1.4 How does Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning work in practice?


By Ash Oyofo / Updated: 28 Nov 2019

Sustainable Urban Mobilityinfo-icon Planning is not a theoretical concept. It was developed using a bottom-up approach based on the experience of many planning practitioners and other experts. The principles, as well as the steps and activities recommended in this second edition of the SUMP Guidelines,  are based on the experience of a wide range of cities in Europe and beyond. It is, therefore, intended to go beyond being just inspirational material. But it is equally clear that specific national planning and funding frameworks, varying urban contexts, constellations of political power, and stakeholderinfo-icon influence will require a range of creative compromises that are bound to lead to adaptation of the concept to local requirements. Political decision making also requires pragmatism and the ability to work with what one has. Nevertheless, wise political decision-makers think beyond one electoral cycle and the political majority of the day.

Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning also helps to create a better basis for managing future demands. From a strategic political perspective, a SUMP is a toolinfo-icon for sustainable and innovative change management. This means that the SUMP planning cycle (as presented in Chapter 1.3) should rather be seen as a spiral: when one planning cycle is completed, another cycle should soon start, creating an ongoing improvement process.

This chapter looks at how Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning fits into the operational realities of planning; how it relates to the wider context of urban policymaking; how to integrate it with other planning activities in a city; how to adapt the SUMP concept to the specific context of an urban area; and how to meet the challenge of planning in times of uncertainty and change.

The operational side of planning

The cycle of twelve Steps may seem to suggest that the steps should be executed one after another, and the clear structure of tasks and checklists may appear to recommend following the Guidelines word by word, but this is not the case. Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning is not a recipe book but a methodinfo-icon. Everyone knows how different cities are and how complex decision making can be in an urban area. The challenge of implementing a SUMP is to adapt the SUMP to a given local context while remaining ambitious and avoiding inappropriate compromises.

The SUMP cycle (introduced in Chapter 1.1 and described in more detail in Section 2) is intended as a communication tool to describe in an easily understandable form what urban mobility planning entails. In the reality of planning practice, it can be difficult to determine which steps and activities come first because some activities must run in parallel. For example, setting up working structures (see Step 1) and determining the planning framework (see Step 2) overlap considerably in terms of timing and the people involved. Sometimes a task that seemed complete needs to be revisited because some results are not entirely satisfactory. A visual representation of the SUMP cycle showing the relative time spent on steps and potential feedback loops and return arrows can be found in Figure 17.


Planning requirements

Planning is an important aspect in many policyinfo-icon fields and at all levels of government. Local planners must be aware of requirements that influence the SUMP (e.g., land use planning, education, employment) and to understand where responsibilities are located so that these institutions can be included in the SUMP. At the European level, most planning recommendations are voluntary. These include the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Planinfo-icon (SECAP), which is aligned with the Covenant of Mayors climate and energy targets [ref:41]. At the national level, infrastructure investment planning is common, while comprehensive environmental and land-use planning is often a regional responsibility.

Figure 3: Structure of relationships between SUMP and other plans (adapted from Ahrens et al., FGSV 2015, Recommendations for Mobility Master Planning, p.8)


SUMP as an integrationinfo-icon process

Whatever the specific planning portfolio of a local authorityinfo-icon may include, planning processes often use the same datainfo-icon and tools, require participationinfo-icon from the same stakeholders, and are sometimes even carried out by the same people drawing from the same financial resources. However, these processes tend to have different timing, planning and reporting requirements and a different geographical scope, or responsible authority. Nonetheless, planning is always a process of making choices between different options about the future. Fundamental questions like “What type of city do I want my children to live in?” are often at the heart of urban planning, irrespective of the specific domain.

