Soft mobility for users, for the community, for the planet
The climate emergency is forcing us to rationalise energy expenditure and re-examine the weight ratio, i.e. by optimising the total weight of the materials transported compared to what we are really seeking to transport. In addition to collective transport, it is becoming obvious that soft mobility – like walking, cycling, scooters or monowheels – must be prioritised for transporting both people and goods.
While there is now consensus on this idea, the word ‘soft’ currently only refers to the impact of these transport modes on the environment. It would be interesting to expand the notion to include individuals and the community. This implies establishing acceptable safety conditions for users and those around them, as well as adapting infrastructure and regulations. Many cities across the globe – built around the car – are lacking pavements or have roads unsuitable for electric scooters, for example. We have experienced this in France: when these transport modes invade cities ill-adapted to their use, they are no longer quite so ‘soft’ when it comes to safety!
This grid analysis of ‘soft’ mobility applies to every travel mode, not just those used for first/last mile trips. Thus, does the RER (réseau express régional / commuter rail services for Paris and its region) qualify as a soft mode of transport? And if not, what is missing to make it so?
Let’s also bear in mind that in many countries – especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Arab states (except the Gulf and Lebanon) – walking remains by far the most widely used mode of transport. For the poorest inhabitants of this region of the world, 75% of daily journeys are made on foot (compared to 45% for the wealthiest)(a). In these territories, therefore, the challenge is facilitating uptake of transport modes that are both faster and more comfortable for people, as well as environmentally friendly. In other words, this will involve avoiding the ‘car is king’ phase altogether in cities and leapfrogging directly to responsible modes of transport.
With regards medium and long distances, the issue of soft mobility is different. For the former, often intracontinental, there are solutions – starting with the train – for working towards more virtuous mobility. On the other hand, the plane still represents practically the only way to travel from one continent to another. A reality that raises questions on the relevance of some long-distance journeys: is acceptable to travel 3,000km for a meeting? Likewise for tourism: how can we reduce trips while maintaining openness to the world and travel opportunities for all.
a trends study on transport in Africa, by Engineering for Change and Yamaha Ventures / May 2018
of everyday travel is by foot for the poorest in Africa
accidents involving electric scooters and rollerblades in France between 2013 and 2018
of bike routes for visiting Europe
Sylvie Caruso Cahn
S’cool Bus: a communal bike for the school run
This electric-assist bike-bus driven by a coolducteur has room for eight riders. If used for school runs, parents can leave the car at home. Ten routes are already up and running in the Seine-Eure metropolitan area of Normandy, France.
Flygskam: Flight shame takes off!
Feelings of guilt over flying now has a name: ‘flight shame’, from the Swedish flygskam. Initiated and made popular by the young climate activist Greta Thunberg, this concept is encouraging many Swedes to replace the plane with the train. The movement is gradually spreading across Europe.
China: shared bike cemeteries
Shocking images by Chinese photographer Wu Guoyong reveal abandoned or damaged shared bikes piled up by the millions in the middle of the landscape. These ‘cemeteries’ remind us that to be truly soft, mobility must be planned, supported, and benefit from appropriate infrastructure from start to finish.