On the road again: the future of mobility
What do traffic flows look like post COVID-19 and how can a city respond?
By Joost de Ruiter, Managing Director Peek Traffic
The world is facing a serious pandemic. The impact and measures differ per country. Lockdowns and relaxations alternate. While one country is reopening society step by step, another is in the middle of a corona wave. And despite vaccinations, new measures are not to be ruled out.
The future of Mobility
The lockdowns and gradual relaxations have an impact on the pressure in cities and the associated traffic flows. How do traffic flows react to this? What will traffic flows look like after the pandemic and how should cities deal with this?
Over the past year, we have seen that it is difficult to predict what will happen. At the beginning of the pandemic, people thought the lockdown would last one year. Shortly thereafter, there was talk of multiple waves, lockdowns and restrictions. By now we do know what the impact of a (partial) lockdown is on how we move through the city.
We move through the city differently
The way we move through urban areas has changed abruptly. The intensity of traffic flows decreased, as did predictability. People slowly got used to working from home and the times of day we travel and our destinations changed. The classic rush hour moments largely disappeared. We used public transport less. Parking garages in city centers remained virtually empty and we opted for local activities, such as cycling and walking. Consumers massively started online shopping, which significantly increased the amount of last-mile movements.
What does this abrupt change mean for the post-pandemic situation?
I expect that crowds in cities will increase again, but COVID-19 will produce a lasting change. Before the pandemic, traffic flows followed clear patterns. For example, in European culture it was generally customary to work five days and have two days of weekends, with part-timers mostly off on Fridays or Wednesdays. This was reflected in the traffic intensity. Road authorities adapted their traffic regulations accordingly, for example with specific regulations for intersections during weekday peak hours.”
Because we were forced to adapt our behavior, we experienced the advantages and disadvantages of different transportation options and times. This provides opportunities to change modes of transportation more often. Road managers must respond to these shifts. After the pandemic, flexibility will become more important, making traffic flows more variable.
Traditional plan-driven and fixed-time traffic control systems no longer fit in with this new situation. These schemes are not able to continuously adapt to the changing, and less predictable, traffic flows. This results in sub-optimal traffic control. As a result, travel times become unnecessarily longer and there is a negative impact on the emission of harmful gases and the behavior of road users.
Adaptive traffic management at the network level offers a solution. Such systems continuously adapt to the traffic flows on the street and can therefore respond to the higher degree of dynamics and fluctuation over time.
How can cities deal with this?
In my view, cities can deal with the changing situation reactively and proactively. Looking at liveability and accessibility, a city obviously wants to remain attractive for residents, visitors and entrepreneurs. By measuring and analyzing new traffic flows, one gains insight into renewed needs and can make informed choices for new traffic regulations.
Also, a city now has the momentum to invest in, for example, a renewed bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian areas, optimizations to the public transport network and better last-mile access. During the lockdowns, residents have seen and experienced that mobility can also be organized differently. This is expected to result in a great deal of support from and acceptance by residents, businesses and visitors.
Traffic experts and dynamic technology
I also see a clear role for ourselves in – the road to – the new situation. We use our knowledge, experience and tools to help cities with their Smart Mobility strategy. With extensive data analyses we ensure that road authorities gain insight into the (new) traffic flows, the way in which the current traffic control applications have been set up and whether the controls are still (sufficiently) in tune with new traffic flows.
With a traffic simulation study, our traffic engineers map out the impact of a regulation or policy choice on traffic flow, traffic safety, accessibility and quality of life. We discuss the impact of the simulated scenarios on the traffic situation and policy objectives and advise on the most appropriate solution.
This way, we keep cities accessible, also in the new situation, and create a safe and efficient traffic flow.