Mobility 2050/Learning from Success Stories

Introduction edit

When examining the current state of mobility in the United States, it is clear there is an overwhelming dependence on personal vehicles. The convenience and independence that comes with personal vehicles have become ingrained in American culture. A commuter survey found that 73% of Americans drive alone[1]. While public transportation is an option, most U.S. cities have inefficient and unreliable systems that inhibit people from using them as their primary means of transportation. In 2019, the U.S. ranked No. 48 in railroads and No. 36 in infrastructure[2]. Micro-mobility options like biking and walking remain disfavored due to lack of infrastructure and longer commutes. The commuter study found that only 11% of Americans cycle to work, and walking was not even listed in the study[1]. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses in the U.S. contributing to 29% of total emissions[3]. Considering the current state of mobility in the U.S. it is clear there is some catching up to do, especially in comparison to other countries. There is an obvious need for change, but what will this change actually look like? When considering the future, it is important to look to the past for examples on how things have previously progressed. This can give insight to how communities react to change, how quickly they progress, and how they employ the change. Looking at success stories and projecting these on our current state is one way to consider the future.

An important distinction that needs to be made when projecting for the future is the difference between what the sustainable society we need and want looks like versus what our society will look like. One of the most crucial factors for the success of mobility in the future is for society to develop a preference for alternate mobility (i.e. beyond cars and planes). However, it doesn’t seem likely that the U.S. will be there in 2050. In the Netherlands, a place now known as the biking capital of the world, bikes took around 100 years to catch on. The bicycle was introduced in the 1820s, but it wasn’t until the 1930s when Dutch royals took engagement photos on bikes that their popularity surged[4]. As such, the U.S., a country which has been historically adverse to social change, will also be slow to change in the world of mobility. Given these visions are only 27 years ahead, feasibility and realism are underlying principles in all of the predictions for 2050.

Ridership From Apps and Influencers edit

The use of technology will be an important influence on user preference of mobility in 2050. In Berlin, a holistic transportation ticketing app system is used to better convenience and support mobility. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) app is the official ticket-purchasing app for public transport in Berlin and allows its users to buy tickets for multiple methods of transportation including train, subway, tram, bus, bicycling, and more[5]. One of the app's most appealing attributes is the option to pay a fixed low monthly fee of €49 to use all forms of transportation throughout Germany. Various other ticket purchase options are available, such as 24-hr, 7-day, large group, and family tickets to better encourage all travelers to invoke public transportation methods instead of personal automobiles. This app demonstrates a government’s commitment to a more efficient city mobility system by making public transport convenient, accessible, and easy to navigate. Citizens can avoid waiting for ticket machines while simultaneously being recommended the most efficient transportation options by the app. Not only do we predict biking, riding scooters, walking, ridesharing, and taking buses and trains to become easier and more popular through these apps, we also expect them to help close the gap between transit company differences across cities. As it stands in 2023, there are different companies in each city in charge of lightweight electric options like bikes and scooters. If you visit more than one city, the system is difficult to utilize as it requires learning and downloading more applications. The same goes for buses and trains, which are sometimes even limited to websites or ticket counters. Apps such as Berlin’s BVG deter personal vehicles and encourage effective, productive, and straightforward methods of mobility for individuals to employ. The introduction of a universal app and ticketing system like Berlin’s will create a more user friendly system by 2050.

Another recent development in the world of technology provides a unique opportunity for the future of transit. In 2050, we will see influencers being used as marketers for public transit and alternate mobility options. Influencers will create social change in a discrete way by using alternate mobility options and inspiring their followers to do this same. An example of an influencer popularizing public transport is the “Tube girl” trend of 2023 where a woman filmed herself dancing on London’s underground train or “Tube” system. Not only did the trend receive almost 300 million views, she sparked millions of recreations of her video around the world, consequently increasing the ridership of public transit systems[6]. Although this trend happened by accident, in 2050 there will be corporations or transportation departments paying individuals to deliberately promote ridership, similar to how brand deals occur.

Low-budget Techniques and Advocacy Groups edit

In addition to the need for societal preference, there is also a need for government regulation and infrastructure changes. In 2050, most of these changes will be in the form of low-budget techniques. While regulation can be effective in the long-term, more realistic infrastructure methods can be employed in the short term in order to facilitate progress. An example of these low-budget, less intensive, yet effective techniques is Paris’ pop-up bicycle lanes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Paris introduced fifty two kilometers of pop-up bicycle lanes separated from motorized traffic[7]. The bike lanes were quickly installed with staggered concrete blocks and plastic posts and allowed for Parisians to bike around the newly bike friendly city. While Paris had previously built bike lanes, the pop-up bike lanes were found to be more efficient in encouraging biking, as they were more likely to be bi-directional and physically separated from motor vehicle-traffic. Between 2020-2021, cycling traffic in Paris grew by a staggering 70%[8]. This example illustrates how quick, low-budget, and little legislation mobility improvements can have desirable results.

