Transport planning can be controversial. Infrastructural changes that affect peoples’ journeys, particularly if it forces them to modify their travel habits, can be met with public resistance. But involving citizens at an early stage, as ideas develop, can legitimise decisions and lead to new, innovative governance models balancing different positions and interests.
Getting people to participate in planning can make decision-making processes more transparent and raise mutual understanding between citizens and a local administration. It increases people’s acceptance and allows planners to consider new ideas based on everyday concerns. It’s little wonder that local authorities around Europe are waking up to the realisation that involving the public in urban mobility decision-making is a win-win situation.
There are many successful examples of public engagement across the continent. When Aberdeen (UK) prepared its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP), the city’s project management team invited citizens to workshops to seek their opinions and views on the existing transport situation and potential solutions. People were asked about their views on walking and cycling, private cars, freight, motorcycles, taxis, public transport, ferry and the general environment.
In the Italian city of Pescara municipal officials, including the mayor, took to the streets to ask passers-by to fill out questionnaires related to improvements to the cycling network. The exercise was a success, with over 100 people stopping and completing questionnaires. Officials said that the public expressed curiosity and appreciation for the attention of the administration to introduce sustainable mobility for the city.
Valencia has taken the concept to different level. In February 2016, it established a board made up of 40 civic organisations, businesses and public administrations to help improve urban mobility in the Spanish city. The board was created as a body of citizen participation and discussion, with the aim to be informational and consultative, and to collect citizens' proposals on mobility.
As society increasingly uses online news sources and communities, the next logical step is taking the conversation onto virtual platforms. Many cities have already embraced this approach, including Aberdeen which used Twitter and Facebook to reach out to the public. This resulted in a higher response rate than previously achieved for the Scottish city’s transport-related surveys.
To help guide and inform local authorities on the best ways to approach public engagement, a number of EU-funded mobility projects have produced resources. The CH4LLENGE project has published a participation kit that provides practical advice underpinned by city examples on engaging citizens and stakeholders in the SUMP development process.
Two projects as part of the CIVITAS Initiative – WIKI and CAPITAL – have compiled detailed guidelines that focus on the use of social media to involve citizens in urban mobility projects and city planning, and include examples of how European cities have embraced this method.
‘Mobility planning requires proper information. A participation process is necessary to collect relevant information, which a mobility department needs to process, filter and interpret,’ says Teije Gorris from DTV Consultants, an international mobility consultancy.
‘Sometimes local authorities are not completely aware of how the actual mobility situation is perceived on the ground. But the public are the eyes and ears of the city. They can help mobility departments fill the gaps and develop a mobility system that benefits all society.’
- SUMP Participation Kit
- CIVITAS Insight: Engaging the citizens of today to build the sustainable cities of tomorrow
- CIVITAS Policy Note - The use of social media to involve citizens in urban mobility projects and city planning