Sustainable Urban Mobility in Comparison

Sustainable Urban Mobility in Comparison

Over the past decade, it has increasingly become evident that cities are leading the way towards sustainability, and in turn have the greatest potential of improving the chance of human survival in the face of climatic change and declining resources (Bouton et al., 2013). Sustainable urban mobility refers to the movement of people and goods within an urban area in a manner that delivers the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Characteristically, sustainable urban mobility contributes to the provision of competitive modes of transport, while reducing noise and air pollution (including greenhouse gas emissions); facilitating the economic growth of a city; and being cost effective to taxpayers and users (Da Silva, Costa, & Macedo, 2008). As more megacities become congested and polluted, innovative technologies and business model are emerging to solve the urban mobility and sustainability challenge. This paper compares sustainable urban mobility among several cities globally, including Beijing, Tokyo, Bogota, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Istanbul and St. Petersburg.

Sustainable Urban Mobility Metrics

The degree of sustainable urban mobility of a city can be determined using an urban mobility index, which is based on various metrics. Some of the common metrics include sociodemographic factors; innovation in mobility; mitigation against environmental issues like GHG emission; energy management practices; city size and population; public transport usage and modes; policies; and uses of IT-based solutions to improve mobility (Zhao, 2010). The Urban Mobility Index (hereinafter termed as UMI or Index) used in this comparison was developed and tested for reliability by Arthur D. Little (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). The Index evaluates cities based on 19 criteria, some of which include the existing infrastructure, smart card transportation and performance, which entailed the level of transport-based CO­2 emissions. Table 2 depicts Arthur D. Little Urban Mobility Index 2.0 assessment criteria.

Case Studies of Megacities Demonstrating Good Practices

As highlighted above, there is no single solution to the problem of creating sustainable urban mobility system. Therefore, each city should reflect on the imperatives outlined before and identify the most appropriate actions to implement in their local contexts (Rode et al., 2014). Nevertheless, a number of cities have introduced various practices that may also be customized and used in other cities to improve sustainable urban mobility. The section that follows explores some of the best practices via seven case studies.

Case Study 1: Beijing

As the capital of China, Beijing is the third largest populous city in the world. The city’s sustainable urban mobility is largely administered by the central government, through Beijing Municipality. Despite being second to Shanghai as China’s largest city, Beijing is the country’s cultural, education and political center. This role contributes to the high demand for public transport, so its urban mobility stands out as one of the challenges facing the city. Besides Sao Paolo and Tehran, Beijing is documented as one of the cities faulted for prioritizing road transport for private cars when designing their mobility systems (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). Consequentially, the city is plagued with congestion and road safety issues. As one of the largest Asian cities in the world determined by GDP share, Beijing has responded to the transport demands while ensuring sustainability in various ways. Beijing has developed a sophisticated network of railways, roads and airports. The city is served by 5 ring road emanating from its CBD. Its suburbs are linked by nine toll expressways. The Beijing subway is one of the sustainable initiatives as it has 19 lines covering around 700 kilometers. The subway is not only energy efficient, but is one of the environmentally friendly and smart urban transport systems. Besides the railway network, the Beijing Public Transport (BPT) company operates public buses in the city which transports over 13 million passengers daily (Lei, 2012). To further improve public transport and decongest the city, Beijing had created designated-bus lane on certain highways. Such initiatives have shown progress, as 42% of commuter in Beijing chose public transport over private transport in 2011 (Lei, 2012). As per Arthur D. Little’ Urban Mobility Index 2.0, Beijing falls slightly above the global average of 43.9 with an urban mobility index of 47.2 (see Figure 1), making it a fairly balanced city in terms of affordability and sustainability (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014).

Case Study 2: Tokyo

Tokyo (Japan) is one of the megacities that forms the cluster of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (hereinafter referred to as C40). Tokyo is the most populous city in Japan and the largest domestic hub for ground, rail and air transport in the nation. Public passenger transport in the city is dominated by a network of efficient and clean subways and trains, which are operated by various entities. Monorails, trams and buses supplement the primary network. Tokyo’s railway system remains one of the most sustainable urban railway transport networks. The capital is also linked to its suburbs by expressways. Other modes of transport include taxis and ferries serving the islands around Tokyo Along with Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Seoul and Toronto, Tokyo is a mature city marked by a high share of sustainable modes of transport. However, the city needs to evolve its system in order to fully integrate the transport value change and improve the attractiveness of public transport. Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in Japan. Tokyo has an urban mobility index of 49.2, which is slightly above that of Beijing.

