The future of urban mobility in Europe, 10 years down the road

While the glittering lights of Europe’s cities hold the promise of new opportunities, ideas, and fun, they also hold smog and a growing air pollution problem. Not to mention the fact that it’s hard to live your dream city life as you’re trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic or spending your morning folding yourself into one metro after another. As the population of urban dwellers increases across cities from Stockholm to Milan, getting from point A to point B will only get that much more difficult.

“We believe it doesn’t make sense for people to spend one year of their lives commuting while sitting in queues and congestion,” says Fredrik Hanell, Director of Impact Ventures at EIT Urban Mobility, an initiative started by the European Union to address some of the biggest mobility challenges facing Europe’s cities.

Hanell’s focus is on identifying startups with viable solutions to these problems and providing them with support through matchmaking and funding opportunities. Since its inception in 2019, EIT Urban Mobility has invested in 86 startups.

With an eye on the latest innovations and tech trends in mobility, we asked Hanell: will our futures actually be filled with drones and hoverboards?

Cities are changing shape

Perhaps one of the most apparent changes that are taking place across Europe’s cities is the reclaiming of busy central streets. From Brussels, where the once busy Place la Bourse has been repaved and designated pedestrian-only, to the more cautious “Open Streets” project in Bucharest, which shuts down central streets for vehicles over a weekend and hosts events to get people out and about.

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“We don’t hate cars, but we see that the natural place for them needs to change. We need to look at initiatives that can contribute to change in the city. One of the consequences you see from this is that life expectancy increases, accidents decrease, and of course, pollution decreases,” says Hanell.

Rather than a new initiative, this can be seen more as a return to the historic plaza, piazza, or plateía that Europe’s cities have historically been built around, giving it an advantage in this new urban movement over sprawling car traffic-built cities like Los Angeles or Hong Kong.

In fact, EIT Urban Mobility is headquartered in Barcelona which was one of the first to introduce ‘superblocks,’ or small traffic-regulated groups of city blocks, in 2016. The most recent study of the project found there has been a 25% decrease in NO2 levels and a 17% decrease in PM10 particle levels. To put this into perspective, studies estimate that, if implemented more widely across the city, the initiative could prevent almost 700 premature deaths a year.

Photo of one of Barcelona's superblock pedestrian streets