Urban mobility is vital for socio-economic growth, but overwhelming car use in cities causes accidents, urban sprawl, noise, and emissions of CO2 and other pollutants. In a 2007 Eurobarometer survey Attitudes on issues related to EU Transport Policy, 90% of Europeans said their local traffic situation should be improved. For the URBACT project Active Travel Network, the answer is sustainable transport policies that encourage people to use active alternatives to driving. Active travel – such as walking or cycling – is still low in many cities despite being cheap, healthy, non-polluting, and good for local economies. For three years, Active Travel Network’s partnership of small and medium cities focused on promoting active travel for journeys under 5 km, which represent 25-50% of car trips in EU cities.
Policy Recommendations for Increasing Active Travel
Active Travel Network set out policy recommendations for increasing active travel, drawing directly on experiences of its partner cities in tackling their traffic problems. Actions taken – and analysed – by partners during the project include: a deal with local garages to lend clients electric bikes while their cars are serviced; creating and promoting thematic walking and cycling routes; planning a green, integrated “urban track” linking downtown to the suburbs; a “Hotel Bike System” for tourists; and promoting the health benefits of daily physical activity.
Recommendations apply to all European cities and municipalities. Here are some highlights:
1. Active travel awareness raising
- Politicians, planners and other authorities must recognise cycling and walking as modes of transport just as important as cars or buses.
- Inform stakeholders and foster commitment by showing the benefits and impacts of a combined approach to non-motorised transport and mobility management.
2. Active travel strategies and accompanying measures
- Push and pull strategies are crucial to influence travel behavior, and can encourage a shift from car use to more energy efficient city transport, a main objective of modern transport policies.
- Lower speed limits, and limited paid parking, if properly enforced, can reduce car use and increase cycling and walking by making short trips safer and more attractive. Parking fees can also raise money, which should be channeled into financing cycling and walking measures. This is a key means to ensure sustainable modes become an “integral part of mobility” in cities, as highlighted in the Transport White Paper COM (2011) 144, Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system.
- Measures that reduce emissions by encouraging non-motorised personal transport such as walking and cycling, and public transport (linked to cycling measures), are in line with EU targets to cut carbon emissions in transport by 20% by 2020 and 60% by 2050.
- Other policies such as health, environment, youth and family, tourism, public relations and economy should be combined and co-operate with mobility policy.
- Strategic planning decisions should consider the benefits of active mobility. This is particularly true when allocating space to cars, public transport, cyclists or pedestrians. With indicators like transport capacity, safety, health impacts and costs, decisions should be set on active travel modes and secondly on public transport. A recent study in Helsinki, for example, found that infrastructure investments targeting cycling brought significant health and socio-economic benefits. In fact, their benefit-cost ratio was nearly 8:1 compared with ordinary infrastructure investments.
- Authorities should establish a permanent Local Support Group targeting active travel policy, with representatives from various authorities, and externals and stakeholders such as school children, travel-to-work employees and employers, and tourists.
- Funding for active travel policies, strategies and measures must be guaranteed and not just an appendix to transport planning. Fixed budgets must be set for short, mid and long term projects.
- Active travel budget should not cover infrastructure alone. The city of Munich spends one in four Euros of its cycle policy on soft measures like marketing and testing new behaviour campaigns.
3. Managing active travel projects
- Carry out an active travel audit. When making decisions, politicians and planners must consider the real needs of users, in order to develop integrated policy rather than ad hoc, isolated plans and measures. The Active Travel Audit Scheme, developed within the Active Travel Network project, and based on BYPAD, is a self-assessment method carried out by different groups. It requires an external auditor and an internal evaluation group of politicians, administrations and users.
- Set clear, measurable objectives. When planning a project or measures, define in advance: expected results; time schedule; and who should do what, when and with which resources and responsibilities.
- Inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary work is key to success. Urban mobility projects should follow an integrated approach, and not be limited to the transport department and engineers. For Active Travel Network, the diversity of knowledge, working methods, external and internal contacts of a range of relevant departments was invaluable.
- People appreciate pedestrian and cycle networks, but separate cycle tracks are not always necessary. There is a belief that cycling can only be promoted once a network of separate cycle tracks has been built. But such construction is often impossible due to limits on space, time or financing. A cost-effective solution is to reduce – and enforce – speed limits for the entire city, to 30 km/h for example; then paint cycle lanes on the roads, not the pavements.
- Pedestrians and cyclists should have highest priorities – above car traffic. The municipality should back this up with year-round, unproblematic cycling possibilities and standardised complaint management.
- High quality, safe, rain-protected bicycle parking next to living areas and other targets such as schools, companies, shops, leisure facilities and train stations.
- People won’t cycle simply because a cycle path is available: they need encouragement. A specific communication strategy for walking and cycling is vital, including tailor-made information material (e.g. brochures, flyers) and elements to motivate pedestrians and cyclists to interact with the city.
- Cities should regularly organise events for various groups of all ages, with participation incentives such as awards or prizes. Some examples: bikers’ breakfast, accompanied cycling to school, best employer for active travel-awards, joint walking actions, city-wide cycle to work campaign.
- Cycling and walking need data. As for motorised traffic, automatic permanent counting points with feedback-display, household surveys with special analysis and periodic evaluation for success control should be carried out and action plans adopted.
- Cooperation with media. Debates on transport, a popular urban issue, can get emotional. To encourage objectivity and reduce negative coverage in the local media – and on social media – the topic must be communicated positively, highlighting benefits such as increased quality of life.
- Decision makers and stakeholders must act as shining role models. Authenticity and credibility are particularly important in transport behaviour, where the advantages are not always obvious, and the switch from driving to cycling or walking can be seen as restrictive or a sign of poverty.
The Active Travel Network project helped partners develop an URBACT Local Action Plan to boost active travel in their own city. All expect to start implementing these plans in the next years. Some budgets are already available. Skanderborg has received national funding, and other partners are submitting proposals to the European Commission.
URBACT Local Support Groups set up by project partners will continue, and may even broaden the range of topics they cover.
Finally, links made during the project will remain, between partner cities and with other projects and professionals working on transport.
- Active Travel Project mini-site - URBACT website
- Zoom on Ljutomer - URBACT website
- Zoom on Skanderborg - URBACT website
- Active Travel Final Publication - PDF