The road to new mobility

An international benchmark study highlights the road industry’s role in the transformation of road infrastructure and the development of new mobility.

"Road infrastructure is at the heart of the development of new mobility,” says Amélie Schäfer, Policy Officer for European and International Affairs at the Confederation of International Contractors’ Associations (CICA).

Amélie Schäfer is a member of the steering group for “International Benchmark 2020 — New Mobility & Road Infrastructure”, a study aimed at identifying trends and providing food for thought for stakeholders.

Focusing on autonomous, connected, low-/non-emission, and urban mobility, the study concludes that, in the context of the development of new mobility, “the role of the road infrastructure is generally underestimated”.

“When we talk about new mobility, we often focus on the automotive industry or the telecommunications industry, but we forget about the basics — the road infrastructure,” Amélie Schäfer argues.

Especially in Europe, the road sector is facing major changes. 75 % of Europeans live in urban areas, and road transport accounts for more than three-quarters of inland passenger transport and more than 70 % of inland goods transport in Europe. Hence, roads play an important role in meeting climate objectives, and will be subject to major changes and increased demands that herald a need for wider competences within the road sector, including road authorities.

“So far, European investments have focused more on rail, but roads are more adaptable than rail, and most transport will stay on roads in the next 20 to 30 years,” says Project Manager Simon Gianordoli from The European Union Road Federation (ERF).

Innovative hubs

The main message of the study is that the maintenance and adaptation of road infrastructure are the prerequisites for the development and promotion of new mobility that in turn will enable ecological and energy transition. It also states that “significant levels of public investment are needed to accompany this change, notably with the help of the future European Recovery Plan”.

While the study analyses Europe in more detail, it actually covers 20 countries from around the globe. Experiences from North and Latin America and Asia serve mainly as reference points from which lessons can be learnt.

From an international perspective, strategies are well-developed in Europe, and several countries have advanced plans in place. In the next few years, Simon Gianordoli expects innovative hubs to spring up all over Europe, modelled on world leading experiments in, for instance, The Netherlands.

“Common rules are important for the development of new mobility, and projects need to be cross-national. For instance, for electric vehicles, an all-European charging network is needed,” he says.

Stressing the importance of road quality, Simon Gianordoli argues that physical infrastructure, maintenance and materials with a reduced climate impact should be the primary focus for the road industry in the near future. This includes measures aimed at optimising the processes and materials used on road surfaces as well as the lifecycle of such materials.

International Benchmark 2020 — New Mobility & Road Infrastructureis an international comparative study initiated by Routes de France, the European Union Road Federation (ERF), the Fédération Nationale des Travaux Publics (FNTP), the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) and the Confederation of International Contractors’ Associations (CICA).

“For me, the degradation of road maintenance was one of the big surprises of the study. Especially in France, there is a big gap between the quality of the main and secondary roads,” he says.

Flexibility of roads

Conducted between March 2019 and March 2020, the benchmark preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a second phase, focusing on ten European countries, is taking into account mobility and road infrastructure developments influenced by the pandemic.

Although the pandemic has forced plans to be delayed and pledges to be re-written, in some cases it might also have accelerated change.

“The flexibility of roads became evident, and some of the new bike paths introduced during the pandemic have become permanent,” says Simon Gianordoli.

“However, we also saw public transport being virtually deserted,” he adds.

“It brought home to us what a huge task we are facing,” comments Amélie Schäfer.

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