by Jônatas Augusto Manzolli*

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” – Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota and Currently president of Colombia.

We live in a car-centric world where vehicles often take precedence over people. However, the detrimental effects of this car-centric approach are becoming increasingly apparent. Inadequate bike lanes, pedestrian safety concerns, limited public transportation, and accessibility issues are some of the challenges that persist in many cities worldwide. This research note explores the need to rethink our commuting habits, redesign cities, and prioritize people over cars.

Shifting beyond electric cars

Electric cars are still cars. While transitioning to electric cars is crucial for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality, more is needed to achieve sustainable transportation. We must go beyond individual vehicle choices and focus on reimagining commuting habits and city design. One approach is to promote mixed land use, creating neighborhoods near residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. For instance, the 15-minute city concept advocates that most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure, should be easily reached by a 15-minute walk, bike ride, or public transit from any point in a city [1]. By reducing the need for long commutes, this approach minimizes dependence on private vehicles and encourages active mobility. City planners can prioritize the development of compact, walkable neighborhoods with access to public transportation, amenities, and green spaces. Additionally, integrating nature into urban environments by creating parks, green corridors, and gardens can enhance cities’ livability and sustainability.

Embracing an active lifestyle

As individuals, we can significantly impact sustainable transportation by embracing an active lifestyle and choosing to walk or bike whenever feasible. Walking and cycling are environmentally friendly and promote physical health and well-being [2]. By advocating for the creation of safe and convenient bike lanes, we can encourage more people to choose sustainable modes of transportation. Implementing dedicated bike lanes separated from vehicular traffic, installing bike-sharing stations, and establishing bike-friendly infrastructure can make walking and cycling more accessible and appealing for daily commuting and leisure activities.

Prioritizing public transportation and car-sharing services

It is crucial to prioritize public transportation and car-sharing services to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road and lower carbon footprints. Robust and efficient public transportation systems, including buses, trams, and trains, offer a sustainable alternative to individual car usage [3]. By choosing public transportation over private cars, we can alleviate traffic congestion, reduce emissions, and decrease the demand for parking spaces. Additionally, embracing car-sharing platforms encourages resource sharing, further reducing the environmental impact of transportation [4]. Governments and city planners should invest in accessible, efficient, affordable public transportation systems, ensuring adequate coverage and frequency to encourage widespread adoption.

The role of technology and innovation

Technology and innovation play a vital role in revolutionizing urban transportation. Autonomous or driverless buses and shuttles are emerging as promising solutions to enhance road safety and increase the efficiency of public transportation [5]. These vehicles can be programmed to follow optimal routes, maintain consistent speeds, and minimize traffic congestion. Furthermore, smart traffic management systems powered by artificial intelligence can optimize traffic flow, reduce bottlenecks, and improve the overall efficiency of transportation networks [6]. Efficient car-sharing platforms equipped with advanced booking systems and electric vehicle fleets offer convenient and sustainable mobility options for those who do not own cars. Additionally, digital platforms that provide real-time information on public transportation schedules, routes, and availability can empower commuters to make informed choices.

Creating pedestrianized areas

Can we make cities car-free? We are witnessing inspiring transformations in cities worldwide, as some have chosen to close their city centers to vehicles. By doing so, these cities prioritize pedestrians and create vibrant, people-friendly spaces. This approach not only enhances mobility but also revitalizes the urban landscape. With car-free zones, cities can provide ample space for pedestrians to walk, cycle, socialize, and enjoy their surroundings without the constant noise and pollution of cars. These pedestrian-friendly spaces improve the quality of life for residents and visitors and boost local economies by attracting more foot traffic to shops, cafes, and cultural venues [7].

