In discussion: Mobility
In a world that is apparently condemned to traffic jams, who really needs to move? the people or the cars? Sustainable transport, urban planning, new energy sources, innovative individual attitudes: ways to rethink mobility in the 21st century to make
man – and not vehicles – the priority
Any big city, rush hour. Look around. You are stationary. It doesn’t matter where: inside your car, standing on a bus, waiting for the metro or a train at the platform. Everything around you seems to be standing still. Traffic jams, delays, too many vehicles and too many people. Everything conspires so that there is no movement around you.
Look again. Actually, everything is moving. Look again and you will see people walking, cyclists and motorbikes weaving between cars and buses, planes and helicopters flying in the sky. Even Planet Earth is turning on its own axis at a speed of more than 1,000 km/h. Forget the vehicles: what moves is life, people. If there is life, there is movement, and there is no traffic jam that can disprove that. And all this complex mix of objects (cars, motorbikes, trains) and structures (railways, highways, cycle paths, sidewalks), today seen as one of the most insurmountable dilemmas of the modern world, is being rethought in favor of life. Mobility needs to work for us, and not against us.
The first urban bus appeared in 1662, in the city of Paris. It was a carriage pulled by seven horses, with capacity for eight passengers. It did not work out; by 1675 it was already out of circulation. The first of many problems with urban mobility was probably also born right then. Today the situation is even more complicated, with the continued increase in traffic congestion in large cities, accidents, atmospheric and sound pollution, and inefficient energy consumption, all generating social, economic and environmental problems. The World Energy Council warns that current modes of transport impact on the environment (they are responsible for up to 25% of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions), and waste time and money. Meanwhile, we, the people – who should be the reason for and object of mobility – we stay…stationary.
“It is the people who need mobility, not the vehicles”, diagnoses Ronaldo Balassiano,
professor and researcher of transport engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Author of more than 100 scientific studies on mobility and means of transport and one of the absolute references on the topic in Brazil, Balassiano is in a hurry. He fires out data, criticisms, examples and suggestions like a bullet train. His words always prioritize the human though, not the machine or the structure. “Imagine that in 2010 alone we had 3.5 million new cars produced in Brazil, and that that production is not accompanied by a circulation or parking policy. The result? A guy gets in his car to go to the corner to buy bread. Of course this is going to mess everything up.”
Carlos Vinicius Massa, coordinator of Petrobras’ Technological Program of Innovation in Fuels and Lubricants (INOVA), summarizes: “The solutions for urban mobility range from good planning of the transport system, to the maintenance of the roads and highways and efficient integration between collective transports.” Actually, just recently the focus of the issue has moved from modes of transport and traffic towards a wider thought process on mobility. With the number of motorized vehicles in the world multiplying five-fold between 1950 and 1980, the priority post-World War II was to keep the cars circulating well. “This tends to prioritize high-speed highways and high-capacity automobiles”, explains the Canadian engineer Todd Alexander Litman, a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (USA) and author of the study Measuring Transportation: Traffic, Mobility and Accessibility. “What is needed is to think of transport users as people who are seeking access to places, services or goods,
and of mobility as an end in itself.”
It is in this direction that the most important studies and experiences seem to be heading
in the field of mobility, a term which is now rhymed obligatorily with sustainability. The tonic is the search for innovative projects capable of managing the increasing demands of movement and of accessibility in big cities. To stimulate the use of ‘greener’ transport (public modes of transport or those which emit low amounts of carbon dioxide and toxic gases), to rethink urban planning in a way that reduces travel times and encourages non-motorized means of locomotion (reducing the environmental, economic global challenge and social impact): that is the battle.
Nevertheless, cars and buses are still (and will be, for years to come) the principal means of transport in cities. With this in mind, parallel solutions are being imagined to deal with this reality in the best way possible. “Petrobras guarantees the provision of quality fuels – that keep vehicles circulating in ideal working conditions and pollute the atmosphere less”, says Carlos Massa. “We contribute to urban mobility by producing fuels which are perfectly suited to new motoring technologies. With this, we reduce the risk of breakdowns in vehicles – which always hold up the traffic. Furthermore, we are already prepared for the future, when hybrid vehicles or ones powered by renewable sources will share more road space with gas-fuelled cars."
By: Marco Antônio Barbosa
Photos: Max Moure
Image processing: Marc Recco