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Current status of sustainable transport and three possible transport systems

Before starting

I am most interested in the topic of sustainable transport in the lecture class. I engage in transportation daily, and I want to think about constructing a city’s overall ecosystem in building a sustainable transportation model.

What is sustainable transport?

First, we need to know what sustainable transport is. Sustainable transport systems refer to all modes of transportation with a low environmental impact. It includes walking, cycling, mass transit-oriented development, green vehicles, car-sharing, and promoting healthy lifestyles to build and protect urban transportation systems.【1】 Sustainable transportation deals with environmental damage, sub-health problems of the population, and potentially harmful forms of transportation. Sustainable transport is one of the main modes of transportation development now.

Form of sustainable transport(1)

Problems encountered in sustainable transportation development

It seems that sustainable transportation looks excellent, so why isn’t it fully developed now? I think there are three main issues.

First of all, I think that the infrastructure in many cities does not support the development of sustainable transportation. In particular, it cannot resist the effects of extreme weather. Most sustainable transport uses electricity. In harsh environments, urban infrastructure must maintain grid reliability. Otherwise, there will be severe consequences. For example, in Texas, the power system was shut down for several days due to a cold wave【2】. In my opinion, stability brings sustainability.

Texas snow brings traffic to a halt(2)

Second, The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many of the world’s public transportation systems. These transportation systems are today underutilized as people prefer safe, private transportation. This phenomenon is especially evident in China. When there’s an outbreak around my block, I’m more inclined to ride in a car to keep myself safe. In the UK, there are also such data. In the spring of 2020, the number of people using public transportation dropped by 36%【3】.  Sustainable transport requires a safe environment.

Finally, the principles of sustainable development only apply to some cities. It is undeniable that there are many cities in the world, and each city has its characteristics. The most glaring disparities range from vehicle-oriented urban planning in the United States and China to people-oriented models in Europe. So, I think the focus of sustainable transport is different at different city scales.

Three sustainable transportation development systems

1.Small block planning model

In my vision, if it is a small city like Newcastle, we can use walking and cycling-oriented transport.  But for large-scale cities, such as cities in the United States or China, we can use the method of dividing cities. Divide the city into different blocks(neighborhoods), pedestrian-oriented within the block and vehicle-oriented outside the block. In this way, the block has more pedestrian space, activating commerce and strengthening social interaction. Barcelona’s plans for superblocks make this model feasible【4】.

Vehicles pass outside the block, and the interior becomes an event space(3)

2.Transportation building carbon cycle composite system

We all know that cities are unstable ecosystems【5】. Sustainable transport is also only one part of the system. Like in a natural ecosystem, producers, consumers, and decomposers exist. If the urban ecosystem can build a complete carbon cycle process, it can provide citizens with a sustainable environment.

Sequoia Tree Project(4)

In my idea, the city’s transportation system can be compared to consumers, and then the buildings next to the transportation system can be used as decomposers. We can break down vehicle emissions with buildings. This means that carbon emissions can have a complete cycle. We need to use building materials that can absorb carbon dioxide. In the United States, there is an “urban redwood” project which advocates building skyscrapers that can absorb and store carbon dioxide【6】.And in the UK, data show that 15% to 28% of new houses built in the UK are now made with wooden structures, thus capturing more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year【7】.

Stable and continuous urban energy flow system(5)

3.Artificial intelligence management system

I think the fourth industrial revolution is the revolution of artificial intelligence technology. In the first three revolutions, the mode of operation of transportation has undergone significant changes. Also AI can  help us build sustainable transport. In my opinion, artificial intelligence can check traffic conditions and intelligently manage traffic lights to reduce congestion. Creating an artificial intelligence traffic management system is a new way out for sustainable transportation【8】.

At last there is no clean energy in this world. Even for electrical power, we need to consider whether the natural production of lithium can support the production of all the transportation batteries in the world.

Image reference



(3):Author’s own drawing


(5):Author’s own drawing


【1】:From wikipedia

【2】:Texas Froze by DesignBy  James K. Galbraith

【3】:Investigation into the impact of the epidemic on British transport

【4】:Superblock (Superilla) Barcelona—a city redefined. By Ronika Postaria

【5】:From wikipedia

【6】:Buildings that absorb carbon dioxide! SOM’s “Urban Sequoia” Proposal Makes Skyscrapers Breathe Like Big Trees By Siyu Guo

【7】:The future trend of human architecture: the use of wooden building materials to combat climate warming By Tim Smedle

【8】:How AI in Traffic Management is Helping to Ease Traffic Congestion

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Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
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