Eight municipalities in the region of North Limburg in The Netherlands have come together to develop and implement a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP). Using a collaborative approach, they have attempted to tackle mobility challenges in a polycentric region that features urban and rural centres. The region is car-dependent with an ageing and declining population; all of which has had an impact on its SUMP approach. The involvement of each of the eight municipalities is voluntary. A SUMP has been produced that is both a plan and a set of processes that cross administrative boundaries. It fills a gap in mobility planning at the local, municipal level and the higher administrative levels of the province and central government.
Planning urban mobility is a complex undertaking for any city, so imagine the challenge faced by the eight municipalities in the northern part of the Dutch province Limburg – a typical polycentric region. The region has a combined population of 280 000 across a network of medium-to-small cities, towns and peri-urban villages in a relatively compact area. North Limburg consists of eight municipalities: Beesel, Bergen, Gennep, Horst aan de Maas, Mook en Middelaar, Peel en Maas, Venlo and Venray.
Venlo, with a population of 100 000, is the largest municipality, while the other seven have populations between 10 000 and 40 000 that are distributed across several urban centres and villages.
The coordination of policies and services of many stakeholders within and across different centres and administrative boundaries is challenging. In addition, the region is faced with several mobility challenges.
The region is car dependent. Car use is high (among the highest in the country) and is increasing. The region, with Greenport Venlo – a nationally important business park at its centre, is also a national logistics hotspot.
Maintaining good access for freight and passenger transport is important. At the same time, there is a need to curb the trend of increasing car use and provide cleaner, more sustainable alternatives that are accessible to all.
Public transport in the North Limburg region is under pressure. Due to cost-based rationalisation of the public transport network, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide frequent public transport services to smaller centres and villages. In addition, the region shares a border with Germany, which impacts on the provision of services, as public transport tends not to cross the border.
The region has an aging and declining population (among the worst-affected regions in the country in this respect), which adds to the challenge of providing efficient delivery of services. In addition, the fact that the population is aging requires a rethink of mobility planning strategies and provision of services, as the needs and mobility patterns of older inhabitants may be very different from younger citizens.
Another challenge in the region relates to transport poverty, where people are at risk of not being able to access work and services because of the rising costs of owning and running a car, and the lack of alternative transport.
To take on these challenges more effectively and efficiently, the municipalities in North Limburg have decided to cooperate based on a shared vision and planning process.
Cooperation on mobility planning between the municipalities had been incidental and, on a case-by-case basis (e.g. negotiating on a public transport concession with the province and other regions, and lobbying for major infrastructure projects at the national level).
It was based on these experiences that policy makers realised that it was too difficult to clearly define common interests and to jointly promote these interests in a coordinated manner. It triggered the initiative to intensify cooperation between the municipalities based on the belief that through joining forces, regional interests could be better promoted, and projects could be realised more efficiently and effectively. The increasing attention and promotion of integrated mobility planning, particularly through the SUMP concept, further contributed to this belief
Role of the regional SUMP
The creation of a joint SUMP has been the key vehicle to improve cooperation and coordination between the municipalities.
- At the ‘strategic level’, the purpose of the regional SUMP was to help promote and communicate the interests of the region in discussions with the national government, the province and other regions (including in neighbouring Germany), for example, on projects targeting the main infrastructure network. The scope of such projects usually transcends the regional level, but they do have an impact (e.g. spatial and/or infrastructural) on the region. Also, the intention was to use the SUMP in discussions with other parties or organisations that have a role in mobility in the region (e.g. companies involved in public and special needs transport services, and in logistics; and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) providers) to help communicate regional interests and objectives.
- At the regional level, the collaborators aimed to add value with the SUMP. Most journeys take place within the region but across the administrative borders of an individual municipality. Therefore, planning the development of passenger transport networks to facilitate this mobility requires a regional approach. Coordination at the regional level is required to increase the effectiveness of traffic and demand management, and promote intermodal transport and seamlessly integrated transport chains – both of which are increasingly the focus of attention. In addition, the development of a joint SUMP aimed to coordinate the development and sharing of knowledge between stakeholders in the region.
- At the local level, the regional SUMP has a more passive role. It does not aim to initiate and coordinate actions that have a highly local character and impact, but it can bring added value by facilitating the exchange of knowledge and information between stakeholders in the region.
The SUMP focuses on the achievement of 25 specific objectives in five main areas:
- improving the quality of life;
- improving traffic safety;
- creating an attractive mobility system;
- reducing the environmental impact of transport and supporting the energy transition to secure sustainable energy supply and management (visit< http://themasites.pbl.nl/energietransitie/ for more information)>;
- improving spatial and economic accessibility.
Projects and actions include:
- traffic management measures (access controls, traffic signal control strategies and parking);
- collective passenger transport (improving public transport hubs, MaaS and mobility sharing);
- cycling and walking (bike lanes, bike parking and bike sharing schemes; and pedestrian-friendly spaces);
- clean and energy-efficient vehicles (electric vehicles, buses and smart-charging infrastructure);
- traffic safety measures (30 km/h to 60 km/h speed zones, accident blackspot investigation, cycle lane separation, and education and awareness raising);
- urban logistics (truck routing, access restrictions and barge terminals);
- accessibility and reduced mobility (research mobility poverty and special needs transport)
The SUMP has been developed based on the Poly-SUMP Methodology (visit http://www.poly-sump.eu/tools/ for more information), which adds elements to the first three stages of the ‘traditional SUMP process’ to widen the scope to a polycentric region. A key element of the process has been the development of a common ground and vision for the future by representatives of all relevant mobility stakeholders.
