Mobility and the Connected City: Prioritizing Public Value in the Changing Mobility Landscape


Streets and their sidewalks—the main public places of a city—are its most vital organs.

—Jane Jacobs

As vital organs of the city, streets and sidewalks not only move people but bring them together. When well designed and operated, they support commerce, encourage social capital, enable healthy behaviors such as biking and walking, and produce cleaner air. Conversely, these vital organs, when poorly designed or managed, can encourage activities that result in substantial negative externalities, including increased safety concerns as cars collide with bikes and scooters with pedestrians.

Technological advancements have changed how a city’s residents and officials experience connectedness. People use social media to share experiences and information. Sophisticated municipal data officers use mapping and data tools to respond with more specificity to the needs of a family or neighborhood. Private companies use platforms to facilitate new shared mobility options. Yet city agencies still too often act independently. Connectedness—neighbor to neighbor or worker to job—requires new policies, governance structures, and operating models or these organisms will no longer be so vital.

Indeed, not only do cities and regions currently disperse transit management across too many departments, they rarely focus on the consumer and do not fully value streets and sidewalks as public assets when making decisions about land use, sustainability, public safety, and employment.

These municipal tradeoffs can often explode into the public realm around a particular problem such as municipal interaction with transportation network companies (TNCs) and shared micromobility providers of bicycles and scooters. The policy and regulation vacuum, produced when regulation lags behind innovation, can result in cities turning sidewalks and avenues over to the boldest commercial provider of shared mobility. Lack of consensus about the broader goals of transit management and regulation results in a patchwork of responses and an asymmetry of negotiating power between vendors and a city.

In this new mobility world, one could even argue that streets and sidewalks are not even public goods in the classic sense, which defines such a good as one where consumption by one individual does not reduce its availability or exclude others from consuming it. Tradeoffs exist in planning, but they need to be made with a clearer set of choices—bus rapid transit lanes slow down other vehicles; micromobility vehicles can clutter pedestrian spaces. Understanding the purposes of streets and sidewalks will sharpen the focus on how to create a broader narrative that produces positive results for the common good consistent with a clear definition of public value.

Executive Summary

In this paper we will look at the values and goals cities affect with policies concerning connected mobility, and how to create a new framework that aligns with these objectives. First, we identify the transformative changes affecting cities and mobility. Second, we discuss in more detail the guiding values and goals that cities have around mobility with examples of these values in practice. Our next paper, Effectively Managing Connected Mobility Marketplaces, discusses the different regulatory approaches that cities can leverage to achieve these goals.

We recommend that cities identify various public values, such as Equity or Sustainability, and use these to shape their transit policy. Rather than segmenting the rapidly changing mobility space, cities should take advantage of the interconnectivity of issues like curb space management, air quality, and e-commerce delivery to guide public policy. Cities must establish a new system to meet the challenges and opportunities of this new landscape, one that is centered around common values, prioritizes resident needs, and is informed by community engagement.

In conclusion, cities must use specific public values lenses when planning and evaluating all the different facets of mobility. Transportation has entered a new phase, and we believe that cities should move forward with values- and community-driven policies that frame changing mobility as an opportunity to amend and improve previous transportation policies.

Access the whole paper as a PDF here.

About the Author

Betsy Gardner

Betsy Gardner is the editor of Data-Smart City Solutions and the producer of the Data-Smart City Pod. Prior to joining the Ash Center, Betsy worked in a variety of roles in higher education, focusing on deconstructing racial and gender inequality through research, writing, and facilitation. She also researched government spending and transparency at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Betsy holds a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern University, a bachelor’s degree in Art History from Boston University, and a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling from the Harvard Extension School.