Tirana, the capital city of Albania, has experienced fast urban growth and uncontrolled urbanisation in the last few decades. However, the city’s leadership has now recognised the importance of sustainable urban mobility, so many actions have been put in place recently to improve mobility in the city.
In the spring of 2019, the city started developing its first Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) with support from the ‘Sustainable Urban Mobility in South-East European Countries II’ (SUMSEEC II) project funded by the Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe (SEE) - Energy Efficiency (ORF-EE). SUMSEEC II is implemented by the German international development agency (GIZ) and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The process was launched with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by GIZ and the Municipality of Tirana in June 2019. The development of the SUMP was coherent with the recently updated EU Guidelines for SUMPs, as well as the SUMSEEC II roadmap that condenses available knowledge and policy tools to support the development of sustainable urban mobility in SEE countries.
Massive internal migration, and rapid and informal urbanisation of the outskirts of Tirana, resulted in a lack of infrastructure – including roads, electricity, water, sewers and public/social buildings (such as schools and healthcare services). It also resulted in poor transport connections to central Tirana, and an increase in commuting trips, traffic congestion and ecological damage.
In addition, in the compact and planned centre of Tirana, shared and green spaces began to suffer from a decline in quality, a lack of maintenance and the progressive conversion of these areas into parking spaces. This, in turn, reduced the opportunities for active modes of transport (walking/cycling) and for social interaction.
Phenomena that characterised Tirana’s rapid transformation, such as demographic, economic and land use shocks, as well as natural unexpected events including flooding, the recent earthquake and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all demonstrated a strong need for a well-planned and resilient mobility system. In this sense, the city can be seen as a laboratory for Europe.
Despite its relatively low level of car ownership, as a consequence of its dense urban structure, the primary and secondary road network of Tirana experiences severe traffic congestion as all vehicles rely on the main radial and ring roads. While the level of car ownership is low, it has doubled in the last 7 years.
Tirana is characterised by a strong dualism in terms of its mobility patterns. On the one hand, a relatively small, but increasing, share of the inhabitants consider private motorised transport as their predominant mode and see car ownership as a status symbol. On the other hand, there are large portions of society that see walking as their main transport mode. The first group largely influences the pro-car attitudes of the younger generation, whereas bad experiences with walking or using public transport might divert people from the second group to car use. In addition, despite investment in infrastructure, bicycle use is still limited.
A multidisciplinary team supported the Tirana Municipality in the development of its SUMP. TRT Trasporti e Territorio (Italy) was the lead technical consultant, providing the key planning expertise and know-how. SEE Change Net (Bosnia and Herzegovina), with the local partner EDEN, was responsible for the communication, participation and stakeholder engagement.
The planning process began with an early involvement of a large group of stakeholders during a ‘Visioning Workshop’ held in Tirana in September 2019. Through a gradual, facilitated process over a day, starting with individuals, then with small groups and finally to a collective vision, all participants agreed on a vision for mobility in the city of Tirana for 2030:
‘A smart Tirana, responding to community needs as a liveable, clean, healthy, attractive city, offering innovative, multi-modal and wide-ranging mobility, available, affordable and equal for everyone.’
The first milestone (that is, the analysis of problems and opportunities), was performed through a strong collaboration with the different city departments, and by gathering information on available plans and studies drafted for the city in the last 10 years. These documents provided the starting point to develop the overall framework of the current infrastructure and socio-economic conditions, as well as the urban structure, available services and critical issues that characterised the city and its mobility system.
This process was combined with interviews and data collected in the field. It included discussions and feedback gathered from stakeholders in a dedicated workshop held in January 2020 with the representatives of the SUMP working group and other city officials of the Tirana Municipality.
In parallel, an attitudinal survey was carried out in December 2019. The survey explored people’s perceptions and attitudes towards different modes of transport and gathered insights about potential motivational factors that might cause a switch from driving to more environmentally friendly modes of transport, such as public transport, walking and cycling.
Complementary to these activities, a series of focus groups was initially planned for March 2020. However, due to the lockdown in Tirana during the COVID-19 pandemic, views were gathered through an online questionnaire that was developed to gather input from several target groups.
