Chapter 3: Design principles

Building for a New Urban Mobility

Chapter 3: Design principles

Influence Behaviour

When we plan and design cities, we set expectations for behaviours and attitudes. From the mix of uses to the quality of transport connections, decisions taken in the early stages of development shape our travel choices much further down the line. This chapter offers principles on how to plan and design for New Urban Mobility, drawing on our interviews and literature review.

Design principle 1:

Base masterplans on active travel and public transport

Planning land use, street layouts and the location of services in order to promote walking and public transport use can lead to a large increase in the mode share of active and collective travel. A comprehensive analysis of 50 studies measuring the effect of the built environment on travel behaviour identified the built environment characteristics that have the biggest impact on walking and public transport use:

  • Land use diversity, street and intersection density, distance to the nearest
    shop, and distance to employment space have been proven to strongly
    increase walking.
  • Distance to a public transport stop as well as street and intersection
    density generate an increase in public transport use. 18

This means that by giving pedestrians and bicycles the most direct access routes through a neighbourhood, and providing a walkable mix of uses, masterplanners can help increase the preference for active travel over car travel for short trips.

Design principle 2:

Use street layouts that prioritise active travel

Designing the public realm to make active travel the most convenient and safe
option can also yield significant increases in walking and cycling. Examples of features that prioritise active transport modes include:

  • Street design. Narrow streets which slow down vehicular traffic;
    vulnerable road users such as cyclists; and “shared spaces” where traffic
    mixes at very slow speeds. Transport for London offers guidance on
    which road design features can best achieve these objectives. 19
  • Access. Giving pedestrians and bicycles the most direct access from
    their home to the street – for instance, by locating bicycle parking at
    the front entrance of buildings, or building slightly wider hallways to
    facilitate bicycle deliveries – could greatly improve the convenience of
    active travel journeys.
  • Traffic management systems. For instance, traffic lights that limit
    vehicular throughput within a neighbourhood and help control the
    buildup of traffic within a residential area; or “green wave” traffic
    lights phasings that reduce waiting times for cyclists by letting them
    catch the green lights.

Design principle 3:

Limit car parking provision, and locate strategically

The availability and cost of parking encourages car ownership, which in turn encourages car use. The new London Plan takes note of this, and requires developments in areas of high Public Transport Accessibility Levels to be car free, most of which are in inner London.

In the outer suburbs, where there is higher reliance on the private car, and car
parking provision is necessary, the location of car parking can help reduce car use. A survey of the travel behaviour of 2,439 urban residents in Norway shows that a slight increase in the distance of home parking has a large impact on car use. Researchers found that having to walk 50 metres to one’s car led one in three car users to choose an alternative mode for shopping and service-related trips. The survey also found that most urban dwellers were happy to walk further to their home parking spot – 155 metres on average.

This suggests that parking and housing do not need to be located on the same plot of land, and that a modest separation would lead to lower levels of car use. 20 In the short term, this would release land that would otherwise be dedicated to on-site or on-street parking; in the long term, off-street parking facilities could more easily be adapted to other uses than individual parking spaces.

Design principle 4:

Facilitate interchanging

Easy interchanging between modes of transport is key to competing with the
convenience of door-to-door car journeys. One way of doing this is to create
“mobility hubs” by co-locating public and shared modes of transport, with public realm enhancements. Mobility hubs would include space for car, bike and taxi hire or drop-off, interchanging from rail or bus to a local shuttle, and parcel pick-up stations.

Guidance from shared mobility advocate CoMoUK recommends that these mobility hubs should be designed to be comfortable and visible from nearby streets, and should include amenities such as wide pedestrian pavements, covered waiting spaces, public parklets, manned convenience stalls for snacks (which also provide a sense of security), and travel information. 21

To facilitate interchanging, developers should provide and safeguard generous public space for transport hubs. According to one architect interviewee:

“A lot of the issues we come across are around safeguarding space. We find a lot of developers who are wanting to build denser and closer to stations, and we need to make sure we still safeguard space for the mobility that might come in the future.”


