Rather than being siloed as strictly transportation initiatives, urban mobility projects and policies are increasingly being viewed in part as economic investment. London is a prime example of this approach, said experts speaking at the ULI Netherlands Conference in May.
“More and more is expected from transport, making it more complex and interesting,” said Richard de Cani, Arup’s director of planning for the United Kingdom, Middle East, and Africa. Before he joined Arup, de Cani led planning and development at Transport for London (TfL) for many years. London’s public transportation system is one of the largest in the world, facilitating 31 million trips every day via its Underground, trains, trams, buses, bikes, and ferries. TfL also regulates taxi and carsharing services and administers congestion charges.
The Crossrail metro project, a high-frequency train set to open fully this December, was the first major rail scheme in London to be justified on economic grounds rather than for reasons of capacity or time saved. “Transport is the trigger to creating new parts of the city,” de Cani said.
As an example, he cited Granary Square, which was a cornerstone of King’s Cross Central, a public/private mixed-use development in north-central London that was spurred by the renovation of the St. Pancras and Kings Cross stations. Granary Square, the size of Trafalgar Square, is flanked by restaurants and pubs and still hearkens back to the neighborhood’s industrial railyard past. The highlight of the park is the 1,000 choreographed water fountains that can be controlled by visitors using an app.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson in 2014 called Nine Elms, a neighborhood on the South Bank in central London, “possibly the most important regeneration story in London and in the U.K. over the next 20 years.” Development there is surging in advance of the Northern Line Underground expansion set for 2020: 42 developments worth about £15 billion (US$19.7 billion) are in progress. TfL estimates 25,000 jobs and 20,000 new homes could be created in Nine Elms.
Transport accounts for 80 percent of urban public space in London, de Cani noted. “More people interact with transport annually than any other public service,” he said. Schools and waste collection are second and third. Because people have strong views on transportation, it is essential that changes are made collaboratively, with participatory decision making, he said.
As the number of trips per capita rise, de Cani believes the solutions for such problems as health and access to jobs lies with transit. In a way, transit is a sign of the health of a city, he said. “People have chosen to travel throughout all time, to connect with other people, jobs, and opportunities,” de Cani said. He believes that cities should make that movement as friction-free as possible.
In London, the ticketless payment system is bringing down barriers between modes of transportation, said de Cani. Contact-free cards can be used to board trains, buses, and the tube, with the total fee settled at the end of the day and capped at a daily maximum. The next challenge is to provide more services to people who live in less well-connected areas to discourage them from buying cars, with on-demand rides and car sharing expected to be important here. A new project called the Smart Mobility Living Lab is testing connected autonomous vehicles in two neighborhoods in London.
The 2018 Deloitte City Mobility Index named London a global leader in transit, praising the city’s work with the private sector to accelerate innovation. The London Assembly said in a recent report on future mobility that it hopes private industries will share data with the city just as openly as Transport for London has shared data with them. The Assembly also hopes the mayor and TfL can unify dockless bike sharing in London, which is currently operated by four separate companies.
Infrastructure is interdependent with transport: it is impossible for any element to exist independently, so cities must think of the elements as a single system. Cities around the world need to experiment with new ways of funding transport, de Cani said. Investment in transportation creates value in a different way, so cities need to measure success in a different way.