Transition pathways towards sustainable mobility in European cities

30 Nov 2021

Transition pathways towards sustainable mobility in European cities

Image: Nick Page /Unsplash

How can European cities best plan for sustainable mobility? This topic was discussed on 25 November at the ECOMM 2021 conference, in a session on ‘Accelerating shifting to Sustainable Mobility - SUMP 2.0’, which focussed on the second (or third) generation of sustainable urban mobility planning across European cities. The session was expertly moderated by Kristina Gauce and focused largely on the SUMP-PLUS project.

According to Emilia Smeds, University of Westminster (formerly at University College London), who presented the concept of Transition Pathways as developed within the SUMP-PLUS project, planning for climate-neutral mobility needs to take a holistic vision for the desired future city as a starting point. This means that cities should focus on where they aim to be 20 to 30 years in their future, achieving the EU’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050 (as well as other objectives), and identify a pathway backwards all the way to the present, to identify what needs to be done and by when, to achieve their vision. This ‘backcasting’ approach is a clear break from traditional planning methods, which involve forecasting future mobility demand and patterns, and then planning with a focus on accommodating this growth.

The SUMP-PLUS planning approach is being developed into a Topic Guide on Developing Transition Pathways to Sustainable Mobility. As explained by Emilia Smeds, previous European SUMP Guidelines have not emphasized climate targets enough; the new Topic Guide presents a clear eight-step process for developing long-term Transition Pathways, complemented by shorter-term plans, milestones, interim and long-term targets. The guide addresses potential major barriers such as funding and financing, lack of effective governance structures and overcoming institutional and regulatory roadblocks. While the vision-led planning approach is already used in mobility front-runners from Stockholm to Barcelona, the challenge now is to embed this practice throughout Europe and to guide various types and sizes of cities along their pathway.

Also drawing on the SUMP PLUS project, Charlotte Halpern, Sciences Po in Paris, then presented how  new approaches to carbon emission reductions, focusing on cross-sectoral linkages, are contributing to accelerate the shift to sustainable mobility. Fruitful solutions are to be found beyond modal shift and technological fixes, by examining cross-sectoral linkages in the planning and the delivery of sustainable urban transport, between health and transport for example, or with other economic sectors. To begin with, cities need to demonstrate the benefits of cross-sectoral planning and delivery – the impact of and on transport. Furthermore, cross-sectoral linkages draw on a number of configurations: in its most ambitious understanding, it features interdependence and an agreement, between stakeholders, to cooperate to deliver commonly agreed policy goals; by contrast, in its least demanding understanding, namely cross-sectoral coherence, stakeholders agree that they will not harm each other’s programmes or operations. Lastly, this approach requires the setting of new engagement venues, to raise the profile of sustainability transport goals across various industries and users. Developing cross-sectoral solutions thus raises a major challenge for transport authorities in cities, as it requires a profound transformation in planning processes, governmental capacity building and engagement. SUMP PLUS provides city laboratories to test this new approach.

Stuart Blackadder, Transport for Greater Manchester, gave insight into putting this into practice by forging cross-sectoral links with health and transport authorities to strategically plan for emissions reductions from healthcare-related travel. This is just the beginning: the aim is to replicate the approach for other sectors and later extend the collaboration with Transport for Greater Manchester to sectors such as retail or education, and eventually to make this approach replicable for other cities - of all shapes and sizes.

Next, Charlotte Halpern presented, on behalf of the City of Antwerp, also a partner in the SUMP PLUS project, how the Antwerp climate plan contributes to forging cross-sectoral linkages. Mainly drawing on an integrated approach that cuts across all policy areas, such as sustainable mobility, energy and water management, the city seeks to be a climate-neutral and -robust city by 2050. New forms of governance were introduced in addition to specific objectives and budgeted actions. These changes aim at ensuring the largest possible range of stakeholders (public authorities, households, business actors, etc.) are involved.

Next, Hana Bruhova Foltynova, Jan Evangelista Purkyn University, presented a new web-based tool – PLUMM - which is facilitating sustainable urban mobility-planning across municipalities in the Czech Republic. This lead to the presentation from Maria Frangou, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems Lab-Technical University of Crete (ResEL TUC), who explained how SUMP PLUS is supporting the island city of Platanias to create its first sustainable urban mobility plan to address challenges stemming mainly from intense seasonal tourism. In this context, the city follows a co-creation approach with stakeholders and citizens and uses simplified analytical data and tools. Close collaboration with the tourism sector is seen as vital for successful plan delivery.  Through this development and testing in Platanias, SUMP-PLUS ultimately aims to deliver a model methodology for small cities with limited resources.

Overall, the panellists appreciated the opportunity to share their examples of best practice from across Europe. Throughout, the participants underlined the importance of understanding local contexts while keeping a focus on the ultimate vision.


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For more details on sustainable mobility for island destinations, read the latest open access book 'Sustainable Mobility for Island Destinations', based on the experience of CIVITAS DESTINATIONS living labs, edited by Prof Theocharis Tsoutsos (ReSEL TUC) and published by Springer.


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