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10 years of pioneering clean urban transport across Europe

CIVITAS cities showcase a range of achievements to their peers

Autumn marks the moment when the year starts to wind down – a period for taking stock before the next twelve months are ushered in with fresh aims and objectives that build upon past achievements and lessons learned. CIVITAS, a pioneering initiative of the European Commission that supports cities in implementing innovative measures and policies towards sustainable urban mobility, marked its 10th anniversary this year with a number of autumn highlights.

European Green Capital 2012, Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz, proved an ideal location for the CIVITAS Forum conference in September. The event marked the closing of the Initiative’s third phase, CIVITAS Plus, and played host to one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated highlights – the annual CIVITAS Awards. These events are just the tip of the iceberg, highlighting just a fraction of the ambitious and exciting achievements of the last decade, including those of:

  • Demonstration city Skopje that successfully initiated important new trends and policies for the benefit of its citizens under the CIVITAS RENAISSANCE project;
  • CIVITAS Awards’ runner-up Brighton and Hove, the UK seaside city that impressed the judges with a range of innovative actions involving multiple stakeholders in their design; and
  • Forum Network city Brest, in northern France, recognised for its strategically integrated approach to transport management –and worthy host of next year’s CIVITAS Forum.

Macedonian capital reverses negative trends and changes citizens’ behaviour

Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia, is a city of about 650,000 inhabitants – that is, almost 30 percent of the country’s population. Whilst the city has been growing rapidly over recent years, corresponding developments in the transport system could not keep pace. This has brought about some negative trends: the number of journeys made by public transport went down from 150,000,000 trips in 1989 to 60,000,000 in 2006. During the same period, the modal share of trips made by car went up from 25 to 38 percent.

Professor Nikola Krstanoski from the Department of Transport and Traffic Engineering at the University of St. Kliment Ohridski in Bitola, who is evaluating the CIVITAS measures implemented in the city, explains: “The initial idea to apply for funding arose from a variety of pressing issues, from traffic congestion, lack of parking and illegal parking, to increased air pollution and noise, reduced access to the city’s cultural and historic sites, more asphalt and less and less green spaces. It became obvious that action needed to be taken to improve the quality of life of Skopje’s citizens”.

In response to such an array of transport, infrastructure and environmental challenges, the university joined forces with public transport company JSP Skopje, with the support of the mayor and the transport department of the City of Skopje. The three partners have since gone on to achieve impressive results through a variety of exceptional initiatives proposed and agreed upon in 2008, and subsequently implemented with  a total budget of EUR 687,000. These include: the retrofitting of 12 diesel buses for the use of compressed natural gas (CNG); the development of the first Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) in the country; the establishment of a Traffic Management and Control Centre using telematics to address congestion and pollution problems, amongst others; and a real-time passenger information system based on Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) to promote an increase in public transport use.

“Involving stakeholders from the outset has been key to the success of these measures,” continues Professor Krstanoski. “Retrofitting of the diesel buses meant engaging technical experts from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and from JSP Skopje. Developing the SUMP  entailed gathering input and feedback in a series of stages, from local and central government politicians, professional associations and transport operators, to relevant NGOs and the general public”.

This strategic approach not only generated valuable comments and suggestions, but it also contributed to the easy adoption of the plan in October 2011 by the City Council, as some of its members had already been involved in its development.

“We are particularly proud of the Traffic Management and Control Centre”, explains the professor.  “It attracted such broad interest from all key actors that a decision was made to extend the measure from an initial 28 intersections to 100, with an application for additional funding made to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)”. The real-time passenger information at an initial ten bus stops was also highly appreciated by public transport users and citizens at large, with more than 85 percent of those surveyed saying that it will trigger greater use of public transport, and more than 70 percent thinking that it will significantly enhance quality of service.

And it’s not just customers’ – or potential customers’ – feedback that is important. A new design of bus stops, new vehicles, the introduction of smart ticketing – these are all improvements that the City of Skopje is implementing based upon a series of actions recommended in the SUMP. These also include traffic calming measures, a new parking policy, the creation of tourist bus and bicycle routes, and new infrastructure for cyclists.

Professor Krstanoski is clear about the city’s achievements under RENAISSANCE – and excited about the future. “There has been so much interest in what we have done that the City of Skopje is already keen to propose another project to continue building towards sustainability. Indeed, as one member of the Council said: “Skopje has finally started to address its transport problems in the right way!”

CIVITAS Awards’ runner-up an impressive model for stakeholder engagement

The eagerly-awaited ceremony of the ninth edition of the CIVITAS Awards took place on the opening day of the CIVITAS Forum conference and saw 21 cities compete to win in one of three categories: City of the Year, Technical Innovation and Public Participation. The English city of Brighton & Hove was already runner-up in the category of Public Participation in 2011. This year, they again made it to runner-up as the City of the Year. The judges acknowledged the city as a “model for other cities to look up to for its wide-ranging, innovative actions, as well as for involving stakeholders in their design”.

The city was also highly praised for promoting the benefits of its sustainable initiatives to local citizens, with visits to 15,000 households, 37 schools and 20 businesses already demonstrating results: These include a 7 percent increase in bus use since 2008, a 9 percent increase in walking to school since 2007 and a 13 percent decrease in the share of car trips to and from school within the CIVITAS corridor.

Debbie Reed, Transport Planner in the Environment Initiatives department at Brighton & Hove City Council, is enthusiastic about how the support and GBP 2.2m funding received under CIVITAS Plus ARCHIMEDES has benefitted the city: “The programme helped us invest in 15 small-scale transport projects that address a number of key issues, from improving air quality and decreasing congestion to trialling clean fuel technology and improving public transport – all part of the city’s overall  aim of achieving a decisive modal shift towards sustainable transport”.

