3. Transformational change #1: From induced demand towards disappearing traffic

Most traffic growth leads to congestion.1 Congestion, a result of an imbalance between car traffic volume and road infrastructure capacity, has been a major problem in urban settings for decades. The mobility-oriented solution to it has been to expand road capacity, by building roads, adding lanes, or modifying the flow or direction of traffic (Sterman, 2000[1]). The expansion of road capacity also includes the space allocated to parking, since roads only account for a fraction of the land devoted to cars.2

Road capacity expansion, illustrated in Figure 3.1, leads to a balancing feedback loop3 and can be described as follows: when traffic volume increases, travel time increases, due to congestion. When the same trips take longer than the desired or accepted travel time, there is pressure from the population (usually private vehicle owners) to reduce congestion, so that the travel time comes closer to the desired or accepted travel time.

In Figure 3.1, traffic volume is presented as a given, an exogenous variable. This reflects the widely accepted idea that people choose to drive a car independently of the system dynamics, and that the government’s role is to respond to the increased demand by increasing road capacity. Policies follow then a “predict and provide” logic: future traffic volumes, seen as exogenous, are predicted, and the policy maker’s role is to “provide” a solution to the increased volumes. The solution is often expanding road infrastructure.

Traffic volume (and mobility in general) is, however, not exogenous (Sterman, 2000[1]). People’s preference to drive a car is not solely the result of individual choices, but instead shaped by the type of system within which such choices are made. Urban systems4 are currently structured in a way that makes the car the most attractive, and sometimes the only, option available. Among other factors (e.g. low-density and single-use development, explained later Chapter 5), road expansion and prioritisation of road space for car use have played, and continue to play, a key role in shaping urban and transport systems.

Figure 3.1 provides a partial view of the dynamics at play in these systems. In reality, the increase in traffic volume is endogenously incentivised, as illustrated in Figure 3.2. As road/highway capacity increases, there is less congestion and travel time decreases (the “+” in the diagram means the variables move in the “same direction”, thus when congestion decreases, travel time decreases, and vice versa). Being able to travel faster increases the attractiveness of driving, incentivising more trips per day and longer distances (average trip distance), which increases traffic volume. Traffic volume increases travel time and congestion again. Evidence suggests that the dynamics described in the B2 and B3 loops (see Figure 3.2) increase traffic volume and congestion faster than the B1 loop “road capacity expansion” can reduce it (Sterman, 2000[1]). This explains why, despite the rapid expansion of road infrastructure, the average time spent in traffic has steadily increased, which can increase emissions and pollution, but also negatively affect people’s well-being. Figure 3.2 sheds light on this phenomenon by which road expansion increases car traffic, and which is known as induced demand (WSP and RAND Europe, 2018[2]).

As explained in detail in Section 2.2.2, the increase in traffic volume and its negative impacts are not a fatality; they are the consequence of urban and transport systems shaped and structured around a mobility-oriented logic. Induced demand has been a well-known dynamic in transport analysis since the 1990s (SACTRA, 1994[3]), and a number of studies have quantified the phenomenon since then. For instance, using data from 2000 to 2016, Iracheta Carroll (2020[4]) found that in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area,5 around 2 000 additional vehicles enter the fleet for every USD 11.3 million (MXN 100 million PPP) spent on road-related infrastructure. In 2016, investment in road-related infrastructure reached USD 981 million, which would have induced an increase in the vehicle fleet of 165 000-185 000 additional vehicles, or about one-third of the additional vehicles that entered the vehicle fleet that year.

While the evidence from transport analysis on the phenomenon of induced demand (illustrated in the three dynamics in Figure 3.3) is strong, most countries have not re-examined their mobility-oriented logic when it comes to transport policy and investment decisions (ITF, 2019[5]). For example, appraisal and planning frameworks in most countries are still focused on mobility and travel time savings6 (ITF, 2019[5]). This biases policy decisions towards privileging road infrastructure (ITF, 2019[5]). This bias is also reinforced by the “proximity blind spot” (see Section 2.2.2), which implies that investment decisions pay little or no attention to the creation of proximity , which is fundamental for “healthy”7 transport systems, as explained in Section 2.1. In addition, road capacity expansion implies that a higher share of public space, and investment, is allocated to car driving and parking to the detriment of other modes and uses of public space beyond transport, further limiting the possibility of creating proximity, and also reducing the attractiveness of active and shared modes. The creation of proximity is also physically made difficult by road capacity expansion, as this causes community severance8 (Anciaes, Jones and Mindell, 2015[6]).

The increase in traffic volume described above is not without consequences. Some of the negative impacts of such an increase include carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, air pollution and road accidents, among others (ITF, 2020[7]; Jones et al., 2018[8]) (Figure 3.3).

As will be explained in more detail in Chapters 4 and 5, induced demand triggers, and is at the same time reinforced by, a number of other vicious cycles (i.e. feedback loops that generate undesirable outcomes). As a result, car dependency increases, which also limits the policy options available to mitigate transport emissions and the negative consequences related to an increase in traffic (see, for example, Chapter 6 for a discussion on how car dependency affects the feasibility, and thus effectiveness, of carbon prices).

The next section presents policy tools with the potential to reverse this dynamic and contribute to the transition towards transport systems that result in “disappearing”, rather than growing, traffic.

As explained in Section 2.1, the current structure of transport (and urban) systems, which can be thought of as the way in which territories are organised, performs poorly in terms of the sustainable delivery of accessibility and, thus, of well-being. How public space is designed and used is a crucial element of this. This report calls for climate strategies for the transport sector that, at their core, focus on the reallocation and redesign of public space, as well as on improving the way in which public space is managed. This is central for reverting induced demand, and for territories to ensure sustainable accessibility (i.e. easy access to places and opportunities via sustainable transport modes).

Section 3.2.1 introduces the concepts of Complete Streets and Place-making, which reflect a shift in mind-set and can be seen as guidelines for policies focused on redesigning public space and improving the management of public space. Section 3.2.2 introduces good practice examples, including by using radical street redesign, parking policy and road pricing. It also discusses implementation challenges. Chapter 4 discusses the wider organisation of territories, going beyond public space.

Today, most public space is allocated to roads for cars. It is estimated that 50% of public space in European cities is dedicated to roads (EIT Urban Mobility, n.d.[9]). This is the case, for example, in Paris, despite private cars accounting for 15% of trips9 (ITF, 2021[10]) and significant efforts to reallocate public space. This sheds light on how unequal the “starting point” is in terms of the allocation of public space. Creutzig et al. (2020[11]) analyse public space allocation in Berlin (see Figure 3.4). Figure 3.4 compares the public space dedicated to different transport modes (excluding public transport)10 to the share of people using such a mode. Note that public space is disproportionately allocated to cars, even when Berlin is not among the countries with the highest motorisation rate (342 cars per 1 000 residents).

The privilege given to cars increases their attractiveness, leading people to “choose” driving over other means of transportation (see Chapter 5 for a discussion on the resulting performance gap between public transport and cars). Colville-Andersen (2018[13]) coined the term “arrogance of space” to highlight the mismatch between the share of public space allocated to the different means of transportation and the modal split. While there have been improvements in terms of biking infrastructure in a number of cities, the space allocated to bike lanes is still marginal compared to that dedicated to cars and motorcycles. For example, in Amsterdam, 51% of the public space is allocated to cars and motorcycles, against 7% for bike lanes (while the modal share for bicycles is 27%) and 40% for pedestrian infrastructure (Nello-Deakin, 2019[14]). On average, car users have 3.5 times more space available on a street than non-car users (Creutzig et al., 2020[11]). Also, according to UN-Habitat (2016[15]), the area accessible within walking distance from an arterial road declined by 10% on average (with significant variabilities across regions) between 1990 and 2015. Intersection density,11 an indicator of the ease with which a person can shorten travel distances by walking or cycling, also declined across the globe over the same time period (UN-Habitat, 2016[15]). Blocks have also dramatically increased in size – from 3.8 to 5.2 hectares on average (1990-2015) – even though evidence suggests that large blocks reduce walkability and foster traffic congestion (UN-Habitat, 2016[15]). The report concludes that “the global trend toward large blocks with limited intersections significantly compromises walking and biking, making cities less pedestrian and bicycle friendly.”

