Building for a New Urban Mobility


London needs to build more homes. According to the Greater London Authority’s central forecast, the capital will need 660,000 new homes over the next ten years, with a large proportion of these being affordable. New homes on this scale would represent a 20 per cent increase in London’s housing stock, and would in turn create demand for more schools, hospitals, shops and workplaces – along with all the infrastructure that accompanies a growing population.

However, in the rush to build more affordable homes, we must also ensure that these homes and neighbourhoods are fit for the future. A building planned in 2020 could welcome its first residents as late as 2025 or 2030 – and most buildings are designed to have a lifespan of over 50 years. Hence, we need to plan with the future in mind, at a time when the rate of technological change and urgency of climate action has never been greater.

Transport experts say that we are on the brink of a “new age” of mobility that could be as transformative as the advent of the private motorcar. Technological
change has great potential to change the way we move around cities, and it is already clear that urban mobility is being reshaped by three major technological shifts – namely greater vehicle connectivity, automation, and electrification.

These innovations may well have deeper implications for how we use streets and buildings, alongside broader changes in lifestyles and working patterns. If we continue to design for the technologies and habits of the 20th century – private car ownership, a daily commute to work or school, and weekly trips to the shops – will new technology and changing habits hasten obsolescence? Or will these design and planning approaches lock in outdated and environmentally destructive behaviour?

There are other reasons why development should be designed with future mobility in mind. New developments will have to plug into an already stretched transport system. London suffers from deep inefficiencies when it comes to urban travel, at a high cost to the city’s economy, society and environment.

In particular, Londoners have to deal with:

  • Long commuting times. The average Londoner spends one and a half hours commuting to and from work every day, the longest commute of any UK region. 2
  • Congestion. According to INRIX, a leading US road traffic research institute, London’s roads are amongst the most congested in the world. 3 Their index shows London to be more congested than Rio de Janeiro – a city of a similar population size but with a much smaller public transport offer.
  • Air pollution. Londoners are exposed to levels of air pollution far above safety thresholds, at a very large cost to the city. Researchers at the universities of Oxford and Bath have calculated that the average car in Inner London costs society £7,700 in health-related issues arising from air pollution only. 4
  • CO2 emissions. Whereas London’s total “territorial” emissions have fallen by 39 per cent since peaking in 2000, emissions from transport have stubbornly flatlined – and surface transport is responsible for 75 per cent of these. 5 Both the Mayor of London and the UK government have pledged to cut territorial greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050.

At a city level, development can either lock in efficiency or resource wastage. Researchers at the University of Berkeley, California found that within US cities, greenhouse gas emissions from households living in outlying suburbs were on average three times greater than from households living in inner city areas. This pattern was more extreme in larger cities: within the New York metro area, household CO2 emissions specifically from transport were up to 4.5 times higher in zip codes with poor public transport access than in nearby zip codes with good public transport connections. 6 We would expect a similar pattern in London’s case.

To tackle the issues of congestion, pollution and carbon emissions, Mayor Sadiq Khan has set an objective to increase the share of public transport and active travel
modes (walking and cycling) from 65 per cent today to 80 per cent in 2041. However, based on the rate of progress in the last five years, our forecast indicates that London will only reach the 80 per cent target in 2070. 7

New developments therefore represent a unique opportunity to help shift the city towards more sustainable mobility. The scale of development expected to take place in London suggests that an exemplary approach to new development could be transformative – particularly in town centres and opportunity areas where most new development will be concentrated, and with it a critical mass of investment.

Given the urgency of shifting to more sustainable transport modes, and the speed of innovation in transport, how should we go about designing London’s new developments?

Research methods

This report is based on desk research, including a review of literature on future mobility and data on London’s new developments. These findings are complemented by over 20 hours of research interviews with urban planners, developers, architects, mobility experts and policy leaders in local government. We used these interviews to understand how successful London is in planning future mobility into new developments, and to gather ideas for how the city can better think about mobility in the long term. Finally, architects at Hawkins\Brown modelled the feasibility of “future-proofing” what is currently a significant mobility investment for new developments: off-street parking.

Chapter 1 assesses how new technologies are likely to affect mobility in London, and makes the case for strategic thinking to shape possible mobility futures. Chapter 2 brings together the available data on London’s recent developments to ascertain whether they are well prepared for New Urban Mobility, and Chapter 3 then 19 offers principles for how to embed thinking about future mobility in the development process. Chapter 4 reveals the main barriers to more widespread planning for future mobility, and Chapter 5 makes recommendations to developers, London boroughs and the Mayor of London on how these barriers can be overcome.

  • 2 Department for Transport (2017). Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017. Retrieved from:
  • 3 INRIX (2019). INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard. Retrieved from:
  • 4 University of Oxford (2018, June 6). Pollution from cars and vans costs £6billion per year in health damages. Retrieved from:
  • 5 London Energy and Greenhouse Gas Inventory (LEGGI). Retrieved from:
  • 6 Jones, C., & Kammen, D. M. (2014). Spatial distribution of US household carbon footprints reveals suburbanization undermines greenhouse gas benefits of urban population density. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(2), 895-902.
  • 7 Transport for London (2018). Travel in London Report 11. Retrieved from: