Shawn Stein
09-26-2021
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Sustainability
Mobility intelligence: Harnessing the power of behavioral data to fuel sustainable growth

“Are cities dead?” asks the headline of a 1962 article in The Atlantic by Robert Moses.1

Critics claimed that unchecked growth and increased traffic congestion had made the city of New York nearly uninhabitable.

The article countered that cities were not a lost cause, but “to create a better city, start by understanding what people think and want and take into consideration … residents’ preferences, concerns and troubles.”

In other words, city planning must be firmly rooted in real-life, real-time data. 

Cities didn’t die then and they aren’t dying now. In fact, they are home to more than half of the world’s population, and experts predict that 85% of people will live in an urban area by 2100.2,3

But are cities thriving?

The answer to that question is more complicated.

Cities provide individuals and businesses with a central hub to pursue innovation, social activities and career growth. They centralize and provide access to essential services and can optimize the use of resources. Cities continue to grow because they add value to the lives of those who live in them. 

However, urbanization also produces noise and air pollution and takes up green space. 

As cities expand, urban sprawl increases commuter traffic and cities’ environmental impact, moreover straining transportation infrastructures. Megacities, in particular, must move quickly to address looming transportation crises. 

Urban areas are also key battlegrounds in the fight against climate change. Cities account for 70% of global carbon emissions and consume two-thirds of the world’s energy.4 

“Cities are complex systems, and to address their challenges we need systemic and holistic approaches that take into account many different factors and feedback loops and simultaneously address sustainability (the climate crisis), liveability, health and equity.“5 ~Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen, Barcelona Institute for Global Health

Contending with growing population demands while addressing the call to transform public spaces to foster sustainability, while improving population health was a challenge before the arrival of the pandemic.6 Now, businesses, governments and NGOs must pursue these goals while adjusting to the new normal and rapid shifts in how we work, live, shop and play. 

Building thriving cities of tomorrow starts with developing sustainable solutions today. 

And now, as referenced in 1962, city planning begins with understanding the needs and behaviors of the people who call a city home. Then, providing those people with the services and infrastructure that guide them toward and support more sustainable mobility goals. 

Transitioning from surviving to thriving with mobility intelligence

The changes affecting modern cities are fast-paced and disruptive. In these circumstances, relying on past population surveys and traffic studies to select the location of a new transit line or station won’t work. Instead, today’s decision-makers need access to up-to-date, accurate information from multiple sources. They must break down the data silos that keep essential information sequestered and employ real-life data and predictive analytics to build a sustainable future for their cities. 

Today’s urban planners need mobility intelligence, based on human behavior, like the kind Neura’s insights provide. 

Behavior based mobility intelligence uncovers intent from multiple streams of anonymous, aggregated data to build a panoramic view of a city’s demands, needs and preferences. 

“Neura’s mobility intelligence is the link between people and services, influencing small behavioral changes in the present, that can have a huge impact on sustainability and livability of the future” ~Ori Shashua, Neura Co-founder

Using mobility intelligence, businesses, governments or NGOs can identify:

  • Origin & destination metrics  — Do visitors, travelers or workers commute from neighboring cities, the suburbs or inner city?
  • What mode of transportation is prominent — Demand on public transportation, private vehicle, or other options?
  • How far is traveled to destinations —  Travel demand within a 15-minute range, or modes needed for longer distances?
  • Duration of stay — Need for parking for a 8- to 10-hour workday or infrastructure requirements for a 15-minute errand? 
  • Brands favored and consumer trends  — Population segments that frequent multiple locations within the city or leave the city (and for what)? 
  • Multimodality use — Is the same mode of transportation used for entire journeys or are commuters switching to something cheaper, faster or more convenient? 

By combining detailed maps of a city’s points of interest, public and private mobility options, transfer points, public service sites and infrastructure coupled with location and behavior data, mobility planners can see and respond to the real, present needs of commuters, riders, residents, and visitors. Instead of relying on outdated, limited data, they can begin to build near real-time models of their city’s unique patterns and rhythms.

What does using mobility intelligence look like in practice? 

Let’s look at a city with a robust ecosystem of private and public mobility providers, including e-scooters, trains, buses, bicycles and ride-shares. With such a broad selection, individuals should be able to reduce their dependence on private vehicles, and above all, reduce traffic congestion and carbon footprint, right? 

Not so fast. 

What if all of those options are concentrated in a few small geographic areas? Are all of the e-scooter companies competing in the same high-traffic district? Are there alternative modes of transportation available to people who need to travel outside that area? 

Creating low-emission zones to improve environments isn’t possible without appropriate mobility alternatives. But, as more modes of transportation become available, it will be up to city planners, fleet operators and other public and private stakeholders to ensure that they are adequately distributed in support of a truly intermodal transit system. 

“Going beyond pure traffic management, cross-modal optimization balances demand and supply across all mobility assets…City officials should also invest in new areas. They will need data scientists to analyze the impact of changing transport requirements and understand the economics of new mobility ecosystems.” ~Nikolaus Lang, et. al., BCG7 

For example, if a major tech center is 1 km away from the nearest bus stop, adding e-scooters at that waypoint will give tech workers a fast and easy way to complete the last leg of their commute. Similarly, if a city’s data shows that tourist arrivals are clustered at a particular train station, this is where they should place bike-share services.

Harnessing the power of superior data to build a sustainable future for everyone

The need for sound, data-driven urban planning strategies takes on greater urgency with each passing year. Mobility intelligence, to sum up, consolidates critical information and provides stakeholders with the accurate, comprehensive, and timely information they need to keep pace. Better data helps cities build smarter, stronger, more efficiently and more sustainably. It’s the data we need to make the changes our future depends on. 

Are you ready to begin building a climate-neutral future of mobility for your city? Email me at shawn@theneura.com to explore how Neura uses today’s data to make that happen. 

Sources:

1  “Are Cities Dead?” The Atlantic, January 1962, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1962/01/are-cities-dead/306546/

2,4  World Cities Report 2020: The Value of Sustainable Urbanization, UN Habitat, 2020, https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2020/10/wcr_2020_report.pdf

3  The Metropolitan Century: Understanding Urbanization and Its Consequences, OCED, 2015, https://www.oecd.org/regional/regional-policy/The-Metropolitan-Century-Policy-Highlights%20.pdf

5  Post-COVID-19 Cities: New Urban Models to Make Cities Healthier, IS Global: Barcelona Institute for Global Health, October 29, 2020, https://www.isglobal.org/en/healthisglobal/-/custom-blog-portlet/post-covid-19-cities-new-urban-models-to-make-cities-healthier/4735173/0#

6  2020 Global Cities Index: New priorities for a new world, Kearney, 2020, https://www.kearney.com/global-cities/2020

7  “Solving the Mobility Challenge in Megacities,” Nikolaus Lang, et al., BCG, October 26, 2020, https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/solving-mobility-challenges-in-megacities

 

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