Digital capability takes urban infrastructure planning back to the future

  • 15 October 2019

  • Infrastructure

  • Paris, France

Reading time: 6 minutes

Urban infrastructure must rediscover its historic flexibility in the light of the climate challenges facing the planet. Ardian and Fabernovel have been exploring how digital technology can contribute.

Streets were not originally built for cars. Video footage of San Francisco in the early twentieth century is testimony to a chaos of different methods of transport somehow managing to co-exist. Horses, trams and pedestrians struggle along together, with the apparent chaos obscuring the underlying rules governing the use of the wide streets.
Those streets then came to be dominated by cars, and their original multi-modal character was lost. But they did originally succeed in moving people in many different ways, Mariano Majan, Head of Europe Growth at Remix, told an Ardian event October 11 as part of Paris InfraWeek 2019.
This co-existence of diverse methods of transport urgently needs to be rediscovered in the context of the current day struggle to meet sustainability goals. Remix, which now works with 325 cities across four continents, started out as a grassroots project for citizens of San Francisco to suggest better transit routes via a blog. It has evolved into a cloud-based tool to help cities plan their transportation networks.


“Transportation is an opportunity”

“A city’s streets are its biggest asset,” Majan said. “Transportation is not a problem. It’s an opportunity.” But the risk of continued domination by the car won’t go away just because car ownership levels fall. Car mileage, Majan said, may even continue to increase as ride-hailing services can cancel out the positive impact of fewer people buying cars.
Smart data can accelerate the path to carbon neutrality, according to a study The Augmented Infrastructure: Digital for climate? presented by Ardian and Fabernovel at the event. An example is the project by Ardian to develop a machine learning model with French startup Quantcube Technology to predict short-term traffic patterns on highways in Europe.
The report, the second part of a study begun in 2018, shows how Naples airport, which is owned by Ardian, succeeded in cutting CO2 emissions by 21% from 2012 to 2017. Digital innovations are used at Naples to automate terminal management. The airport has developed a tool to limit aircraft taxi time during departure and has implemented sensors in the terminals to automatically adjust lighting and air conditioning. Naples airport is now working on a predictive tool to increase energy efficiency through forecasting temperature changes.
Airports still lack visibility on their environmental impact, Ardian data scientist Louise Badarani told the event. Badarani is using Artificial Intelligence to calculate emissions at different stages of air journeys for the airports in Ardian portfolio. Air Carbon, a data analytics platform developed by Ardian with students from HEC, Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole 42, gives real-time estimates of airports’ carbon emissions and can create scenarios to reduce carbon emissions

Developing Mobility as a Service

Persuading people to travel to the airport by means other than car will be a key part of the battle. Armando Brunini, CEO of Milan Airports, said that transport to and from Malpensa and Linate accounts for 60% of the CO2 emissions from the city’s two airports. The aircraft take-off and landing cycle accounts for 34%.
In June, the association of European airport managers committed to becoming neutral for CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest.  Milan’s airports have been constantly working to reduce emissions, which have fallen 30% over the last 10 years. That does not have to be at the expense of efficiency: Linate, which reopens on October 27 after construction work, has established itself as Europe’s most punctual airport. “The whole value chain needs to pull in the same direction,” Brunini said.  
Milan’s Mobility as a Service (MaaS) system, which is now online, aims to provide a piece of the solution. The MaaS concept is based on combining different transport services into one single mobile platform. Milan Airports integrates the information from airport timetables with that the schedules of the city’s transport systems. The first option proposed on the service is the greenest option, not necessarily the fastest.  Feedback from passengers is being used to improve the system. According to the POLIS network of European cities and regions, MaaS systems have yet to become widespread. Yet the template used by Milan cries out for wider adoption by other cities.
Simply getting more people onto trains rather than cars would be a huge step. This would have a “much bigger impact” on emissions than airport management will ever be able to achieve, Brunini said. “We have to move outside the pure perimeter of infrastructure. Adapting the airport to sustainability requires spending more in the short term but it constitutes its licence to grow.”

Turf wars

Guarding the organisation’s turf belongs the mindset of the past. Pablo Nakhlé Cerruti, CEO of Paris event management company Viparis, argued that silos must be broken down. He cited a lack of cooperation between different Paris transport authorities on signing systems to guide visitors. “It’s what happens on the ground that creates most of the emissions,” he said.
The environment, as the major constraint on infrastructure design, is also its greatest opportunity, argued Axelle Ricour-Dumas, Value Director at Fabernovel. Systemic design, still an emerging approach, is a collective approach that integrates human, environmental and digital factors.  According to the Ardian and Fabernovel report, by 2050, 66% of world’s population will be urban, meaning that it’s essential to go beyond infrastructure and think in terms of urban ecosystems. The city of Nantes, named European Green Capital in 2013, shows the value of collective intelligence, Ricour-Dumas said. The award was recognition of Nantes’ four fields of excellence, in public transport, biodiversity, water management and its Climate Plan.

Finite digital resources

Many users continue to believe that digital assets are intangible, infinite and climate-neutral, Ricour-Dumas said. That highlights the need to accelerate the move to renewable sources of energy. An overriding need, as Brunini of Milan airport argued, is to “step up and invest” in transport to and from airports.
Mathias Burghardt, head of Ardian infrastructure, is convinced that global warming can be contained if behaviour is changed. Digital technologies, he pointed out, are themselves high consumers of energy.
So it’s essential to ensure that their potential is being properly harnessed. Infrastructure must be redesigned so that it is “conscious of its impact “.



Data sharing is not a risk! Mathias Burghardt, Head of Ardian Infrastructure

On October 11, 2019, at the third edition of Paris Infraweek, Ardian organized a conference on the impact of digital technology on global carbon emissions. At this occasion, Ardian Infrastructure and Fabernovel released a new study on the Augmented Infrastructure: “The Augmented Infrastructure – Digital for Climate?”