1.2 What are the benefits of Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning?


By Ash Oyofo / Updated: 28 Nov 2019

What makes Sustainable Urban Mobilityinfo-icon Planning useful for a city? What success stories have emerged from cities that have turned their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans into actual policies? Read on for a short selection of some of the possible benefits of developing and implementing a Sustainable Urban Mobility Planinfo-icon.


Working together for better health

Air pollution contributes to more than 400,000 premature deaths per year in the EU [ref:14], making the social and economic advantages of improving air quality obvious. In addition, the need to reduce emissions to tackle the climate crisis is universally acknowledged, and road transport is the second biggest source of CO2 emissions in the EU [ref:15]. Despite all of this, many European cities exceed European air quality standards.

The Spanish capital Madrid saw a 15% reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution in just three months after establishing low emission zones in its SUMP in November 2018 [ref:16]. With Toulouse’s latest SUMP (PDU in French), the city aims to reduce the number of people exposed to an increased concentration of NOx emissions from 8,000-18,000 (2013) to less than 300 in 2030 [ref:17]. TThese reductions are achieved most effectively with the buy-in of many different government departments and different levels of government – something that planning together makes possible.


Reaping the benefits in health and safety

Public health and road safety also benefit from encouraging active modes of transport. A British study found that the risk of cancer was 45% lower among people who regularly cycled to work. Through investments in public infrastructure, Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, managed to double the modal shareinfo-icon of cycling from 4% to 8% in just five years [ref:18]. Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning aims for consistency of policies, while also aiming to link transport and health. Even if there are many reasons for cities to have good public health policies, the most successful municipalities, it is probably not coincidental that eight out of the EU’s ten healthiest cities have a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan [ref:19].

9,600 people were killed in 2017 on urban roads in the EU, accounting for 38% of the 25,047 total road deaths. 70% of those killed on urban roads were vulnerable road usersinfo-icon - 39% pedestrians, 12% cyclists and 19% powered- two-wheeler riders [ref:20]. Sustainable mobility measures can effectively contribute to tackling a city’s road safety problems and help to reach the EU targetinfo-icon of 50% fewer road deaths and serious injuries by 2030 [ref:21]. In attempting to secure a change in urban mobility patterns, road safety should be regarded as a critical challenge. Real and perceived safety has a profound effect on mode choice, especially for the most sustainable modes of travel: walking, cycling, and access to public transport. It is important to recognise that sustainable roads are also safer roads. Integrated policies, for example, improved cycling infrastructure, wider pavements and enforced speed limits, improve a city’s road safety. Since Warsaw began developing its SUMP in the mid-2000s, road accidents have decreased by 21% and road deaths by 60% [ref:22].


Getting there more easily, with fewer cars

When infrastructure for travel and transport is well thought through– and especially when mobility and urban planning departments coordinate well – there is less competition between different forms of transport for public space. SUMPs help to create a complementarityinfo-icon that suits people’s individual mobility needs. Measures in Milan’s SUMP of 2016 have contributed to bringing the number of residents using cars already down to 50%, well below the Italian average. The city is on track to achieve its goals [ref:23]. SUMPs help to reverse negative mobility trends. Thanks to the promotion of SUMPs in France in the 1990s, nearly every major French city has seen a reversal in the trend of increasing car use.

Increases of as much as 22% in the two preceding decades were halted and replaced by decreases of up to 8% [ref:24]. In Szeged, Hungary’s third-largest city, the SUMP helped to freeze a rapid decline in public transport use [ref:25].


Winning public support

These results have been and can only be achieved through the active involvement of local residents, which is essential to Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning. Through its SUMP - which took into account input from 755 citizens - Milan has introduced a low emission zone restricting car use in approximately 70% of the city. An intensive public debate involving stakeholders and citizens has helped to minimise opposition [ref:26].

Budapest gathered more than 1,000 public comments in a similar process, the majority of which said that people wanted more environmentally friendly measures; this public buy-in also helped to create political buy-in [ref:27]. Besides helping to convince people, Budapest found that this cooperation in planning a SUMP, both internally and with the public, can provide significant insights and fresh ideas [ref:28].