The identification of the objectives of the SUMP represents a fundamental step in its drafting to ensure that it is capable of shaping a vision for mobility in Tirana. It is through the structure of the general and specific objectives, and the related targets, that the different strategic pillars are shaped and measures are identified, prioritised and categorised. The choice of objectives is relevant in the development phase of the plan (to support the assessment of scenarios and the prioritisation of measures), in the implementation phase, and for the ex-post monitoring and evaluation.
Three alternative scenarios were designed that combined different sets of integrated hard (investments) and soft (policies) measures, and which involved the different phasing of implementation (short term (2022), medium term (2025) and long term (to 2030). All three scenarios (identified as a ‘high-investment scenario’, a ‘low-investment scenario’ and a ‘balanced scenario’) included all measures foreseen in the ‘reference scenario’ (or business as usual), as well as a combination of other hard and/or soft policy measures to improve the mobility system in Tirana. The rationale and the approach behind each scenario were quite different, even if they shared some common measures (but these may differ in terms of phasing) and assumptions.
To compare and assess the alternative scenarios, a multi-criteria analysis (MCA) was used. MCA is a tool used to appraise different alternatives whose impacts cannot be expressed in monetary terms or quantified easily, but are recognised as being important by policy makers so need to be formally included in the evaluation.
The advantage offered by this methodology not only lies in the transparency of its results, but also in the fact that the criteria utilised can be subject to scrutiny to reach consensus among all policy makers. The inclusion of multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process is indeed an important factor and, for the transport sector, often a crucial factor for the successful implementation of the measures under consideration. This allowed the focus to be on creating the comparability of results and, ultimately, the acceptance of the ranking of alternatives. The MCA led to a scoring of the proposed alternatives and, consequently, the identification of the most promising scenario.
The ‘balanced scenario’ received the highest score in the MCA. It showed a better allocation of resources and was able to achieve better results with a more balanced investment.
The preferred scenario was organised around six key strategies. These have been identified as the founding policy pillars to enable the city to respond to its peculiar mobility challenges, and to achieve the vision and objectives of Tirana’s SUMP:
- fostering public transport to be more extensive, more efficient, integrated, attractive and inclusive;
- promoting cycling and micro-mobility as alternatives to private motorised transport;
- ‘Mobility Resilient Tirana’, which combines infrastructure investments and soft policies, making the best use of resources (financial and spatial), and increasing the flexibility and reactiveness of the mobility system;
- managing parking supply, logistics and pricing to steer modal choice;
- fostering a child-centred design, and using the city’s streets and urban spaces to increase accessibility, attractiveness and safety.
- Applying intelligent transport system (ITS) technologies, digital solutions and e-mobility for a smart(er) city.
The first strategy looks at improving the quality of public transport in Tirana. It focuses on increasing the level of service (in terms of its quantity and quality). As public transport is the preferred modal choice of a large proportion of the population and, given its current limitations (particularly the absence of mass rapid transit and the current road capacity), the strategy seeks to reinforce the role of public transport and improve its performance, attractiveness and level of inclusivity.
Even though the amount of temporary cycling infrastructure has expanded a lot in recent years (with the basic network almost complete in central Tirana), the number of regular cyclists has not been increasing at a fast pace, nor have car drivers been shifting to cycling in significant numbers.
The second strategy recognises the fundamental role of cycling in covering short-to-medium range distances in a compact city such as Tirana and adds an important (and still absent) element – the use of electric scooters and other devices such as hoverboards, monowheels and two-wheeled electric vehicles. Hence, the strategy works on all micro-mobility options and targets car users primarily to encourage them to shift to these modes. Increasing the use of bikes and other active mobility modes is also crucial in delivering the health-related benefits of sustainable mobility for residents.
Resilience should be a strong element of all city strategies and Tirana has largely demonstrated its capacity to act in a fast-changing environment and to react to unexpected shocks. The SUMP working group realised that numerous infrastructure interventions have already been planned to give the city a robust and more hierarchical road network. These interventions were prioritised in the third strategy in a timeframe that recognised the need to secure sufficient financial resources for this while supporting other policy measures, thus allowing a sufficient level of flexibility for the mobility system.
