Approaching street experiments: A comparative policy analysis

The conjuncture of challenges related to sustainability and need for quality living space has led to the increasingly popular trend of experimentation in city streets, a tool used by planners, policy-makers and active residents to reimagine their streets ‘for people instead of traffic’ (Gehl, 2010). So-called city street experiments are “intentional and temporary changes of the street use, regulation and or form, featuring a shift from motorized to non-motorized dominance and aimed at exploring systemic change in urban mobility” (Bertolini, 2020, p. 735). Examples include the temporary partial or total closure of streets to motorized traffic for use as public space (e.g. Ciclovias or ‘living streets’) for longer periods of time, the temporary closure for certain periods during the day (e.g. ‘school streets’), the repurposing of parking spaces as mini parks (e.g. Parklets) or the re-marking of streets (e.g. Intersection Repairs). Such experiments have proven to possess a transitional capacity leading to long-term system change in the form of individual behavior, institutional reformation, and material alterations (VanHoose et al., 2022). This transitional capacity can be limited by both formal (legal frameworks) and informal (automobility as a social norm) institutional barriers. As the primary regulating body, municipalities play a crucial role in allowing these transformative initiatives to succeed. Four ideal-typical roles (promoter, enabler, partner and non-role) can be used to categorize the different approach local governments take towards city street experiments (Kronsell & Mukhtar-Landgren, 2018). It is important to note that the role of the municipality can change over time and varies per experiment. In addition, municipalities are not single entities but rather represent complex organizations with diverse portfolio of interests and sometimes conflicting interests. In the following we will use these typologies to characterize the institutional and policy context of the EX-TRA testbed cities. This characterization will provide the backdrop for the development of a comparative typology of city street experimentation in the next phase

Experiments are initiated top-down, featuring the municipality and its actors who initiate, finance and implement experimentation on their own.

The municipality takes on an active facilitating and coordinating role, opening up space for other actors to take primary leadership and responsibility.

The municipality participates in the experiment as one of several partners and exercises its role as democratically-elected formal institution (e.g. mediating when necessary, issuing permits).

EXperiments have no relation to municipal space, responsibilities or jurisdiction.

In Amsterdam, city street experiments are few and far between as a strong tradition of urban planning and working with best practices dominates the need to experiment (Uzunova, 2020). The role of the local government in experiments is therefore incidental and varies on a case-by-case basis. At the start of 2020, Amsterdam published the primary mobility plan “Amsterdam Makes Space’ which entails ambitions to reduce car dependency in the city and increase livability (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2020). The policy document does mention the use of ‘pilots’ which can be construed as city street experiments.

“A pilot may offer scope for innovative mobility solutions that are not yet possible (Ibid, 2020, p. H4).” The only pilot which directly involves temporarily transforming the streetscape is the ‘cutting’ of the Weesperstraat’ (Ibid., 2020) in which access to traffic will be blocked in order to explore the effects on the rest of the neighbourhood. Here the municipality will take on the role of promoter, who initiate, finance and implement experimentation. Coincidentally another street experiment took place in the same neighborhood in 2018. The project was partially funded by a EU subsidy program (Interreg project for Smart Shared Green Mobility Hubs (eHUBS) in which the municipality took on the role of partner. The Gijsbrecht van Aemstelstraat was closed off to cars while alternatives to parking and other mobility options were offered (Uzunova, 2020). Another example, the living street Hugo de Grootkade, included the municipality in the role of enabler. Here the local government initiated the idea for a living street, while residents were primarily responsible for organizing activities during the two-month temporary closure of their street. During the process the local government provided funding, arranging of necessary permits, and communicative support when needed (VanHoose et al. 2022).

Amsterdam

The City of Munich has been initiating and supporting city street experiments since 2018, signifying the role of promoter and incidentally, partner. While they are not explicitly mentioned in Munich’s ‘Mobility Strategy 2035’, a new mobility department that is primarily responsible for the Summer Streets initiative was born in order to creatively solve problems related to traffic flows, parking and livability. The City of Munich implemented its first ‘Summer Street’ pilot in two locations during the summer of 2019 (Reinhard, personal communication, 2020). The first street, south of Alpenplatz in Giesing, was closed to car and bicycle traffic, giving priority to pedestrians and the second, Schwanthaler Street, included a widening of the sidewalks for greenery and sitting areas (Landeshauptstadt München, 2019). Both pilot projects were implemented in order to identify a suitable process for temporary transformations of city streets on a larger scale. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Streets concept was expanded to the entire city in 2020, giving 10 streets traffic restrictions and designating four streets as play streets (Grötsch, 2021). The project was implemented in cooperation with the district committees, who together with citizens, requested to have summer streets and parklets in their district (VanHoose et al., 2022). In the ‘Piazza Zenetti’ experiment, the City of Munich took on the role of partner, acting as one of many players including active residents and a landscape architecture firm under the umbrella research project, City2Share (Ibid, 2022). In this experiment, a parking lot was transformed into public space and e-mobility alternatives were provided, along with places for sitting and a library.

