Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Centre BLOG pre-launch continues with an overview of Stockholm’s transport challenges

Are driverless cars a threat to sustainable cities and transport planning?

Jonas Eliasson, KTH professor in transport and Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, used his presentation at the KTH Attractive City workshop to give an overview of transport strategies for attractive cities. As well as examining current concerns such as better public transport, Jonas looks in to the future, reflecting on how driverless cars might affect urban planning. Its not all good news.

This presentation was given in Swedish  – a sumary of the key points in English can be found beow. It’s recorded by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH.

Presentation in Swedish:

Summary in English:

Jonas draws attention to the way in which our cities have spread over the past thirty years, first through the development of city suburbs and second through the development of connected regions where a person might commute into the city from a near-by town. This has led to people making more and longer journeys – both for work and leisure. In turn, this has led to congestion. It is only over the past 10 years that cities have started to build at greater density in their centres; whilst this is desirable for reducing transport congestion, of course, we still have the needs of the existing city to deal with as well as an ever-growing demand for travel.

Jonas puts forward four principles that can help a city address congestion. First he argues for attractive public transport. Public transport must be convenient, safe and affordable so that people choose to use it. Second, “walkability” is vital, especially around public transport interchanges and people must be able to transfer easily from the public transport network to their destination. This leads to the third principle, compact planning. Fourth Jonas adds that, even if the city invests in all these measures, it must also act to limit car traffic so that this becomes a less desirable mode of transport. When applied together these four principles make a substantial different to the accessibility of a city and the flow of traffic. Though it can be argued that cities that manage to solve the congestion problem become more attractive to people and thus increase their populations, bringing about another wave of congestion. Transport and urban planning is a continual process, not a single solution.

Jonas also reflects on the impact that driverless cars might have on urban planning and city transport systems. Whilst he thinks that driverless cars might make long distance travel e.g. on motorways, more efficient, Jonas doubts that they will make city travel more effective as the problem is a simple lack of road space, regardless of who or what drives the car. What could change urban planning is having cars that drive off to park themselves outside the centre after delivering their passengers – this would free up car parks and also roadside parking spaces, allowing for new types of urban development. Jonas is cautious though, commenting that we might make use of driverless cars to extend commute times and spread cities by choosing to live outside of the city and work on our longer commutes as our driverless cars motor us in to the city.

Jonas concludes his lecture by reflecting on the situation in Stockholm. He is keen that we re-think urban and transport planning in the outer suburbs of the city. These suburbs were largely built in the post war period and designed with car use in mind. Today they are dominated by car parking facilities and spread out housing, neither of which are conducive of a productive (or pleasant) environment. Walkable, more compact neighbourhoods that connect to public transport nodes would give these suburbs a new burst of life.          

Note: this presentation was given on a sunny day and occasionally the audience was not able to see Jonas’ slides well. He references this in his lecture – even though the slides are easy to see on the video.

Welcome to the Centre Blog Pre-Launch – and an attractive Stockholm

Whilst we work on new material for the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment blog, we want to use the blog to share some of the short films we’ve already captured of KTH researchers talking about their pioneering work with sustainability in cities.

Over the next few weeks we’ll share four films from an event hosted last year. The event focused on the development of Stockholm but the issues raised – open planning processes, attractive collective transport and inclusive design are applicable beyond the Swedish capital.  The films are in Swedish for now – but a summary in English is provided below.

The first film captures KTH researchers in urban and regional studies, Amy Rader Olsson and Tigran Haas talking about their approaches to making cities sustainable, especially in social terms, through advocating for more open approaches to urban planning and design.

The City of Stockholm put forward a vision for 2030 called “The Attractive City” (go here for the Swedish version). The word attractive plays on the beauty of Stockholm, which its citizens want to maintain, and the fact that Stockholm is a rapidly expanding city, attracting people from all over Sweden as well as beyond. How does the city grow whilst maintaining the characteristics that make it a great place to live?

Amy helps us remember that this is not the first time that Stockholm has faced such a challenge and argues that this perpetual dynamic should be seen in a positive light. Indeed, when cities are placed under a moderate amount of stress, provided they also have access to moderate resources, they tend to thrive. She suggests that urban planners should encourage citizens to be playful in their approach to developing the city, focusing on setting “the rules of the game” and leaving considerable freedom for people to create their own city.

Tigran draws our attention to three fields of research activity being undertaken in the KTH School of Architecture and the Built Environment. The first field looks at how new rules or guidelines can be established for planning and financing housing and infrastructure. It has led to a book “Nya regler för ökat bostadsbyggande och bättre infrastruktur”  (New Rules for increasing house building and better infrastructure in English) by KTH researchers Göran Cars, Hans Lind and Thomas Kalbro. The second field considers how we build and renovate buildings so they are sustainable in environmental, economic and social terms. Further information about this research strand can be found on the Centre website here.  The third field, and Tigran’s own passion, focuses on “the city as a living room” considering how they city can be planned to be an enabler of life.