Case Study 3: Bogota

As the largest and the capital city of Colombia, Bogota serves as a business and administrative center. The city’s growth placed pressure on its road network, but for the past decade, the city has made significant efforts meant to upgrade the existing infrastructure. Additionally, taxis and commercial buses have strained the existing infrastructure. For this reason, the city continues to stress the significance of public bus transport system. Beside the traditional bus system is the modern BRT known as TrnasMilenio (Bouton, et al., 2013). The BRT was deployed by the city as a strategic and sustainable measure to compensate for the absence of a rail and subway system. The TransMilenio system entails articulated buses operating on main routes and smaller buses operating on residential routes. The use of private cars is one of the key sources of pressure on the city’s road network. Bogota also has a good bicycle network, which improves accessibility to many public areas (Cervero, 2006). In addition, the bicycle network is linked to the TransMilenio rapid transport system. This is an apt example of transport network integration (Rode et al., 2014). From an environmental perspective, the extended bicycle networks reduced the city’s carbon footprint. Bogota is one of the Latin American megacities and a member of the C40. For this reason, it has an Urban Mobility Index of 46.3, which is one of the highest scores in Latin America (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). This implies that Bogota has a better Urban Mobility Index than Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and Lima (Da Silva, Costa, & Macedo, 2008).

Case Study 4: Copenhagen

Copenhagen (Denmark) is one of the cities leading way in sustainable urban mobility. Copenhagen scooped the Carbon Measurement & Planning award for the city’s ambitious 2025 Climate Plan. The plan was designed to make Copenhagen carbon neutral by 2025. Copenhagen is also known for its road safety and general security, suggesting that it has a mature sustainable urban mobility system (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). As per the Arthur D. Little Urban Mobility Index 2.0, Copenhagen has a score of 56.4, which is slightly below Amsterdam (57.2) and Stockholm (57.4).

Case Study 5: San Francisco

San Francisco (USA) is the financial, commercial and cultural center of California. Due to its unique topography, the city has arterial thoroughfares, as opposed to numerous highways visible in most of the cities in the United States. According to Christie (2007), 32% of the city residents use public transportation in commuting to work. This makes the city one of the most sustainable urban centers in the West Coast. Additionally, the city operates cable cars, which reduces the use of motorized vehicle. As of consequence, the city reduces its carbon footprint. Further San Francisco is linked to the regional rapid transit system, BART, which connect East Bay and the city through the Transbay Tube. The city has been on the headline for its effective waste management, which is a product of effective urban planning and waste management. In 2013, the city won the Waste Management award for zero waste program that has enabled the city to divert 80% of all trash from landfill. The city expects to increase the diversion to 100% by 2020. San Francisco bay Area has a smart trip-planning application called Path2go, which integrates real-time transit, parking and traffic data to enable users make informed intermodal travel.

Case Study 6: Istanbul

As the largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is the historical, cultural and economic heart of the country. With a population of over 13.8 million, the city is one of the largest urban cluster in Europe (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). Its unique geographical position makes its span over two continents, with 60% of its population living in Europe and the rest dwelling in Asia. As noted by Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby and Pourbaix (2014) urban transport is one of the issues facing the city, and as its population grows rapidly, the rate of owning private cars increases. The growth of Istanbul’s population has prompted politicians, the private sector and policy makers to support several protects meant to expand the existing public transport system. For instance, the city has developed mass transit solution to meet the demand of the heavy passenger traffic. The 52 kilometers Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System known locally as Metrobus, transports over 700,000 passengers daily. In the same context, the city continues to enhance bus transport by allocating dedicated bus lanes and introducing new busses. Istanbul has an Urban Mobility Index of 47.2, which implies that its mobility system is well-balanced and affordable. There is an average of 224 vehicles per 1,000 residents in the city, which translates into 772 kg CO2 per capita. This is much below the global average of 1506 kg CO2 per capita. Some of the ffactors hurdling Istanbul’s sustainable mobility include underdeveloped bicycle lane networks, air quality, and marginal car and bicycle sharing systems. In an effort to improve its sustainable urban mobility, the city’s Metropolitan Municipality unveiled the Rail Vision 2030, which will create metro rail network. In the same line the city has expanded its urban railway network from 45 km to 141 km between 2004 and 2013. As it stands, urban mobility in Istanbul is largely formed by road transport (83%) followed by rail transport which covers only 13%. Other developments include introduction of smartcards with fare integration. Car park management has also been formalized and digitized. Lastly, collaboration between the central and local government was improved to construct the metro network and upgrade the existing network.

