In January 2013 the Aachen region started an ambitious and strategic process to develop a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) together with its 10 municipalities.
Supported by the EU’s CIVITAS project, the idea was to implement this plan with the involvement and consensus of regional urban communities, citizens, their political representatives, transport associations and other relevant stakeholders.
Although encountering some initial difficulties, the SUMP process is underway and progressing well. Aachen’s experience serves as a good example for other cities and demonstrates how to tackle potential challenges that may arise during similar integrated, regional approaches.
The Aachen region (StädteRegion Aachen) has a population of 570 000 and nestles the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. It includes the cities of Aachen, Alsdorf, Baesweiler, Eschweiler, Herzogenrath, Monschau, Stolberg and Würselen, and the municipalities of Simmerath and Roetgen. The core city, Aachen, has 248 000 inhabitants. It is the cultural and scientific centre for the wider region and is a young, dynamic and highly educated metropolis with many international organisations.
In addition to a few regional bus lines, the Euregiobahn, a cross-border regional train system with 26 stations, connects Aachen and the surrounding cities, transporting 10 000 people a day. Buses are the city’s main public transport following the closure in the 1970s of the tram and trolley systems.
StädteRegion Aachen’s SUMP is closely linked to the city of Aachen’s SUMP process, which outlines a strategic vision to 2050. The city’s SUMP process started in 2011 and was unanimously approved three years later.
StädteRegion Aachen’s SUMP process started in January 2013 with the formulation of a long list of possible mobility topics; the creation of organisational structure to oversee its development; the design of a process with which to move forward; and a desire to ensure the regional SUMP is closely linked to the city of Aachen’s.
It also contained a method for the continuous development, in co-operation with the municipalities, of a traffic simulation model. The model would be fed by information from a database platform that holds vast amounts of demographic and economic data, and specific information on local education, employment and recreation.
StädteRegion Aachen was also keen to implement a culture of involvement, participation and consensus. To this end, it established a regional mobility advisory board to support it during the process. It consists of:
- A steering committee made up of the technical councillors from the ten cities to decide the aims of the SUMP and to arrive at local political resolutions. This group has met already three times.
- A project management and co-ordination team responsible for technical and operational support. This team, which has met on six occasions, is made up of StädteRegion Aachen (the chair), Stadt Aachen and the universities of RWTH Aachen and FH Aachen.
- A commission that includes the public transport authority, the public transport provider, the state road works firm, a car-sharing service and the Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of this commission, which is yet to mobilise, is to discuss interdisciplinary issues.
Establishing an organisation with the involvement of regional stakeholders has allowed StädteRegion Aachen to foster a forum that enables constructive dialogue between the regions. This is critical to reach common agreements on mobility aims.
The traffic simulation model, which has progressed substantially, is a case in point. Following an intensive co-ordination process with the municipalities, the state road works firm and the public transport authority (during which a base year of 2010 was agreed) forecast simulations were performed. Many are already complete with more underway.
Using data from the database platform, the model is able to compare changes in the transport system to see how it affects urban mobility in the city. The results allow a set of commonly agreed mobility indicators (such as modal splits, commuter flows, etc.,) to be filled with data and analysed.
‘A lot of facts are still unknown regarding the urban mobility situation in the region,’ says StädteRegion Aachen’s Claudia Strauch. ‘This collection of valuable data will support the SUMP process and inform important discussions. As a planning instrument that has also been agreed by regional stakeholders, it underlines and strengthens the culture of consensus and co-operation.’
StädteRegion Aachen expects a report showing some of the results of the modelling to be completed in September 2014. The report will be used as the basis for a SUMP training workshop with the regional municipalities and to spark discussions on regional aims.
The regional SUMP is planned to be ready by May 2015, two and a half years after the start of the project. This will also include details of the first co-ordinated measures to be implemented, a regional electromobility strategy and the first results of the regional SUMP.
As with any process, unforeseen delays can occur. The city of Aachen’s SUMP process was expected to last two years and conclude in the summer of 2014. However, the process overran, which had a knock-on effect on the regional SUMP; StädteRegion Aachen was planning to use some of the city’s SUMP components to input into its own plan.
Reaching agreements on the traffic model and database platform were also complex and time-consuming. StädteRegion’s SUMP process is voluntary and depends on the co-operation and attendance to meetings of representatives of all partners.
‘At a regional level, particularly for small municipalities, this was sometimes very difficult as they did not have the staff resources at their disposal,’ says Strauch. ‘That is why the agreement on a traffic simulation model, despite some delay, was a major success and served as a milestone in a very complex process.’
During the initiation of the SUMP process it also became clear that many of the partners saw the development of mobility solutions from a different perspective.
‘It was very difficult to reach a consensus between the cities on common themes that are regionally significant. They have their own transport policies and plans, which may conflict,’ Strauch says. ‘Our experience shows that this is why it is necessary to have professional co-ordination and a comprehensive overview of the entire process.’