Significant street redesign and reallocation towards more sustainable transport modes, as well as towards uses beyond transport, is a necessary condition to transition towards “healthier” transport systems. In terms of the reallocation of space, prioritising walking, cycling, micro-mobility and public transport (along with investment in more and better infrastructure for these modes) is key to changing their relative competitiveness vis-à-vis the car. This is important for having safer and more convenient active and shared modes and for people to choose them, which can lead to significant CO2 emissions reductions as well as greater well-being improvements, such as better health and safety. In addition, the reallocation of public space (and in particular of roads) towards other uses can facilitate the creation of proximity. For example, public space previously allocated to roads can become parks or recreational areas, increasing accessibility to green spaces, often limited in urban settings. In sum, rethinking the allocation, design and use of public space is key to restoring the balance between mobility and proximity, making the sustainable delivery of accessibility possible. Moreover, as will be discussed in Chapter 4, urban renewal and new development strategies can importantly build on Complete Streets and Place-making approaches (see below) to redesign and reshape cities, even beyond public space.

Projects with street redesign elements such as bus rapid transit,12 bicycle lanes and pedestrian streets have been growing in number. These projects are, however, often ad hoc interventions rather than part of a wider reflection of what streets should look like or could be used for.

The concepts of Complete Streets and Place-making are key to guide the shift in mind-set needed for more systemic street redesign and management. Complete Streets is an approach aiming to safely balance space between different transport modes (walking, cycling, public transport, private vehicles, commercial activities and residential areas) (Box 3.1) (Welle et al., 2018[16]). Complete Streets principles have been associated to greenhouse gas reductions and air quality improvements, as they entail the renovation of street corridors in ways that encourage a modal shift from cars to more sustainable modes (Perk et al., 2015[17]) (see Section 3.2.2 for the example of Barcelona’s Superblocks). They have also been associated to economic benefits, such as the increase in sales by local shops.13 As expressed by Yusuf et al. (2016[18]), “[T]he turn to Complete Streets is a major change in urban street design, as it fundamentally redefines what a street is intended to do, what goals a transportation agency is going to meet, and how the community will spend its transportation funds”.

Closely linked to the Complete Streets approach is the concept of “Place-making”, i.e. the notion that streets have a “place” function, in addition to a “connection” or “link” function. The Place-making concept complements the notion of Complete Streets by highlighting that streets and public space need to accommodate uses beyond transport: streets need to allow people to access places, but also have other functions, such as allowing commercial exchanges, leisure and fostering community interactions (Savills, 2016[22]). As highlighted by (Jones, 2009[23]), different streets might have a different balance between their “link” and “place” function. This might also lead to choosing what transport modes might be more suitable to perform the “link” function in one area or another (see, for instance, the case of Superblocks in Section 3.2.2, where most traffic is channelled to the streets surrounding the new blocks). Planning according to the two notions is also synergetic, as prioritising space for more sustainable, and space-efficient modes (in accordance with the Complete Streets notion), can also leave more space available for Place-making.

Other concepts, such as Healthy Streets (Healthy Streets, 2021[24]), Liveable Streets (Tower Hamlets Council, n.d.[25]), Happy Cities (Happy City, n.d.[26]) or people-based planning (Jones, Marshall and Boujenko, 2008[27]) designate similar ideas and combine Complete Streets and Pace-making notions to different degrees. These also highlight the potential synergies between climate and wider well-being benefits (e.g. health, quality of life) that can be made when rethinking the design and allocation of public space. In this respect, Place-making and Complete Streets approaches can also bring synergies between climate and road safety improvements if taking a “safe system approach” when designing Complete Streets. A safe system approach is based on a comprehensive and systemic view of the underlying causes of serious road injuries and deaths (also helping to question the assumption that road fatalities are inevitable externalities; see Chapter 2). Rather than strongly focusing on adherence to the “rules of the road” and assigning most of the responsibility to road users, a safe system approach starts from the principle that human errors are inevitable, but if the road system is adequately designed, then serious injuries and deaths can be avoided (WRI, 2018[28]). A safe system approach argues for action in a number of areas that affect street design (e.g. speed management, intersection design that prioritises safe crossings, road design that is adapted to human error). It is therefore a complementary approach to Complete Streets; ensuring in this way that street reconfiguration also paves the way towards ambitious road safety goals (e.g. Vision Zero, see Box 2.2).

Importantly, Complete Streets and Place-making approaches are not only relevant for large urban areas Space reallocation to multiple uses in the municipality of Groningen provides a concrete example of the potential of the mind-set shifts described above applied to a smaller city (233 218 inhabitants). Freiburg (231 195 population), and Pontevedra (83 000 population) (see Chapter 4) and numerous other (small and big) cities are also moving in this direction and applying these principles both for street redesign as well as for spatial planning. In the case of Pontevedra, a number of measures to radically change street allocation and redesign, as well as parking policy have been coupled with a shift in mind-set for spatial planning (see next Chapter). Moreover, as highlighted in (Box 3.2) the shift in mind-set can also be useful and is actually necessary in rural areas.

Despite numerous initiatives and the multiple benefits associated to these approaches, public space today is still, in most places, mainly designed with a focus on increasing speeds (OECD, 2015[30]). The priority of infrastructure provision, planning and design is often given to longer, rather than shorter, trips and the transport modes associated to longer trips (e.g. space allocated to cars rather than to cycling or walking). Litman (2008[31]) identifies appraisal and planning methods as key barriers for the redesign of streets following Complete Streets approaches for instance. Because methodologies are focused on estimating and monetising the direct costs of projects, as well as impacts on travel time and vehicle operating savings, they leave policy makers ill-equipped to value the multiple benefits arising from a Complete Street approach. For example, while collision and emissions rates may be captured in measurement frameworks, these frameworks often do not account for: impacts on the accessibility of non-drivers; reducing sprawl, to which Complete Streets can provide some help by creating more attractive places in more central areas; travel choice; comfort; physical activity and related health; or aspects such as energy use, noise, equity, and aesthetic and community aspects of the urban environment (Litman, 2008[31]). In addition, impacts of the individual components of Complete Streets are often modest, but the effects of the different elements put together in a Complete Streets retrofit project are cumulative and synergistic (Litman, 2021[32]). This is, however, challenging to measure with current methodologies.

Appraisal and planning frameworks need therefore to evolve to facilitate the type of street redesign that can unleash emissions reductions and improve well-being14. In the United Kingdom, Transport for London (TfL) has developed a Healthy Streets policy, which aims at placing people, and their health, at the centre of street design. The policy is guided by ten elements that are used as indicators to judge whether a street is healthy. Green infrastructure is considered a major component of this policy: in addition to human health, a healthy street needs to enhance biodiversity and aim at ecological resilience (TfL, n.d.[33]). According to TfL, green infrastructure provides “a wide range of benefits, [and] it is one of the most cost-effective ways for TfL and others to meet the environmental and social requirements of the London Plan” (TfL, n.d.[33]). To facilitate the implementation and monitoring of the Healthy Streets policy, TfL has developed a number of guiding documents and tools. Box 3.3 summarises the ten guiding indicators used by TfL to determine how healthy a street is and two innovative tools that are used to implement the Healthy Streets policy.

The UCL Centre for Transport Studies and the Bartlett School of Planning developed a methodology that helps classify streets depending on their functions for all street users (UCL, 2014[35]). The methodology is called “link and place” and is based on the idea that streets are not only for connecting or linking places, but are also “places”. It situates roads in a matrix, according to their place (as a destination) and link (significance for movement) status. The different combinations of place and link status lead to classifying streets into different categories. This allows identifying the design requirements that are needed to adequately fulfil the specific combined function of a given street (Jones, 2009[36]).

Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are a few countries that have used the link and place methodology. The government of South Australia used it to upgrade its street network, while Ireland included the methodology in the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (UCL, 2014[35]). The UK Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government have incorporated link and place principles15 into their national guidelines. The Mayor of London’s Roads Task Force and TfL require boroughs to use the link and place methodology as classification for roads in their bids for funding. The principles also guided the award of a GBP 650 Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project to the London Borough of Hounslow to upgrade and maintain its street network over a 25-year period. Birmingham has also based the analysis of its streets network on the link and place methodology for taking decisions on street design and allocation. In New Zealand, the link and place methodology was used with the aim of better integrating land use and transport by cities such as Auckland, Tauranga and Christchurch. It was then used as a basis for a national-level framework (the One Network Framework) to classify the entire road network and guide planning and investment decisions differently by giving more weight to factors such as the strategic significance of roads and its adjacent land use. The One Network Framework has brought together key stakeholders: urban planners, traffic engineers, transport planners and urban designers (Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, 2021[37]).

