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Urban Mobility in the Nordic Countries – Case Studies

This catalogue was edited by Piret Liv Stern Dahl, Thomas Delrive, Oscar Jessen and Gustav Magnusson

While transport-related public space in cities is too often neither sustainable nor effective, Nordic and Baltic cities have pioneered world-leading solutions for transforming public space which – apart from helping reduce transport emissions, improve air quality and create more inclusive spaces – have also brought clear benefits in terms of climate adaptation.

The collection of case studies, which vary in style and length, showcases examples of public space and street transformation projects in Nordic and Baltic cities that have also contributed to climate adaptation.

This short catalogue (of just 3 examples rather than the original 10) is created based on project examples submitted by Nordic and Baltic cities as part of the Urban Climate Adaptation in the Nordics (UCAN) project.

Here are some of the key issues.


Mobility Points for better multimodality and active travel

The Challenge: Supporting those who travel by bicycle or public transport

After years of efforts to transform its mobility system, Aarhus has experienced a significant increase in cycling due to improved infrastructure and car-traffic restrictions. However, the editors stress that limited parking for cargo bikes and special bicycles remains an issue in the city.

The Solution: Mobility Points with trees and racks to enable better multimodality

To benefit those choosing to travel by bicycle or public transport, two Mobility Points were created near car-sharing, e-scooter-sharing and bike-sharing facilities. The aim was to encourage use of bikes and public transport by making sharing services more accessible.

The study points out that an essential component for the project’s success was to involve stakeholders and citizens from the beginning through workshops and mappings that helped identify challenges and solutions.


Reaching climate goals through sustainable mobility planning 

The Challenge: Implementing the city’s action plan for sustainable transportation

Tartu is an academic center and the second-largest city in Estonia. From 2003 to 2018, trips done by foot have been steadily decreasing while the use of cars has increased.

The Solution: Enabling active mobility and carbon-neutral public transport while ensuring climate adaptation

The plan encourages more pedestrian and bicycle traffic and less private transport, with a main cycling network, mobility centers and expanded public transport services. The research indicates that a key focus for Tartu was to enhance cycling infrastructure to make active mobility more appealing. Taking concrete steps, the city rolled out a bikeshare scheme featuring electric bicycles with well-located stations determined by already existent mobility patterns, while implementing cycle and pedestrian paths throughout the city.

Another focus area was to promote public transport as a more sustainable alternative to private vehicles. After introducing 64 buses and new lines in July 2019, Tartu saw a 10.3% increase in ridership, with around 100,000 more passengers. In January 2021, the city’s public transport became carbon neutral with biogas buses connecting to the natural carbon cycle.


Traffic loops as steps towards low-pollution zones   

The Challenge: Preserving, protecting and promoting cultural heritage

Despite the significant cultural heritage value of Vilnius’s Old Town and its archaeological area, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the neighborhood had long been suffering from heavy car traffic causing air and noise pollution and affecting road safety.

The Solution: A traffic loop as a first step towards a low-emission zone

Approved in December 2018, the city’s Sustainable Mobility Plan establishes the need for a “traffic loop” to reduce transit car traffic through the Old Town streets of Vilnius, as a first step towards the city introducing a low-emission zone.

The editors stress that the traffic loop regulation was implemented by introducing one-way traffic, regulatory road signs, intelligent traffic systems, a 20 km/h speed limit and physical barriers such as flower beds, temporary trees and bushes. In total, four one-way loops were established to organize the traffic of cars entering and leaving the Old Town, each zone having only one main entrance and one or two exits.

Only public transport vehicles can use the loops in both directions, with convenient passenger pick-up/drop-off points installed and relevant bus stops provided for tourism.

Driving in the Old Town is allowed only to homes, workplaces and attractions within the same loop. The traffic loop regulation has decreased car traffic, reduced noise and air pollution and improved the quality of life for residents and visitors of the Old Town.

Weekend attraction to Old Town increased by 12%. Traffic noise decreased by 20%

Traffic accidents decreased by 40%, with no pedestrian injuries.

Policy recommendations for city governments

The study concludes that a citizen engagement is vital to the successful urban transformations of Nordic and Baltic cities. Their involvement is critical for bringing about long-term behavioral change, for creating inclusive urban spaces that also benefit climate adaptation and, ultimately, for shaping a sustainable and livable future for all.

Strategy and processes

1. Strategy and political buy-in. Develop a multi-year strategy and secure political buy-in by setting specific and ambitious targets backed by a powerful communications narrative.

2. Holistic thinking and collaboration. Encourage holistic and inclusive thinking in your city by enabling wide collaboration among experts and practitioners, incorporating a diversity of perspectives and continuously upskilling your city’s human resources.

3. Data and measurement. Data should be a key tool to transform your city, but carefully decide what data to collect, allocate sufficient resources to measure progress, set standards for data governance and be aware of data biases, such as the lack of data on certain demographics or modes of transport.

4. Existing policies and legislation. Map the existing policies, legislation and political declarations that your city can use as a lever to make change

5. Prioritise citizen engagement. Allocate proper funding and resources to foster wide, continuous strategic engagement with people and stakeholders, make the engagement efforts understandable and relatable to citizens, understand and try to meet the needs of all elements of society, and measure the progress of your engagement efforts.

6. Engage the youth. Develop specific youth engagement programmes to engage them in the development of your city and make it mandatory to involve young people’s perspectives in important urban planning and street transformation projects.

7. Test solutions with people. Make agile and cost-efficient interventions to experiment and test new ideas and solutions for public space together with citizens, to avoid that your city’s transformation efforts rely only on large scale, expensive urban renewal projects.

The policy recommendations are aligned with the European Commission’s recommendations for Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) adopted in March 2023 and echo the priorities of the new launched in December 2021, which set out European guidance on how cities can cut emissions and improve mobility with a particular focus on public transport and active mobility.

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