A view from a non-mobility expert
The 4th European Conference on Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans which took place on 29-30 March 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia covered a diverse range of issues, from visions of city mobility to policy-making and education.
The message to conference participants was that cities belong to people, not to cars. That we have to remove obstructive transport infrastructures and encourage citizens to walk and cycle. We were informed that:
- Mobility has a huge influence on health, wellbeing and the economy;
- We need urban transport policies;
- Politics in general and individual politicians and law makers in particular have a very important role to play in this. As such, politicians should set an example and be seen to practice what they preach;
- We have to increase the liveability of cities and we have to involve all stakeholders and citizens in this process.
"We're astonished by how much money and support is currently available."
One of the most remarkable conclusions from this conference concerns money. There is a lot of money available for transport issues. Although not everyone agreed with this statement, people from dozens of projects, networks and platforms active in this field were at the conference. Millions in subsidies from EU funding, national and local governments are available for training, education, mobility and transport plans.
People like me, coming from outside the transport and mobility sector, are astonished by how much money and support is currently available. Many other sectors could never dream of this level of support.
Nevertheless, conference participants saw some inspiring examples of this sustainable mobility funding and knowledge being put to good use. There have been some really impressive city transformations, one such example being Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain. The city transformation team used a new urban cell structure to create a system of ‘superblocks’ and main roads. The superblock is a new concept, a geographical space surrounded by main corridors that enclose several city blocks. The superblock is a key element in mobility and public space strategy. It reclaims public space from the private car. The new Vitoria-Gasteiz layout is impressive, with plenty of green areas and enough space for pedestrians.
"A number of Flemish cities like Deinze, Sint-Niklaas and Antwerp were given as examples of mobility champions."
Private cars and public transport are kept outside the superblock while the inner streets are redesigned to be mainly used by pedestrians. The results are remarkable: in 2006, 36% of public space was assigned to pedestrians and 64% to cars. In 2017, 71% of public space is now assigned to pedestrians and 29% to cars.
During the conference, the transport and mobility transformations of many cities, small and large, were discussed. Paris, Lyon, Krakow, Ljubljana and to my great surprise – a number of Flemish cities like Deinze, Sint-Niklaas and Antwerp were given as examples of mobility champions.
So why are we still stuck in traffic?
- One car-free street or square does not make a city practical and attractive for its inhabitants orI for tourists. Urban transformation is about much more than that. The problem is that most mobility solutions do not take context, stakeholders and other important players into account. There is a clear lack of ecosystem thinking.
- Mobility solutions are based on ‘push’ models, developed for and by young, healthy men. Yes, they do consider less mobile users by incorporating features such as low steps or wide doors for wheelchair users, but not much more than that. Mobility transformation, however, means transforming human behaviour and you can not change behaviour by just making doors wider. We need more penetrating and well-informed insights into the needs and desires of our users.
- The development of mobility solutions still strongly depends on funding, and short-term visions often prevail over long-term visions and plans. Mobility strategy is very often dependent on political decisions: working to 5-year horizons, with policies hastily implemented between elections, is not enough to effect profound or lasting change.
Hence, despite a huge number of projects, networks, etc. we are still far from seeing many sustainable urban mobility solutions in motion and we are still stuck in traffic.