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy also provides some guidelines to facilitate street redesign (and in particular the Complete Streets notion). The institute establishes the following hierarchy of users to whom priority should be given: 1) pedestrian access; 2) non-motorised vehicle movement and parking; 3) public transport; 4) non-motorised goods carriers; 5) freight movement; 6) taxi services/car-pooling/car-sharing; 7) private motor vehicle movement; and 8) private motor vehicle parking (ITDP, 2016[38]).

In sum, as explained at the beginning of this section, reducing emissions at the pace and scale needed while improving people’s well-being requires the reallocation and redesign of streets (and public space), as well as improved space management. The concepts of Complete Streets and Place-making, as well as the different frameworks introduced in this section, can guide such a process. While this process may sometimes seem to be an “impossible” endeavour, efforts in this direction made during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown periods have shown that these changes can be rapid, and can trigger important effects in the short term (see Chapter 7).

This does not imply that street redesign is an easy process. Section 3.2.2, for example, describes the multiple challenges encountered by Superblocks in Barcelona, a reference example of radical street redesign. The reader is urged, however, not to minimise the limitations that opting for strategies that avoid engaging in systemic redesign will bring. For example, focusing on electrification might be seen as a relatively easy option compared to street redesign in terms of political economy. However, reducing emissions at the pace and scale needed via vehicle electrification in systems or territories with growing traffic volumes is (as mentioned above) very challenging and can compromise the attainment of a number of other goals. The evitable trade-offs and the potential untapped synergies that arise from decoupling-type policies (see Chapter 2) should therefore be taken into consideration when comparing and prioritising policies.

The next subsection presents concrete policy examples of street redesign and the improved management of public space based on a Complete Streets and Place-making logic.

Policies to redesign streets and better manage public space should have a central role in climate strategies moving forward, but instead these policies are today marginal in climate strategies. Policies to redesign streets and better manage public space can not only stop, but revert, the induced demand dynamic described in Section 3.1. In other words they can result in “disappearing traffic” (Box 3.4), and make sustainable modes central to how people move daily.

In the Netherlands, for instance, improving the conditions for safe biking has been a priority at all levels of government for decades, which has translated into the country having exceptional levels of bicycle ownership and use (there are 17 million inhabitants and 22.8 million bicycles in the country (Netherlans, 2021[39])).The “Tour de Force” programme for example brings together government, private players, research institutions and platforms to empower cycling (see (Tour de Force, 2021[40])). Their target is to increase the total cycling kilometres by 20% from 2017 to 2027, which would make the Netherlands even more unrivalled in the use of bicycles than it already is in the present. In 2018, bicycle use covered 27% of all journeys in the country, which scored much higher than the next biggest cycling nations, Denmark (around 18%) and Germany (10%) (KiM, 2018[41]).

Street design efforts and the provision of adequate and sufficient infrastructure are at the centre of how the Netherlands has succeeded in making cycling one of the most viable transport modes. In Amsterdam the Long-Term Bicycle Plan puts cycling into the heart of urban development and aims to offer seamless biking infrastructure, easier parking facilities and better biking behaviour (City of Amsterdam, 2021[42]). The plan includes guidelines to make cycling routes car-free or separate paths of at least 2.5 metres in width, reflecting a mind-set that effectively favours cycling in terms of street space allocation. Nation-wide, 35000 kilometres of bicycle tracks and 25 cycle superhighways in use or under construction enable bikers to get from origin to destination without major disturbances ( (Netherlans, 2021[39]), (Netherlands, 2021[43])). For example, the “RijnWaalpad” highway of 15.8 kilometres (or 18 km when considering the connections to the respective city centre) connects the Arnhem and Nijmegen train stations with tunnels and bridges to make the trip enjoyable and seamless ((n.a.), n.d.[44]). To improve the multimodal use of bikes and trains, train stations in the Netherlands provide large bike parking facilities. An impressive example is the world’s largest bike parking facility in the Utrecht Central Station with three storeys and room for 12500 bicycles. The bike-train combination has been proven to work as around half of all train travellers reach the station by bike (BiTiBi, 2017[45]). The national Tour de Force programme aims to build on technology to make cycling even easier by, for example, programming traffic lights to turn green when cyclists approach or creating a system that indicates free spaces in bicycle parking facilities (Tour de Force, 2021[40]).

This section introduces other examples of policies to redesign streets and better manage public space. The next subsection introduces Barcelona’s Superblocks, which are an example of street redesign guided by a combination of Complete Streets and place-making ideas. It explains what Superblocks are, what impacts have been observed and which challenges were encountered for their implementation. It then discusses the role that parking policies and road prices could play in street redesign, improved management of road and public space, and related emissions reductions. This section also addresses key implementation challenges for the different policies put forward.

Among the most iconic examples that bring together Complete Streets and Place-making and where climate has been a central focus is that of Superblocks in Barcelona. The development of superblocks is part of the city’s response to numerous challenges. Among them are the lack of green space and heat island effects, high noise and pollution, and high transport CO2 emissions (accounting for 36% of total city CO2 emissions) (Ajuntamient de Barcelona and BCNecología, 2020[48]). The implementation of Superblocks constitutes an exceptional example where transformational action, based on redesigning the urban and transport system, has been put at the centre of climate (both mitigation and adaptation) and other (e.g. green infrastructure, biodiversity) plans and targets (Zografos et al., 2020[49]). To date, six Superblocks have been implemented, which has meant the reconfiguration of 143 hectares in the city, and three more are already being planned (López, Ortega and Pardo, 2020[50]). When fully implemented, the superblocks project will imply a significant reconfiguration of the entire city (in total 503 superblocks are planned and these will cover the entire Barcelona municipality).

The model of mobility and public space based on Superblocks establishes a network that integrates in its perimeter the circulation of all modes of transport. The network of Superblocks reorganises the city into polygons of approximately 400 m x 400 m and around 5 000-6 000 resident population. Inner roads are not closed to motorised vehicles, as these can enter the superblock but they cannot cross it (and have to stay within a speed limit of 10 km/h). The loop system (see Figure 3.5) allows the car to enter the superblock and have access to houses/services in every block, but it forces it to exit through the same side it entered it, since it is not possible to cross the superblock. Sometimes the passage of motorised vehicles inside the superblocks is reserved only for residents, services and urban distribution. Pedestrians and bicycles can cross the superblocks in both directions. Superblocks support in this way converting streets from a single function (basically right-of-ways for vehicles) to spaces with multiple functions (including those as a place) and uses (Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2014[51]) (Rueda, 2019[52]).

The Superblocks model seeks, first of all, to liberate the maximum surface of public space dedicated to traffic, while at the same time ensuring the functionality of the system. By adopting the Superblocks model 70% of space dedicated to traffic could be liberated while only reducing total car travel by 15% (a percentage similar to the traffic reduction in Barcelona due to the 2008 economic crisis), and also maintaining current traffic speeds. Secondly, the model seeks to minimize the dysfunctions generated by the current mobility model (Rueda, 2020[53]).

The mobility plan (PMUS 2018-2024), aims however to go beyond and reduce traffic by 21% by 2024 (Rueda, 2019[54]), while having 79% of all trips made by walking, cycling or public transport (Rueda, 2019[52]); (Postaria, 2021[55]). This, together with the technological changes of the engines expected for a certain percentage of vehicles, will allow reducing CO2 emissions ​​by 36% (Rueda, 2019[54]) (see.Table 3.1). In addition, this will allow reducing air pollution to values ​​below 40 micrograms / m3 for 96% of the population (today only 56%) (Rueda, 2019[54]),and cutting NO2 emissions in line with European Union standards (Rueda, 2019[52]); (Mueller et al., 2020[56]; López, Ortega and Pardo, 2020[50]). It will also permit reducing noise below 65 dBA for 73.5% of the population (compared to 54%), and drastically reducing serious or fatal traffic accidents (the speed of the perimeter roads of the superblocks is limited to 30 km / h and the interiors to 10 km / h). At the same it will reverse the excessive occupation of land by motorised mobility (6,200,000 m2 of public space will be freed) (Rueda, 2019[54]).

In 2023, there could be 31 superblocks in total, while as said before the long-term plan is to transform the entire municipality of Barcelona (to implement 503 superblocks). The complete reconfiguration would imply a 61% reduction of the public space dedicated to the road network utilised by cars (from 912 km to 355 km), which currently occupy 60% of the total public space in the city (Rueda, 2019[52]). This will allow increasing the average space dedicated to pedestrians from 15, 8% to 67% while increasing the comfort and safety features of streets and sidewalks (Rueda, 2019[52]). Liberated space is also being converted into other uses besides transport, such as playgrounds and picnic areas, which have been chosen in consultation with the local neighbourhoods over time (Roberts, 2019[57]).