A discussion about the Brazilian reality

All the points developed in this text are essential for achieving sustainable transportation in practice. However, every country faces different challenges, including cultural, policy, security, and developmental factors. In a country like the Netherlands, with its flat terrain and small cities, promoting the widespread use of bicycles appears to be the most straightforward option. In contrast, in many developing countries, the reality is quite different. In the specific case of Brazil, especially in large cities such as São Paulo (larger than Portugal, for instance), the challenges in achieving sustainable transportation go beyond urban planning, extending into public security constraints. In this scenario, the implementation of a comprehensive and robust public transportation system becomes crucial to improve the quality of life for citizens. A strategy that combines various modal systems, such as metro systems, light rail systems, and dedicated bus lanes (BRT), plays a pivotal role in city centers by alleviating congestion. Meanwhile, regions farther from the city centers can be served by smaller buses, active mobility options, and shared vehicles. One excellent example of larger city centers in Brazil is the BRT system implemented in the city of Bogotá, Colombia. Another noteworthy success story comes from the south of Brazil, in Curitiba, where the former mayor, Jaime Lerner, implemented the world’s first successful BRT system, serving as a case study for many cities worldwide [8]. Additionally, to reduce the number of personal vehicles in city centers, congestion taxes could be implemented in specific regions, a policy already in place in some European cities like London (UK) and Gothenburg (Sweden) [9]. Nonetheless, these policies must be supported by improvements in security to ensure that the population feels safe to travel whenever they want. The challenges are numerous, but only the pursuit of truly sustainable transportation may significantly enhance the overall quality of life for the population.

What is in for our future

Achieving sustainable transportation requires a holistic approach that addresses various aspects of urban living. By creating pedestrian-friendly spaces, embracing an active lifestyle, prioritizing public transportation and car-sharing services, and leveraging technology and innovation, we can pave the way for greener, healthier, and more livable cities for future generations. Through collective efforts and a shift in mindset, we can build a future where sustainable transportation is the norm, ensuring a better quality of life for both people and the planet. As individuals, we can make conscious choices to support sustainable transportation options. At the same time, governments and city planners must invest in infrastructure, policies, and initiatives that promote accessibility, efficiency, and environmental stewardship in urban transportation systems. Together, we can create a brighter, more sustainable future for our cities and their inhabitants.

References
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[2] N. Mueller et al., “Health impact assessment of active transportation: A systematic review,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 76, pp. 103–114, Jul. 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.04.010.
[3] M. Buchanan, “The benefits of public transport,” Nat. Phys., vol. 15, no. 9, Art. no. 9, Sep. 2019, doi 10.1038/s41567-019-0656-8.
[4] É. M. S. Ramos, C. J. Bergstad, A. Chicco, and M. Diana, “Mobility styles and car sharing use in Europe: attitudes, behaviors, motives and sustainability,” European Transport Research Review, vol. 12, no. 1, p. 13, Mar. 2020, doi: 10.1186/s12544-020-0402-4.
[5] R. Hall, “Self-driving buses to serve 14-mile Edinburgh route in UK first,” The Guardian, Apr. 04, 2023. Accessed: Oct. 24, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/apr/04/self-driving-buses-to-serve-route-in-scotland-in-world-first
[6] S. Javaid, A. Sufian, S. Pervaiz, and M. Tanveer, “Smart traffic management system using Internet of Things,” in 2018 20th International Conference on Advanced Communication Technology (ICACT), Feb. 2018, pp. 393–398. doi: 10.23919/ICACT.2018.8323770.
[7] K. Pérez, M. Olabarria, D. Rojas-Rueda, E. Santamariña-Rubio, C. Borrell, and M. Nieuwenhuijsen, “The health and economic benefits of active transport policies in Barcelona,” Journal of Transport & Health, vol. 4, pp. 316–324, Mar. 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.jth.2017.01.001.
[8] M. E. L. Lambas, N. Giuffrida, M. Ignaccolo, and G. Inturri, “Comparison between bus rapid transit and light-rail transit systems: A multi-criteria decision analysis approach,” presented at the WIT Transactions on the Built Environment, 2018, pp. 143–154. doi: 10.2495/UT170131.
[9] “Congestion tax in Gothenburg – Transportstyrelsen.” Accessed: Oct. 24, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.transportstyrelsen.se/en/road/road-tolls/congestion-taxes-in-stockholm-and-goteborg/congestion-tax-in-gothenburg/

Jônatas Augusto Manzolli is a PhD candidate and a Researcher at INESC/University of Coimbra, Portugal.

Jônatas Augusto Manzolli (2023) "Beyond a car-centric world". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. ISSN 2701-4924nameVol. 3 Num. 1. available at: https://bras-center.com/beyond-a-car-centric-world/, accessed on: July 16, 2024.