· 9 min read

This Is What Will Save Our Cities


Chapter 1: The World I Want to Live In

Cities are wonderful places filled with energy and diversity, but they’re hijacked. Our supposed “public” space is for cars only and streets look like this. (Picture of street with cars.) It doesn’t make any sense that it’s dangerous to move around in a city as a person.

The world I want to live in is one where mobility is reliable and almost invisible. When we want to commute or see our friends, we either jack in to the vast fabric of public transport or we connect to our exoskeleton and zip through the streets quietly, cleanly and efficiently.

The world I want to live in is one where it’s fun to move around. Remember that absolute feeling of freedom the first time you could ride a bike? Let’s expand that to larger distances and more trips so we can keep a smile on our face for longer.

The world I want to live in is one where we re-architected car-space for the mental health of its citizens. The positive effect on well-being from being around nature is well-understood, so we made sure there are trees around every corner.

This is a world where life is given back to the city.
We’re no longer surrounded by dead metal boxes with strangers in them, but by our fellow citizens who are just as alive as we are.
The outside is no longer a space we go through but a space we go to.

We can make this world a reality. In fact we must because it’s not only for ourselves—it’s also the only way to start healing our planet we’ve been treating so poorly.

Chapter 2: How We’re Going To Fix It

To figure out how we can make this a reality, let’s go back to basic physics. The energy required to make something move is a function of its mass, the acceleration and the distance.

Okay, now let’s look at the most common trip: a private car with a single driver and no passengers. That’s, say, 80kg of human and 2000kg of car—mostly empty seats and heavy steel frame. We’re chugging this through traffic jams every day, making a ton of noise and each of them emitting deadly gasses right where the population density is highest.

We’re moving much more car than actual payload—like the actual purpose of the trip can be seen as a statistical error. Weight is waste, and this is at the core of all our mobility challenges.

The solutions are right in front of us, it’s time we shift towards them. We might have a long way to go, and we might have laws working against us, but we’ve got a group of incredible people putting their weight into making this a reality. A few weeks ago, we held the first European Micro Mobility Meeting and we’re starting to build a continent-wide community that is dedicated to making mobility micro.

What the people around here figured out is that micromobility isn’t just good for congestion and the environment—I’ll get to that later—but honestly in most cases it’s simply better! The flexibility you have with something that you can carry around and that can let you zip through the city is incredible. It’s the closest thing we have to rocket shoes: you can go almost anywhere you can get to on foot, but you can also do it at 25 or even 50 kilometers per hour.

So at this event our goal was to promote and spread the joy of micromobility. It truly warms my heart to see the smiles of the people who are “getting it” the for the first time when these volunteers are teaching them to ride. I mean, they’re doing the community a great service.

The professionals in this space are also deeply involved in promoting and spreading the message, the support coming from the industry is great.

Let’s look at the Energy Usage of Transport Methods. As you can see, moving to public transport already has a large impact when you look at energy usage—but the effect on space usage will be even larger. The most efficient means of transport are, you guessed it, light electric vehicles—using 1-5% of the energy of a car.

So to reclaim our sanity and save the planet, we’ve got to spend less energy on transport and get rid of traffic jams. Mass transit is the best way of fixing traffic jams, and micromobility is our most energy-efficient method of transportation.

  • Car: 1100 - 5000 J/(pax-m)
  • Bus: 1300 J/(pax-m)
  • Tram: 730 J/(pax-m)
  • Metro: 420 J(pax-m)
  • Bicycle: 110 J/(pax-m)
  • Powerful electric unicycle: 85 J/(pax-m)
  • Small electric scooter: 41 J/(pax-m)

But if it’s all so obvious, why hasn’t this happened yet?

Chapter 3: What’s Holding Us Back

The reasoning of our legislators around micromobility seems to be this: there are an increasing amount of accidents with shared e-scooters, so no light electric vehicle can ever be more powerful than a regular bike. I’m like, what?