Superblocks and the health and environmental benefits they can generate can also importantly contribute to economic improvements. Mueller et al. (2020[56]) estimate that, if all of the planned Superblocks are implemented in Barcelona, 667 premature deaths (estimated to cost EUR 1.6 billion) could be prevented every year. This is due to lower exposure to pollution (NO2 emissions are accounted for in the study), noise and heat (accounting for 291, 163 and 117 preventable deaths respectively) as well as to increased physical activity generated by a modal shift from cars and motorcycles to walking and cycling (accounting for 36 preventable deaths) and increased access to green space (accounting for 60 preventable deaths).

The implementation of the superblock model is not a problem, but rather a solution, from a traffic point of view and it is not a problem from an economic point of view either. The development of superblocks does not involve investment in hard infrastructure. Rather, it is about transforming the urban environment by changing the use of existing infrastructure. As described in López, Ortega and Pardo (2020[50]), it is “very low-tech and low-cost urbanism”, yet it has the potential to completely transform the urban ecosystem. The implementation of the 503 superblocks, based on tactical urbanism (see below) can be carried out with an investment of around 300 million euros. The budget of the City Council of Barcelona was, for the year 2021, equivalent to 3,400 million euros. In the event that the 503 superblocks were implemented in a period of 4 years, the accumulated budget of the City Council for this period would be EU 13.6 billion. This would represent only 2% of the accumulated budget (Rueda, 2020[58]).

Importantly, while the implementation of superblocks has been anchored in the urban mobility plans for the city,16 it also implies a radical change in land-use policy (Zografos et al., 2020[49]). The reallocation and redesign of road space is a central feature of Superblocks, and thus these interventions have huge potential for addressing and reversing induced demand. Furthermore, the comprehensive planning and thinking behind such projects also bring together a number of actions that can allow addressing other dynamics behind car dependency, creating a number of synergies to transform urban and transport systems. On the one hand, the integration of bicycle lanes and the reorganisation of bus services as part of these interventions (see below) is key to address the erosion of alternative modes. On the other, reconfiguring neighbourhoods and liberating space from car use is an important step in changing the urban landscape. This brings important opportunities for increasing proximity to amenities and services, reducing longer distance trips, and making developed areas more attractive, all of which can contribute to limiting and reversing sprawl.

The reconfiguration of large areas of the city into Superblocks will allow the expansion of the network of bicycle lanes and complementing the network of main routes with the development of secondary/proximity bike lanes, as well as incorporating parking facilities for bicycles. In parallel to space redistribution, Superblocks incorporate necessary efforts to better integrate bicycle and public transport use to ensure alternatives to car use (a necessary action discussed in more detail in Chapter 5). This includes adapting public transport for bicycle access (especially inter-city ones) and integrating bike parks at stations. Adapting the city for the use of electric bicycles is another objective of Superblocks, e.g. ensuring bike lanes are available in streets with slopes and implementing bike-sharing schemes that include electric bikes.

The implementation of Superblocks will also incorporate the reconfiguration and expansion of the bus network, in parallel to increasing frequencies. Interurban services will also be improved, including by integrating bus lanes into road infrastructure connecting different territories. Indeed, a distinguishing feature of Superblocks is the possibility to shift from a radial to an orthogonal system of buses. This allows more efficient services, which can be more accessible to the population (e.g. the goal is to have population that is at most 300 m away from a stop), and offer frequencies similar to those of the metro (4-5 min apart instead of 15 min). All of which contributes to shifting longer trips from car to public transport. Before the pandemic, the new orthogonal bus network (fully implemented at the end of 2018 following the perimeter of the superblocks) had increased the number of users by 15%. The bus network implemented at the end of 2009 in Vitoria-Gasteiz (the capital of the Álava Province), designed following the perimeter of the superblocks in the same way as in Barcelona, had increased, before the pandemic, by almost 100% the number of users (Rueda, 2019[52]).

Making street reconfiguration a wide-scale plan is also important to avoid gentrification and eviction. In addition to limiting benefits, when such projects are only implemented as pilots in reduced areas of cities, an important downside tends to be gentrification and eviction, as it creates better relative conditions in a constrained space and thus creates price differentials between the reconfigured area and other areas, making it unaffordable for current residents to stay. In Barcelona, the first Superblocks in the Eixample neighbourhood have been introduced in areas with social housing. Moreover, the fact that new amenities (e.g. quality public and green space) will be distributed throughout all of the 503 Superblocks avoids the risk of creating price differentials between areas (Rueda, 2019[54]); (Postaria, 2021[55]). That said, it is important to think about how to extend the model beyond the municipality of Barcelona, to avoid increasing price differentials and living conditions between Barcelona and the surrounding municipalities in the larger metropolitan area and region.

Although Superblocks have the potential to bring significant benefits, their implementation has not been free from challenges (Postaria, 2021[55]). Experience implementing them brings valuable insights on the role and importance of the political context and dynamics for the implementation of transformative projects, as well as on the challenges of obtaining public acceptability. These issues are discussed below, building on the experience of Barcelona’s Superblocks as well as other international examples involving significant road reallocation and redesign.

Transformative interventions such as Superblocks in Barcelona tend to face push-back from the local population. Among other things, this is due to the fact that these interventions imply important changes in current lifestyles and even in the way people are used to thinking about their city landscape and the way public space is used. Literature focused on this topic identifies several relevant behavioural biases in individuals, such as loss aversion, which is the tendency to give more weight to losses than to gains, or status quo bias, which is a preference for the current state and opposition to change (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008[59]). In the case of Superblocks, for example, individuals might weigh the loss of the car more heavily than the gains from space reallocation. Groups also tend to exhibit collective conservatism and stick “to established patterns even as a new need arises” (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008[59]). Taken together, this means communities as a whole, as well as individuals, have collective inertia of opposition to such transformational change.

One way of overcoming these biases is for cities to use temporary projects, in many cases in the form of “tactical urbanism”. Tactical urbanism consists of making quick and low-cost changes that do not involve any permanent infrastructure but can importantly provide a taste of what the new space would look like. Interventions can then be adapted (or removed) depending on the needs and views of the population. Temporary projects provide a non- (or less) threatening way for people to explore changes to road reallocation and overcome the initial opposition, which is rooted in individuals’ loss aversion and status quo bias. It makes individuals, and the community as a whole, less apprehensive, open to possibilities and taking risks to see if their fears actually materialise, e.g. such as fears related to losing space for cars (Rowe, 2013[60]). Moreover, allowing people to see a new version of their street (or neighbourhood) offers the opportunity to experience the new situation as being the status quo and make this something they are then averse to losing (Rowe, 2013[60]). This allows people and communities to explore change and circumvent their defensiveness (Rowe, 2013[60]). Numerous cities have used temporary projects to reallocate road space, for example in Copenhagen in Nørrebrogade, the Plaza Program in New York City, the Yarraville Pop-up Park in Melbourne and the Parklet Program in San Francisco (Rowe, 2013[60]). Box 3.4 describes the use of tactical urbanism in Brussels during the lockdown and restoration of economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate the implementation of the mobility (“Good Move”) plan.

Tactical urbanism was also used in the case of Barcelona’s Superblocks, showing a way forward to reduce the trade-offs between trying to gain acceptance up front and moving forward in implementing projects that aim at deep transformation. As documented by Roberts (2019[57]), the idea of Superblocks had been around in Barcelona for decades17 before being implemented by the Colau administration in 2016. Indeed, the former administration had planned a first version of a Superblock for the Poblenou area. The administration had undertaken extensive consultation, but this took time, and the process was slow. In contrast, the Colau administration implemented its version of the project (see below) without undergoing extensive consultation or communication.18 This came at the expense of strong protests from the population (later steered also by the press) and particularly from local businesses. For the first six months after its implementation, these protests importantly jeopardised the project. Nonetheless, an important asset was that because public space was quickly reallocated away from cars, people had this space at their disposal. The administration then steered public consultation towards choosing what to do with the space. In the words of Salvador Rueda, one of the main developers of the Superblock concept: “no one who gains public space ever asks to be rid of it. Never!” (Roberts, 2019[57]).. Nonetheless, the Colau administration did acknowledge the need to improve public participation for projects after Poblenau. Strengthening the framework for fostering Superblocks as a collaborative project with central involvement from residents is a priority for the new projects that will be developed in the short term (Postaria, 2021[55]).

In addition, as noted by the Deputy Mayor Sanz, finding the right balance between tactical and structural urbanism has been an important lesson from the Poblenou Superblock (Roberts, 2019[57]). As mentioned above, tactical urbanism does not involve the development of permanent infrastructure. On the one hand, increasing and consolidating public acceptance requires a transition towards developing the permanent infrastructure that can make people benefit the most from the new public space (i.e. playgrounds, outdoor sitting areas, changing the pavement level, etc.). At the same time, developing permanent infrastructure too early, before the population has had the time to reflect on what they want to do with the space, can also lead to discontent (Roberts, 2019[57]).

The Superblock example also shows that, if well designed, the benefits reaped by the population can be sufficient to outweigh initial resistance and political risk. As Deputy Mayor Sanz highlights, residents of other city areas are now asking for the development of Superblocks in their own neighbourhood (Roberts, 2019[57]). Moreover, while groups initially against Superblocks have, in some cases, continued with legal processes, demands have been progressively modified from the retirement of the Superblock to the adaptation of particular features (Roberts, 2019[57]).

The implementation of Superblocks has also not been independent from the political process, which in many ways also influenced public opinion. In their analysis, Zografos et al. (2020[49]) identify a number of political challenges that the Poblenau project had to overcome. The first was the fragility of the municipal authority represented by the new mayor in power. Major Colau, who came from a non-traditional, grassroots-based political party (contrary to the former administration which was a centre-right party), had a weak position in the city council. A visible and controversial project such as the Superblocks soon became a reason for discrediting the new regime. Second, given that the former administration had also made plans for the project, there was an important struggle for the credit behind it. The Colau administration decided to change the location of the project, which to an important extent increased the challenges for striking a balance between communicating with the new residents while also moving fast enough to be able to implement the project before the end of its political term.

As the Colau administration progressively developed its own vision of the project, a third challenge emerged, which was more about the clash between the two projects and the vision of the city they represented. The new project had a different spirit, which shifted the vision from one centred around business and economic growth to one focused on residents’ quality of life and access to an affordable and liveable city (Zografos et al., 2020[49]). As such, the project was soon branded by critics of the administration as the representation of Colau’s “anti-private vehicle obsession” (Zografos et al., 2020[49]).

Importantly, having a vision centred around quality of life does not mean that projects cannot benefit local businesses and even create new ones. Rather, higher pedestrian and cyclist flows have been associated with the creation of new businesses and jobs (Perk et al., 2015[17]); as well as other benefits for local businesses. For instance the pedestrianisation of Madero Street –a large and central street in the heart of Mexico City – increased commercial activity by 30%and reduced reported crime by 96% (C40, 2016[63]) in (ITF, 2021[64]). But unlocking the greatest benefits, and avoiding implementation challenges, requires the existing local business owners to be involved in the design of the project and for street re-design to be thought of in the context of enabling commercial activities and avoiding safety issues between these and other users (Box 3.6).

Parking policies hold significant emissions reduction potential. As such, they should be more central in climate strategies for the transport sector. Parking policies are often overlooked (Kodransky and Hermann, 2011[65])and, as signalled by (Franco, 2020[66]), “have significant environmental and economic implications, including effects on climate change, air pollution, energy consumption, traffic congestion, housing affordability and economic development”.

Parking policies, as used (or not used) today, incentivise car use. Policies subsidising, under-pricing or providing an oversupply of parking space influence automobile use, land use and urban form (Franco, 2020[66]). Evidence from cities across the globe demonstrates that the parking space required could be reduced by 10-30% with efficient parking policies, and these could also reduce general vehicle traffic volumes (Litman, 2016[67]). The availability of parking space, in particular at residential and work sites, has been signalled as importantly related to vehicle ownership and use, showing that people tend to drive walkable or bikeable distances if parking is easily available (Franco, 2020[66]). For instance, Franco and Khordagui (2019[68]) find that increasing on-street parking by 10% is associated with a 1.3% increase in the probability of driving. A back-of-the-envelope calculation by Russo, van Ommeren and Dimitropoulos (2019[69]) suggests that the provision of free parking at the workplace by employers may be responsible for 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year in the United States.

Subsidies are often in the form of “free parking”. As (Franco, 2020[66])highlights, there is no such thing as free parking. Where parking is “free” or under-priced (which is often the case), its costs are being paid elsewhere and by someone else, for example through mortgages and rents in the case of off-street parking provided in buildings, or through general taxes in the case of on-street parking (Franco, 2020[66]). Subsidised or free on-street parking also incentives cruising, i.e. driving around the area waiting for a parking space to be liberated, which leads to congestion, emissions and air pollution (Franco, 2020[66]); (Russo, van Ommeren and Dimitropoulos, 2019[69]). People living in areas with free on-street parking tend to use this space instead of private parking (Scheiner et al., 2020[70]), occupying parts of the street that could be used for different functions (e.g. green areas to foster biodiversity, etc.) (Russo, van Ommeren and Dimitropoulos, 2019[69]).

Parking policies can instead be designed to regulate and discourage car use (Kodransky and Hermann, 2011[65]), positively contributing to emissions and pollution reduction efforts. This would imply a shift from current parking policies, which are mainly focused on accommodating cars and thus incentivise its use. Higher parking prices, smart parking meters, zoning and the revisiting of parking supply are some of the ways in which parking policies can play a role in the redesign of streets and the improved management of public space, with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions and improving life quality.

Higher parking prices have the potential to incentivise modal shifts away from private cars. In the city of Amsterdam, for example, it is estimated that a 10% increase of the parking price for residential parking would translate into an 8% reduction of car ownership (price elasticity of -0.8) (Groote, van Ommeren and Koster, 2016[71]). Note that this elasticity might be lower in cities with limited options for substituting car trips (e.g. public transport, walking or cycling), highlighting the importance of combining parking policies with policies to improve conditions for active and shared modes of transportation, such as the ones described in Chapter 5. In San Francisco, smart parking meters (SFpark) have enabled implementing real-time fare adjustments and have increased the effectiveness of variable-rate on-street parking prices (OECD, 2015[30]). Prices are set precisely to balance supply and demand to leave one or two spaces free per block (Pierce and Shoup, 2013[72]), which can “save time for parkers, reduce congestion, speed up public transit, and improve transportation for almost everyone” (Pierce and Shoup, 2013[72]).

Shifting parking costs from employer to employee can drive an important change in commuters’ modal choices, as well as reduce incentives to move to the suburbs (Franco, 2020[66]) based on Breuckner and Franco (2018[73])). The authors propose that workers pay for parking at market rate, and that employers raise employee wages to offset the cost. A parking cash-out is another policy option: employers lease or partially subsidise parking for employees and offer them the choice of keeping their parking spot or trading it in for an equivalent cash payment. Employees that choose to forgo the cash payment are choosing to spend it on parking, while those who accept the payment can use the money however they see fit (Brueckner and Franco, 2018[73]). Allowing employees such choice sheds light on the parking cost and has resulted in less people driving to work. For example, in California, based on surveys carried out in the years following the implementation of the Cash-out Law (1992), the number of people driving to work alone decreased by 17%; carpooling, using public transportation and active travel increased by 64%, 50% and 33%, respectively (Franco, 2020[66]) based on (Shoup, 2005[74]).

The effectiveness of cash-out programmes is dependent on the accessibility of alternative transport modes, urban density and the amount of the cash subsidy (i.e. the parking price) (Brueckner and Franco, 2018[73]). Synergies can be made if revenues are used to develop alternatives to driving. The Nottingham City Council has introduced a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL), a type of annual congestion-charging scheme for employers providing workplace parking. All employers who provide workplace parking are legally required to license the spots, although employers with ten or fewer parking spots may qualify for a 100% discount. The central government releases the Retail Price Index, which is used to calculate the WPL charge. Employers must register for an annual license, which runs from April to March of the next year, with the cost of each parking spot set prior to 1 January. Nottingham has used the revenue from the WPL to fund the tram system extension (NET Phase Two), Nottingham Station and the Link Bus Network, while also incentivising employers to manage employee parking (Nottingham City Council, n.d.[75]).

