it to get you where you need to go.
Efficiency means that our mobility systems not only get you where you need to go in the most efficient way possible, but it does so while minimizing environmental impacts. While this can mean developing a connected public transit network, it can also mean promoting other forms of transportation, such as cycling and walking. Our mobility system is also tied to our destinations — development needs to be in easy-to-reach locations.
Comfortability means that all users are physically and psychologically safe. Physically, our mobility system should minimize the risk of accidents to the individual and infrastructure. Psychologically, modes should be clean and safe. This could mean public transit options are cleaned frequently, bike lanes are protected, and driving speed limits are lowered.
It's also important to acknowledge that the development of our mobility systems has been influenced by systemic injustices, such as racism, classism, and ableism, and through practices like redlining. As a result, people in low-income and minority communities often face transportation inequities, such as limited access to public transit or safe bike lanes, making it difficult to get to work, school, or other essential activities. Furthermore, communities lacking adequate infrastructure that matches our values are often less healthy, less wealthy, and less resilient to climate impacts. In fact, pedestrian death rates are more than 2x higher in historically redlined neighborhoods!
Therefore, as we work towards building a more sustainable mobility system, it's essential to address these injustices intentionally and ensure that everyone has equal access to safe, reliable, and sustainable modes of transportation. For more on how inequities manifest in public transit, check out this research from Rice University on Racism and Public Transit.
By adopting these values, we’ll benefit from a better system by improving public health, reducing emissions, and creating more connected and vibrant communities. A sustainable transportation system has several attributes, but we’ll focus on the following four: A sustainable mobility system needs to be transit-oriented, shared, active, and electrified.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore what these attributes mean and the stumbling blocks we must overcome to implement them.
Questions You Should Be Asking💭
Take some time to reflect on how you move around in the world. Consider the following questions:
What is my activity space and how do I move within it?
Is my current mode of transportation the most efficient for me? For efficiency, consider both convenience and reliability (i.e., how often are you stuck in traffic?).
Is my current mode of transportation safe for me and others?
What are the carbon emissions associated with my current modes of transportation? Can I reasonably reduce them? If there are no car-free or reliable public transit options in your area, that's okay, but it's worth exploring other options such as carpooling or telecommuting.
One tool you can use is your “Google Timeline”. Check out this Tiktok where I explain how to use its insights!
TL;DR + What’s Next 🗺️
In this edition of Fostering Our Earth, we've explored the importance of sustainable mobility systems and what it means to create a mobility system that is accessible, affordable, reliable, efficient, and comfortable. We've seen how our current mobility system is inefficient and harmful to people and the planet. We must rethink mobility, starting with these values to combat climate change and build a sustainable future.
In the coming weeks, we'll dive deeper into the four attributes of a sustainable mobility system: transit-oriented, shared, active, and electrified. We'll explore what these attributes mean and the challenges we must overcome to implement them. By fostering these values today, we can create a more connected, vibrant, and sustainable future for all tomorrow.
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