Urban mobility has been generating frequent conversations lately, and for good reason — it has profound implications on societal quality of life and the global carbon footprint.

Today, many metropolitan residents, workers, and even tourists find themselves increasingly confronted with the challenge of making short-distance trips to various city destinations. Whether visiting the local grocery store, commuting to work, or trekking to a favorite arts venue or museum, the age-old dilemma continues to be how to efficiently travel short distances that are too far to walk.

Like Pavlovian dogs, many of us are conditioned to reach for the car keys, even for the shortest of trips. This behavior is deeply embedded in our consciousness, largely attributed to an auto-centric mindset that has been nurtured in us for years. What is perhaps most tragic are the lack of short-range options that could provide alternatives to our carbon-spewing vehicles.

But, let’s give credit where credit is due. Innovative companies like Zip Car and Car2Go have adroitly positioned themselves for where I believe the auto market is headed: namely, short-term, just-in-time rentals that eliminate the expense of owning a car. And since my family has only one car, I personally have benefited from a corporate account with Enterprise Rental for any commutes beyond my immediate, local area.

Car2Go Vehicle in Downtown Austin Texas

Nevertheless, I’m often reminded of a business trip several years ago to the wonderful island community of Bermuda. I was intrigued to discover that because of its dense configuration and geographical size, cars weren’t allowed on the island until 1946. Today, only residents are permitted to drive cars on the island, and only one car is allowed per household.

As Bermuda is a heavily trafficked tourist destination, island guests would be wise to question what forms of transportation are available. In posing this inquiry to an amused hotel bellman, I was hurriedly directed to a lot full of mopeds and scooters. Through this experience I discovered that these low-power transporters were the predominant form of transportation for visitors to the island.

As president of Folsom, California-based Glide Electric Cruisers, Chris Wiggins is hoping to capitalize on the global demand for short-range transportation options. His invention is ideal for short commutes and has virtually no impact on the environment. What is it? A series of motorized electric scooters with top speeds of up to 38 miles per hour. Currently in a first production run stage, these “cruisers” have attracted a wide swath of interest, from law enforcement agencies to senior groups. “I personally believe they have the potential to revolutionize short-range commuting in the U.S. and beyond,” says Wiggins. “My greatest hope in developing them is that they will have a meaningful impact on the quality of life, as well as improve the environment.”

Glide Electric Cruiser

While electric-run, personal transportation is relatively new for the U.S., bicycling seems to have taken hold in many metropolitan areas. Denver is one of a handful of cities that is actively promoting the use of bicycles as a viable short-run commute option. This year the city introduced the first large-scale bike-sharing program in the U.S. A partnership between Humana, Trek Bicycle and the advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, this initiative flows from the shared belief that bicycles should serve as a vehicle for positive health and environmental change, as well as an important part of a community’s transportation ecosystem.  It’s this latter point that has gained the attention of nearby Denver hotels and the convention center, which are seeking to provide visitors with mobility tools that compliment the downtown’s free bus system and walkable grid.

Bike Station in Downtown Denver

With our deeply ingrained auto-centric habit, it’s hard to say if any of these baby steps will gain traction toward smarter urban mobility, and if it does, where it is likely to lead us. But one thing is for certain: movement is happening, signaling a new narrative for how to approach short-distance trips and fostering a debate that is, at the very least, a carbon footprint in the right direction.

Michael Scott is the editor of Urban Engagement WebCity. He can be reached at michael@vdowntownamerica.com

Michael Scott

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