Cover design by Kostis Pavlou
I’m pleased to share my new book The New Mobility Handbook - Rethinking How We Get Around Cities, now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. The New Mobility Handbook is an introduction to the urbanist policies and new mobility solutions we need to reduce our dependence on cars and encourage multimodal transport.
The New Mobility Handbook builds on my work hosting the Smarter Cars podcast and writing about transportation policy issues. Many thanks to all the guests on the podcast over the years, your knowledge and insights have informed my thinking on the future of transportation. In this book, I discuss the role of new mobility technologies along with key principles from seminal works by Jane Jacobs, Donald Shoup, Janette Sadik-Khan, Jarrett Walker and Horace Dediu, among others. My central thesis is that we need both new mobility solutions and urbanist policies to create a new mobility system in cities and reduce our dependence on personal cars. Here’s a bit about what the book covers:
The Erosion of Cities
Today our cities are designed for cars not people — from our street design to our allocation of land, we have carved out space to drive and park automobiles wherever we go. There are few places in cities where people can walk, bike or ride a scooter safely, or stroll to find a shop or dine outside. And we dedicate a huge amount of our land to roads, parking lots, garages, and curb spaces. But even with all the space we have devoted to cars, traffic continues to increase as more and more people drive. There are too many cars and not enough room for everyone to drive without massive traffic and pollution. As urban populations increase, the problem gets worse. The geometry of cars no longer works in cities. We need a new mobility system for the next century.
Jane Jacobs wrote eloquently about this “erosion of cities” by automobiles. She described a process that happened slowly as a result of small decisions “nibbling” away at the city. Likewise, she suggested a similar approach to the “attrition” of automobiles — where cities could make small decisions one by one to make car use in cities less attractive and make cities more inviting for all. We have learned since Jane Jacobs first wrote these truths that we should not just build cities for cars, we should build cities for people. This is an enormous challenge. We find ourselves some decades later needing more than just small changes to take back the erosion of cities by automobiles. In order to even the playing field, we must reallocate to other modes some of the space now dedicated to car driving and parking.
In the last few years, we have gained a powerful new tool in this fight to reclaim our cities. Thanks to technology, we finally have attractive alternatives to personally-owned cars. New mobility options like ride-hail and micromobility are incredibly popular and can encourage multimodal travel in ways public transit has not. But these options have also created new challenges for cities that cannot be solved by technology alone. We need to combine these new mobility modes with urbanist policies to keep our roads moving, in order to start the “attrition” of automobiles in cities that Jane Jacobs envisioned.
The Attrition Of Automobiles
For fifty years, the most convenient mode of transportation has been driving your own car. Even as problems with cars in cities became evident, we had no ready solution or reasonable substitute for the car. It turns out we cannot begin the “attrition” of automobiles without offering attractive alternatives that people actually want to use. And there is no single mode that will work for everyone. We will not all ride the bus, or an electric scooter, and we will not ban cars. But we can encourage people to choose different modes for different trips based on transportation needs, if we embrace new mobility options and make all modes more attractive with fair pricing and changes to our infrastructure.
Everyone will need to be somewhat inconvenienced, in one mode or another, to allow for truly multimodal cities. The roads will not be perfectly wide, straight and timed for maximum car speed. Some lanes will be reserved for buses and for micromobility vehicles. We will reduce space for parking on streets. Cars will not be banned, but all car trips will be fairly priced. There is room for all modes in cities with the right pricing, policies and infrastructure. In short, we need new technology and urbanist policies working together to rethink how we get around cities.
The New Mobility Handbook provides an introduction to the new mobility modes and policies we need to make the transition to multimodal cities. Part I addresses the role of cars and advocates for cities to change how we use cars by discouraging car ownership and improving ride services, by pricing road use fairly for all vehicles, and by reducing space on our streets for driving and parking cars. Part II introduces the micromobility vision and how cities can make micromobility work with fair fees and regulations and enhanced infrastructure, like protected micromobility lanes, so more people can ride bikes, scooters and other lightweight devices safely. And Part III addresses ways cities can work to make public transit a great option, instead of a last resort, by giving buses their own lanes and signal priority, improving information and payment systems, and making transit more reliable and more frequent. It will take all of these options working together for cities to create a new mobility system for the next century.
Technology < > Policy
Cities have advocated for many of these policies for decades, with little success. But the new mobility options now available are changing the political landscape. We are at a pivotal moment for cities. Changes that felt impossible for decades are now gaining traction. There is an opportunity for technology to change not just our mobility choices but also our policy decisions. Technology and urbanism have often felt at odds in recent years, but in truth they share common goals for new ways to get around cities and will only succeed by working together.
Over the years, city efforts to reduce car travel in favor of transit, carpools, and bicycles have failed largely due to a lack of other options. We did not have attractive alternatives to the personally-owned car. For instance, if you didn’t own a car in most places, it was not easy to get a car ride when you needed one. Taxis were often unavailable and expensive. And there were no electric bikes or scooters to get you to work or to the train station with little effort and sweat. As a result, cities lacked the political support necessary to reallocate road space to other modes. But new modes bring new riders and new advocates for policies that encourage multimodal travel.
We are already seeing how political support from new mobility riders works after just a few years of experience with services like on-demand rides and micromobility. Efforts to reshape our streets, reduce parking for cars, implement road pricing and install dedicated bus and bike lanes are gaining traction as never before. Cities are in the middle of a technology transformation. We don’t have autonomous ride services available yet, and we don’t even have a decent number of electric bikes and scooters approved in many cities. But we can already see that the promise of these new technologies has shifted the political calculus in support of multimodal transportation. Rather than viewing new technologies as a threat to public transit, and trying to ban or hinder them, cities should embrace them and use these advances to implement policies that urban planners have been advocating for decades.
Michele Kyrouz is a writer, lawyer and podcast host based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a former partner at Latham & Watkins with 20 years of experience as a regulatory lawyer. Michele has a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law. Michele hosts the Smarter Cars podcast about autonomous vehicles and the future of transportation. She writes about transportation policy and regulatory issues, and the impact of shared mobility on cities.