Technical University of Munich: Shorter distances for a 15-minute city

The construction of a new pedestrian bridge over an expressway, the closure of a post office or the opening of a new supermarket: Every infrastructure change affects the mobility choices of residents. “Planners are increasingly trying to promote active mobility – in other words pedestrian and bicycle traffic,” says Elias Pajares. “Naturally this calls for walkways and cycle paths. But it’s also important for everyday destinations to be within quick and easy reach. Ideally residents should have all important amenities for daily needs within a 15-minute walk or cycle of where they live.”

A few months ago, Pajares and Ulrike Jehle – who both conduct research at the TUM Chair of Urban Structure and Transport Planning – set up a company: Plan4Better GmbH. With their startup, the environmental engineers aim to market a planning tool containing extensive data on population density, space utilization, topography, road routes, pedestrian and cycling networks and points of interest such as supermarkets. “With this tool, urban planners can develop scenarios and conduct evidence-based testing of the outcomes,” explains Jehle.

The goal: short routes
The prototype for the new software was developed in a research project at TUM. The project, which is now complete, also included real-world testing: Planners from Munich and the surrounding area were able to create different scenarios and then see for themselves how certain decisions would impact pedestrian and bicycle traffic. “All of the feedback was positive,” recalls Jehle.

From the idea to the startup launch
That made the idea of forming a company to develop and market the planning software the obvious next step. The decisive push came in November 2020 when the team took one of the top places in the MobiData BW Hackathon competition and walked away with 25,000 euros in prize money to develop the software.

“From that point onward, things moved incredibly fast,” says Jehle. The founders received support from Prof. Gebhard Wulfhorst, who heads the Chair of Urban Structure and Transport Planning, and the TUM startup consulting unit. The TUM Venture Lab Built Environment supported the launch of the startup with special coaching and helped the team develop its strategy. Just a few weeks later, the papers were signed to enter Plan4Better GmbH in the company register.

No boundaries
Jehle and Pajares are working with the geoinformatics specialist Majk Shkurti, the third member of the startup team, on the ongoing development of the software. They have the support of a small group of working students and freelancers.

In the coming months the team will launch a subscription model providing access to geodata for German cities. Planners will be able to use the interactive software to simulate changes to the infrastructure. For any address entered in the system, it will map out the entire area where residents are within a 15-minute radius on foot or by bicycle. “These functions will allow planners to see quickly where shopping options, schools or bicycle paths are lacking, for example,” says Pajares.

As the next step, the founders plan to populate the database with geodata for the entire German-speaking region, including Switzerland and Austria. “In general, there are no boundaries for this planning tool,” says Jehle.

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