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4 ways smart mobility will make our world a better place

December 16, 2019

By Craig Lewis

Stantec teams around the world are focused on solutions that will change the way we travel—and live

About five years ago, Urban Places principal Craig Lewis (Charlotte, North Carolina) noticed his clients asking the same question again and again: “How can we build less parking?” The answer seemed obvious, though not necessarily easy: reduce the number of cars on the road.

Smart mobility was one of many aspects considered as part of a recent Stantec city center master plan in Alabama.

“We were beginning to see a shift in how people got around,” Craig says. “It was becoming common for people to hail a car, for instance—typically through their phone—as an alternative to getting behind a wheel themselves. Bike-share programs and electric scooters were popping up in cities around the world. The shift toward smart mobility was well underway and we wanted to help accelerate that shift.” 

Craig chatted to his colleague Michelle Orfield. They’d been watching companies like Uber, Tesla, and Waymo develop and test autonomous vehicles. It seemed like the natural next step for Stantec might be to help our clients understand what possibility these solutions held for them and their stakeholders. 

With funding from Greenlight—part of our Creativity & Innovation Program—Craig, Michelle, and other Stantec experts partnered with five organizations across the United States and Canada to explore how low-speed autonomous shuttles could help reduce the use of single-occupancy, gas-powered transportation on their streets. The team was able to identify a range of solutions for the: 

These projects are just the beginning. Today, a global team of Stantec practitioners—from transit planners to urban designers and beyond—is helping clients implement a range of smart mobility technologies. 

Their goal? To shift these emerging options from novelty to the norm. 

Why? Because there are many benefits to smart mobility. Here’s just a sampling of what we stand to gain from changing how we get around our cities:

1. Reshaped cityscapes.

Imagine a community with far fewer parking lots or structures. How could that space be used differently? Perhaps it might be redesigned for recreation and greened with grass and trees. Or it might be reclaimed as residential space—an important opportunity given many cities around the world face rising costs and affordable housing shortages. 

“Transportation must be considered within the wider context of the place where it operates,” Craig says. “At a minimum, land currently locked up for short-term storage of vehicles might be used to refill the rich, urban fabric that existed before the automobile laid bare to many an urban block.”

As transportation continues to evolve, our cities will look different and the ways we interact within those cities will change, too. If you look at some of the more densely populated city centers around the world—London, New York, Shanghai—you can begin to understand what happens when you reduce parking. Fractured streetscapes become more pedestrian-friendly and abundant common spaces provide opportunities for community and connection.

Reducing parking needs can create opportunities for new green spaces, housing, or other community amenities.

2. More inclusive communities.

No matter the client or situation, the best approach to transportation challenges is a holistic one. Communities can achieve the greatest gains by considering the entire range of smart mobility options.

This means implementing solutions that are:

  • Accessible
  • Autonomous 
  • Connected
  • Electric
  • Shared

Stantec senior project manager, Transportation, Frank Domingo (Sarasota, Florida) is helping to promote universal design, assistive technology, and equal access to mobility. Stantec mobility innovation leader Kelley Coyner (Arlington, Virginia) also stresses the importance of accessibility.

“There are people with physical and cognitive challenges who are able to work but unable to drive,” says Kelley. “They need reliable, accessible vehicles that can help get them to work on time. There are seniors who can’t drive but still want to get out and about, and people living in remote areas underserved by traditional public transport.”

A variety of options is the answer, Kelley says. A privately-owned electric car may suit one person, while a shared, autonomous shuttle or a hired bicycle may meet someone else’s needs. Getting the mix right will mean helping everyone move about in the way that’s right for them.

3. Safer, more pleasant journeys.

From Craig’s perspective, if we don’t make the human experience in our cities better, then we’re not making progress. And he sees improving the safety, efficiency, and ease of journeys as a real opportunity.

Research shows most automobile accidents are caused by human error. So it stands to reason that having people take fewer car journeys—and removing the driver from the equation when possible—would reduce the risks to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.  Stantec sponsors test beds such as ACTIVE-AURORA in Edmonton and implements safety technology in on-road pilots to make sure connected, autonomous vehicles achieve their safety potential. 

Stantec recently deployed an autonomous shuttle at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The low-speed, electric shuttle carried people on the street and is part of Stantec’s growing automated, electric, and connected vehicle practice.

Stantec engineers provided Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) work on a project to help Montreal launch its first electric AV shuttle.

4. Preservation of the planet.

Stantec teams around the world are working to help their communities. And this work will have a far-reaching impact for the Earth as well. 

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, for example, has announced a goal for 25% of all transportation trips in Dubai to be smart and driverless by 2030. We have helped support this journey by partnering with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and international law firm Hogan Lovells to develop a protocol of best practices for self-driving vehicles. And in Hawaii, we recently created an A2CES framework with strategies that include an automated, carbon-free corridor and electrification to support a goal to achieve 100% renewable energy for transportation by 2040. 

Ambitious goals like the ones in the UAE and Hawaii could create significant gains for our environment. How? Connected, autonomous cars can take more direct routes based on the information provided across the transportation network and often run more efficiently than their traditional counterparts, too. Other significant shifts in how we travel—particularly through the increased use of active transit, such as walking or cycling, and the implementation of electric and shared vehicles—will also reduce congestion and emissions. 

A Brave New World Awaits

Though the particulars of smart mobility are still coming together, and the reality will look different from place to place, it’s clear that the shift will change just about everything.

“Communities are incubators for change,” says Kelley. “We’re working with communities around the world to define what the technology revolution will look like on their streets. And the impacts will extend far beyond those streets. Smart mobility won’t just change the way we travel—it will change the way we live.”

About this article

This article is part of an ongoing series focusing on the value Stantec’s Greenlight program brings to clients, communities, and employees. Through Greenlight, Stantec invests annually to fund employee ideas that benefit our clients, community, and Company. Greenlight is part of our Creativity & Innovation Program, which celebrates and encourages creativity and innovation at work and in our work. Check back soon for another story in our Greenlight series.

  • Craig Lewis

    Craig has more than 30 years of award-winning experience implementing walkable, vibrant urbanism in hundreds of communities throughout North America.

    Contact Craig
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