Is the «smart city» really a thing of the future? This is something we must ask ourselves, as connected towns are now seemingly part of our reality. Experimentation in transport in terms of mobile services, digital tickets, and inter-connected transport, are popping up more and more, setting the trend for the coming years. But these initiatives might be drawn to a halt due to local government budget cuts in urban transport. What are the big issues of today and the future in urban mobility? How will we travel around the cities of the future?
What is a smart city?
Today, there is no standard definition of what a “smart city” is, and so it’s slightly difficult to say that such a town exists. Nevertheless, Wikipedia has given the following definition: “a smart city is a town using information technology and digital communication tools to “improve” the quality of services within the city and helps to reduce costs”. In other words, smart cities use technology to help the people who live there.
There are prototypes that demonstrate technology use, such as Songdo and Masdar. Likewise, there are many smart city experiments underway but that have only implemented one aspect of a smart city. The smart city will have to be restricted to a sort of gadget, a digital application that’s more fun than useful. Transport and mobility must be a priority (with smart car parking facilities, more traffic sensors and car-pooling apps (just like clean energy schemes and online access to municipal services, to name just a few).
The definition of a smart city has recently been widened to include environmental sustainability, access to education and the local economy. In a nutshell, a smart city is a space that combines avant-gardist urban design and new technology. A real open-sky laboratory to show the world how to make city living more practical and ecological.
Mobility, a major issue in the development of the smart city.
City dwellers are constantly on the move. Whether it’s going to work or going to pick up the kids from school, moving around the city is essential. In a town, how much time on average do drivers spend in their cars? An in-depth study has been carried out by the GIPA, an inter-professional Automobile group and the answer is: 49 minutes. This is how much time drivers spend in their car, per day, during the week. For Parisian commuters this time is even longer. They spend 22 more minutes on top of this average compared to drivers who live in towns with fewer than 100 000 inhabitants and all this for just an extra few miles…
In Europe, the occupational rate is particularly low for daily commutes: 1.06 people per car. In other words, for commutes, most drivers are alone in their car.
Another way of looking at things, is the time taken to go from home to school by car every day, which averages out at 42 minutes. This is the time that Europeans take to drive their kids to school, which is quite surprising as, on average, the journey between home and school is less than a mile. What’s more surprising is that the school run is the journey that pollutes the most, as we know that cars record an overconsumption of fuel for the 1st mile travelled! Towns today are saturated with traffic that is constantly increasing, bringing its fair share of problems (traffic jams, pollution…) Even if we are finding solutions, traffic management is a big issue right now. In fact, 48% of drivers use their car during the week as they don’t have other alternatives.
“Transport is undergoing big changes. We need to build a new policy for the mobility of the future” Elisabeth Borne, French transport minister.
With this in mind, a National Assembly was held, last September, led by Elisabeth Borne, the French Transport minister. Workshops took place over 3 months, from September – December 2017, to identify needs and top priorities of citizens concerning mobility.
Leading solutions in the smart city
Towns are on the lookout for systems that can reduce traffic jams and generally get traffic off their roads. Several possibilities have been looked into:
- In Lyon, pollution peaks forced the local government to put into place alternated number plate traffic systems. Consequently, private vehicles were authorized on the road according to their number plate (one day for even-numbered plates and the next, odd numbers)
- Public transport development as a solution to limit the number of vehicles in cities.
- In Stockholm, a toll system recording cars coming in and out of the city, has led to a 20% reduction of vehicles in the town centre and has lowered pollution by 12%.
- General use of an adaptive digital speed regulator to avoid traffic build-ups
- The introduction of smart vehicles that can share information with other vehicles. This means, as long as there are more than 10% smart-cars on the road, that you can avoid traffic jams known as “shockwave tailbacks” caused by no apparent reason other than drivers constantly braking and accelerating.
- A self-driving car will permanently survey traffic at 360° as well as detecting possible incidents and obstacles.
- Using waterways is also an attractive solution to get traffic off our roads. Paris is getting ready to test little four-seater electric shuttles, known as SeaBubbles on the river Seine.
- Encouraging home-office work and putting into place different start times, traffic will be smoother and distributed more easily.
Some of these solutions will be developed even more in 2018.
Toronto, the “Google town”
This announcement didn’t go unnoticed. It has to be said that the idea of the first area built by Google is fascinating. And it’s in Toronto that the project took shape.
Also, in the city of Ontario, where people are looking to breathe new life into an under-exploited area, they have partnered with Sidewalk labs, the sister Company of Google owned by Alphabet and specialized in urbanism, to imagine the city of the future. On 17th October 2017, the web giant and the Canadian government revealed, in presence of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau – their goal to create a new space which will combine “urban design and new technology”.
The area named “Quayside” is over 4.8 hectares and will serve as a test area. At Quayside, inhabitants will benefit from an ultra-fast WIFI. They will be able to travel around the area in self-driving cars and they will be able to heat their homes through clean energy systems.
But above all, the American company will install a whole series of sensors informing inhabitants about the air quality, waste, water management, etc. These sensors will collect a multitude of data and will help improve the quality of life in the township. In this technological eldorado, the traffic lights will adapt to the traffic. In the 20th century, innovation linked the regions via the highways. In the 21st century, innovation will be through smart digital systems!