Can sustinable mobility systems support Vibrant Communities?

Mobility represents a fundamental right, intimately tied to the quality of life in cities, hamlets and suburbs, occupying a large portion of the community’s land.

In this regard, the increase expected by 2050 of over 66%  (compared to 54% in 2014) of the world population that will reside in cities must be taken into account. Indeed, people living in urban areas spend a considerable amount of time on public transportation, as stated by a current, exentsive study, carried out by Ipsos and the Boston Consulting Group in ten of the major European Union countries, looking at transport infrastructure.

The research shows that:

  • a European citizen employes, on average, 9 hours and 35 minutes to move every week;
  • there is a strong car dependence, which is the mean of transport mainly used.

The European citizens seem to be, overall, quite satisfied of the single infrastructures of mobility as the railroads, the road net, the system of public transportation, but they are very dissatisfied instead of the level of interconnection existing among these infrastructures. Furthermore, currently transportation systems lack efficiency, facing up new – bottom up – needs required.

Neverthless, transportation is often used to be centered on private vehicles. This choice, however, does not result very efficient: from a user’s perspective, it usually provides limited transportation options, but it also leads to severe congestion and considerable gas expenses, especially in densely populated urban areas, due to traffic jams, lack of parking space and high costs due to increasing fuel prices[1].

These concerns, as can be seen, are too crucial to be ignored[2]. Improving roads could ease temporarily congestion levels; however, the study of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found no significant impacts on reducing congestion.


In this regard, a truly sustainable mobility system should be necessary; it needs a virtuous circle, produced by investments in infrastructures more interconnected, in a way which provides local, regional and inter-regional accessibility at an affordable cost to families and businesses, while serving community needs for social and economic exchange.

This goal, however, couldn’t be achieved without a change of approach (even methodological) by both public spheres and community, supported by the development of the new technologies as an important contribution to road safety too. Transportation, in conclusion, shouldn’t just be considered as a goal in and of itself, but as a wider powerful tool, useful for the development of livable, productive, equitable and healthy communities, in accordance with the new and more active role played by community.

Transportation, as well as pollution, road congestion and many other concerns mentioned above, constitute issues not only related to the European framework, because they also affect the American landscape.

In view of the above, many American and European initiatives can be mentioned, respectively encouraging projects among Departments of Transportation, Community Partnership Program and citizen awareness, even to ensure cities would remain a desirable place to live.

The first illustrative initiative, above all, is the development of Smart Transportation. Namely, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Transportation partnered in the development of the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008. It achieved to integrate the planning and design of streets and highways in order to foster the development of sustainable and livable communities.


In this regard, the concept of Smart transportation was taken into account: it means incorporating both financial and environmental constraints, community needs and aspirations, land use, as a new approach to planning and designing roadways. Thus, transportation investments should be tailored to the specific needs of each project, while the adequate determination of solution’s design is measured case by case, pursuant to the whole financial, community, land use, transportation, and environmental context.

Better transportation solutions, however, are considered as a result of a deeper process involving a multi-disciplinary team, considering a wide range of solutions, works closely with the community. Smart Transportation also encompasses network connectivity, and access and corridor management. It would help both states and communities to adapt to the new financial context of constrained resources.  


This initiative, however, sheds light upon the new role of DOTs, which have to support Vibrant Communities into the delivery of transportation projects. This goal was a key concept of the project Building Projects that build Communities, carried out by the Washington State Department of Transportation in 2003.      


 Even if DOTs are faced with economic, health, environmental and social challenges, they can’t effectively support many communities’ programme, as active transportation, defined as humanpowered modes of transportation, involving walking and bicycling, but also skate boarding, canoeing, roller-skating. In these cases, DOTs’ responsibility is often restricted in many states to the state highway network, so their efforts to support active transportation is limited to the state network.

Besides these initiatives, closely related to infrastructures, EU institutions aim at raising and fostering citizen awareness, through rewards, on the quality of the urban environment where people live, in order to promote a shift towards more sustainable and healthy mobility choices. In this regard, technologies have an essential role[3].

MUV – Mobility Urban Values – is a Research and Innovation Action funded by the European Commission under the call Horizon2020 MG-4.5-2016.

The MUV system will result from the combination of:

  • behavioural change techniques;
  • new technologies;
  • data science;
  • co-design approaches.


The solution will include a mobile app, which will track users’ daily routes and assign points for sustainable behaviours and a network of sensing stations designed by the makers’ community. Urban commuters, from a set of six different urban neighbourhoods, spread across Europe, will co-create and then test different game dynamics; finally, their achievements will be rewarded by a network of local businesses that will benefit from the advertising provided by the MUV platform.

The methodology used reflects the Gamification, ICT and data science to translate people’s needs into new sustainable mobility solutions.

Mobility and environmental data are gathered via the mobile app and the monitoring stations; they are all released as Open Data: data visualization can simplify complex information about urban mobility and support decision making; it will allow policymakers to enhance planning processes and civic hackers to build new services able to improve cities’ quality of life in a more effective way.

In particular, the MUV solution will be open, co-created with a strong learning community of users and stakeholders and piloted in six different European neighbourhoods:

  • Buitenveldert in Amsterdam;
  • Sant Andreu in Barcelona;
  • the historic district of the Portuguese county of Fundao;
  • Muide-Meulestede in the harbour of Ghent;
  • the new area of Jätkäsaari in Helsinki;
  • the area of the Historic Centre in Palermo.

This approach will allow to reach specific objectives, as understanding the neighborhoods’ peculiarities and emerging values to define an effective behavior change strategy. Co-designing site-specific solutions will foster better and more liveable urban environments, developing scalable digital solutions and technologies to improve globally the experience of urban mobility, integrating new co-created mobility solutions into urban policy-making and planning processes at neighborhood level.

Raising awareness among citizens on the importance of sustainable and healthy mobility choices could be a successful approach to reduce private vehicular traffic and its negative externalities, encouraging local consumption. In this regard, MUV builds on the experience of trafficO2, an Italian research-action project co-funded in 2012 by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research and carried out by PUSH – MUV’s Project Coordinator – in the city of Palermo in the last three years. The experimentation involved 2.000 students of the University of Palermo and a network of 100 local businesses, and showed a reduction of the carbon emissions associated to the active users of more than 40%.

Data and sharing mobility and environmental data to build an effective decision support system for multiple stakeholders, bringing the whole experiment to the market through an innovative business model in order to improve urban transportation in crowded neighborhoods and cities all over the world. This research embrace a model that socializes data and encourages new forms of cooperativism and democratic innovation, but it also raises the question of data ownership and sovereignty.

La mobilità ricopre un ruolo fondamentale nella vita di ogni cittadino. La crescita demografica, l’inquinamento e la congestione, nonché la diffusione delle nuove tecnologie, inducono un ripensamento degli ordinari approcci in materia, ma soprattutto del rapporto tra il pubblico e i cittadini.



[1] Sahami Shirazi, Alireza & Kubitza, Thomas & Alt, Florian & Pfleging, Bastian & Schmidt, Albrecht, WEtransport: a context-based ride sharing platform. 425-426 (2010), doi 10.1145/1864431.1864469.

[2] C. Iaione, The tragedy of urban roads: Saving Cities from Choking, Calling on Citizens to Combat Climate Change, 37 Fordham Urb. L.J. 889 (2009).

[3] Zhang Z., Beibei L., A quasi experimental Estimate of the Impact of P2P Transportation Platforms on Urban Consumer Patterns, in Proceedings of KDD ’17, August 13-17, 2017, Halifax, NS, Canada, , 9 pages. DOI: 10.1145/3097983.3098058.