In the year 2000, transport professionals planning 20 years into the future knew they had to come up with the best plans for integrating the movement of private vehicles, public transport, bicycles, and pedestrians. Few of them imagined that by 2020, this mix of transport modes – or multimodal mobility – will look so different.
Traditional modes of transport are still important today for multimodal traffic planning. But the surge of new mobility over the last decade – led by the private sector – creates new challenges for planners. Carsharing, e-scooters, and rolling warehouses, to name a few, all compete for the same limited public right-of-way and parking.
There’s strong evidence that cities see economic benefits from new mobility modes. But while working with dozens of traffic planners all across North America, I also witness the challenge emerging from it: how should cities embrace this new mobility eco-system in a safe and sustainable manner?
This is where modern multimodal planning steps in. We are seeing more cities seek advanced analysis tools to cost-effectively achieve clarity and optimize mobility and street space.
Flexible multimodal planning
I strongly believe that as tech develops, cities will rely on flexible simulation tools. Analyzing unforeseen trends will guide agencies in future policymaking.
Today, these tools are already the foundation of our understanding of how current mobility affects cities. But we simply don’t know how, for example, tomorrow’s traffic signals will operate to balance traffic flows of pedestrians, bikes, e-scooters, and driverless vehicles. What we do know is that our tools need to be flexible enough to model the next idea or movement.
Change is rapid in mobility, and our tools of today must evolve to predict tomorrow. For example, cities across North America are implementing early walk signals at intersections to promote walkability and increase safety for vulnerable users. Seeing this trend, PTV Group increased the flexibility of its Vistro software. PTV Vistro now stands above the competition in evaluating leading pedestrian intervals.
First and last miles
Key to multimodal traffic planning that includes new mobility is understanding the first- and last-mile connections to mobility hubs, such as docking stations, transit centers, and rideshare lots. Without sensible and safe connections near the home and office, multimodal services become less useful and attractive.
The definition of a “sensible connection” is personal and depends on gender, age, income, purpose, or climate. It’s essential that multimodal planning is sophisticated enough to take into account how individuals make travel choices to complete daily tasks.
To address this challenge, many cities use software, such as PTV Visum. In Visum, trip data from location-based services, overlaid with social-economical data, smartly analyze connectivity for new mobility modes.
As public funds are limited, I believe that “smart planning” is critical to building unique connections required in different areas.
Multimodal planning for logistics
First and last mile connections also impact the delivery of goods and parcels. Tom Visée, a New York-based freight planner for design firm HDR, told me that “in New York City, the last mile is troublesome. Delivery trucks double park, add to the congestion, and over-represent the crashes with vulnerable users.” His conclusion? “By focusing on the last mile and curb management, we can increase efficiency and multimodal safety.”
In today’s e-commerce world, cities and logistic businesses are discussing strategies. Tom says, “NYC is promoting off-hour deliveries. The City offers companies information and recognition schemes to deliver during less congested times.” Under this interdisciplinary cooperation in NYC, says Tom, “many carriers reduce costs, receivers increase reliability, and the community enjoys safer streets.”
Microsimulation tools, like PTV Vissim, provide valuable answers to curbside management and logistics strategies. I believe that with PTV Group’s expertise in traffic planning and logistics, we make huge contributions to understand first- and last-mile connections.
Green waves for cyclists
As a commuter cyclist, I’m often frustrated with traffic lights timed only for the speeds of cars. Riding in business districts during rush-hour can be an intense experience without a wave of green lights for cyclists. I feel like I need to accelerate quickly to not be the right-lane roadblock. After reaching cruising speed, the next light turns red, I’ll hit the brakes, stop, breathe, and again prepare for green. Over the years, I’ve seen many equally frustrated riders run red lights, hit by cars, or slam into pedestrians and parked cars’ doors.
As new mobility modes gain popularity, “green waves” should be adjusted for their users too. Cities like Copenhagen, Munich, and New York are already doing so, increasing safety and encouraging multimodal usage.
To optimize multimodal signal timing, traffic engineers need to rely on modeling tools, such as PTV Vistro. By using Vistro to develop green waves, traffic engineers can easily adjust signal timings to match speeds of different modes.
Quicker planning of changes
Constant changes in urban areas, like green wave optimization, are keeping the traffic flowing – and the public happy. But, frequent localized changes quickly date advanced traffic simulation models. I’ve had to embarrassingly explain to many officials that “it’s best to start over” than reuse yesterday’s project. This throw-away approach, however, puts a heavy burden on schedules and increases costs of multimodal traffic planning.
To keep change on time and on budget, I highly recommend using a system of coordinated tools. With PTV Vistro, traffic engineers can quickly feed their daily traffic updates into the PTV Vision Suite’s system of tools. This not only streamlines the process of updating advanced macro- and microsimulation models like PTV Visum and Vissim; it also provides a flexible and cost-effective self-maintaining system.