If you are doing mobility planning as an engineering discipline, you’re doing it wrong!

Many cities are facing “congestion problems” (It is in quotation marks because often it is believed that congestion is a sign of an economically buoyant city). City officers and planners witness an increasing need to provide more transport services. But they are doing it wrong!

Transport planning is not to be done as an engineering discipline. If the city officials are willing to tackle congestion related problems, they want to have a different starting point.

What is wrong about congestion?

  • Limiting mobility
  • Restricting access
  • Unpleasant commuting experience /delays
  • Clogging streets
  • Affecting health
  • Pollution

and so on…

We are looking at an inefficient utilization of public space that affects people. So now we have a stage: public space and main characters: People.

This is exactly where city planning and policies should begin. Transport planners should be looking at a way to manage public space in an efficient way for the people to be able to access goods, services, activities and destinations (ideally in a pleasant and safe manner). As matter of fact, it should be considered mobility planning.

“Mobility policies” have long been evaluated as an engineering discipline with performance measures such as speed and kilometers. However, mobility policies require an interdisciplinary approach. Mobility policies can be certainly enriched by the vision of psychologists, economists, urban planners, designers, social workers and artists. Public space is meant to be for people to move around, therefore social, behavioral, and health sciences can have a better approach to improving mobility and accessibility for the people in the cities.

Mobility planning is about interaction and space. It requires performance measurements that reflect a social intrinsic relation between the space and people. We should be looking at indicators that provide information about security, safety, comfort, proximity, options, possibilities, sensual pleasure, cultural offer, availability, and social inclusion, among others.

Streets should be looked more like a functional artistic creation rather than accelerating machines. If we plan for people we have to keep in mind that their regular speed is 4km/h. We have to plan for everyone including kids and seniors (the 8-80 reference). At this speed our senses also make a strong connection with the ambience. Therefore when designing mobility plans we have to plan for those at the mobility base: Pedestrians.

Most of the trips begin walking or moving through the public spaced helped by objects (that are not our transport mean) like strollers, wheelchairs, canes, etc… These trips also offer more chances to enjoy the neighborhood and embrace it. The more welcoming the conditions get, the more people would be willing to explore it, making it more popular, safer and encompassed in daily life. We may see more pedestrians, more people in non motorized transportation and ultimately less cars.

Making public space welcoming, functional and pretty is certainly less expensive than building highways and more inclusive and friendly for the society.

Here is a great example of how better management of public space, attracts more people:


2 thoughts on “If you are doing mobility planning as an engineering discipline, you’re doing it wrong!

  1. In general terms, I agree with you. A city’s ultimate goal must be the people, and quality of the urban public space has a direct impact in quality of life of it’s inhabitants. But I think you’re vision is blurred in one aspect: transport engineering is a tool. The complexity of a city conveys many layers and scales of the urban life, and not every street should be a 30 zone. I understand this particular tool has been used as a “professional and technical justification” for the car-centred urban model we live and fight today, but that should not disqualify the tool altoghether.

    Sometimes the problem is easy to see, but how big is it? What other implications beyond the evident are there?

    New models of ped & bike performance, integrated with vehicle models, are gaining strength, and are being used -this time- to explain in detail the impacts of the old model and the advantages of more and better ped & bike infrastructure (I insist, integrated with vehicle use). To measure and understand the whole fenomenon is the aim of enineering, but this is just a tool of a much bigger planning (and action) process.

    To check out more good uses of transport engineering, look up Manuel Herce’s “Sobre la Movilidad en la Ciudad”; the most recent Highway Capacity Manual 2010; and software Synchro 8, HCS2010, and PTV Vistro.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree with you. Transport engineering is a tool that should be used. Mobility, transport and public space have many element to consider and use in order to make them for functional. My main concern is just that people ought to be place in the center because ultimately a city is lively and enjoyable as long as the space is.

      Thank you as well for the recommendations. I’ll most certainly have a look.

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