The Road to Sustainable Transportation

For transportation to remain competitive, a holistic approach to urban planning is needed

By Dr. Wassim Selman

An imperative for urban planning in America is to give people choices and make walking, cycling, and taking a bus or riding rail transit more attractive than sitting in traffic. If we don’t take such a holistic approach to urban planning for transportation, we are at risk of making our cities less competitive and less attractive to live, work, and invest, which can lead to a deterioration in the quality of our lives.

As part of its mission to improve quality of life, Arcadis produces a Sustainable Cities Mobility Index that ranks urban transportation practices across 100 of the world’s leading cities. The index considers 23 elements of mobility essential to a city’s competitive advantage, economic vitality, and overall sustainability, including factors such as: access to multiple transit modes; active commuters; bicycle infrastructure; commuting travel time; affordability; digital payment capabilities; traffic fatalities; internet connectivity, and more.

It is important to note that mobility solutions are not equally applicable to all urban areas. Factors such as weather, terrain, culture, and community preferences have a significant impact on the effectiveness of different mobility solutions. Walking and biking, for example, are not as attractive or practical in areas of extreme weather conditions and steep grades. Consequently, these factors should be carefully examined to maximize the return on mobility investments. They should also be applied in a balanced manner and without favoring one transportation mode choice or solution over others based on personal preferences.

Cities in North America have been making important and effective mobility investments in a variety of ways. These investments have had tremendous successes that include providing more travel choices, influencing the negative perception of public transportation, encouraging the use of alternative modes of commuting, leveraging technology, improving safety, and collaborating with other agencies and with the private sector to deliver a unified approach toward sustainable mobility.



To transition a city away from car dependency, we see that city leaders are already working diligently to shift public attitudes toward diverse multi-modal options. Cities are developing and implementing initiatives to incentivize public transit usage through pricing strategies, limiting parking options in city centers, and working with developers to incorporate amenities and incentive programs to encourage bike sharing or shuttles.

One of the most congested places in the U.S. — Times Square — is a good example. New York City pedestrianized the popular streets at Broadway near Times Square by permanently converting them into open space; the idea has since spread throughout the U.S. as cities seek to encourage walking and bicycle-friendly urban areas which align with public transit services and local business development.



More cities are turning to technological advancements such as transit apps, smartcards, wireless broadband service, and communication systems to encourage transit usage and improve user experience. By allowing riders to compare transit times, costs, and available routes, cities often see an uptick in ridership rates.

For instance, Chicago is improving efficiency and traveler experience by implementing digital displays, upgrading security systems, and installing 4G wireless services throughout its 22-mile underground subway stations and tunnels.

The city of Boston is looking to increase transit ridership by offering microHubs, kiosks that deliver real-time information on commuting options (bus, train, taxi, ridesharing, bike), and the use of a single fare payment system.

Los Angeles has implemented e-signs, such as bus signage and wayfinding alerts, throughout the city with the aim of streamlining trip experience and encouraging transit ridership.

This last September, Atlanta launched the North Avenue Smart Corridor project that will leverage a variety of smart traffic technologies along the corridor. The project will evaluate these technologies relative to congestion management and safety improvement.



It is critical for public agencies and the private sector to work together. Success for a sustainable future can only be achieved if everyone is working towards a common goal.

In Chicago, a key transit station — Union Station — is being renovated to accommodate for higher passenger volumes, but several agencies and private developers are looking at the surrounding area to establish a masterplan design that would add more amenities such as commercial space, offices, and residential buildings, creating a hub around the station to promote accessibility and ideal living arrangements.

We firmly believe that cities are most sustainable when they are most attractive for people to live, work, and invest. And cities that take a holistic view of urban planning are in the best seat to evaluate the social and human implications of their transportation systems, the environmental impacts, as well as efficiency, reliability, safety, and quality of life.

Dr. Wassim Selman is president of Infrastructure at Arcadis and has more than 25 years of professional experience in transportation system planning, traffic engineering and operations, and transportation management. He may be reached at