After an initial analysis stage in which the mobility patterns, the planning context and existing practices were analysed, a series of workshops were held with policymakers at the municipal and provincial level, public transport providers, business representatives, various interest groups and members of the public. The consultation process was crucial for the development of the shared vision. It helped to create a more balanced and comprehensive overview of objectives. It also provided valuable input that helped to better understand regional mobility patterns. Finally, the consultation process has been used to formulate actions and measures to realise this vision.
The outcomes of the consultation process have been used to further refine actions and projects. In an additional step, these were further assessed to create an action plan (or programme) of prioritised actions and projects for the region and each municipality. The assessment framework included criteria related to the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and impact of actions associated with the objectives agreed at the regional level. This prioritised action programme has been offered for adoption by each of the city councils. Budgets for the execution of projects (and programmes) are requested as part of the regular budget cycle and are included in the general integrated budgeting process of the municipalities.
Process and organisation
The SUMP has been coordinated by Regionaal Mobiliteitsoverleg Noord-Limburg (RMO), a regional body created to coordinate transport policy development, implementation and evaluation in the region. RMO operates at the administrative level of the municipalities on the one hand, and at the province and national level on the other. It has no legal public mandate and participation is on a voluntary basis. While the organisations have signed a participation agreement, it not legally binding.
To develop the regional SUMP, a specific platform has been created called ‘Trendsportal’. The platform is open to everyone who feels involved personally or professionally and actively wants to contribute to the delivery of sustainable, safe and smart mobility. The SUMP is very much seen as a process with the ‘P’ in the abbreviation ‘SUMP’ standing for Plan, an ongoing activity. Several activities have been formulated to further analyse and better understand regional mobility. Work is ongoing to keep objectives up to date and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). Finally, a range of projects is under development and efforts are being made to identify potential new actions where relevant.
The initiative to create a regional SUMP has produced positive results.
- Through Trendsportal, a regional SUMP has been developed that includes a coordinated set of actions and projects based on a shared vision. It has been developed with the cooperation of different policy areas and sectors, different levels of government and administration, and residents and other stakeholders. An attractive web tool has also been created to explore the various objectives and actions, and an animation has been produced that explains the main vision.
- As a platform for cooperation and discussion, Trendsportal has been successful in bringing together policy and decision makers in the eight municipalities, and a wide range of stakeholders. There is a strong belief that the process of co-creation of the SUMP has resulted in a stronger support for the measures proposed. A focus on broader objectives and the adoption of a multi-stakeholder perspective has helped create political backing and greater awareness of mobility needs and issues, and how these relate to other policy domains.
- It is also thought that stakeholder dialogue and the joint design of various actions have increased the capacity in the region to develop more complex projects and solutions and has boosted learning ability. It has provided the required scale to implement innovative projects that would be too large and complex for a single municipality.
- Examples of such projects that have been developed include ‘MOBI’, a shared mobility pilot project that provides commuters with an e-bike and car-sharing scheme combined with public transport for business trips. The aim is to demonstrate the viability of such schemes in a polycentric urban-rural area and expand the number of participants to 100 by 2020.
Another project is ‘SHAREuregio’ which has been initiated in cooperation with municipalities in the wider Euregion Rhine-Maas-North. The project will support organisations, their employees and members of the public in replacing underutilised, conventional vehicles with shared-use electric vehicles and e-bikes (for commuting). It aims to improve intermodal connectivity and to increase public transport use by introducing e-vehicle sharing as part of electric MaaS (eMaaS) and as a feeder for public transport. An app will be developed that can be used to plan and reserve all mobility services required for door-to-door journeys even if they cross the Dutch-German border.
Getting eight municipalities to cooperate effectively with each other and with a wide variety of stakeholders is a major challenge. Municipalities in the region of North Limburg already had some experience of cooperating. This has helped to create a basic level of trust, but this was not the only success factor. Other key success factors have been:
- an open and active planning process;
- joint problem analysis and formulation of objectives;
- shared insight into the needs and objectives of all parties involved;
- support from public officials, administrators and the general public;
- use of regional consultation structures;
- clear roles and frequent communication on expectations, agreements and developments;
- cooperating at the project level, updating the project pipeline and adding new and/or innovative elements to projects have also acted as incentives to start cooperation;
- participation of parties based on an equal contribution and a joint interest.
Although these success factors may seem obvious and straightforward, in practice they can prove difficult to achieve. In particular, getting support from public officials, administrators and politicians can be challenging. To increase support from these stakeholder groups, the following factors have been important:
- Highlighting the potential benefits in relation to their specific role. While ambitious, concrete examples of benefits that could realistically be achieved have been identified.
- The development of the SUMP did not require complicated budgetary procedures. The costs for the municipalities have mainly consisted of staff time. Projects and actions that have been identified have been part of the normal budget procedures and the SUMP actions did not replace projects and actions that were already in place. These have been included in the SUMP actions.
- Their roles and tasks were clearly described and their importance stressed throughout the process.
- Although initiated by a small group of elected councillors and civil servants, actively promoting the initiative and inviting others to join has proved successful once these stakeholders were aware that their peers were also joining the initiative. Momentum could also be built by ensuring visibility (e.g. in local media and internal communication) and by sharing the credit for successful developments.
Another challenge faced in the SUMP process has been the translation of the vision and objectives into a programme of concrete projects and actions, while maintaining the commitment of the stakeholders that contributed to the development of the vision and objectives. To deal with this challenge, a ‘road show’ was organised where 75 stakeholders were visited on a one-on-one basis to discuss how they could influence mobility patterns. The visits provided inspiration for new actions and projects that could be developed in 2019, and opportunities for stakeholders to get involved in projects.