Design principle 5:

Provide electric charging infrastructure

Where off-street parking is provided, it will need to be equipped with electric vehicle charging infrastructure in order to make residual car trips less carbon-hungry and less polluting. The charging hardware should be robust, and should allow for dynamic pricing, to encourage charging at off-peak times. In 2019, the government consulted on mandating that “every new residential building with an associated car parking space should have a chargepoint.” 22 Locating any car parking off-street should make it more cost-effective to install charging infrastructure, and avoid clutter in the public realm.

Design principle 6:

Consolidate local freight needs

Van traffic in London is up nearly 30 per cent since 2012, 23 but much of the “last mile” traffic through neighbourhoods could be reduced by consolidating deliveries to a single neighbourhood location. New neighbourhoods should have local distribution centres or shared pick-up zones to reduce the number of freight trips into and around the neighbourhood. These could be integrated with local shops – supporting local retail – and could also facilitate smaller vehicles for last mile delivery, such as cargo bikes. Consolidation centres should also have electric charging provision designed in.

Design principle 7:

Offer shared mobility service memberships

In the long term, developments should aim to minimise car use. In the meantime, however, they should enable access to car clubs for trips where active mode or public transport is impractical. In London, car club membership offers “just when you need it” car or van hire by the hour. They are proven to reduce car use among their members who used to own a car, and can be more affordable too, depending on miles driven. 24 For convenience, these vehicles should be parked at the development – for example in the shared mobility hub – and should also be electric, to reduce local air pollution.

Mobility service memberships should include reliable and affordable emergency rides. The decision to own a car can be skewed by the perceived need to deal with rare or unlikely events – for example an urgent trip to hospital, or an occasional cross-country trip with limited charging infrastructure. Offering an emergency ride service or nearby car rental for long-distance drives is the kind of intervention developers could make that would enable their residents to adopt car-light lifestyles.

Build in adaptability

Whilst design can prioritise some forms of travel over others, new developments must retain the ability to evolve with the needs of its residents. But although there are many design guidelines available to encourage active and sustainable travel – including Transport for London’s Healthy Streets Toolkit, NHS Healthy New Town Principles, and the Cambridge Quality Charter – our research has found that few embed adaptable design in their guidance. Our interviews also indicate that few resources are directed towards flexible planning and design to accommodate future mobility. The following principles are aimed at filling this gap.

Design principle 8:

Ensure buildings are easily adaptable

Given the speed of technological change, there is always the possibility for some unforeseen innovation to further change the way we move around cities. The question is: how can buildings respond to such potential changes?

Ensuring they are flexible enough to respond is key. Configuring space in an adaptable way that ensures easy access to services can greatly reduce retrofit cost – as does using construction systems that are interoperable and which do not involve over-reliance on limited suppliers. Yet several interviewees told us that this was not common practice:

“For me flexibility is about how undoable things are. How easy are things to take apart? A lot of current systems are patented systems […]. This makes the new tech harder to edit than older tech (i.e. brick walls and timber stud construction). We should be designing for disassembly, and have contracts and warranties that make it easy to change things further down the line.”

Head of Planning, London borough

Design principle 9:

Future-proof parking

Currently, one of the biggest investments that developers make to provide for future mobility is car parking provision. Although the new London Plan lowers maximum parking standards across the capital, many developments will continue to require some parking space, with great uncertainty as to whether the space will be needed in the future. What if designs for active travel shift residents’ preferences, or driverless pods provide quick and reliable access to a new station a mile away, making car ownership practically superfluous? Can London’s new neighbourhoods provide space for parking that evolves with future mobility needs, and helps to change behaviour, while meeting today’s requirements?

We were told by a senior urban designer that future-proofing for mobility can unlock great value in the long term:

“There is a general assumption that we should be perfecting the design, but really completion is just the start of the design process, which then changes the building through its use. The more successful development products are the ones that can evolve. 1930s suburbs contain latent adaptability. The front gardens of London’s suburban houses have become driveways for private cars, and we could reuse the wide roads designed for the automobile to create generous cycle lanes and space for a new generation of collective transport.”