Differentiating parking prices by zone can improve their efficiency and public acceptability. In Lisbon, three parking price zones exist. Zoning is determined according to the availability of public transport services and to the density of parking sought in the different areas. Red areas correspond to main transport corridors. In these areas, relatively high parking prices (EUR 1.6 per hour) and maximum parking duration limits (2 hours) are implemented. Contrastingly, in green zones, where there is relatively low public transport availability and where parking space is less scarce, parking prices are the lowest (EUR 0.8 per hour) and time limits are longer (4 hours). Yellow areas are central areas of the city that, while not on a transport corridor, have a relatively high availability of public transport. In these areas, the price of parking is EUR 1.2 per hour and the maximum time allowed for on-street parking is 4 hours (Government of Lisbon, 2018[76]; ELTIS, 2014[77]).19 In the same vein, the three-zone parking pricing scheme in Copenhagen discourages car use and promotes the use of active transport modes such as biking in the city centre, with lower prices for parking in peripheral areas and higher ones in central areas of the city (Kodransky and Hermann, 2011[65]). In Strasbourg (France), a concentric three-zone parking pricing scheme imposes higher parking prices as well as shorter parking times in the city centre, compared to the periphery of the city as well. This policy has gone hand-in-hand with the replacement of on-street parking spaces in the city centre with cycling lanes and tramways, providing a good example of synergistic policy packages (as explained above, the elasticity of parking pricing correlates to the availability of alternative options to cars). Such a policy bundle seeks to reduce car use in the city centre and to concentrate long-term parking needs at park-and-ride and other off-street parking facilities in more residential areas on the outskirts of the city (General Commission for Strategy and Foresight, 2013[78]).

Parking policies can also promote the purchase of more efficient cars, by linking the parking price to the emissions efficiency of the car. For example, some boroughs in London differentiate the charges for permits of residential parking according to the type-approval20 CO2 emissions of the applicant’s car (Kodransky and Hermann, 2011[65]). Moreover, the City of London introduced differentiated parking fees for on-street parking in the Square Mile in 2018. While low-emission vehicles (electric and hybrid) pay GBP 4 per hour, conventional cars are charged up to GBP 6.8 per hour (FleetNews, 2018[79]). In this case, however, careful attention is necessary to ensure that all cars pay what is needed to achieve an efficient use of space and trigger modal “shift” and encourage “avoid” effects, regardless of their technology. Embedding such a policy in a larger package of policies intended to reverse car dependency is key and if keeping a car-dependent system this could also have negative equity implications. In addition, electric and hybrid vehicles should not be given the same treatment (see Chapter 6 for a discussion).

Implementing parking pricing with the aim to regulate car use, as any change, does not come without challenges. The first is public acceptability of pricing something considered to be “free”, and a “right”, as explained in Section 2.2.1. The cash-out programme described above is a good example of a policy that sheds light on the actual cost of parking. Active communication efforts to make the potential alternative uses of space visible to people are also fundamental to increase policy acceptability and support. Parking Day is an example of citizen-led initiative aimed to raise awareness of the opportunity costs of using public space for car parking. Parking Day is a global21 event, with the goal of mobilising citizens, artists and activists. The objective is to transform concrete street parking space into convivial, artistic and green places. The day is an opportunity to reflect on the role of shared space, to visualise urban uses for public places and to make proposals for future city planning. In some cases, the lock-down periods and the need for social distancing, as a result of theCOVID-19 crisis, increased awareness for the use of public spaces. In many instances, parking space has been converted into terraces allowing restaurants to increase the available space for seating people. See Chapter 7 for more information about COVID-19 and tactical urbanism.

The second challenge is data availability. Cities do not necessarily have complete inventories reflecting the total on-street and off-street parking supply available. This limits authorities’ capacity to adjust parking pricing and co-ordinate on-street and off-street parking policies (Franco, 2020[66]). Strasbourg has been able to overcome this challenge and successfully co-ordinate on-street and off-street parking policies, in particular via public-private partnerships with private garage owners (Franco, 2020[66]).These partnerships, have facilitated the implementation of a harmonised pricing structure with differentiated tariffs (as described above) (Franco, 2020[66]).

Third, co-ordination among different authorities is needed to ensure that overall decisions on parking policy and regulation are consistent. Minimum parking requirement regulations, often the competence of planning authorities (whereas other parking policy tends to be in the hands of transport authorities) have, for instance, played a very relevant role in fostering car dependence. Minimum parking requirements determine the minimum number of parking spaces in new building constructions, and have, as other parking (e.g. pricing) policies, often been focused on accommodating cars rather than regulating their use. Minimum parking requirements can raise housing costs, reduce land value and foster urban sprawl, thus reducing urban density (Shoup, 1997[80]). Given their relevance to urban form and sprawl, the changes necessary in minimum parking requirements for these to contribute to emissions reductions are described in Chapter 4.

Road pricing can contribute to shifting away from a “predict and provide” approach (see Chapter 2), the focus on expanding road capacity for cars as the way to fight congestion (the consequences of which are explained in Section 3.1), towards an emphasis on better managing the use of existing roads. Road-pricing schemes will better deliver climate goals if they are designed with the aim of efficiently using road space. Road-pricing schemes have often been set with the expectation of increasing traffic speeds and reducing time delays for motorists, often considered as congestion’s most important disutility (van Dender, 2019[81]; ITF, 2018[82]). However, as explained above, climate and well-being goals do not depend on allowing people to travel as fast and far as possible, but on sustainably delivering accessibility, for which adequately allocating and managing public space (of which roads are a part of) is crucial. Thus, rather than looking at road pricing as a way of increasing speeds per se, schemes should be used with the view of efficiently using road space.

Crozet and Mercier (2018[83]) find that in urban areas, space use per car is more efficient at speeds between 20 km/h and 40 km/h, as within this range speed is high enough for the available road space to deliver significant access, while minimising the consumption of space per vehicle, as space needed for safe travel is less. Space consumption per car is just above 1 m2h22 within this speed range, compared to 4 m2h at speeds of 130 km/h (Crozet and Mercier, 2018[83]). Such a speed range can be taken as a reference when designing road-pricing schemes. In Singapore, for instance, periodical updates on prices are realised to ensure average speed flows are within this “optimal” speed level.

In addition, as also suggested by Crozet and Mercier (2018[83]), road pricing could also contribute to incentivising shared mobility if pricing is differentiated by vehicle occupancy (see below for other criteria for differentiating pricing). This would not only create an efficient use of road space by minimising space consumed per vehicle, but would also create disincentives for low occupancy or even empty vehicles (in the case of autonomous cars in the future), to encourage efficiency on a per person basis.

Moreover, research suggests that fostering optimal average travel speeds, rather than the “highest-possible” speeds, may also be a more efficient way to reduce congestion per se (ITF, 2017[84]), which is associated with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. In dense urban areas, speeds between 20 km/h and 40 km/h (which are in line with speeds that minimise space consumption per car) reduce the likelihood of bottlenecks and time delays (ITF, 2017[84]). Real-world emissions testing has revealed that “[T]he low velocity and the increased braking may double the [local pollutant] emissions per kilometre in congested urban situations” (ITF, 2017[84]). The smooth car traffic conditions enabled by keeping average speeds within shorter ranges are also associated with lower CO2 emissions than stop-start conditions. Studies in the United States have shown a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions when driving in smooth traffic at an average speed of 45 km/h rather than in congested, stop-start conditions (Grote et al., 2016[85]). While this is slightly above the threshold mentioned above, it provides a reference for comparing emissions under smooth and congested traffic. In addition, lowering speeds (in particular inside urban areas) is also relevant for road safety reasons (Litman, 2012[86]). For this, implementing and enforcing speed limits is also crucial.

The greatest gains will come if pricing road use by motorists is implemented in parallel to re-allocating space away from cars and towards other transport modes and uses (i.e. beyond transport) (see above). The same congestion levels can be associated with very different overall travel volumes and emissions. As such, introducing road pricing without revisiting an over dimensioned road space supply allocated for driving and parking (and without investing in public and active modes) could result in reduced congestion, but still very high total traffic volumes and emissions. On the other hand, introducing road pricing while adjusting the supply of road space for driving and parking, which at the same time liberates space for other modes and uses beyond transport, can provide greater incentives for modal shift, as well as the conditions for shorter distance trips. Reduced congestion levels in this case (which could be similar to those resulting from the case above) would be associated to much lower overall traffic and emissions. Thus, if embedded in comprehensive policy packages and investment programmes, road pricing can contribute to supporting transit-oriented development and to containing (or reversing) sprawl (ITF, 2018[82]), bringing much larger mitigation, air quality and other (e.g. equity) benefits.

