Cities Recovery Strategy: Our Approach to Mobility

Our Cities team, which focuses on strategic consulting and infrastructure engineering, has spent decades working with public and private clients and partners to develop sustainable solutions for the movement of people and goods. Our goal has always been to increase the accessibility and improve equity and quality of life for communities around the world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted nearly all aspects of people’s daily lives, especially mobility, where many societies have had to impede the movement of people and goods across borders suddenly. This abrupt and rapid change is testing the resiliency of societies at all levels, from the responsiveness of national and regional authorities to the behavior of every single citizen.

The economic impact of travel limitations on the transportation industries (aviation, tourism, car manufactures, public transit) is still being evaluated. However, we can already see the unprecedented effect on the environment. Before the pandemic, 30% of GHG emissions in the United States and the European Union were from the transportation industry1,2. After only a few weeks of lockdown, satellite images started showing how pollution levels fell in China and in the industrial regions of Europe, such as Lombardy in Northern Italy and throughout England.

Social-distancing measures have also reduced local travel exponentially. Anonymous data from smart devices show a 90% drop in local travel demand for all modes of transportation in cities like Milan and Madrid3. In this scenario, walking and cycling have become more appealing options for many citizens, and bike-sharing services, for instance, have increased up to 150% in megalopolises like Beijing4.

Active modes are not only a safer way of moving around cities during the pandemic, but they are also carbon neutral and support healthier communities by improving people’s immune systems5. Public transit agencies are recording a 70% reduction in ridership as most of their revenue comes from fares, payroll and sales taxes, all of which have now collapsed.

With the surge of telecommuting and fear of proximity, transit ridership might stay at lower levels for a while. As a consequence, when the lockdown measures are lifted, vehicle traffic will likely increase dramatically, once again congesting the road network and affecting the comfort and safety for other users such as pedestrians and cyclists. This move will jeopardize the liveability of the urban environment.

These major demand shifts are requiring a quick redistribution of the space to favor these virtuous modes and, once restrictions are lifted, to avoid a massive return to the use of private cars. For example, in Europe, Milan is building 22 miles of new pedestrian and bike paths along the major transit corridors, while Paris has allocated €300 million for a network of new cycle lanes. Some of these phenomena were already happening at local levels for different reasons – including new trends in commuting patterns and other behavioral changes that have been developing amongst younger generations. The Covid-19 pandemic is both exacerbating and accelerating these processes.

At Buro Happold, we have spent years studying how to make transportation infrastructure responsive to continuously changing demand scenarios. We have worked with many partners around the world to make the best use of new technologies and provide flexible and resilient mobility solutions. We believe that a demand-responsive approach to transportation issues is always the best way to reduce stress on the systems, mitigate the impact of the movement of people and goods on the environment and provide equitable solutions that help to increase our quality of life.

We can support our clients in retrofitting their transportation assets to accommodate a changing demand, and we can help them in managing the order with the following services:

  • Resilient transportation planning: Create mobility solutions that are responsive to changing demand;
  • Transportation demand management: Flatten the demand curve to reduce the impact of transportation;
  • Tactical urbanism: Develop a pop-up infrastructure to support sustainable modes;
  • A new supply chain: Optimize the logistics and distribution in the urban environment; and
  • Crowd modeling: Assess the impact of social distancing on different work environments.


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