Unlike Paris, we see the addition of pop up bike lanes to be largely driven by advocacy groups such as the PeopleForBikes coalition or the League of American Bicyclists rather than by government officials. There will likely be some resistance at first, potentially in the form of vandalism, angry drivers removing or crashing into pop-up lanes, government removal of the bike lanes, or autonomous vehicles unable to recognize their significance. However, by 2050, there will be more acceptance of the low budget techniques, and in some places they may become permanent. The local government will recognize citizens' desire for safe infrastructure, and begin to create more regulation around biking/walking paths, including preserving temporary techniques. These low-budget, advocacy-driven techniques will begin implementation the soonest, and will be most prevalent by 2050.

Transit Hubs and Corporations edit

In addition to advocacy groups, corporations will also be pioneering change in the future. In 2050 we will see train and bus stations becoming a hub for shopping, dining, and traveling. Besides airports and major cities, the U.S. rarely capitalizes on the influence of business to attract more travelers. Bus and train stations are merely the access points to a single transit service in the U.S., but how can they be redesigned to be much more? European transportation hubs are useful examples of how retail shops, restaurants, perfume/cosmetic shops, and more can be centered in mass transit stations to allow for a more enjoyable, and therefore, repeatable, public transportation experience[9]. Individuals can use the train to go to work, but they can also enjoy a breakfast before leaving. Individuals can use the bus to visit their families for the holidays, but they can also purchase gifts before leaving. The public transportation experience must surpass that of the personal automobile experience in order to see an increase in users of public transport. While it may be a more subconscious motive, communities desire an inviting community gathering place in forms of these transportation hubs, but they also need a way to get there. A train station with no access by bus, bike, or walking is futile when a rider would need to drive anyways to arrive at the train station. For this reason, European transport centers also include other transit options, often having bus, tram, and train stations, and bike parking garages in one place. By 2050, stores and restaurants will have capitalized on retail space at train and bus stations, especially with train infrastructure on the rise. Bus systems will have recognized the need to make transport hubs accessible and will add multiple stops nearby. Additional infrastructure promoting accessibility at these hubs such as bike parking garages may not be common in 2050, but will be soon to follow.

Government Action edit

Despite the majority of change coming from non-governmental organizations, the U.S. government will be joining or forming international committees for transit goals in 2050. These committees are similar to the European Institute for Innovation and Technology’s (EIT) successful endeavor called the “city club.”  The “city club” involves leaders from major cities around Europe meeting to discuss what they have done and will do for their cities in terms of transit and mobility. Not only does this encourage vital communication and collaboration, it also fosters competitiveness, which was arguably the biggest factor to its success[10]. Every politician wants to create the “best” city and every politician wants to be reelected. When officials from different cities are put in one room, not only will they share ideas but they will develop a desire to be better or more advanced than each other. For mobility and sustainable transportation, the competitive environment is favorable. By 2050 the U.S. will have been involved with these committees for just a few years. Already behind other countries in their mobility efforts, the competitiveness of these environments will encourage the creation of more regulation from the U.S. in 2050.

Among other predictions for 2050, we still see highways expanding, although the rate of expanding and building new roads will slow. Where permanent bike lanes and walking paths are installed by 2050 will be mostly limited to affluent neighborhoods as it will take even more time before this infrastructure is given priority and attention elsewhere. With transportation emissions reductions being a huge factor in meeting climate goals set for 2030, 2035, and 2050, there will be an extension of climate goals in 2050 as the country would require drastic changes to meet these goals in time[11][12].

Variables edit

With any predictions for the future, it is important to note the variables that can affect the outcome of a vision. The current infrastructure of the U.S. values cars over pedestrians. Large highways and sprawled suburban communities create difficulty in implementing more sustainable alternate mobility options. Further investment into a car-centric society could slow the implementation of our visions. Despite growing sustainability concerns, the US has a strong societal and cultural reluctance to break the established habit of personal vehicles due to the independence and convenience that they offer. With only two extreme political parties, our visions are highly dependent upon the decisions made by the party in power and how society reacts to them. The actions of a government, the resources it can devote to transportation infrastructure, and the focus of society have the potential to be redirected if the U.S. becomes involved in war before 2050, which is a serious concern as of 2023. Despite the potential influence from external variables, the visions for 2050 are proven feasible by the success stories of the mobility pioneers of the past.  

  1. a b Steinbach, R.; Tefft, B.C. (2023). "American Driving Survey: 2022" (PDF). AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
  2. Duncan, Ian (2021-04-30). "Here’s how U.S. infrastructure compares to the rest of the world" (in en-US). Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/04/30/us-infrastructure-ranking/. 
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  4. Nwanazia, C (2021-06-29). "How the Netherlands became a cycling country | DutchReview". Dutchreview. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
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  11. "National Climate Task Force". The White House. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  12. Rolser, Ole; Smeets, Bram; Rune, van der Meijden (2022). "The global energy landscape to 2050: Emissions | McKinsey". www.mckinsey.com. Retrieved 2023-12-08.