Mobility is a major carbon emitter, responsible for around a quarter of all urban emissions. Decarbonisation of mobility is therefore essential for reaching our targets under the Paris Agreement. Many cities have set out their mid-and long-term mobility strategies, aiming to achieve net-zero transport, but also support the development of urban quality of life, improve air quality, and tackle inequalities.
However, while the targets and goals in these strategies may be ambitious, doubt remains amongst policy-makers about whether these targets can be achieved and if the transition is proceeding quickly enough.
“Cities do not always understand that having climate aims alone is not sufficient. A city also needs to develop policies and actions to reduce carbon emissions from mobility. Cities need to have courage to look more than 10 years ahead, design measures for the long-term, and think outside of the box,” explained Ekki Kreutzberger of Delft University of Technology, lead partner of the 2050 CliMobCity project.
“Cities need to focus on measures which reduce the average travel distance, shift mobility to sustainable modes and vehicles, increase the occupancy of vehicles, and streamline traffic flows. Expert support is also needed to provide a better quantitative underpinning to policy design, to improve transport modelling and better understand both the impact on carbon emissions and expected changes from future mobility preferences.”
Looking to overcome these challenges, the cities of Bydgoszcz (Poland), Leipzig (Germany), Plymouth (United Kingdom), and Thessaloniki (Greece) have joined together in the 2050 CliMobCity project, supported by the advisory partners of TU Delft and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
Together, these partners will examine measures to reduce carbon emissions, as well as consider governance requirements and how urbanism – the structure and use of the built environment – interacts with sustainable mobility.
Specifically, 2050 CliMobCity aims to identify practices and create regional action plans to reduce CO2 emissions, examining e-mobility, active transport modes, charging infrastructure, and the use of ICT to support modal shift, while also embedding measures into spatial plans, and making urbanism more supportive towards climate-friendly mobility. In other words, measures should not only reduce CO2 emissions but also make efficient use of land in dense urban configurations.
The compact city reduces the distance of trips compared to extensively built cities, or networks of core and satellite cities, and this makes it more likely that people will choose active travel for their journeys. Densification of the city around public transport lines and train stations also reduces the distance to transport hubs, encouraging greater use of public transport.
“Given the relevance of the compact city, the aim of municipal policies should be that future mobility is not only ‘climate-friendly’, but also ‘space-efficient’,” says Kreutzberger. “Future mobility in many cities is still expected to grow, and not all of that growth can be absorbed, in particular not via space-consuming (carbon or electric) car mobility. To avoid more congestion and a decline of accessibility, a modal shift is required.”
In the first year of the project, partners have been identifying good practices and each partner city will define a package of measures to implement, predict the resulting change in mobility, and have the actual CO2 reduction calculation estimate by PIK, to demonstrate the expected impact of policy decisions. These findings will form the basis of each city’s action plan, to be implemented after the project’s first phase.
“In 2050 CliMobCity we hope that cities will learn to see climate mitigation as the only way of development to avoid large societal damage, that cities will better understand whether their measures for future development are sufficiently on track, that departments work with a good mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches,” added Kreutzberger.
Good practices from the Netherlands
The new residential district of IJburg, Amsterdam (phase 1) is a model of greenfield urban development, making use of compact planning, and a transport system focused on sustainability. IJburg has been under construction since 1997, built upon a set of artificial islands reclaimed from the IJmeer, and the district has been built with a high density of inhabitants, currently amounting to 24,000.
With this in mind, mobility planning has been considered from the very beginning to ensure that the neighbourhood can be accessed using low-carbon mobility options. Currently, less than 20% of short trips (less than 2.5km) go by car, and most travel is active. For 2.5-10km about 35% of trips are by car, but cycling and public transport have the largest shares.
To enable this, significant measures have been taken to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport by making them fast and convenient, as well as discouraging car use.
The islands can be accessed by a high-frequency tramline, with measures taken to ensure that the tram can provide easy access to all daily needs. The line connects IJburg to Amsterdam city centre and the main train station, with fifteen services an hour, taking eighteen minutes from end-to-end.
IJburg also has an extensive network of cycle paths and buses, connected with the broader Amsterdam mobility network. As a result, car ownership in IJburg is very low, and less than 20% of short trips are made by car.
Heading southeast, the city of Utrecht is the world’s first municipality with a city-wide roll-out of bidirectional charging infrastructure for electric cars.
The city aims to increase e-vehicle use as part of its mobility transition and wants to boost the use of solar photovoltaics for renewable energy generation. Integrating new electric vehicles, as well as intermittent solar energy into the grid will have a significant impact on grid stability, which needs to be balanced with new supply and demand-side interventions.
The use of vehicle-to-grid technologies, whereby electric car batteries can be used for energy storage with electricity then put back into the grid when needed, can help significantly in grid stabilisation.
However, such V2G systems require specific technologies to function. Utrecht’s charging system will work with both ‘two-directional’ and ‘one-directional’ car batteries, meaning users are able to use any charging point, regardless of which battery type they have.
As well as the charging infrastructure, Utrecht is supporting the uptake of e-mobility with a car-sharing scheme called ‘We Drive Solar’, making use of ‘two-directional’ charging, to encourage the shift away from car ownership and support the low-carbon shift.