The fourth strategy aims at properly managing private motorised vehicles and urban freight traffic by using two main drivers:
- pricing measures;
- the development of nodes where people can transfer from cars to buses or to micro-mobility options, and where freight can be transferred from trucks or diesel vans to cargo bikes and small electric vans.
The fifth strategy builds on the widespread local policy that focuses on the children and young residents of Tirana to foster social innovation and accelerate societal change. The SUMP integrates this approach and current initiatives in the mobility sector by putting together a large set of measures, from infrastructure and urban design interventions to more regulatory ones, that were conceived and implemented having children as the primary users and target group. The strategy embraces the overall theme of the transformation of the city’s streets into public places allowing all types of user, including elderly people and people with reduced mobility, to walk throughout the city instead of using motorised vehicles. Applying a child-centred design means having a city that is accessible, safe and more liveable.
The final strategy includes all of the different measures that are necessary to support the use of ITS, the introduction of digital solutions to allow residents to smoothly use and pay for different mobility options and services, and the expansion and improvement of electric mobility in Tirana.
The SUMP would be of little use if proper tools and procedures were not put in place for its implementation. Furthermore, the progress of the measures being implemented and, importantly, their adherence to the overall objectives and evolving context, should be periodically assessed using a monitoring and evaluation process. This provides regular information to decision makers, potential funding bodies and local stakeholders to assess whether the SUMP has or will deliver benefits to the community, provides value for money, is worth continuing and/or requires modifications to be successful.
For this purpose, the SUMP identifies a detailed list of indicators, including their methods of measurement and data needs. On the one hand, outcome indicators are anchored in the set of EU Sustainable Urban Mobility Indicators (SUMI) developed and validated by the European Commission (DG MOVE) as a tool for cities and urban areas that are developing SUMPs. On the other hand, the output indicators are linked to the SUMP’s six strategies and, particularly, to some measures. The SUMP enables the easy calculation of all indicators by assessing the available data that was collected during the status analysis and the available datasets that are regularly published on Open Data Tirana.
Two significant and unexpected events happened in Tirana during the drafting of the SUMP – the strongest earthquake to hit Albania in more than 40 years in November 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic. These, together with the fast urban growth and uncontrolled urbanisation in recent decades, demonstrated a strong need for a well-planned and resilient mobility system. Consequently, all these shortcomings had to be covered by the SUMP.
The timetable and methodology planned for the SUMP’s drafting in early 2019 needed to be changed many times to adapt to the new reality. In this context, the role of the participatory process never stopped being important as it is the only way of capturing, at a very early stage, the perspectives and opinions of local stakeholders and citizens to ensure that their views and concerns are properly taken into account. Alternative ways of guaranteeing and facilitating a transparent and shared process were found with a strong commitment from the members of the municipality, the SUMP working group and the city’s transport users. In particular, monthly online sessions, workshops and online questionnaires, as well as telephone communications with different stakeholders, were rapidly put in place.
Moreover, only in recent years has the city’s leadership recognised the importance of sustainable urban mobility. Many projects and sectoral plans have been put in place for different areas of the city covering different themes (such as cycling, urban planning and energy consumption). However, this was the first time that the city actually focused attention on sustainable mobility within a holistic approach. The drafting of the first SUMP was an opportunity to put all planned measures and visions into a balanced scenario, and define priorities in tune with the emerging issues and available resources.
It is important to highlight that Tirana has a great advantage with respect to other European cities in its path towards sustainable mobility because a very significant share of the population already completely relies on walking, cycling and public transport. However, a relatively small, but increasing, share of the population considers private motorised transport as their main choice and see car ownership as a status symbol. In this context, the SUMP combines improving and rationalising infrastructure, with soft policies and awareness campaigns to achieve a better quality of life for citizens and to highlight the benefits of moving sustainably.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, considering the integrated vision that is being pursued, the implementation of the SUMP creates motivation for improvement and resilience. Hopefully, it can serve as an inspiration for other eastern European cities.