Underground metro station, Stockholm - photo by Sheviakova © 2021 AdobeStock
Mobility, accessibility, intramodalityA discussion about present and future trends
The pandemic has forced us to think about how quickly entire communities can change their habits. Public mobility is certainly one of the urban factors that have been most affected by this process. Today, it no longer makes sense to talk about estimating travel demand but simply to analyse it.
FLOWS started a discussion on these topics with Manoj BS, Research Scholar from the Indian Institute of Technology, Lluis Martinez, PhD researcher from Mobilise at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), and Margherita Villani, Engineer and transport and mobility planner.
REDAZIONE FLOWS – A transport hub is not only a place for modal exchange. Due to its location at crucial points in cities and the large number of people passing through it every day, it’s an urban object that can change the behaviours and habits of the community. Today, therefore, mobility engineers should design a place that not only facilitates modal exchange but also encourages the introduction of more sustainable behaviours. We mustn’t forget that, in this context, an intermodal hub is a place for everyone. That’s why we’ve been talking about ‘Accessibility for all’. But who are the weak users? How are their needs identified? And how are they taken into account in terms of design?
LLUIS MARTINEZ – The design of transport facilities has traditionally overlooked the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged users that face additional difficulties when using transport services. For instance, people with impairments, digitally excluded citizens or children tend to encounter barriers that prevent them from conveniently using necessary transport services. To overcome this issue, transport planners and designers must take into account the needs of disadvantaged users by learning from relevant case studies, good practices, and scientific research. However, for thorough understanding of such needs in a specific context, users should be included in the process by adopting a participatory approach. As we are studying the SmartHubs project at Mobilise (VUB), several methods can be applied depending on the objective and constraints of the project. For instance, interviews with representatives of disadvantaged groups and users will allow barriers to be identified. And other activities, such as focus groups, on-street discussions, co-design games or appraisal workshops will be useful to co-create effective solutions.
MANOJ BS – By focusing on the experiences and needs of week users, we should address a wide range of obstructions in current urban transport networks such as age, health, gender and language. While significant progress has been made, mostly in terms of improving physical transport accessibility, digital accessibility and inclusiveness must be included in design to address the concerns.
To meeting the problem of universal accessibility, transports hubs should benefit from emerging technologies that promote a barrier-free and inclusive society. Augmented reality, wearables, and artificial intelligence may be used as solutions to greatly improve people’s mobility and willingness to travel.
“facilitating modal exchange, also encouraging the introduction of more sustainable behaviours”
RF – The issue of cycling is at the heart of transport hub design. To give just one example, bicycle accessibility ranks high in the hierarchy of needs to be met in the design of Italian stations. But considering that what is being designed today will be completed in more than 10 years’ time, what are the challenges to face for a good design? What methodology can we put in place to reach ‘design for all’ standards? Do we have relevant examples?
MARGHERITA VILLANI – The planning and design process of bicycle mobility in Italy has been underway for several years. The main player in the management of the most important intermodal hubs is undoubtedly the Ferrovie dello Stato group, which has initiated a planning process to encourage and facilitate bicycle accessibility. Covid has accelerated the design and construction of new infrastructure and, as a result, cycling demand has undergone a tangible increase difficult to predict. This is symptomatic of the fact that demand is strongly correlated to the availability of infrastructure, and that there is probably a substantial share of unexpressed demand in Italy at this particular time. Therefore, it is complex to estimate and forecast demand in the near future and define a methodology for estimating it. What can be done, however, is careful observation of the phenomenon based, for example, on the main relations affecting cycling, the main points of interest, which certainly include the intermodal hubs. If we were to define a methodology, we could probably follow two important aspects – (i) analysing and observing the experience of countries where cycling is at a more advanced level (e.g. Northern European countries), which therefore have a more developed network and could work by similarities and/or benchmarks, and (ii) identifying flexible design solutions, capable of evolving and responding dynamically to the needs of society. Probably starting from here and studying current phenomena using data from telephone cells, monitoring apps or analysing data from bike sharing, while being aware of the fact that sharing mobility is likely to be different from systematic travel, a good starting point can be built. With the help of transport planning tools, first and foremost the SUMP, we can investigate which points of interest are reached primarily by public transport or car for short-distance trips (within 4 or 5 km), and carry out an analysis which exogenously attributes quotas of the modal share to cycling and indicates its needs. We gathered the observations suggested by the FS group and municipality of Rome PUMS guidelines for the design of the redevelopment of the interchange in Piazza dei Cinquecento (Rome), the most important intermodal hub in Italy and, from this, our project focused on the creation of a multi-modal hub, interested not only in the provision of sharing services oriented to slow mobility but also the presence of a bike hub able to be flexible in implementation and responding to and supporting future evolutions of mobility demand.
LZ – Cycling is becoming increasingly relevant in many countries, overcoming the former image envisioning cycling as a leisure activity. However, most urban residents in Europe don’t yet see the benefits of this healthy and sustainable mode of transport. This is because they experience barriers related to the availability and quality of cycling infrastructure, the perception of safety, and personal beliefs and cultural norms. This ‘unexpressed demand’, as referred to by Margherita, urgently needs reliable cycling infrastructure.
One of the main challenges for designers of transport facilities and cycling infrastructure is to see beyond the ‘standard’ user and conceive more inclusive solutions that encourage all citizens to jump on a bike, regardless of their age, capability and cycling skills. Thus, the needs of all current and potential cyclists must be understood and, for this, participatory methods, such as design thinking, are very useful. For instance, at Mobilise VUB we recently finished a study in which all children from a neighbourhood in Brussels participated in the co-creation of several urban design interventions to improve their feeling of safety on their trips to school.
RF – The pandemic has forced us to think about how quickly entire communities can change their habits. Today, it no longer makes sense to talk about estimating travel demand but simply to analyse it. How can mobility engineering respond to these stimuli? And what methods and tools are available to monitor changes and obtain increasingly rapid feedback which mobility design must be able to respond to?
MB – Despite traditional methods that focus on precise individual-level data such as travel diary surveys and population censuses, it’s critical to understand the mobility pattern at the aggregate level because the pandemic affects the transport sector on an enormous scale. Mobility engineers must collect aggregate level data such as Google community mobility data, Apple’s mobility trend data, public transport smart card data, telecommunication data, geo-coded social media records, and many more to analyse mobility trends. Such large amounts of data are analysed using cutting-edge techniques such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning. Recent advancements in the use of Big Data sources to better analyse travel behaviour and travel demand models enable transport planners to compute and provide timely feedback to such pandemic scenarios.
MV – The mobility sector is facing a radical change due to the various types and quantity of big data, and even more to the technologies analysing them that allow us to understand the changes in travel patterns very quickly. The mobility demand today changes without following forecast trends; it is almost no longer possible to make a probable, faithful prediction of a modal split for future scenarios by applying the classic Travel Demand Models. Today, due to big data, we can and have to take the opportunity to plan and design driving the demand towards the desired future balance, whose the evolution can be monitored almost in real time. As designers and transport planners, we have to drive the demand taking advantage of all the information that we now have ready to hand. It is essential that we collect the greatest amount of data and make an accurate analysis of it with the transport planners, administrations and main stakeholders so that the actual needs of users can be indicated and taken into account to offer not only new infrastructures but also, and especially, new opportunities.