Construction and Cities of the Future

Urbanization and technology are changing how the industry builds transport systems

Savvy construction companies recognize that the growth of technology and the evolution of cities will fundamentally change how projects are built and managed throughout the lifecycle. Perhaps one of the biggest trends today is urbanization.

According to the UN, www.un.org, New York, N.Y., 68% of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050, compared to 55% today. What’s more, the UN expects the global population to skyrocket in the next few decades, potentially adding 2.5 billion more people to urban areas by 2050. Urbanization, which the UN defines as “the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas,” will likely cause a sharp increase not only in the number of large cities around the world, but also the density of these cities in terms of population and commercial activity and, consequently, the need for mobility services.

Opinions about the future of transportation vary. While some people envision a future system that emphasizes public transit, others envision a future that emphasizes AVs (autonomous vehicles). In reality, the future of urban transportation is probably somewhere in between, blending AVs used for personal and on-demand solo or ride-sharing transportation solutions with public transit and microtransit and alternative mobility options like e-bikes and scooters. Experts foresee a paradigm shift from transportation as a product (i.e., car ownership) to MaaS (mobility as a service), in which users pay for transportation on a per-use basis. This model allows people to access different modes of transportation without taking on the cost of ownership.

Urbanization isn’t the only trend shaping future cities and their transportation systems. The IoT (Internet of Things) is creating opportunities for sensorization and automation of complex city systems. It’s revolutionizing urban transport, including how fleets and logistics are managed and handled. As the next generation of urban centers begins to take shape, cities are emphasizing smart technologies in order to meet the demands of tomorrow.

The Future of Urban Transportation

Matthias Winkenbach, director of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Megacity Logistics Lab, https://megacitylab.mit.edu, Cambridge, Mass., says as urban centers grow, cities will become more complex and difficult to optimize from a mobility point of view. He also says increasing urban density could create new problems for the cities of tomorrow. “Density is a key driver of uncertainty when it comes to planning and operating efficient urban logistics and mobility services,” Winkenbach says. “Density creates congestion, density raises the likelihood of random disruptions, such as accidents, and, very often, density also negatively correlates with public safety.”

This challenge is further amplified by the rise of the on-demand economy. “Driven by the rapid growth in electronic commerce, consumption—and, thus, the need for mobility and logistics services in cities—is becoming ever more fragmented and individualized, causing a significant amount of additional miles traveled and emissions generated by commercial vehicle fleets to supply these buzzing urban centers,” says Winkenbach.

Ideally, future urban mobility and transportation systems will be flexible, dynamic, and interoperable. Winkenbach anticipates more seamless ways of transitioning between different urban transportation modes, such as personal cars, shared mobility services, and mass public transit, which would enable system-level optimization of urban mobility. System-level optimization is different than today’s status quo, which mostly consists of what Winkenbach considers to be the “socially suboptimal scenario” of individuals focused on optimizing their own journeys.

Optimization and efficiency will be key to future urban transport since there will be more people demanding mobility options. John Stankovic, a professor at the University of Virginia, https://engineering.virginia.edu/, Charlottesville, Va., and director of the Link Lab, https://engineering.virginia.edu/link-lab-0, says in the future, the transportation system will be more efficient than it is today. Besides placing more emphasis on AVs, he also expects public transit to become more integrated. “Integrated public transportation will be able to quickly react when problems occur in one area,” he says. “(For example), when disruption in the train system occurs, more buses and taxis can quickly be dispatched to reduce the impact of this disruption.”

The impact of autonomous-vehicle technology will affect both personal and public transportation modes, as well as the transportation infrastructure. Stankovic expects autonomous trains to occur first, followed by autonomous vehicles, such as specialized vans, buses, corporate cars, taxis, and personal vehicles. Designated lanes may be built on highways and some roads to accommodate AVs. In public transit, AVs could replace low-performing, fixed-route bus services with more user-focused on-demand options. Autonomous, on-demand microtransit could similarly offer more flexible mobility options in areas that aren’t traditionally served by fixed-route, fixed-schedule transit.

The IoT, alongside machine-learning algorithms, will help improve the performance and safety of transportation systems in smart cities because it will make large amounts of data available to decisionmakers. This will mean improved fleet schedules, more efficient movements of assets, and quicker reactions to disruptions. More data could also improve logistics for the delivery of goods, which, thanks to on-demand consumerism, will be much needed in the dense urban centers of tomorrow.


“When goods movement is automated as a rule, space allocated for in-building goods movement (e.g., warehouses or loading docks) can be minimized through the reduction of space for human operators and precision driving.”
–Melissa Ruhl, Arup

The Future of Logistics and Fleet

Alex Lybarger, a senior applied R&D engineer for the Transportation Research Center, www.trcpg.com, East Liberty, Ohio, says urbanization and the establishment of smart cities will create new options for mobility and address increasingly complex logistics and fleet operations. “With the implementation of connected vehicles and infrastructure, data is leading cities into the future,” Lybarger says. “Connected technology enables enhanced fleet operations like realtime route adjustment and enhanced route planning, especially in a dense urban environment, which help solve first-mile/last-mile issues.”

