Transport planners often have to deal with the baggage of legacy infrastructure, which typically locks entire cities and metropolitan areas into dependency on personal cars. People’s travel habits and attitudes can be just as baked in as well. This makes it a constant uphill battle for those of us trying to get urban transport to be greener and smarter.
But what if you’re a city that has to build an entirely new neighbourhood from scratch? Well, both the Dutch city of Utrecht and the Norwegian city of Bodø have precisely this opportunity on their hands – and it’s spurring them to think a bit bolder.
In Utrecht, the proposal is to develop a 60-acre site next to an existing business park into a complete neighbourhood, with a mix of high and medium density residential buildings. The game-changing aspect of this development, titled Merwede, is that car sharing will be the only game in town. This will mean that apart from access to the shared vehicles – one shared car for every three households – no private parking spaces or parking garages for residents will be built into the neighbourhood. For a precinct that will be home to 12,000 residents, this could be one of the first such developments of this scale in the world.
By designing such a neighbourhood without the “straightjacket rules of the car”, the design firm behind the proposal in Utrecht argues “we can […] thus focus on essentials for a high-density area, which is the quality of public space, city on eye level, green, biodiversity, climate adaptation and meeting places for social interaction.”
Over in Norway , the city of Bodø is building a new airport. When that airport comes online in 2025-2026, about 3400 acres of land will be released for a new smart city. But before development can begin over there, Bodø plans to test out new and innovative solutions in the existing old city. In order to do this, they have launched a mobility project called Smart Transport Bodø. One of Bodø’s focus areas is on ensuring interoperability between IT systems in all areas of public transport by supporting and making use of the ITxPT open architecture standards. This essentially means “separating the hardware and software, allowing for bus operators to own their own hardware for ticketing and real-time information, while we control the back offices.”
While it will be interesting to see what concrete innovative solutions Bodø will come up with for its smart city, it is still early days in the Smart Transport Bodø project. The project’s strong focus on open data will, however, be important to attract the right innovative solutions that will be able to work in its specific context. After all, what may be innovative and smart for Oslo may be completely unsuitable for the city of currently 53,000 inhabitants.
The Merwede proposal for Utrecht will be very exciting if it becomes approved by the city. At 12,000 residents with only one shared car for every three households, this could be one of the most locally concentrated (and largest) car-sharing schemes in the world. Further, if it proves to be successful, this would really drive a large chink into the armour of the car ownership model being at the centre of urban planning. This could also embolden other cities and urban planners to think about designing for shared mobility to completely replace personal vehicle ownership outright in more developments.
Written by Bobby Chen, RISE.