Unlocking these benefits requires (once again) prioritising the need to correct the excessive allocation of public space for car use, which is a barrier to modal shift and the creation of proximity, over short-term congestion alleviation gains. Indeed, as shown in the London example below, implementing road-pricing schemes while reallocating road space away from cars can offset to an extent the congestion reductions in the short term. However, as explained above, only in this way can road pricing lead to congestion reductions that effectively deliver significant traffic and emissions reductions in the mid- and long run.

Importantly, focusing on the efficient use of road and public space, rather than higher car travel speeds, does not mean that motorists can’t benefit as well, as these would both have quality alternatives for a number of trips as well as benefit from more fluid traffic and greater reliability of trips when they consider it is worth paying to drive (Litman, 2021[32]). Indeed, embedding road pricing into a larger package focused on shifting systems away from car dependency is key to limiting a relevant downside, which is that those who can afford to tend to drive more (ITF, 2021[10]). Improving the relative attractiveness of other modes vis-à-vis the car can help decrease the time cost threshold at which a motorist would be discouraged to drive (Litman, 2021[32]; 2014[87]). Thus, presumably it would also increase the price threshold at which motorists would rather pay than use alternatives. This will allow better channelling car use towards the trips where it will have more value than costs, which is what would happen in a system that is no longer car dependent (ITF, 2021[10]), and can reflect the “healthy” transport system depicted in Section 2.1.

Several authorities are considering road pricing in the context of a general shift from fuel to road pricing as a way to maintain revenue stability as fleets become increasingly electric (see discussion in (van Dender (2019[81])). However, current world examples are more focused on urban road-charging schemes, which only apply to vehicles entering a specific area. These are often referred to as congestion-charging schemes, which are implemented mostly inside urban areas, where space is particularly scarce and congestion tends to be worse. These schemes are implemented in a specific perimeter (although the size can vary widely), which can be an area or in some cases a (or several) corridor(s). Examples featured in this subsection focus on this type of scheme.23

While not yet widely used, urban road-pricing schemes are growing in number (ITF, 2018[82]). Cities like London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore have congestion-charging schemes for specific areas. An important lesson from international experience is that the most efficient road-pricing schemes are those where prices vary according to the scarcity of space. This means that ideally, charges must be set according to the actual use within a given area (i.e. distance-based) rather than charging only when a cordon around that area is crossed. The price should also vary depending on levels of congestion at different times and in different places24 (i.e. distance and place-based charging); and as suggested before, could be differentiated according to load factors. This type of differentiated pricing is also more efficient in dealing with bottleneck congestion, i.e. points of access to and exit from expressways, since it can help drive demand away from pinch points. It is also in line with the general principle of achieving optimal travel speeds, as the scarcer the land, the fewer vehicles will need to occupy the road space available in order to have smooth traffic conditions, and thus the higher the price needed to discourage all other drivers. Prices could also be differentiated by type of fuel or emissions profile and/or indexed to the availability of public transport.

The road-pricing scheme in Singapore applies several of the best practices described above. The scheme has electronically applied differentiated pricing based on time and location, and is implemented in both the central part of the city and for several highways (ITF, 2018[82]). The system has three daily pricing peaks: the morning and evening rush hours and a third peak at 2:30 pm due to the tendency for offices to schedule meetings during this time of day. Prices are set by an electronic road-pricing system to maintain speeds at 20-30 km/h on arterial city roads (which optimise space use in dense areas and contribute to road safety as discussed above), and 45-65 km/h on expressways. Prices are reviewed and adapted as needed on a quarterly basis.

The congestion-charging scheme, launched in 2003 in London, covers around 4% of the Greater London area. Charges are paid only once, when entering the covered zone, and prices are flat (rather than differentiated). This penalises short trips and may encourage car use once the charge has been paid (incentivising, for example, trips by car in areas well-deserved by public transportation). Experience in London also highlights that flat-rate pricing schemes may also be ineffective in managing fast-growing sectors, such as delivery vehicles for e-commerce, taxis and app-based ride services (ITF, 2018[82]). While the flat-rate nature of the scheme may not place London’s congestion-charging scheme among the best examples, the scheme was interestingly undertaken in combination with wider street space reallocation towards active modes and public transport, as well as significant investment to improve conditions for the users of these modes. Among other things, bus capacity was increased by 24% on the routes that were affected by the congestion charge (ITF, 2017[84]). Having undertaken significant road reallocation away from cars had the impact of offsetting, to a certain degree, the positive impacts of reduced car use in congestion in the short-term (ITF, 2017[84]). However, the comprehensive package of policies and investment to improve public and active modes, of which the congestion-charging scheme is part of, has allowed London to importantly reduce journeys undertaken by cars over time in a more effective way than if congestion charging had been implemented on its own. Car use steadily decreased by 20% between 2001 and 2017. Conversely, bicycle journeys more than doubled and bus journeys increased by 60% over the same period. Indeed, London is the only urban area among the 120 analysed by the ITF (2019[88]) where accessibility by public transport is higher than by car. In addition, the investment in improving public transport and active modes also contributed to increased public acceptability (see below).

In the case of Stockholm, authorities implemented a cordon-charging scheme as in the case of London. This was due, to an important extent, to authorities searching for a balance between efficiency and clarity, as schemes with higher degrees of price differentiation can become complex, potentially requiring more sophisticated technologies and being more difficult to understand for users. Thus, authorities opted for a simple cordon charge, but tried to counteract some of the shortcomings by differentiating the charge during peak and off-peak hours (although with a maximum number of times that a user can be charged per day).

In Milan, a pollution charge in the central ring road of the city (the ECOPASS zone) exists since 2008 (ITF, 2017[84]). When launched, the cleanest (Class I and Class II) vehicles entered for free, and charges varied according to emissions levels for all other vehicles (ITF, 2017[84]). The scheme had initially also brought important congestion reductions, but these became marginal as vehicle technologies improved. With the objective of bringing both congestion and technological shift advantages, in 2012 the system25 became a combination of a low-emission zone, banning entrance to the inner ring for the most pollutant vehicles, and a congestion charge zone, a (one-off) fee levied on all the vehicles entering the area, regardless to the vehicle’s level of emissions (ITF, 2017[84]). In 2019, the scheme was extended to cover 72% of the municipal territory,26 and banned the entrance to this area to Euro 0 gasoline-powered and Euro 0,1,2,3 and 4 diesel-powered vehicles weekdays from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm (ReVeAL, 2019[89]).

Unfortunately, a number of countries and cities have included the waiving (presumably temporary, but still not clear in many cases) of congestion charges and other fees for car ownership and use as part of their COVID-19 recovery package (Buckle et al., 2020[90]). This goes against any logic of placing climate at the centre of priorities for the sector. It creates unfortunate trade-offs between economic objectives (i.e. increasing disposable incomes) and climate and other (e.g. air quality, equity) goals.

A major implementation challenge for road-pricing schemes has historically been public acceptability. Claims of regressiveness and/or “unfairness”27 of the schemes account for some of the unpopularity of such schemes.

The association of the car to positive notions such as a right, freedom or status (see Section 2.2.1), also adds to the opposition to road pricing, as even individuals that do not own a car aspire to having one, and higher costs of ownership and use make this possibility more remote. Moreover, when looked at from a car-oriented lens (in turn influenced by car-oriented narratives; see Box 2.2) roads’ function is to accommodate cars rather than as public space that needs to accommodate a multiplicity of transport modes and functions beyond transport (see the discussion on Complete Streets and place-making concepts in Section 3.2.1).

The ITF (2017[84]) points out that communication strategies can play a crucial role in changing this perception if they raise awareness of the need to manage roads as part of public space and a common and scarce resource, and by explaining the advantages of congestion pricing schemes over other potential mechanisms. As discussed in Eliasson (2016[91]), surveys conducted in four cities (Lyon, Helsinki, Gutenberg and Stockholm) showed that respondents thought that introducing the charge was unfair until they were asked to recommend a better option (alternatives mentioned in the survey included queuing, government allocation and a lottery).

In addition, a better understanding of distributional impacts can help to better design road-pricing schemes, as well as to inform communication efforts and increase the public’s understanding and acceptability of the scheme. Often, analysis has focused on determining whether road-pricing schemes are regressive or progressive,28 but this is highly context-dependent. For example, in Beijing and Delhi, road-pricing schemes were found to be potentially progressive, as lower income residents, relying on public transport, were not impacted (ITF, 2017[84]). On the other hand, in Gothenburg, where most people travel by car, the scheme has been found to be regressive; although this is also because company cars (according to Swedish tax law) are exempt from paying the charges (Eliasson, 2016[91]). As discussed in Mattioli et al. (2019[92]) and Eliasson (2016[91]), framing discussions in terms of the regressive or progressive nature of road pricing and other measures is misleading to some extent. Because this analysis is based on averaging impacts by income group (i.e. average toll payment/average income per income group), it overlooks differences within each income group, which can be key to effectively understanding distributional impacts. For instance, high shares of low-income groups may not own a car, and thus the payment recorded for that group corresponds in reality to a sub-group that carries a higher burden than reflected when averaging for the whole group (Mattioli et al., 2019[92]).

