What tomorrow’s urban traffic may look like is the subject of numerous deliberations and discussions, projects and studies. Vancouver in Canada, for example, has been planning the traffic turnaround for some years and by 2040 it aims to redesign its road space with structurally separate cycleways and a sophisticated local public transport system. In Paris and Brussels, popular, heavily used streets are being converted into promenades for pedestrians. Smaller towns such as Wuppertal are designing ambitious concepts to transform themselves from car towns to towns where the environmental lobby holds sway, and to increase local public transport’s share of total traffic from its current level of 25 percent to 75 percent over the long term. The transformation is happening.

Critics bemoan the fact that progress is too slow and that in many cases the changes merely represent tinkering at the margins – with no discussion of the general direction. Steffen Braun from the “Mobility and Urban System Design” centre at the Fraunhofer Institute also feels that the deliberations do not go far enough. He criticises the fact that the main aim currently seems to be to keep today’s systems running. “We can find ways of minimising the running costs, successively improving the carbon footprint in line with European specifications and continuing to advocate the old vision of “fast access towns” and intermodal travel chains as a viable doctrine”, he says. However, he fears that the needs and values of the next generation could be different.

Creating living space instead of parking cars

By 2050, according to his vision, only 50 percent of the current space dedicated to traffic will probably still be used for flowing and parked vehicles in European cities that have developed over time. And busy main roads will accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. This will double the capacity of available mobility according to Braun who is also a member of the advisory committee of experts working on the research project “Urban traffic for tomorrow and beyond” undertaken by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR). And it is much needed: according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in towns by 2050. The necessary living space could be found by reclaiming traffic areas, the Organisation notes, citing the fact that in Munich, for example, this would free up 26.92 square kilometres.