Removing the Road Blocks to Cross-City Collaboration

By Dr. Susana Val

An effective way to improve performance in any industry is to learn from the best practices that peer organizations have adopted. The same holds true for cities – especially when it comes to implementing proven environmentally sustainable transportation policies and practices.

But there is a major obstacle to such an exchange of knowledge and ideas: each city is unique, and a solution that works well in one might not be applicable in another.

A European project to overcome this barrier by providing a framework for the transfer of sustainable urban mobility best practices, was completed in October 2016. Called SOLUTIONS, the project’s aim was to create an urban mobility network. It was funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Barriers to change

The concept of knowledge-sharing across urban environments is by no means new. Indeed, the idea is more important than even as cities across the world respond to the growing demand for sustainable transportation systems.

Yet the worldwide adoption of innovative transportation and mobility measures is extremely uneven; some cities have developed and implemented advanced solutions while others lag.

All too often, initiatives to import solutions that work well in leading urban centers fail to reach completion in take-up cities (defined as cities that adopt best practices from other cities), or don’t survive for long after the pilot stage. In many cases, political, economic, infrastructural and societal differences frustrate the transfer of best practices. Other common pitfalls include a failure to include influential parties that can help to achieve broad support for the initiative, and the lack of an overarching planning framework.

Project structure

The SOLUTIONS project’s most important objectives included testing the transferability of low-carbon transportation concepts, facilitating funding, analysing political and institutional factors, upscaling solutions to national and international levels, and supporting cooperation between policymakers.

A framework for achieving these goals was developed, that defines the conditions for a successful transfer of knowledge and ideas between cities, and identifies the barriers on a case-by-case basis. It is based on a seven-step methodology depicted in Figure 1

A wide range of projects were considered, organized around six thematic clusters:

  • Public transport
  • Transport infrastructure
  • City logistics
  • Integrated planning/sustainable urban mobility plans
  • Network and mobility management
  • Clean vehicles

The 22 research centers that participated in the project each created a matrix of solutions pertaining to a specific cluster. The Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC) worked intensively in the City Logistics category, for example. Logistics solutions identified by ZLC include the use of bicycles for urban deliveries, promoting freight deliveries during off-peak periods, and establishing networks of pick-up points in urban areas.

Urban collaborators

To apply the solutions created by project participants, leading cities (defined as cities where innovative urban mobility solutions have been successfully implemented) were twinned with take-up cities. The take-ups were keen to address specific transportation problems, while the leading cities were looking to transfer their knowledge. The level of commitment was critically important; if one partner was not fully invested in the partnership, the chances of success were severely compromised.

The pairings addressed a wide range of issues in the Asia, Latin America and Mediterranean regions. For example, Barcelona, Spain, was twinned with Guiyang, China, a take-up city that is seeking solutions to severe traffic congestion problems, possibly by extending its public transportation network. Barcelona has tackled this problem in several ways. For instance, the Spanish city has introduced two bus-only lanes, and is in the process of designating so-called superblocks (400 square meter blocks), where special traffic restrictions and controls apply. The latter measure is designed to lighten traffic levels within designated zones and encourage people to walk to destinations –  solutions that could be implemented in Guiyang.

Future work

Although the three-year SOLUTIONS project came to an end in October 2016, its work is still going on. Participant cities are using the project’s final outputs – documentation of the processes created, policy recommendations and an agenda for future cooperation – to implement sustainable transportation policies and measures. And the exchange of knowledge and ideas continues via a series of policy papers and other communications vehicles such as webinars.

It is hoped that these initiatives will generate interest in other urban centers too.  Even though the SOLUTIONS project was centered on innovative sustainable urban solutions in Europe, Singapore, China and Latin America, the basic methodology can be applied in any country or region. Another call for cities to join a second initiative is in the pipeline.

For more information on the Solutions project and other ongoing initiatives contact Susana Val, [email protected].