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We need three-dimensional traffic congestion solutions

When walking the dog in my neighborhood, I increasingly have to navigate around cars that are too big to fit on the driveways and protrude out onto the pavement. I asked a neighbor why he doesn’t just park his in the garage and he told me the garage is too small…

Drone illustration
Michael Björn 

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Category, topic & hashtags

At first, I thought it might be due to gentrification and increasingly affluent neighbors having bigger cars, but it turns out that cars are actually getting bigger.

With two thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, and 80 percent of the world’s GDP set to be generated there in 15 years, another thing that is getting bigger is the amount of traffic congestion in cities.

Paradoxically, our research points to cars as the epitome of comfort for commuting: you can be alone despite all the congestion around you.

Unfortunately, this seems to have a compounding effect: increased congestion might be driving increased congestion. The longer the commute takes, the more you want to avoid public transport and use a car instead.

Before I lived in my undersized garage neighborhood, I owned a condominium built in 1928. I remember not knowing its size when buying it, since housing size in Sweden is measured in square meters whereas this condominium was built in an era that measured size in cubic meters instead.

The condo had wonderful high ceilings and the point of living there was certainly as much about volume as about area. And maybe it is time to go back to thinking in terms of volume rather than surface area also for commuting, since personal space is so important.

Although cities today only make up three percent of the earth’s surface, increasing congestion is making that set to triple. If we don’t do something, the environmental impact will be devastating.

Ways to reduce traffic congestion – the sky is the limit

Online search volumes for radical traffic solutions are interestingly high, meaning that consumers already want to see the next era of smart mobility solutions. Maybe that is why Elon Musk’s Boring Company is getting so much attention with a tunnel under Los Angeles. Here’s a company that seems to hear the cries for radical approaches to reducing traffic congestion. Yet from another perspective they are just building another subway, as if the London Underground hasn’t been doing that since 1863. Boring, indeed.

But thinking about up and down when there is no longer any room for right or left makes at least some sense. In our Ericsson ConsumerLab 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 report, we saw that as many as 39 percent of respondents think their city is so congested that it needs a road network in the air for drones and flying vehicles.

39%

Now that is radical. And unrealistic. But maybe necessary.

And electric cars might aggravate the congestion issue as battery packs are big and the CO2 impact is lower compared to petrol cars. But not only do even bigger (and heavier) cars mean aggravated congestion issues, it also means more dangerous accidents – particularly for those not sitting in the big cars. In the US, for example, nearly 6000 pedestrians died in 2016, a 46 percent jump over 2009.

Compared to that, the fact that 38 percent of those we interviewed would be worried that a drone could fall on their head seems a small price to pay. Uber’s ideas about sky ports almost start seeming reasonable.

38%

Let us focus on the sky as the limit – and the fact that 4 out of 10 respondents are interested in using flying taxis to get there. We should think of ways to use drones, improved batteries, IoT and 5G to develop traffic control systems that are smart enough to use all three dimensions of city space. Or is it more realistic to just sit by as urban sprawl explodes on a global scale?!

Find out more insights from Ericsson ConsumerLab’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2018 here, and let us know if you are ready to take to the skies to avoid traffic congestion.

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