More comprehensive analysis (e.g. including horizontal equity analysis) is better suited for distinguishing the overburden borne by groups with still relatively low incomes and who are car-dependent (which can be very vulnerable to the toll) (Mattioli et al., 2019[92]). In addition, identifying spatial vulnerability, and in particular adaptive capacity, by analysing accessibility through alternatives to car use in different locations is also relevant (Mattioli et al., 2019[92]). Furthermore, recognising the heterogeneity of current car users depending on their value of time is also useful to understand the winners and losers (Crozet and Mercier, 2018[83]). In this respect, Crozet and Mercier (2018[83]) show that acknowledging differences in the value of time allows us to see that only a fraction of current car users (those with a higher value of time) will benefit from a toll. Introducing congestion pricing together with significant improvements to public transport alternatives can indeed improve the picture. In this case, car users with a high value of time will pay, but be better-off. Others can switch to a quality alternative option and be better-off, or at least have only small well-being reductions, compared to the drastic worsening of travel conditions that would occur where public transport options are kept poor. Increasing the options for shifting away from the car would indeed also increase the behavioural change targeted by the policy in the first place, and thus its positive environmental effects.

In addition, the perceived objective of the scheme is key to the public’s support or opposition (Eliasson, 2016[91]). Schemes tend to be unpopular if seen as a tax or a way to raise revenue29 (and more so where trust in government is weak) (Eliasson, 2016[91]). Effective communication that provides clarity that the reason for implementing the measure is to fulfil other objectives (e.g. climate, air quality, etc.) is extremely important. In London as in Stockholm, authorities invested in campaigns to prepare citizens, making it clear that introducing the scheme was part of a wider long-term plan (in those cases to reduce air pollution) (ITF, 2017[84]). While making it clear that the main objective is not to raise revenues, using revenues in ways that are well accepted by the population can also be useful. For instance, half of the revenues from the congestion price in London go to offsetting the cost of the system put in place to manage and monitor the system. The remainder is allocated to TfL (accounting for about 5% of TfL’s budget) and used for investing in public transport (ITF, 2017[84]). Having communicated on this, and actually having started delivering improvements in the bus network even before the congestion-charging scheme was implemented, also helped gain public acceptance (ITF, 2017[84]).

Finally, as for road reallocation, introducing a congestion pricing scheme as a temporary measure can help to better overcome the loss aversion and status quo biases discussed above. In Stockholm, the congestion pricing scheme was first introduced as a seven-month trial, that was then made permanent after having positive results in a referendum (ITF, 2017[84]).

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Notes

← 1. Globally, the number of cars is estimated to have doubled every 20 years since 1976: from 342 million in 1976, to 670 million in 1996, to 1.3 billion in 2016 (Petit, 2017[97]).

← 2. The area occupied by parking is not negligible. Chester et al. (2015[95]) find that, in Los Angeles, the area dedicated to parking is 1.4 times more than the area dedicated to the roadway system.

← 3. A feedback loop is a non-linear cause-effect relationship. See Annex A.

← 4. Or at least large areas within them.

← 5. The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Valle de México) includes the 16 delegaciones (boroughs) of Mexico City, 59 municipalities from the state of Mexico and 1 municipality from the state of Hidalgo.

← 6. As highlighted by the ITF (2019[5]), “projects that make significant improvements to non-motorised trips compare poorly with those that cut travel time on motorised transport. This is due to the conventional approach to cost-benefit analysis that relies on travel time savings as a proxy for most of the benefits associated with transport investment. This traditional focus on travel time savings often leads to prioritisation of schemes that are misaligned with increased sustainable mobility goals. All else being equal, cars are indeed faster than public transport, serving a larger area in the same amount of time. As such, improving a link in a fast network like a road is likely to generate more travel time savings than a comparable improvement in a slower public transport network”.

← 7. Chapter 2, uses the food pyramid analogy and describes “healthy” transport systems as those where motorised, and especially private vehicles (the sugar and the fat) are only used for a reduced number of trips.

← 8. Community severance “describes the effects of transport infrastructure or motorised traffic as a physical or psychological barrier separating one built-up area from another built-up area or open space”. It “occurs when transport infrastructure or motorised traffic divides space and people” (Anciaes, Jones and Mindell, 2015[6]). Community severance is also described as the “barrier effect” resulting from transport systems that limits, rather than facilitates, people’s mobility (Anciaes, Jones and Mindell, 2015[6]).

← 9. This statistic does not include changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

← 10. Public transport accounts for 27% of trips. Information on the space attributed to public transport was not specified.

← 11. “Street intersection density – the number of intersections per one square kilometre of land. The more intersections there are in a street network, the more walkable the streets are deemed to be” (UN-Habitat, 2016[15]).

← 12. Buses running in dedicated lanes.

← 13. The comparison of five case studies of Complete Streets in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina with control areas without a Complete Streets design found economic benefits including increased property values, higher tax collections and increased business activity (e.g. the creation of new businesses and jobs) (Perk et al., 2015[17]). Another study performed in Orlando assessed the impact on housing values before and after Complete Streets projects during the housing market boom (2000-07) and during the economic crisis and housing market crash (2007-11). It concluded that, on average, houses that were in Complete Streets design had an 8.2% higher home value appreciation and a 4.3% higher home value resilience (i.e. capacity to maintain their value during the economic crisis ) than similar houses in adjacent areas that did not have a Complete Streets design (Yu et al., 2018[93]).

← 14. It must be recognised that a number of countries have increasingly incorporated impact assessments into policy decision frameworks, which is also important. For instance the new climate law in Sweden mainstreams the use of these tools, and in addition to measuring climate impacts also report a number of expected co-benefits from policy proposals.

← 15. Renamed as “movement and place”.

← 16. It was central to the Urban Mobility Plan for 2013-18 and continues to be key to the Urban Mobility Plan for 2019-24.

← 17. An earlier and simpler version (with a focus on traffic calming measures) of Superblocks was implemented in two different areas in 1993 and 2003 (Roberts, 2019[57]).

← 18. For example, via brochures distributed to the population.

← 19. In other European cities (e.g. Amsterdam, London), where incomes and opportunity costs are higher, prices are multiple times this amount.

← 20. Type-approval is the process the manufacturer must follow before being allowed to sell a new vehicle model on the market. The manufacturer must determine the CO2 emissions level and the fuel consumption of the vehicle (Mock et al., 2012[96]).

← 21. Parking Day projects have taken place in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States and people are invited to join from all over the world (https://www.myparkingday.org).

← 22. m2h refers to “space-time consumption”, which combines surface (m2) and the duration of the consumption (h).

← 23. If existing schemes were to be integrated into a general taxing scheme, then ideally driving through these areas would be taxed more to continue reflecting the relatively scarce space, higher congestion problems and higher density.

← 24. Importantly, levels of exposure to local air pollution in different areas can also be mirrored by road-charging schemes if these are differentiated by density or congestion levels (both correlated with exposure) (van Dender, 2019[81]).

← 25. Renamed “Area C” scheme.

← 26. And was called “Area B”.

← 27. While it could seem this way, the notion from the general public that something is unfair is not always linked to the fact that its impacts are effectively regressive.

← 28. While often these comparisons are not made, the distributional impact of road pricing is not higher than that related to fuel taxes, and it is less significant than generalised consumption taxes such as value-added tax (ITF, 2021[64]).

← 29. As discussed by the ITF (2017[98]), urban or congestion charging schemes are not a cost-effective measure for raising revenue in any case, and thus should not be implemented for these reasons. Road pricing would have a greater fiscal advantage if envisaged as a general shift from fuel prices to maintain revenue stability as a systems shift to electric car use. Van Dender (2019[81]) discusses this subject in depth and highlights that charges could be set to recover infrastructure costs of driving even where congestion is not an issue. Even in this case, revenue objectives should not blur or override the potential of this instrument to attain environmental and social benefits. Thus, careful analysis and co-ordination between fiscal and transport authorities is important to align these different agendas in this case.

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