Concretely, since 2008, a number of ambitious policy tools and measures have been implemented, grouped under three key axes that support the city’s vision. “Giving people smarter choices” includes the development of travel planning initiatives for schools and businesses, a smartphone application for “on the move” journey planning, and the first on-street electric vehicle charging points (EVCP) in the UK outside of the capital. The second axis, “Improving usability of the bus network”, has resulted in the installation of real-time bus information signs, 12 talking bus stops and smart card ticketing. Finally, “Improving cycling provisions”, focuses on improving infrastructure, including new cycle parking facilities and the first two cycle counters, not just in the city, but in the country as a whole.

 fundamental element of the city’s achievements to date has been involving stakeholders, whether residents, parents and schools, or businesses, technical experts, local authorities or other transport partners. “A good example is the Talking Bus Stop React system,” explains Debbie Reed, “for which we won the Transport Authority of the Year award in 2010 for excellence, innovation and progress. Forming a multi-disciplinary working group for its design – involving members of the blind and partially-sighted community in the city and the Royal National Institute of Blind People – was crucial to its success.”

And there are many other successes too, not least the installation of eight on-street EVCPs that won the CIVINET PRISM award in June 2011 and, more importantly, have proved to be a useful “test” for other cities that now approach Brighton & Hove for advice before installing their own.

“We are proud of what the city has achieved, not least the application of best-practice learned and applied in partnership with other similar EU cities. On top of that, we have faced multiple challenges over the last few years – from economic instability to national and local political changes and reduced transport funding from Central Government – and we have still moved forward, highlighting the positive impact of our initiatives and showing that investments in transport projects are worthwhile”.

So worthwhile, in fact, that the city has successfully secured additional funding after CIVITAS ends to build on its considerable achievements under CIVITAS ARCHIMEDES.

Host city of CIVITAS Forum 2013 leads by example with targeted SUMP

580 km west of Paris in Brittany, North West France, lies “Le Pays de Brest”, a territory of 400,000 inhabitants, 210,000 of whom live in its urban heart, Brest Métropole Océane. Well-known for the “Pont de Recouvrance” – a massive 64 m high drawbridge – the city was severely damaged in World War II.  This, combined with Brest’s unique topography, has had a direct impact on its actions over the last 20 years to support cleaner and better city transportation, presenting a number of specific challenges, not least the redesign of the city’s streets. But the opportunity to show its peers across Europe the solutions to these challenges was one of the reasons why the city chose to apply to host the CIVITAS Forum conference 2013. 

Vice-President of Brest Métropole Océane and Municipal Councillor Michel Joanny is delighted that Brest was chosen – and is unequivocal about what his city can bring to the event. ”Brest is not a CIVITAS demonstration city, so we can show others in the network what can be achieved without CIVITAS funding, but nevertheless connected to the network and its useful knowledge and experience. Also, for the last two decades, we have progressively and strategically developed our mobility system, including the adoption of a SUMP in 2002.” The main targets of this plan include controlling an increase in traffic; organising and coordinating the urban development of the agglomeration; adapting the road system to local characteristics; and constantly improving the public transport system.

“One key challenge was the redesign of the city’s streets, including reducing space for cars. This resulted in objections from local citizens. On the other hand, these citizens also wanted a quieter environment and safer streets. So we had to ensure that their views and comments were taken in account through, for example, regular meetings with local citizen councils, discussions with shop keepers through the Chamber of Commerce, debates and public presentations”.

Indeed, citizens must be proud of the myriad achievements to date, including a mass transit system incorporating a light rail line and bus lanes; a consistent cycling network and long-term cycle rental service; street design promoting calm, fluid motorised traffic and the development of pedestrian spaces.

“The results speak for themselves”, continues Michel Joanny. “When the high-level bus line was implemented in 2004, we saw an immediate 50 percent increase in passenger use. With the light rail in 2012, 30 percent of additional passengers were using the public transport system within three months. And over the last ten years, the street redesign has reaped rewards, with a reduction in road traffic of 1 percent per year and a 30 percent decrease in accidents.”

So, with plenty of concrete examples to show to participants and the media during the Forum 2013, what else does the city have in mind for next year’s event? “It’s early days,“ explains Michel, “but we have consistent expertise in hosting international events, so the agglomeration of Brest Métropole Océane will be working hard with its communication department, key city stakeholders and the CIVITAS Secretariat to organise an exciting and impressive event.”

In the meantime, Brest has plenty of other projects to be getting on with, including a cable car system to cross the river in the city centre (expected to be operational in 2015), further development of the cycling network and a new approach to urban planning through a combined, streamlined urban, mobility and housing master plan. The next 12 months are clearly going to be busy…

CIVITAS fostering of knowledge transfer proves key to cities’ successes

As these few cities (among many others) demonstrate, creating a more sustainable urban mobility culture poses challenges for which there are different recipes for success. Even so, similarities can be found, so that each city has the potential to motivate and guide others in their efforts towards achieving a significant shift in the modal split towards sustainable transport. Building on the legacy of the previous decade, CIVITAS continues to provide funding to enable cities to collaborate in research and demonstration projects – as well as generate added value as an indispensible platform for the exchange of ideas and experiences across Europe.

CIVITAS - cleaner and better transport in cities - stands for City-VITAlity-Sustainability. The CIVITAS Initiative helps cities share solutions and transfer urban mobility know-how. Through CIVITAS, the European Commission is supporting and evaluating the implementation of ambitious integrated sustainable urban transport strategies that should make a real difference for the welfare of the European citizen.

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CIVITAS ONLINE is your portal to the CIVITAS Initiative. Visit the CIVITAS website to learn more about the CIVITAS Forum City Network, the ambitious policies and innovative measures many of its memebers have implemented, and how you can learn more about these at the annual CIVITAS Forum Conference.