Case Study 7: St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia after Moscow. St Petersburg host Russia’s important port along the Baltic Sea (St. Petersburg City Administration, 2016). Additionally, it is the most westernized city in Russia. Alongside Barcelona and Lisbon, St. Petersburg is one of the largest European cities in the world in terms of GDP share. Despite its large GDP share, Saint Petersburg has an Urban Mobility Index of 43, which is below the global average (Van Audenhove, Korniichuk, Dauby, & Pourbaix, 2014). The city’s public passenger transport network is marked by 5 subway lines, stretching over 113.6 kilometers, with 67 stations and 7 transfer hubs. To respond to the demand during peaks, the city has 5-night bus lines which duplicate the subway lines. In the same public passenger transport network, the city has installed 4 public water transport aqua-buses; a railway network with 100 stops within the city’s administrative boundaries; 380 buses allowed to transport passengers between designated stops; 44 trolley bus routes; and 42 tram routes. Observably, the network is designed to not only respond to high demand, but also to make public transportation attractive. Traffic is managed using traffic lights and Automated Traffic Management System (ATMS) with video cameras along main routes (St. Petersburg City Administration, 2016). To improve energy efficiency, regular traffic lamps have been replaced with LED traffic lights and signs. Further, St. Petersburg uses Russia’s High-speed Railway Intelligent Transportation, which is a technology platform meant to support efforts directed at developing new products (services) and advanced technologies. The platform is an example of public-private partnership (PPP) of sustainable urban mobility. Its stakeholders include government, businesses and civil society.

Table 1 City Data

City Population (est. in millions) Urban Mobility Index
Beijing 21.5 47.2
Tokyo 33 49.2
Bogota 9.8 46.3
Copenhagen 1.27 56.4
San Francisco 8.7 43
Istanbul 13.8 47.2
St. Petersburg 5 43


The impact of urban expansion on modes of transport in cities is increasingly becoming a major issue in the context of environmental sustainability, since motorized mobility emerges as the major contributor of domestic GHG emissions. In China, Beijing in particular, the management of forming urban sprawls in the fringe of the city that help to facilitate sustainable urban mobility is increasingly getting attention from the local and national government (Zhao, 2010). After exploring the seven case studies, it is evident that effective policies relating to the management of urban growth can create sustainable transportation in the world’s megacities. Copenhagen is a relatively a small city, but due to the best practice scores in a high urban mobility index, it stands next to cities with mature sustainable urban mobility systems, including Amsterdam, Prague, Munich, Brussels, Montreal, Portland, Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt and Helsinki among others


By 2050, major cities will be connected, coordinated and compact. They will also have denser rather than sprawling urban form, notable for their green roofs and vibrant greenbelts. Additionally, urban citizens will enjoy a high level of mobility primarily based on cycling and effective public transport. After achieving their targets for GHG neutrality, these cities will enjoy clean source of energy, including district and local energy solutions. In the same context, cities will continue to be creative hubs of innovation and the word’s economic propellers. In fact, there is a great potential of cities to be prosperous and healthy communities, where every resident can thrive. However, there is still much to be accomplished, and cities like Copenhagen, London and Johannesburg are leading the way. Currently, cities face critical choices that have a great impact on the welfare of future generation. Therefore, cities should embrace their collective future and act sustainably.

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