SUMP can be seen as one wheel in a larger planning machine (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: SUMP as an integration process


It is often difficult to determine which wheel drives and which is driven by the others, as this depends mostly on the time horizon taken. An overall urban development strategyinfo-icon may set the general goals for mobility, which is an important input into a SUMP, which in turn drives the development of a detailed sectoral strategy. In practice, the timing may be completely different, but policy coordination is needed to ensure consistency and coordinate the timing, spatial scope, and implementation of related planning processes and policies. Beyond saving resources through synergies and avoiding inefficiencies - or even conflicts - between policies, such coordination also reduces the disturbance created by infrastructure construction and the uncoordinated introduction of new systems. Importantly, it also reduces stakeholder fatigue.


Adapting the SUMP guidance to the local context

The SUMP method must be adapted to the context and specific requirements of each urban area in which it is applied, while still keeping ambitions high. The eight SUMP principles distinguish a Sustainable Urban Mobility Planinfo-icon from a more conventional transport plan. However, “adapting” does not mean skipping any of the principles; rather the intensity may be adapted, for example, to the capacities of a small city developing its first SUMP, while keeping long-term ambitions high.

Adaptation to local needs can take different forms. The need for adaptation could, for example, arise if an urban area has a very specific function, e.g., as a national port terminal that creates enormous through-traffic. Or a city may be on an island with seasonal transport patterns. In such specific situations, it is obviously important to focus the SUMP on producing a set of objectives and targets that aim to address the specific mobility issues, while still following the SUMP methodology to avoid producing a conventional traffic plan (see also Figure 5).

Figure 5: Identification of adaptation needs of the planning process (examples)

While the SUMP Guidelines provide room for flexibility and adaptation to the local context, minimum requirements must be met:

  • Key milestones must be produced in a factual and participatory manner. These milestones are a concise analysis of the problems and opportunities of the functional urban area; a visioninfo-icon, objectives, and targets agreed upon with stakeholders; and a description of actions including their evaluationinfo-icon and financing.

  • The implementation process must be closely monitored and implementation adapted as needed, with citizens and stakeholders actively informed of progress.


Planning in times of rapid change

We are living in times of rapid change in which we are confronted by immense global challenges like climate, economy, and security, to name only a few and their effects. Furthermore, people’s habits, values, and expectations are evolving constantly and new options are continually appearing as technology advances. But there is great uncertainty about whether citizens will use these new technologies as expected, about how mobility cultures will develop, and about how municipal finances will develop in light of macroeconomic and demographic challenges.

A CIVITAS expert group identified a list of such factors which, over time, will exert the greatest impact on urban mobility and should, therefore, be considered “game changers” of urban mobility.[ref:42] While their impact may vary across areas, they may fundamentally “change the game of urban mobility”. It is clear that a strategic document like a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan must consider such (and other) long-term changes:

  • Electrification: electrification of all modes, innovative use of electrical infrastructure, and its link to energy-related issues (e.g. local regenerative production).

  • Automation and connected, intelligent transport systems (C-ITS): application of technology in new mobility services and its impacts on urban form and function.

  • The data economy: data as the driver of new businesses and policies, integration platforms providing new products from existing and new mobility offers, and more fundamental aspects such as algorithms increasingly determining rules and regulations.

  • New business concepts for freight and passenger transport: integration platforms providing new mobility products based on existing and new mobility services (e.g. Mobility as a Service and platforms for freight exchange).

  • Shared mobility: all (non-technical) aspects of shared mobility, e.g. ride-hailing, car-sharing (especially free-floating schemes), and bike-sharing.

  • Active mobility: both the growth of walking and cycling as well as new micro-mobility concepts.

  • Changing mindsets and behaviour patterns: new mobility patterns among young people, increasing expectations for same-day delivery service, demand for easy-to-use mobility services (simplification), and decentralised production (e.g. 3D printing).

  • Integrated space management: new and integrated approaches to using and managing urban space, e.g. placemaking, urban vehicle access regulation, kerbside management, and urban air mobility (e.g. drones).

The SUMP concept proposes scenarioinfo-icon analysis and vision building, based on a detailed analysis of the mobility situation, as essential steps in SUMP development (see Steps 3, 4, and 5).