The question of mobility is an issue that has been a concern in most cities for some years. How are we moving around our cities? What challenges do we need to address immediately? In Latin America and the Caribbean, the transportation sector (private vehicles, commercial vehicles, and public transportation) is responsible for 32.4% of greenhouse gas emissions. This corresponds to 13% of the region’s total GHG emissions and constitutes the most important source of emissions compared to other sectors. Additionally, the high inequality that characterizes the distribution of income and wealth contributes to segregated cities that generate high disparities in both the quality of mobility and travel times. Quality problems in public transportation generate more travel time, raising operating costs. Poor urban mobility and traffic management systems have negative effects and impact on road safety, and on users in more vulnerable populations. Our region has a very high rate of road accidents and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
Many cities and experts have been developing strategies in what is called sustainable mobility. But in real terms, what does this mean? First of all, a mobility system that prioritizes four pillars: reduction of pollution, prevention of road accidents, more balanced distribution of traffic, and motivation for healthier uses and reduction of costs. Approaches have emerged (from city laboratories and urban research centers) and some initiatives (from municipalities and city governments) that should be translated into management and concrete action from local governments:
(1) Policies to strengthen public transportation, by promoting and encouraging the public sector to manage the municipalities themselves or by providing incentives to the private sector. And mainly, with point-to-point networks that interconnect different modes of public transportation (trains, metros/subways, buses, trams) reduce travel times for residents, and have low emission rates (electric vehicles).
(2) Pedestrian priority. In many cities, pedestrians should be given priority, especially in those where road accident rates have been very high over the last 10 years. For this reason, some actions are the development of programs for mobility on foot, and promoting walking as a healthy way to travel short distances. These strategies are complemented by improving pedestrian traffic spaces, safe roads (especially for children), and strict road safety policies.
(3) Use of alternative means of mobility. In most cities listed among those that have raised their sustainability standards in terms of mobility, they have introduced the use of bicycles and scooters (among others). These are more ecological means (from the urbanistic, environmental, and health point of view). But they require local governments to develop and prioritize exclusive and interconnected routes, complemented by free or rented services to increase accessibility.
(4) Urbam – Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Ambientales (Colombia) has introduced an 8:80 vision of the City, particularly applicable to sustainable mobility policies. A comprehensive transport system must consider all age groups and must include both means and spaces of mobility that are suitable and accessible for children from 8 years of age to adults over 80.
(5) In many megalopolises and cities with high density of daily traffic, areas of reduced mobility impact should be considered. There are three lines of action that can promote this objective: reducing traffic areas, reducing speed on more streets and arteries, and safe intersections.
(6) Many Latin American cities have significantly unequal geographical distributions of the population. In order to bridge these gaps and reduce asymmetries, a municipality or city government must design and develop new alternative means (aerial lifts, metrobuses) that connect the most vulnerable neighborhoods, with less access, higher costs, and more travel time from urban centers.
(7) Intelligent mobility. The issue of transportation and mobility is fundamental in the designs and objectives of intelligent cities. That is why it is essential to have an open and participative data system to assess, measure, and monitor people’s mobility flows, the density of that mobility, user satisfaction, the geolocation of non-integrated areas, and the efficiency of the integrated mobility system.
Rethinking sustainable mobility, from diverse realities, we must incorporate two complementary concepts: integrated mobility and accessible mobility. In short, we must manage city networks and cities focused on people when designing mobility policies. We must understand mobility as a human right in cities. We must always ask ourselves the following questions: Why do people move in a city? Where do people move in a city? Do we have a system that is suitable for our citizens? Are we facilitating mobility for our citizens in terms of time and cost? Can a citizen move without inconvenience or lack of means from one point of the city to another?