Head of Planning, London borough

Ideally, as discussed in Principle 3 above, car parking should be located away from residential development, to encourage alternatives to car use and enable conversion to other uses over time. Where parking is provided on or near the site, the potential for conversion should also be maximised. Where parking is built in a basement, introducing light wells, open structures and slightly higher ceilings could make these spaces as flexible as London’s railway arches. Alternatively, spaces could be provided in a shared facility that could later be used for development if demand fell away – for example, a parking lot or multi-storey facility (contd).

Where surface parking is provided on-street, it could be designed to retain development potential. Some car parking spaces could be used for storing and servicing autonomous vehicles, or storing electric bikes and scooters so they do not clog street pavements. Other spaces could be used as light industrial, makerspaces or commercial units.

Architects Hawkins\Brown have produced a proof of concept for convertible off-street parking. The drawings, presented in the annexe, are based on a recent London development, and show how developments that must provide off-street parking for today’s residents can easily facilitate the shift to New Urban Mobility.

Design principle 10:

Create dynamic streetscapes

Pressures on roads and streets vary by time and day of week. A more dynamic approach to roads and streets could help accommodate changes in travel demand, and even gradually incentivise behaviour change. Such an approach could range from low-tech/low-cost changes like varying circulation or parking rules depending on time or day, through to more extensive physical interventions.

At the “low cost” end of the spectrum, loading and other vehicular access could take place at times where pedestrian and cyclist demand is low, in order to keep traffic segregated. This could take place at existing dedicated locations or via virtual loading bays, in order to respond more flexibly to changing needs.

Innovation in mechanical furniture also means that streetscapes can adapt to demand at different times of day or at the weekend. Platforms such as Arup’s “FlexKerb” can enable lanes and kerbsides to change function throughout the day and week in response to user demand. Arup describes its potential as follows:

“FlexKerb could offer an extra-wide footway during peak commuting hours. Late at night or after the morning rush, FlexKerbs could open up extra space for freight activity to meet policy objectives around off-peak deliveries. On weekends, local businesses could reserve pedestrianised stretches of kerb for street festivals or outdoor vending, supporting objectives around the activation of public space. Meanwhile, throughout the day and week, the FlexKerb could maintain a variable length of kerb for the exclusive use of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to ensure they have safe and non-obstructive places for passengers to board and alight.” 25

Arup also expects that the investment could be recouped by renting out kerb space – as users could reserve a space for parking and loading. 25

On the question of adaptable public realm, one interviewee noted:

“We’re very good at implementing flexibility for security concerns – hostile vehicles, fire prevention. We’ve got mechanical bollards, breakable road surfaces for vehicles that are too heavy. So we can create a public realm that is adaptable, but you don’t see a bench that pops out on a Sunday anywhere even if the technology exists for security purposes.”

Senior urban design consultant

Other examples of user prioritisation could include LED road markings that adapt to traffic circumstances – for instance to widen crossings or allow more time for pedestrians at peak hours. 27

These principles are designed to enable a policy-led transition to New Urban Mobility in London’s new neighbourhoods. In Chapter 4 we consider the barriers to their adoption.

  • 18 Ewing, R., & Cervero, R. (2010). Travel and the built environment: A meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(3), 265-294.
  • 19 Transport for London (2017). Healthy Streets for London. Retrieved from:
  • 20 Christiansen, P., Fearnley, N., Hanssen, J. U., & Skollerud, K. (2017). Household parking facilities: relationship to travel behaviour and car ownership. Transportation Research Procedia, 25, 4185-4195. Retrieved from:
  • 21 CoMoUK (2019). Mobility Hubs Guidance. Retrieved from:
  • 22 HM Government (2019. Electric Vehicle Charging in Residential and Non-Residential Buildings. Retrieved from:
  • 23 Transport for London (2019). Travel in London Report 12. Retrieved from:
  • 24 Carplus (2017). Carplus annual survey of car clubs. Retrieved from:
  • 25 Arup Press Office (2018, September 28). Arup shortlisted in competition to make streets fit for driverless cars. Retrieved from:
  • 26 Arup Press Office (2018, September 28). Arup shortlisted in competition to make streets fit for driverless cars. Retrieved from:
  • 27 New London Architecture (2019). Future Streets. London: New London Architecture.