Is there a danger that the centers of our cities will become deserted? The last big German department store chain, Galeria Kaufhof, is closing about 50 locations, so that valuable, large commercial spaces will become empty and increase the already high vacancy rates. At the same time, small trucks and large private vehicles are clogging city streets and bicycle paths are blocked by parked electric scooters. While retail is losing its dominant role as the center of attraction in city centers, culture and recreation, work, and housing, not to mention climate change, are becoming more important. That’s why we need attractive centers that offer a sustainable variety of uses – and in the process, consideration of everyone’s mobility needs. In short, the central issue is the transformation of urban centers against the backdrop of modern mobility.
The forecast: Changing traffic and mobility behavior
The long-term traffic forecast of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMVD) makes it clear: without drastic measures, traffic in Germany will increase significantly by 2051. This will be particularly true in the goods sector, but the forecast indicates that passenger transport will increase by 13% to nearly 1.4 billion person-kilometers. Even though bicycle traffic is expected to increase by 36% according to the study, cars and motorcycles remain by far the most popular means of transport for Germans. The conclusions from the traffic forecast diverge in politics and business. However, it’s certain that because inner cities will be subject to great changes in the near future, city planners have to react. The question is no longer just changed shopping behavior: To make city centers attractive and livable, the concern will be to establish appropriate mobility concepts for future requirements, ones that are also sustainable.
The actual state of things: Smart city or optimization potential
But just how smart are cities when it comes to mobility? The industry association Bitkom took a close look at Germany’s cities when preparing its “Smart City Index 2022.” According to automotiveIT, the evaluation of the auditing firm PwC revealed a deep divide: Cities with more than half a million inhabitants generally have a high index value with regard to mobility, while smaller cities with fewer than 200,000 inhabitants have a low index value – and therefore great potential for adapting their mobility concepts to a more digital future and new challenges. Nuremberg, the city with the highest index value, is praised for its NürnbergMobileApp, for example: It bundles all transport options in the region in a single application. Because people are generally prepared to offer up their mobility data to provide better mobility options, city governments are faced with the challenges of using this data.
The means: The mobility master plan that addresses all needs
With just about 125,000 inhabitants, Pforzheim is one of the cities with optimization potential – not least against the background of the planned closure of the Galeria Kaufhof department store here as well. However, the city government started thinking about the transformation of the city center even before this decision was made. Since 2021, it has been part of the “Smart City Model Project” funding program of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior with the aim of actively shaping the digital transformation and exploiting the resulting potential for the population. To define sustainable urban mobility development by 2035, it commissioned an integrated mobility development plan. “For this plan, the question is essentially how to design mobility so that destinations in urban centers are accessible and at the same time, a high quality of stay can be guaranteed,” explains Christoph Schulze, department manager in transport planning and technology at the commissioned service provider PTV Transport Consult. “That’s why it’s so important not to examine the modes of transport in isolation. Instead, you must ask the question what are people’s mobility needs and how can these best be satisfied? Frequently, residents still believe that every destination must be accessible by car, but it’s actually more important to offer solutions for all means of transport.“
The execution: Users and those who are affected by the transformation
Initially, the existing mobility offerings were assessed: How are means of transport distributed, how is car ownership distributed in Pforzheim, what car sharing possibilities are there? The second step was to set binding targets for the development of mobility; of course achieving Vision Zero, but also increasing the quality of stay, reducing traffic, and increasing use of alternative transport routes in terms of a livable and inclusive city.
Because the municipal government particularly wants “to incorporate knowledge of local issues profitably into the planning” a broad, multi-stage participation of administration, politics, interest groups and the population took place. It revealed that bicycle and foot traffic enjoyed especially high priority. But one-third of respondents see an urgent need for action when it comes to parking. As guard rails for the transformation, the city government is now focusing on the consistent promotion of bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as the expansion of local public transport. “That’s why re-thinking is required,” says Schulze, “in the future, the premise must be to plan road space from the outside in. Safe and attractive routes for the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists – must have the same priority as infrastructure for motorized traffic.” What benefits one road user, for example, the broad bicycle path, can also hinder the other, who may need to park directly in front of the medical center. Therefore, road design that is optimized for all users will be the focus in more cities than just Pforzheim.
The goal: a climate-neutral, livable, social city
In November 2022, the local council of Pforzheim has approved the mobility development plan. It now forms the strategic basis for the municipal government and the basis for traffic planning in the next few years. In the interest of the population and because the state is especially encouraging measures that contribute to protecting the climate, transport experts are enhancing the mobility development plan to create a climate mobility plan. They define concrete measures with the aim of reducing transport-related CO2 emissions by 55 percent. Schulze is excited: “In the past, traffic planning in Pforzheim was focused entirely on automobile traffic. Now, many municipal governments will have the opportunity to balance this out. But not by trimming existing mobility behavior, but with good arguments for new mobility solutions: Now as before, you can get from point A to point B by car. But there are attractive alternatives, ones that simultaneously make the city more livable, climate-neutral, and social.”