New Urban Mobility Alliance


What is next for my city? It’s a fair question and “disruption” seems like a pretty good answer. But how can we channel it and leverage it to realise our goal of making cities places where we want to live and where almost all our needs are met? Harriet Tregoning provides the insight to Madlyn McAuliffe and Alessia Giorgiutti

When the pandemic began, the city of Bogotá responded in a matter of days with expanded networks of temporary bicycle lanes to support safe, distanced means of travel. Some of these bikeways, like those on Avenida Séptima, will become permanent, © Carlos F. Pardo

What is next for my city? Even pre-2020, that was a top question on the minds of urban planners, city officials, transportation service providers and city-dwellers alike.

Disruption — from the arrival of innovative new technologies and services to the devastating effects of climate change to global shifts in how we live, work, and move as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — is the name of the game, and it is up to us to decide how we will leverage these disruptions to realize our goals. As a former director at the District of Columbia Office of Planning and an official at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, Harriet Tregoning is no stranger to tackling change head-on. Now, Tregoning leads NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance, a non-profit organization that brings together the public sector, private sector, and communities to channel tech-based disruptions in urban transport to create joyful cities where sustainable and just mobility is the new normal. Here is what she has to say about the future of cities.

About NUMO

Thinking Cities (TC): In 2018, the Shared Mobility Principles for Liveable Cities were introduced to guide urban decision-makers. A year later, the NUMO alliance was formed to help organizations and communities put those principles into action, often by leveraging technological disruptions in mobility. What has changed in the meantime, and why is it more important than ever for cities to plan for the future?

Harriet Tregoning (HT): Both NUMO and the Shared Mobility Principles were created to help cities leverage disruption — from new technology to new mobility services and the data they generate. Since then, disruption has only accelerated — and that is including the COVID-19 pandemic as both a devastating public health crisis and a massive disruption to the way we live, work, and move. The pandemic also highlighted aspects of our society that should have been disrupted decades ago, like how our streets are designed to prioritize moving cars over people, and how our transportation systems, especially in the US, are built around and perpetuate personal automobile ownership, excluding anyone who cannot afford or who does not want to own a car from participating in the economy and accessing daily needs. At NUMO, we believe that disruption can be leveraged to create opportunity — opportunity for change, for advancing equity and for tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time, including our rapidly changing global climate.

Shared Mobility Principles

TC: What is the main lesson you have learned from looking at our cities during the pandemic?

HT: Change is possible, even in our most deeply entrenched institutions. But it will take action to fix the problems that actually need fixing. When bus and rail lines shut down or curtailed services, essential workers, people of colour, lower-income people and those who cannot or choose not to own cars — those groups struggled to commute to work, replace lost jobs and access daily needs like groceries and healthcare. And chronically inaccessible, unreliable mobility is not unique to the pandemic; this was a common struggle before COVID-19 because the US has long substituted automobility for proximity in everything from our land use to the policies that decide how we fund public transit. We can do better than that. Our mission now is to get those institutions that have experienced disruption — the cities, public agencies, employers, and others — to see they are actors with power to respond in ways that could create better outcomes and more sustainable, equitable systems.

The pandemic highlighted aspects of our society that should have been disrupted decades ago, such as how our transportation systems, especially in the US, are built around and perpetuate personal automobile ownership,

TC: How can the European perspective influence the dialogue on urban transport and development in the United States, and vice versa?

HT: One enormous way in which the European perspective can influence the US is through stories of the different outcomes that result from European investment in nearly ubiquitous public transit. Are workforce participation, poverty rates, household wealth, health and measures of disparity different in the US versus Europe because of the differences in affordable access? Take Leipzig, a city the NUMO team has visited often, where there is not a price premium for homes with access to transit because you can get anywhere affordably, conveniently, and reliably. In the US, transit has become an amenity, even a luxury, for those who can afford the higher prices of housing near transit. That also illustrates the backward nature of land use in the US In Europe, land use is more compact and mixed. It is normal for you to be able to walk to meet daily needs within your community. I am not saying European cities have no problems, but I believe that the US has a lot to learn from European transportation and land use. As for how the US can influence Europe, I think the US has lessons to share about collaborative approaches that bring together the public sector, private sector, NGOs, and universities around transportation investments. For example, not far from our NUMO offices, we can walk to a metro train station that was infilled along an existing subway line and paid for by the city, the federal government, and nearby private landowners.

The European perspective can influence the US through stories of the different outcomes that result from European investment in nearly ubiquitous public transit

Around the world, cities, working with public- and private-sector partners, are experimenting with new ways to provide safe, reliable, non-motorized mobility options for communities. During the pandemic, Detroit, Michigan’s Office of Mobility Innovation, with the support of NextEnergy, Spin, MoGo, General Motors and NUMO, launched a pilot to expand access to mobility for essential workers through low-cost electric bikes and scooters. © Detroit Office of Mobility Innovation

TC: Which concepts about urbanism and mobility should we leave in the past, and which should we take with us into the future?

HT: What to take into the future: that mobility is freedom, and that we should be able to move around our cities in ways that are safe, active and bring smiles to our faces. During the pandemic, we have seen the proliferation of slow streets, expanded bike lane networks, “streateries”, and myriad other reallocations of street space, some of which are becoming permanent, that prioritize walking, bicycling, and using other modes, getting outside and recreation. Now as we enter the next phases of recovery, we would loathe to give the streets back to car use. Let us take that sense of freedom into the future and better plan our cities for joy and community. What to leave behind? The assumption that owning and driving a car is a prerequisite to access the economy, opportunity, and daily needs. Being stuck in traffic is not joyful, nor is having to share the road with fast-moving, dangerous vehicles. Automobility is an option, but we need to welcome choices, from electric bikes to e-scooters and beyond, for every kind and length of trip, and for all ages and abilities, to create an accessible mobility ecosystem that supports our needs.

Harriet Tregoning is Director of NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance

We can leave behind the assumption that owning and driving a car is a prerequisite to access the economy, opportunity, and daily needs

TC: What is next for cities?

HT: What is next for cities is what we are just starting to grapple with: inequality and extreme disparities. These challenges are exacerbated by the transportation decisions and investments city, state and national governments make. We need to build more equitable, sustainable, and joyful cities where every person in every neighbourhood has access to daily needs without having to own or use a car. That means making investments to support public transit not just for 9-5 commuters, but especially for those traveling throughout the day (especially since we do not know if that peak commute will come back). That means forming public-private partnerships to craft integrated mobility ecosystems that provide a number of choices for moving around our cities instead of assuming we will all be in cars. That also means addressing land use patterns that have long ingrained the idea that we live far away from where we work — a particular problem in the US where rural land is cheap and development in denser areas can result in gentrification and displacement, if not done carefully.

Harriet Tregoning is Director of NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance. Madlyn McAuliffe and Alessia Giorgiutti are, respectively, Communications Manager at NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance, and Project and Communication Officer at POLIS Network. Contact them: madlyn@numo.global and agiorgiutti@polisnetwork.eu

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