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A birds-eye view of a Toronto street with people, streetcars and cars below.

April 16, 2019

Future of Mobility: How will we navigate cities of the future?

Our cities are made up of a series of systems, all interwoven and working together. From the civic commons, the housing ecosystem and food distribution, these networks all have an impact not only on one another, but also on quality of life in our communities.

These networks are complex, and our urban mobility system is no different. Each facet of mobility in our cities connects. Each action, stress or change in one element of mobility affects another.

Take road infrastructure in our suburbs, for example. When streets are widened and sidewalks narrowed to improve travel times for drivers, safety is compromised for our most vulnerable road users including seniors, children, residents with disabilities, and all cyclists and pedestrians.

The tension between building cities for vehicles versus people has been present since the dawn of the automobile.

In the early 20th century, cars entered mass production and our cities radically began to change. Soon roads that were once full of pedestrians, streetcars and trolleys, began to transition to being primarily used by drivers. The original users of the street began to have their movements restricted and controlled in the name of perceived safety.  

It wasn’t just within the city that the landscape changed. With the age of suburban growth, super highways divided thriving neighbourhoods and reshaped entire cities, increasing sprawl and segregation.

Suburban street with houses

Cars continue to have a global influence on how our cities are built, From the influx of rideshare services, to the anticipation of driverless vehicles, our cities are shifting and transforming to the weight and influence of cars.

But it’s not all negative. We are on the cusp of an opportunity to use new and emerging technology that could help support a new ecosystem of mobility to offer cleaner, safer and more efficient travel for residents. It’s through the prioritization of residents’ needs that this change can take shape.

Cities built for people are ones that are vibrant, safe and easily navigated. What happens when our cities are built in response to the latest technology instead of for residents? This is the question many urban planners are tackling when it comes to advances in transportation technology, specifically driverless vehicles.

How will this new technology transform our freight industry when it comes to the vehicles created and the types of regulatory policies put in place? While some anticipate autonomous vehicles will bring forward benefits such as improved safety, reduced traffic, and increased mobility in our cities, it’s crucial to understand and manage the impacts these cars will have on communities – specifically on jobs, energy consumption and land use.

People walking Atlanta's Beltway pedestrian path.

At a time when more of our cities are becoming increasingly dangerous to walk or cycle around, driverless cars also raise questions around safety: How will this new and emerging reality interact with and influence Vision Zero policies and accessibility?

What it comes down to is this final question: How do we start thinking of mobility as a system that brings all elements in step with one another — from active transportation like walking and biking, to public transit and rideshare, and, yes, even driverless cars — to provide equitable access and movability to all residents.

If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, or are simply interested in how these new  technologies influence policies, action and city building, the TD Future Cities Speaker Series is an event you won’t want to miss!

Future of Mobility.

Anthony Townsend, author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, will break down the modern day myths of driverless vehicles. Join us for this free event, taking place in the TD Future Cities Centre at Evergreen Brick Works on Tuesday, May 21 at 6pm.


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