Towards multimodal mobility networks

Ton Venhoeven | 2012


VenhoevenCS aims to improve the integration of infrastructure and urban development, an essential condition for the development of truly sustainable cities. Good junctions of all transportation methods (car, bicycle, railway, bus, and pedestrian, as well as high-speed rail, aeroplane, and boat) by means of hubs will create a single integrated and sustainable mobility network with a multitude of choices for all users at all times. If networks of non-motorised transport are non-existent, unsafe, or have too many missing links, this results in extra road traffic, with major consequences for the quality of life. Construction and expansion of large-scale infrastructure too often comes at the expense of the networks for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users. It is essential that a great deal more attention be given to the quality and transport potential of these fine-meshed networks when designing road and rail systems.

As chief government advisor for infrastructural policy (Rijksadviseur voor de Infrastructuur), Ton Venhoeven was a member of the think tank Duurzame Mobiliteit (“Sustainable Mobility”), and he was also responsible for the study and publication entitled Station Centraal (“Central Station”), about multimodal hubs. His book about multimodal mobility, written together with Tijs van den Boomen, was published in August 2012 by NAi Publishers.

Towards multimodal mobility networks

All modes of transport are projected to increase substantially in the coming decades at the worldwide level. Freight and air travel are expected to grow most substantially, with projected growth of 100% and 150% respectively (and that in Europe alone). But the expected growth in passenger travel is, at 66%, also enormous, especially in consideration of the current pressures on transportation in busy urban and metropolitan regions. While the rise of the internet has made working at home an option for many more people than ever before, that development is more than offset by the rising demand for travel resulting from the many new contacts that the internet has made possible. Paradoxically, this growth offers major opportunities for increasing the quality of life and health in cities and urban regions, while helping these areas function smarter and better in the process.

"a major challenge lies in distributing the enormous traffic flow among the different transportation options as efficiently as possible"

Causes of growth in transport
A number of different causes lie at the roots of this tumultuous growth in transport. More and more goods are being shipped all over the world, whether as raw materials or semi-manufactured products to factories or assembly sites, or as end products on their way to distribution centres, end users or rubbish tips. With the internet, anyone can individually order products and have them delivered right to their door. And thanks to cheaper and cheaper air travel, we are going away farther and more often to cheaper and cheaper holiday destinations. We are travelling more, because as welfare goes up, travelling gets easier. And so, too, do our ambitions increase; we look for better work farther away, or partner’s job and children’s school make moving closer to one’s own job less of a workable option. Because transportation is easily available to most people, more and more companies, schools, hospitals, shopping centres and sports clubs are gravitating towards cheaper construction locations at the periphery of cities, where economies of scale can make them more profitable or affordable. This also makes them, on the whole, better accessible to more people from different centres of the urban region. And this, in turn, generates extra infrastructure and traffic.

Choosing between different transportation options for each journey
A major challenge lies in distributing the enormous traffic flow among the different transportation options as efficiently as possible. This means, where feasible, using the options afforded by pedestrian and bicycle travel; and where this is not feasible, by using the form or forms of public transportation that best meet the need, and ideally those which are not overcrowded so those who need to can still squeeze in. And for the rest, by car or by aeroplane, but in the minimum possible flow.

Urbanisation happens around transit hubs
To allow people to choose per journey on a daily basis, the different mobility networks have to be optimally connected. These connections may be at transfer points, the hubs, or better still, at multimodal transit hubs where passengers can switch from car to railway, bicycle, boat or aircraft. Such transit hubs not only help to redistribute transportation flows, but also serve as an attractive draw and place of establishment for people and businesses, as a catalyst for urbanisation and transport.

"transit hubs not only help to redistribute transportation flows, but also serve as an attractive draw"

Multi-modal transit hubs can be found on a wide range of scales, each with its own spatial development opportunities – from international hubs like airports and seaports to urban and even smaller hubs, all of which present their own opportunities. Likewise, there are hubs for passenger transport and hubs for freight transport. Developing a smart combination of hubs and connections tailored to each individual urban region is the route to the development of sustainable, multipolar network cities with a hyperefficient transport structure and a high quality of life.

"developing a smart combination of hubs and connections [...] is the route to the development of sustainable, polycentric network cities"

Drawing people and businesses to places that are accessible
The pull to urban regions is increasing, because these are the places where the prosperity is, with many more jobs and facilities than in rural areas. Businesses and facilities are also drawn from the country to the city, where it is easier to find personnel and clients. The result: cities and suburbs bursting at the seams, and rampant, clumping urban clusters, networks of many centres and sub-centres, with often vague and undefined interconnecting areas, some of which may be less than savoury places to be. Coordinating the expected growth in transportation and the growth of these urban regions, and doing it in a smart way so they do not grow themselves out and lose their attractiveness, is a major challenge.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have more and larger areas where people are leaving, as the people who remain in them become more and more dependent on the distant urban regions for their work and facilities. Here, the challenges are very different: for example, the frequently observed need of the elderly for combining maintenance of basic facilities with accessibility by public transportation.

The major differences between the clumping urban regions, their peripheral interconnecting areas and the demographically shrinking regions call for a smart, differentiated traffic and transport strategy. The motorist, railway passenger, cyclist and walker all have their own advantages and limitations; what we need to develop is a hybrid traveller, one who opportunistically switches modes of transport with changing situations. Connecting different networks into a cohesive, multimodal mobility network presents this strategy, with refined transfer opportunities from which the traveller can choose from at any moment.

"what we need to develop is a hybrid traveller, one who opportunistically switches modes of transport with changing situations"

Linking of space and mobility through combined mobility networks
There are a number of opportunities for structuring cities and urban regions to create maximum efficiency in people’s use of mobility networks and space. One concept for doing so is Transit Oriented Development. This is a concept focused on optimising the use of public transportation by making hubs accessible by the maximum number of modes, and concentrating the maximum development, commercial space, apartments and facilities around them.

Secondly, making public space as attractive as possible to pedestrians and cyclists increases the advantages of railway connections for passengers within walking distance (approximately 1 km) and cyclists (2 km). Bus passengers and motorists can also use the facilities of the hub and benefit from the railway connection if they can park in the vicinity. Car and bus accessibility further expands the reach of the hub. The combination of car and train is becoming more and more prevalent. On certain routes, the train is more attractive than the car, because the transit time can be spent sleeping, working or meeting.

"The combination of car and train is becoming more and more prevalent"

Transit Oriented Development and the multipolar urban cluster
When connections are optimal and the space is optimally organised for slow traffic, this creates an attractive place for a wide range of stores, businesses, meeting centres, residential space and facilities, from which a new type of city-within-the-city arises. Combining Transit Oriented Development with the development of multipolar urban clusters can create a combination of refined multimodal transportation network with a collection of strongly individual urban and suburban centres from which all can benefit.

The combination of a multipolar structure with a spread of functions around hubs can be used to prevent trains and metros being packed in one direction and empty in the other around peak commute times. This way, multimodal hubs can also be attractive places for social amenities like schools, theatres, museums and hospitals. This, in turn, draws residents with a taste for urban life. Others may prefer to live on the fringes, with room for a garden but still close enough to the facilities, and so not too far from such a hub. The consequences will be significant: better accessibility, lower threshold, improved health from more attractive public space with more opportunities to walk and bike, shorter travel times, better utilisation of facilities and better occupancy of public transportation both day and night.

Ton Venhoeven, 2012

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