Safety is crucial, yes, but this line of reasoning only makes sense if you have no vision for the future at all and want everything to stay as it is. When cars were first invented in the 1920s and they started riding in the streets, imagine how dangerous that must have been. No traffic laws, no driver licenses, all streets shared with everyone. At that time it was almost put into law to limit cars to 25 miles per hour. If that would have happened, cars would have been completely handicapped and they wouldn’t have revolutionized the world at all.

We’re in a similar situation with micromobility right now: they can clearly be more useful than bikes, but there is not enough infrastructure for these vehicles to do that safely, there are too many people riding without protection and without good driving skills, and people walking or driving cars don’t know what to expect.

However it doesn’t mean that the solution is to prevent or delay the revolution in city transport we so desperately need.

For most people, the switch to micromobility is one that’s insanely easy. If you can ride a bike, you can ride an e-scooter. Learning to ride an electric unicycle takes a couple of hours. You can take a rental scooter for a few euros, or own one for the fraction of the cost of a car. If you own one you don’t need parking space either, so the city doesn’t need to invest millions to give residents cheap parking spots. You still have all the freedom of being able to go anywhere, even if there’s no public transport, and honestly it’s just a ton of fun.

Switching to a light electric vehicle is easier than switching to an electric car, and it’s better. Electrification of cars is doing too little, too late and on the timeframe of decades. Micromobility is here now, just one trip to the store away.

So okay, I think at this point we can agree that replacing more car trips with light electric vehicles is a good thing, and is what we want to strive for.

In the city of Brussels, almost 60% of the trips are less than 5km and already here 30-40% of them are done with a car. Mind you, this is in a relatively small, dense city with decent public transport. If you don’t need to transport a ton of stuff, honestly, it doesn’t make sense if you can ride a bike. I live here and these trips are definitely faster by bike even. The average speed of a car here is less than 20km/h and then you have to find a parking spot. 35% of the people on the road here are looking for one.

Okay so what makes the switch? I want to focus here on trips without a big need for carrying payload, that’s a completely different discussion. I’d say this:

  • First of all, having a light vehicle, knowing what it’s like and for micromobility realizing that it’s fun
  • Safety. This is primarily in infrastructure because most accidents happen because it’s cars that hit you. But also protecting yourself and driving skills—especially if we’ll have more people filling up bike lanes.
  • Comfort. Most people don’t like riding when they’re exposed to rain, and it rains a lot here in Belgium.
  • Finally, to be able to replace more trips you need to be able to cover more distance in a decent amount of time. So the last factor is maximum speed.

This clearly shows the challenge we have in front of us, because we need to change multiple things simultaneously.

  • Restructure our mobility infrastructure to have more space for light vehicles that is protected from cars.
  • Require more safe driving. I’m very grateful I have experience riding a car because it has a huge effect on how safe I can be in traffic on my monowheel.
  • Increase the maximum allowed speed of these vehicles while making sure they don’t fall apart and have good manoeuvrability and braking characteristics, and can do this together with other traffic going at a similar speed. But that’s infrastructure again.

We know the problem, we know the solution and we now know the path. There’s only one thing left: make this happen.

Chapter 4: Make Mobility Micro

My name is Marcel Samyn and I’m part of a group of citizens that wants to revolutionize mobility in our cities.

Weight is waste and we want to end the terrible inefficiencies of transporting ourselves in cars.

One more lane is not going to fix our problems, and electric self-driving cars are doing too little, too late.

Our belief comes from the basic physics that by transporting less, we can get be 10 to 100 times more energy efficient.

We have the opportunity today to stop using our cars so much, and switch to public transport, highly efficient personal mobility devices or bikes that give us a free workout in the meantime.

When we do this, public space can be reinvigorated into space for people. We can bring back nature, bring back kids playing on the streets and bring back life to our grey cities.

Let’s go and make mobility micro.

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