If you’re someone like me who would like to see the world become less dependent upon cars of all types, particularly those with internal combustion engines, to be replaced by more micromobility, public transport and other solutions, then it has been a pretty depressing week.
But not only cannot we afford to lose hope, data suggests that the tables are starting to turn.
In this article I’d like to summarise three separate news stories, then draw some links and suggest what our response should be as practitioners and/or advocates for micromobility.
Starting at the global scale, we’re observing the disturbing spectacle of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as Cop28.
Even before the conference began in Dubai, the signs were not good, with only one of the 20 sponsors having signed up to UN-backed net zero science based targets, as this article outlines in more detail.
This year’s summit is being presided over by UAE Sultan Al Jaber, who also happens to be the CEO of ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). I think that’s what they call putting a fox in charge of the hen house.
These two comments alone that he made at one of the conference sessions put this beyond doubt.
“There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”
“Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the world, as we have reported in a separate article this month, the newly elected Mayor of Auckland, NZ, Wayne Brown said in proudly announcing the cancellation of a micromobility hub that was to be part of a carpark redevelopment, “I was elected to stop wasting money on stupid stuff like that, so I am happy we have been able to knock it on the head.”
Instead, Mr Brown is looking forward to adding more car parking to this city centre location. Anti-cycling was a core part of Mr Brown’s election campaign platform.
At least the overall development, transforming a huge, underutilised multi story carpark into a NZ$1.5 billion (A$1.4 billion) high rise mixed use development, will improve the utilisation of the prime city centre near-waterfront site and will in itself encourage more use of micromobility.
Finally, across the ditch in Australia a $20 billion underground motorway network and interchange was opened with great fanfare in Sydney, only to immediately induce massive traffic jams.
In all three examples, the protagonists are trying to solve future problems with flawed, past solutions.
But the volume of noise is not always reflective of actions.
For example in relation to Mr Al Jaber’s comments, as this report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance on electrification investment trends which includes both transport and power generation shows, in 2022 alone US$1.1 trillion (A$1.67 trillion) was invested in renewable electrification, up by US$261 billion (A$395 billion). Other reports show that investment in renewables now outstrips non-renewables. Better buy your cave fast before you’re crushed by the stampede.
Moving on to the Auckland and Sydney examples, as most readers of the Micromobility Report already know, building more motorways causes induced traffic demand and simply moves bottlenecks from one pinch point to another. Meanwhile, increasing car parking discourages other transport modes and leads to urban wastelands.
The usual arguments are already being heard in Sydney, in particularly that the latest bottleneck situation will improve when the next stretch of tunnel currently under construction, called the Western Harbour Link, is completed, at a further cost of a mere $7.4 billion, having just blown out by another $1.4 billion.
What Should We Do?
Clearly the majority of our politicians are swept up in the road building / fossil fuel lobby / popularist media vortex that ‘1950’s Los Angeles’ is the only transport and urban planning model that will work in Australia in the 21st century.
We are part of the minority that know they’re mistaken. Micromobility works because it’s everything that automobility is not – small, light, inexpensive, quiet, equitable, safe (when protected from cars)… the list goes on.
Liveable, attractive cities – destinations where people not only want to visit for holidays, but also live and work, are almost always a by-product of higher density than cars can support. They’re perfect for micromobility, which in turn will enhance them and the lives of their residents and visitors even further.
In the end, the most cost-effective solutions usually win. Think how much safe protected infrastructure could have been built throughout Australia for the $27 billion cost of just two underground road projects in one city.
Even though there are many times when we feel like we’re getting nowhere, as practitioners and advocates for micromobility, we must keep doing our best in whatever our individual role may be, and we must work as effectively as possible together to influence others.
It has already taken far longer than it should need to, plus we have a further long hard road ahead, but we must persevere, despite discouraging events.
I may not live long enough to see the changes I’m advocating for, but many reasons, including for the sake of my grandchildren, I’m not going to give up.