Frontier Group intern Dana Bradley contributed this blog post.
America is at a crossroads when it comes to transportation. Our transportation system is expensive, polluting and often congested. Yet, we remain stuck, largely, with the policies, funding sources and infrastructure of the past.
What if, instead of endlessly debating how to “patch holes” in transportation budgets or make minor tweaks to our infrastructure, we started the conversation in a different place: by envisioning a better future for transportation in our cities and working backwards from there?
The first step to thinking bigger is looking beyond our borders. Cities in Europe and Asia are coming up with bold, new visions for making their transportation systems more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and less costly. These aren’t universal solutions that can be applied to any U.S. city. But, they demonstrate a level of ambition and creativity that U.S. cities should aspire to when envisioning their transportation futures.
Helsinki, Finland, for example, hopes to eliminate the need for private car ownership by the year 2025. The plan includes the integration of the numerous forms of transportation in the city into a unified mobility service. Through this service, users will be able to plan their journey taking aspects like congestion and weather into account. The system will also feature a single payment service, allowing customers to pay for the metro, buses, and taxis through one means of payment.
The goals of Helsinki are mirrored in South Korea. The tagline of Seoul Traffic Visions 2030 is “Seoul, a city whose advanced transportation network makes private car ownership unnecessary!” The plan outlines goals that focus on “people-oriented traffic” through the expansion of bike paths and sidewalks, as well as the provision of a free public bike sharing system.
While other cities around the world may lack similar comprehensive plans, other smaller-scale changes show a new way of thinking about transportation and mobility. In Ireland, Dublin City Council has proposed banning cars from certain sections of the city center in an effort to relieve congestion and make the space more pedestrian friendly. Copenhagen, Denmark, is undertaking a project involving the creation of a “cycling superhighway” which will contain 26 new bike-only routes for commuters. Not only does this plan create an environmentally friendly, convenient, and low-cost mode of travel for commuters, but it also greatly improves safety for those who use cycling as their main form of getting around.
Cities such as Helsinki, Seoul, Dublin and Copenhagen are showing how bold visions for a new transportation future can motivate changes to expand the availability of sustainable transportation options. There is no “one size fits all” solution to the problems of urban transportation, and conditions in U.S. cities will likely differ. But we can hope that, as more cities around the world begin to “think big,” American cities will develop their own bold ideas and visions for a new transportation future.