The Future of Transport Is the Future of Cities

Migration from rural to urban areas is causing catastrophic pollution levels. That points to a bigger role for train networks.

The biggest problem facing the world’s transport planners and visionaries isn’t how to develop the most amazing new transport technologies — it’s how to fit our planet’s fast-growing population into the tight confines of its ever-growing megacities.

The world’s 25 largest cities will add about 113 million people in the 15 years through 2030, according to the United Nations Population Division. About three-quarters of that growth will come in 10 emerging-world centers: Delhi, Dhaka, Kinshasa, Shanghai, Lagos, Cairo, Chongqing, Karachi, Beijing and Mumbai. The least densely populated of that group already has more people per square kilometer than Paris, London, Tokyo or New York:


A Tale of 25 Cities

The megacities that will have to absorb the most migrants over the coming decades are the poorest and densest ones

Another way of looking at this shift is to measure rising consumption of bitumen, the tarry oil residue that’s used to bind many sealed roads. About three-quarters of global bitumen usage goes into road asphalt, so the current and forecast increase in demand is a strong indicator of how we’re paving over the planet:

Pitch Perfect

Rising consumption of bitumen is a sign of how the world's road networks are expanding

All that road transport comes at a cost, in the form of catastrophic levels of urban pollution. The most harmful varieties are particles less than one-twentieth the width of a human hair known as PM2.5. These can penetrate into the tightest spaces of the lungs, causing respiratory and other diseases. Levels in many global cities are well above those recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which stand at an annual average maximum of 12 micrograms per cubic meter for PM2.5:

Particle Accelerator

Particulate pollution is above healthy levels in many urban areas

Not all urban pollution is caused by vehicles, but getting travelers off the roads and onto dedicated and typically electrified rail networks is one way of reducing both congestion and noxious exhaust fumes. Luckily, the world is currently in the middle of a revolution in metropolitan railways, with about as many kilometers being built in the decade through 2022 as in the 150 years previously, thanks most of all to explosive growth of entirely new systems in Asia:

Going Underground

The building of new metro networks in Asia-Pacific is accelerating

Congestion isn’t confined to the ground. As cities get bigger and the incomes of the people living in them rise, the amount of air travel between the world’s cities is set to increase, too. The most intense growth will be on the shorter- and medium-haul intra-regional markets served by the likes of the Airbus SE A320 and Boeing Co. 737 — but a crucial bottleneck will be the capacity of the airports that service this traffic:

Fly Away

Traffic within six major markets will account for the largest share of increased travel

Since the globe’s urban population overtook that of rural areas in 2007, a further 777 million people have moved to the cities, based on World Bank data. How the world deals with the pressure, as urbanization pushes our biggest metro areas still closer to breaking point, will do more than anything to define the shape of transport over the coming decades. 

Image: Pexels

Source: Bloomberg

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.