Solving last-mile logistics issues may require some shifts in urban planning for cities of the future. Melissa Ruhl, a transportation planner for Arup, www.arup.com, San Francisco, Calif., says as e-commerce and demand for faster goods delivery continue their explosive growth, competition for urban curb space and loading docks is likewise increasing.

“To manage this pressure, logistics companies and other goods-movement stakeholders are beginning to experiment with new time and space-saving designs,” she says. “For urban residential and office land uses, for example, common carrier lockers are gaining traction, saving nearly 80% of the time required to service multitenant buildings. Future proposals for urban deliveries center on consolidated freight depots. In the long-term, these centralized locations could enable small, autonomous pods to deliver goods to receiving ports in buildings, obviating the need for full-sized loading docks.”

Eventually, a range of other designs and technologies will help facilitate efficient last-mile goods delivery. “With the expansion of lockers and more elaborate receptacle systems, night deliveries could become more common, made more attractive when trucks can be autonomously driven,” Ruhl adds. “When goods movement is automated as a rule, space allocated for in-building goods movement (e.g., warehouses or loading docks) can be minimized through the reduction of space for human operators and precision driving.” Although Ruhl expects the last 50 feet from truck to door to require human delivery personnel for the foreseeable future, many fleet operators are already rethinking the traditional paradigms of last-mile logistics in response to urbanization challenges.


Cybercriminals could also hack AV systems to steal valuable information, control AVs to disrupt traffic networks or inflict physical harm, or even access critical national infrastructure.

The Way Forward

The path to an efficient, user-centric transit future is complex. To build this future, partners from industry and the public sector will need to work together to devise new and innovative solutions to various urban-mobility challenges. The MIT Megacity Logistics Lab is one example of how firms can liaison between the private and public sectors, promote the sharing of best practices, and facilitate discussion about the urban mobility solutions of tomorrow. Through this discussion, stakeholders will begin to understand what challenges need to be addressed now and what challenges may be coming down the road.

Two challenges that need to be considered and addressed for the future of mobility include infrastructure and cybersecurity. Financial stress makes it difficult for many U.S. cities to install and maintain the sensing and actuation infrastructure necessary to support smart city services. However, recognizing these services are vital to the future of their economies, many municipalities begin their efforts by focusing on their most pressing demands. Often, transportation is one of them.

The future transportation system may also create increased security risks, and cities need to plan now for what it may take to mitigate these risks. Incorporating AVs into urban transportation systems will require existing transportation infrastructure to be upgraded with ICTs (information and communication technologies), and, therefore, Araz Taeihagh and Hazel Lim from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, www.nus.edu.sg, Singapore, Asia, say precautions must be taken. “The increased connectivity of vehicles and transport infrastructure can expose AVs and the entire transport system to privacy and cybersecurity risks,” they say. “Third-party access and misuse of the data stored in AVs has become a legitimate concern in several countries. AVs’ external V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication networks can also be accessed to conduct surveillance, raising questions about whether the extent to which the access to AV systems and networks should be restricted.”

Cybercriminals could also hack AV systems to steal valuable information, control AVs to disrupt traffic networks or inflict physical harm, or even access critical national infrastructure. “To tackle these risks, AV systems and connected infrastructure must be designed to be robust against these cyber threats with a solid foundation of security, privacy, and trust, which would first require industry players and governments to identify the full range of potential cyber threats and to collaborate in setting the relevant standards and system security requirements,” Taeihagh and Lim conclude.

Joe Kochan, COO of US Ignite, www.us-ignite.org, Washington, D.C., says it’s possible to imagine future transportation systems that are dramatically more responsive to the needs of citizens and that involve much less waste of energy and space, but stakeholders must also think about the potential downsides of these systems, including privacy and security. “It’s also possible to imagine these systems being insensitive to the privacy and security needs of citizens,” Kochan says.

“Transportation freedom—being able to be where you want, when you want—is a very important part of people’s lives, and if some of the data privacy problems appearing in social media are translated into the transportation space, people will lose faith in the systems and feel less free.”

Municipal governments have an important role to play in the safe, secure, and private development of autonomous transportation systems. It’ll therefore be important for cities to tackle safety, security, and privacy issues as proactively as possible.

Cities need to be asking the right questions, like whether public AVs should be considered “public space” where surveillance is considered acceptable. By getting different stakeholders involved, including thought leaders in industry, government, technology, and transportation, as well as specialists in realms like cybersecurity, cities can begin to pave the way for the next generation of urban transportation and a new era marked by urbanization and the IoT.

Cities will operate differently in the future than they do today, and the way people navigate around these smart cities will be different too. New transportation paradigms will replace the old ones, and new tech will likely take hold.

Logistics and fleet operations will also adapt, and all of this will raise questions about the safety of roadways, privacy of citizens, and security of data, but these uncertainties mustn’t stop forward progress.

“The future is what we make of it,” says Lybarger of the Transportation Research Center. “The focus for any transportation system is to improve safety and efficiency in a cost-effective manner. The future urban setting will be connected to all users, creating an interconnected web of data that will only better the lives of its inhabitants and visitors.”