Accessibility is key when it comes to urban city planning. It’s only natural that combining physical and information infrastructure is at the heart of improving accessibility. Technology can help cities improve and become what are nowadays called smart cities.

The two factors that comprise accessibility are distance and mobility – people want to go to places, and they want them to either be close by, or reachable as fast and as effortlessly as possible. When this can be achieved with minimal ecological and economic burden, it is possible to arrive very close to ideal city planning.

1. Create technology for both the city and its people

Technological innovations can benefit both the public and the city itself. Thus, when striving for improved accessibility, one needs to consider filling the needs of both sides. Although much of the facilitating technology is invisible to the public, it’s through hands-on experiences that digital services improve an individual’s livability. Useful city software creates happy residents, and helps city administration collect valuable information, such as frequented routes from journey planning software.

2. Ease the usage of public transport

One of the absolute essentials for an accessible city is of course public transport. Consider the possibilities mobile applications bring for simpler access to ticket systems, timetables and routes. Electronic payments directly from mobile devices can reduce effort significantly on both payer and receiver end. On the one hand, technology makes inward and inbound mobility considerably easier, and on the other hand, it allows cities to inform people in real time about e.g. congestion, weather-related delays and thus prevent bottlenecks and displeased commuters.

3. Introduce real-time traffic control

Private motor vehicle usage is an essential part of a city’s accessibility and traffic flow. Technology can considerably aid the experience of drivers, as traffic monitoring systems are not only useful for the administration, but also for the people behind the wheel. Signage, speed limits, warnings, road payments, congestion and construction work can all be communicated in real time to drivers, making traffic flow much smoother and less time-consuming – not to mention eco-friendlier.

4. Make parking easier and smarter

The availability of parking is essential, but the locations, vacancies and prices of available slots need to be communicated to car drivers, otherwise they will not be used to their full potential. Mobile applications with real-time information on parking make traffic flow smoother, faster and of course less frustrating for residents and visitors. They can also aid in traffic flow control – for example, private traffic in city centers can be reduced by steering parking towards outer-city public transport intersections.

5. Create services for pedestrians and cyclists

Accessibility is not limited to motored vehicles. As VMT level decrease or stabilization is dependent on the percentage of unprotected road users, they are at the heart of green city planning. The usage of city bikes, for example, can be significantly facilitated by digital payment, rent time calculation and bike station maps. By combining a bike station with a public transport hotspot, cycling can be incorporated into longer travels as well.

6. Consider disabilities in accessibility planning

A city needs to be able to function for all its residents and visitors, also those with disabilities. It can be difficult to plan ahead if information on terrain, curbs, drop-free parking and ramps is not available. If all the information can be accessible digitally on-the-go, and people are able to see it on a map, it’s an enormous facilitator for the disabled and ageing going around and visiting a city, and can encourage an increase in tourism as well.

7. Strive for integration and usability

Last but not least, technology only works if people are able to work it. Visibility of the available digital services and instructions for their usage are vital, for both residents and visitors. Integrating different services under the same platform, or at least making it easy to move in between them makes usage much easier, and guarantees that they are actually taken on. By tracking their usage, it’s easy to acquire information for improvements.

Creating a smart, accessible city can only be done with the help of technology.  With the constantly expanding opportunities of high tech services, it’s exciting to see what cities of the future look like and how they can function better.

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Main photo by Dale Cruse from Flickr/CC