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Transition to sustainable mobility in cities: an analysis framework

Issue 16-02-2015Urban mobility is a complex system. How can cities make the transition to sustainable mobility? What opportunities enable such a transition, and what threats will complicate it? In collaboration with Thuis in de stad (Agentschap Binnenlands Bestuur), MIRA commissioned BUUR and shiftN with the development of an analysis framework to thoroughly examine urban mobility systems. The framework allows the in-depth analysis of current mobility systems and the assessment of the potential for transition to sustainable mobility. The analysis framework offers no ready-made answers, but helps us read, describe and understand the complex system of urban mobility.

Urban mobility systems must become more sustainable

The number of trips and the distances we travel continue to increase. This makes also the undesired effects of mobility more readily perceptible: the negative impacts on health, on quality of life, on climate and on space and landscape, are increasing. In urban regions, activities and functions are highly concentrated. The hypermobility is therefore readily perceptible and the capacity of the mobility system is rapidly exceeded. A fundamental transition is needed to arrive at a sustainable mobility system. However, the interactions between transport, densely built-up structures, social networks and the economic infrastructure make urban mobility systems extremely complex. Targeted intervention in these systems is particularly difficult. That is why the researchers developed an analysis framework for use as a tool in the analysis of existing complex urban mobility systems. The analysis framework also allows an assessment of the potential for transition to more sustainable systems.

Development of the analysis framework for urban mobility systems

The analysis framework was developed based on an extensive literature study. The framework supports the analysis of the urban mobility system, the analysis of the sustainable character of mobility and the analysis of the transition potential (see figure). The developed framework was first applied to five European cities, all pioneers in the area of sustainable mobility. Freiburg im Breisgau, Groningen, Zürich, Bolzano and La Rochelle. The analysis framework was then tested for user friendliness and added value by applying it to the Flemish central city of Leuven. It was subsequently supplemented with concrete research issues and a synthesis of opportunities and threats.

Scheme analysis framework urban mobility systems

New insights on sustainable mobility in cities

The application of the analysis framework first of all lends an imperative structure to the analysis of urban mobility systems. An essential step is the identification of opportunities and threats. Examples of opportunities that emerged during the analysis of Leuven are: the existing sense of urgency due to the severity of many problems, the recent launch of the Leuven Climate Neutral 2030 project and the potential leverage effect of the existing dynamic and demographic and economic growth. Examples of threats include the absence of an efficient supralocal administration level, the difficulty with which spatial planning can be adjusted in the short term, and the poor cooperation between stakeholders.

The application of the analysis framework for the city of Leuven revealed numerous mobility aspects that were previously less visible. This was especially the case for the transition potential. Also the link between activities, localisation and transport systems provided fresh insights. What was particularly interesting in the analysis of the sustainability of the current system was the comprehensiveness of the sustainability definition in the analysis framework: looking at sustainability from ecological, social, economic, spatial, technical and process-related perspectives uncovered plenty of relationships, opportunities and lock-ins.

With this analysis framework, MIRA and Thuis in de stad (Agentschap Binnenlands Bestuur) aim to make a relevant contribution to the debate on the transition to sustainable urban mobility. Cities can use this tool to make their mobility and spatial policies more sustainable, develop a transition strategy, and initiate the transition of their urban mobility system. The analysis framework allows the in-depth analysis of the current mobility system and the identification of starting points for transition. The tool offers no ready-made answers for the implementation of a transition, but it does identify starting points, orientations and warnings that should enable a city to start out on the road to transition.

Read the English summary of the Dutch report 'Transition to sustainable mobility in cities: an analysis framework'

Study commissioned by MIRA, the Environment Reporting Unit
Research report MIRA/2014/07

researchers: Miechel De Paep, Johan Van Reeth, BUUR | bureau voor urbanisme en Philippe Vandenbroeck, shiftN

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