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“People are the benchmark”

How is mobility developing in big cities? And what does the traffic system of a progressive, sustainable city look like? Hermann Knoflacher, a Vienna-based transport planning researcher, has been addressing these questions for decades. In our interview he dispels outdated arguments.

Hermann Knoflacher has studied the interdependence of people and motor vehicles during his decades-long career as a civil engineer and university professor. He sees this “intimate relationship” as the deeper underlying cause of the gridlock that afflicts many of the world’s major cities. Knoflacher advocates less reliance on private means of transportation and a substantial expansion of public transportation.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Knoflacher: „Der Mensch ist der Maßstab“

What challenges are big cities facing, Professor Knoflacher?
Urban traffic systems must once again be oriented toward benefiting society as a whole. In the future the focus will be not on private forms of transport for individuals, but rather on mobility solutions that are ecological, economical and in the best interests of communities. Human beings – not the automobile and drivers – must once again become the benchmark for transport planning.

How can we make that happen?
It will require a paradigm shift in the transport field. A rethink. We have to abandon the myths that claim mobility is flourishing, that we are saving time thanks to speed and being able to pick and choose from different means of transportation. Because let’s face it, traffic systems don't save time, they use more and more of it. The selection of available transportation forms is determined by structural considerations. Nor is there growing mobility, only changes along with the population size. In the future, rational criteria like energy costs and the use of space will have to determine our transportation options.

How does the automobile industry fit into this progression?
Automakers need to adapt to the changing conditions and take on the challenges in line with the specific parameters of ecomobility.

As part of its Audi Urban Future Initiative, Audi takes an interdisciplinary approach to urban mobility, and every other year, the company presents the Audi Urban Future Award to innovative mobility concepts, among other activities. What are the distinguishing characteristics of a sustainable, visionary traffic system in a big city?
A city is an organism, comparable to that of the human being. Today our cities are on life support; they can’t stand upright on their own. When they regain their vitality, they will be more attractive and more diverse, and their inhabitants will be healthier and more involved in their communities. The traffic systems of tomorrow will function without dependency on fossil fuels and will improve the state of the environment. People will be able to move about unimpeded – particularly children in public spaces.

Are there current examples of this?
Not entire cities, but we are already seeing positive developments in individual districts and neighborhoods. These include the inner city in Vienna and the Vauban neighborhood in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, to name two examples.

We talk about cities a lot. How do things look for mobility in rural areas?
That depends on how the structures are designed. Until now these structures have often been geared toward satisfying desires related to automobile use. When the structures are adapted to serve the needs of humans, who are by their nature pedestrians, people living in rural areas will also become aware of their own strengths – instead of thinking about how to get to urban centers as quickly as possible.

If you could wish for something for the future, what would it be?
The fascination with the technical and physical mobility of the automobile, and with telecommunications, has caused people to lose their intellectual mobility. My dream will come true when people start to become free thinkers again. Because the future – if people really want to believe in it – lies in intellectual mobility.