Introducing innovation in cities:
Heralding in mobility systems of the future
September 25, 2023
There is an ever-growing array of new and innovative solutions that cities can test and apply to make their urban mobility and transport systems more sustainable. However, these innovations have to be introduced thoughtfully to ensure they’re accepted, long-lasting, and contribute to ushering in more sustainable mobility systems. Fortunately, a number of European projects are hard at work to help cities find the best ways to introduce innovative solutions. Now, the experiences, techniques, and lessons learnt by cities are ready to be shared.
When examining the interviews collectively, a picture emerges regarding how cities are making use of pilots, building on existing processes, and proactively researching upcoming innovations, all in order to ensure that they can effectively introduce solutions that herald in a more sustainable mobility future. In fact, these overarching lessons can be gleaned even from examination of just three cases: in Budapest (HU), Rotterdam (NL), and Lucca (IT).
IMAGE: Centre for Budapest Transport (BKK)
Budapest harnesses the power of the pilot
Budapest is one the most populated cities in Europe, and hosts around 12 million tourists every year. Encouraging people to move around the city using active transport modes (like cycling and walking) is thus crucial in ensuring that this vibrant city remains sustainable and thriving.
Overall, the SPROUT team mapped out the expected impacts of mobility transitions on policy, and then harnessed this knowledge to cultivate city-led, data-driven policy responses – all while building cities’ capacities along the way.
Budapest leveraged SPROUT to launch a few interventions, including one about shifting public space distribution by restricting car access, in order to support active travel and more liveable areas. This pilot restricted car traffic along a short section of Kiraly utca (Kiraly street), between a residential area and a major road. Here’s the problem though: if not done carefully, replacing crowded streets with traffic-calming zones and removing private car parking risks simply not being accepted by communities. These solutions have to be introduced thoughtfully. For Budapest, that meant rolling out pilot actions, accompanied by extensive and data-driven stakeholder engagement.
IMAGE: Centre for Budapest Transport (BKK)
General road traffic was banned in the pilot zone (with only authorised and freight traffic permitted), and approximately 40 parking spots were removed. At first, the measures were criticised by some residents. However, Budapest embraced this engagement, holding a number of public hearings, which led to minor pilot modifications. Ultimately, the number of complaints reduced substantially, and the street began attracting pedestrians and cyclists even from surrounding neighbourhoods. In fact, the pilot resulted in such a measurable positive impact that the City of Budapest not only decided to maintain the implemented (pilot) changes, but also to replicate them in three additional areas!
The introduction of traffic calming zones, and their acceptance, can take time and requires political commitment. However, this is well worth the effort, as these interventions showed real benefits across Budapest, enhancing green spaces, and leading to the installation of more street furniture and terraces.
IMAGE: City of Lucca
Lucca leverages long-standing processes
SUMP-PLUS helped cities of all sizes, and at various development stages, to enhance their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) implementation processes. Co-creation labs in six cities helped equip cities with the skills needed to develop the next generation of SUMPs that put mobility at the heart of sustainable urban transformation.
The City of Lucca first adopted a SUMP back in 2018. However, the city is the capital of the Province of Lucca, and is the main urban hub in the Plain of Lucca region. As such, its sustainable mobility systems must be overarching and coordinated, extending to municipalities outside of the Lucca city limits. This is why Lucca made use of its role in SUMP-PLUS to re-open the process of drafting a province-wide SUMP.
Project partners and technical experts proposed that Lucca convene City Forums to bring the province’s municipalities – which vary greatly and are represented by different political parties – together at one table. To structure and support this process, the city started by having the municipal representatives discuss a provincial SUMP draft that was started (but abandoned) many years ago. This turned out to be a great jumping-off point: the municipalities are now working on a new Provincial Territorial Coordination Plan all about sustainable urban mobility!
SUMP-PLUS activities demonstrated that stronger collaboration among city councillors, city administration offices, and administrations of neighbouring municipalities leads to more effective management of mobility processes. But, building these relationships takes time. One of the secrets to Lucca’s success was that the municipalities have long worked together on other topics (notably air quality), and had simply not yet extended their cooperation to mobility. In other words: Lucca’s SUMP-PLUS work is built upon both an existing provincial SUMP draft, and on long-standing relationships.
Various engagement tools developed in SUMP-PLUS, including the City Forums, will continue even now that the project has come to an end. The impacts of SUMP-PLUS will be felt across the Province of Lucca for many years to come.
Rotterdam rolls into the future of mobility
Before innovative solutions can be introduced into a complex urban landscape, they must be investigated to ensure that their implementation brings added value to a sustainable mobility system as a whole. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to become an increasingly key part of sustainable mobility in the future. This means that now is the time to dive deep into these innovations, to see how they can be sustainably, swiftly and effectively introduced into cities as soon as the time is right.
HARMONY worked with local authorities to develop and test integrated spatial and multimodal transport planning tools, accompanied by dedicated training sessions and capacity building. The Rotterdam pilot looked at the functions, role and impacts of self-driving delivery robots, and collected enough data to represent the robots in transport simulators.
Their work was all about “Rosie 2.0”: an autonomous robot that completes last-mile deliveries. Rosie 2.0 was tested in multiple traffic situations in the city, including with pedestrians, mopeds and cars, both in a closed environment and on a section of public road. This helped uncover what can be expected from new self-driving robots, and the role cities may play in their roll-out.
IMAGE: City of Rotterdam
Rosie 2.0 was able to perform well in mixed traffic situations, recognising different vehicles, and slowing down or breaking when a moving object approached. The robot could climb and descend curbs and hills, and accommodate different weather conditions, as well as a variety of road users. However, road crossings remain tricky for the robot to navigate autonomously.
The tests showed that self-driving robots do have the potential to help in-city logistics, especially for shorter distances (0-3 km), and over areas without many crossings. However, they also showed that more research is needed to clearly establish the extent to which self-driving delivery robots or vehicles can – in their current forms – help reach policy goals on transport efficiency and sustainability.
Since self-driving robots are quite new, they are not yet defined in the Netherlands as either a vehicle or a machine, making the regulatory landscape unclear. In this complex context, it is especially important that cities begin by identifying a strong case for autonomous robots’ contributions to policy goals. In other words: more information is needed before autonomous delivery robots can be effectively introduced in cities like Rotterdam. The data generated by the tests that began (but will not end) with HARMONY are crucial parts of the next stages of research.
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