Citizens are ready for their local leaders to make changes. In Nantes, France, 50% of people surveyed while travelling on the bus had chosen public transport even though they had a car at home [ref:29]. By consulting and working with the public on its sustainable urban mobility measures, Stockholm increased public support for congestion charges from 33% to 67% over five years [ref:30]. If nothing else, citizeninfo-icon and stakeholderinfo-icon involvement is a toolinfo-icon for policymakers to convince citizens and other stakeholders of ambitious measures, to understand what might be acceptable, and to reduce the political risks associated with non-acceptance.


Liveability, a double win for people and business

Sustainable modes of transport can often also be more convenient than private car travel. The shared mobility network set up as part of Milan’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan includes electric cars, scooters, and bicycles, and has demonstrated its appeal by attracting almost half a million subscribers [ref:31].

Making the streets safe for everyone, irrespective of their mode of travel increases urban accessibilityinfo-icon and contributes to a higher quality of lifeinfo-icon. Even if many factors come into play, it is not a coincidence that seven out of the top ten liveable cities in the EU are cities with Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans [ref:32]. Decreasing levels of car use make streets more attractive, changing them from thoroughfares to places of urban life and social cohesion.

Bolstering a sense of place through diverse modes of mobility improves the image of a city, helps local shops, and encourages tourism, local regeneration, and international investment. In Copenhagen, pedestrianisation of one street led to a 30% increase in sales in a single year [ref:33]. Similarly, after the temporary closure of the main thoroughfare in Madrid to cars during the 2018 Christmas period, there was a 9.5% boost in retail spending compared to 2017 [ref:34]. While such measures can temporarily decrease turnover and excite opposition in the short term, a year or so is usually all it takes for the gains to become evident.

When employees have more mobility options, businesses also benefit through an increased pool of candidates and less time wasted in traffic. Highly qualified people are more likely to seek employment in attractive cities, and vulnerable groups - including the mobility-impaired or economically disadvantaged - are more likely to find work when travel barriers are removed. This means that improved mobility leads to greater social equityinfo-icon by pushing up standards for everyone, rather than benefiting one group at the cost of another. The cost-benefit analysis that Arad, Romania, carried out when deciding on the measures for its SUMP showed that €2.2 million will be gained for every €1 million invested [ref:35]. Stockholm calculated its annual socio-economic surplus as a result of mobility measures at €60 million [ref:36].


Strength in unity

The more diverse and integrated sustainable mobility options are, the greater the efficiency and resilience of the transport system as a whole. Since implementing its most recent Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan in 2017, the city of Ghent, Belgium, has seen a 25% increase in cycling within the city centre and a 35% increase outside the centre [ref:37]. Since implementing its SUMP, which was updated in 2015, Antwerp saw a 25% decrease in car trips (approximately 14,000 less) coming into the city on an average weekday [ref:38].

The long-term and integrated nature of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan is the most effective way of realising many potential benefits. Because it involves a long-term commitment and widely agreed-upon goals, a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan helps to manage uncertainty and to define clear metrics of working step by step towards targets. As a SUMP requires cooperation between departments and governanceinfo-icon levels, it helps to create a shared visioninfo-icon and serves as a way to bring together institutions that are not (yet) used to cooperating. This creates an enormous boost in the effectiveness of policymaking.

Budapest cited the development of its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan as a key to more harmonised thinking among different stakeholders, from municipal departments and state actors to transport companies [ref:39]. Such coordination ensures the mutual support and follow-through that these measures require. Traffic regulations are useless if the police do not enforce them. Pedestrianisation is only successful when it is embedded in a wider urban mobility strategyinfo-icon. Antwerp is going so far as to develop a joint Sustainable Regional Mobility Plan with 33 surrounding municipalities and the Flemish administration [ref:40].


Ready, steady, SUMP!

By making explicit the necessary connections between political priorities, for example mobility and employment, a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan ensures that the contribution of mobility to high-level political goals is more widely perceived. The consultationinfo-icon and involvement of stakeholders within and outside government, including civil society and private industry, increases support for mobility actions. This improves the likelihood of success and political buy-in. Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning is a tool to effectively manage change and to inspire new ways of thinking.