Munich

City street experiments in London are a top-down and strategic implementation of policy (TFL, 2022), characterizing the Greater London Area and the Mayor of London as promoter, however the role differs per the 32 separate boroughs, which can be categorized as enabler and partner. At the greater city level, the Streetspace for London Programme organized by Transport for London was designed to enable and encourage safe and active travel during the pandemic, but also presents opportunities to ‘capture’ these changed behaviors as part of London’s sustainable recovery (Ibid, 2022). The strategy funneled money from the government’s new active-travel fund to London’s boroughs for low-traffic neighborhoods (LTNs) and other projects to encourage walking and cycling, such as temporary cycle lanes and timed road closures outside schools. At the level of the borough, street experiments have been happening outside of the Streetspace program for years, using either their own funding or funding provided by TfL for local transport schemes. For instance, In 2021, Lambeth Council implemented 20 experiments with School Streets as an ‘emergency’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to allow for increased social distancing between families outside school gates (TFL, 2021b). Sections of the streets are closed to traffic during time windows in the morning and afternoon, at the start and end of the school day. At this point in time, over 300 school streets have been implemented and are now being rolled out in Manchester,

Birmingham and other cities (TFL, 2021a). Many of the School Streets have now been converted to permanent schemes, whilst others are now approaching the end of their ‘experimental’ implementation phase, after which a decision will be made about making the interventions permanent or expanding them. Many Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have now been made permanent, however in some cases, local politicians have chosen to remove Low Traffic Neighbourhoods after consultation with local residents revealed clear divisions between groups that support or oppose the schemes.

London

In Ghent, city street experiments in the form of living streets (leefstraten in Dutch) have been organized since 2012 and have since become a structural part of both the city’s urban fabric and city policy. As part of the Ghent Climate Deal, the City of Ghent organized several transition arenas surrounding themes like climate change, sustainability and mobility in 2011, acting in the role of promoter. One idea which stemmed from the transition arena was the concept of living streets, which involved the temporary closure of a street to road traffic and its transformation into a public living room (Gysels, personal conversation 2022). The first three years of experimentation were organized and run by the local government.

Once the living streets gained popularity, a strategic choice was made to create a non-profit organization named the Lab van Troje’ (in English ‘Trojan Lab’) in order to accept sponsorship and funding from public companies (Gysels, personal conversation 2022). This shifted the municipality into the role of enabler.

Following five years of experimental pilots, the living street model was adopted by the municipality as a tool for building social cohesion. For the last five years, the citizens are primarily responsible for organizing living streets and the city’s role has been changed to partner. Since 2012, there have been approximately 50 ‘classical’ versions of the living streets (with closure to cars).

Newer examples of the living streets are more focused on social cohesion and less on the mobility aspect. The living street program has influenced mobility and urban planning policy (Rottiers, personal conversation, 2022). In 2016, the Municipality of Ghent introduced an ambitious ‘Traffic Circulation Plan’ that prevents transit traffic from entering the city center (Stad Gent, 2022). The plan featured the closing off several streets to car traffic, reducing speed limits to 30 km/h (Ibid, 2022) and explicitly mentions living streets and play streets (speelstraten in Dutch) and living streets to achieve greater livability. The City of Ghent also took experimental measures as a response to the pandemic, implementing temporary bicycle lanes which may be made permanent (Plas, personal communication, 2022).

Ghent

A handful of city street experiments, primarily in the form of transforming parking lots, have been initiated by the Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana (Foundation for Urban Innovation in English). The Fondazione per l’Innovazione is funded by the Municipality of Bologna and works directly with both the local government and the University of Bologna. In this sense, the local government acts as promoter, taking an active role in the promotion and initiation of street experiments. In March of 2022, the first-ever school square was implemented on the Via Procaccini which includes the transformation of parking places into space for playing and improves the quality of the space for pedestrians (EXTRA, 2022). The location was decided based on a plan that was made during the pandemic to pinpoint areas where walkability should be improved called the Emergency Pedestrian Plan (ITA: Piano per la Pedonalità Emergenziale) (Tedeschi, personal conversation, 2022). The Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana has further implemented experiments at the Piazza Rossini in the university area which involved the transformation of a municipal parking lot into an open green space. The space was primarily transformed for the benefit of students and was also left to their responsibility to take care of, characterizing the municipality as enabler. The Via Milano was a forgotten stretch of pavement that had already been closed to traffic and in 2021 was painted and play equipment was installed. These experiments are planned to last for at least 12 months, after which decisions will be made following assessments under which conditions the experiments will be made permanent (EXTRA, 2022).

Bologna

City street experiments varying in both size and complexity, have grown quite rapidly over the last four years under the initiation of the Municipality of Milan, casting the city in the role of promoter. Together with the Authority for Mobility, Environment and Territory (AMAT), the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and Bloomberg Associates, the city began experimenting primarily as a response to an issue with car parking. One example is the Piazza Aperte case study which involved a public art competition to transform a car- and parking dominated street in an upscale neighbourhood in Milan, where the departments of Mobility and Culture collaborated (Comune di Milano, 2022). Originally experiments were located in the periphery of the municipal area, but the initiatives have since spread to all nine districts. District councils acted as a mediator between the local initiatives and the greater city administration. Since then, 38 streets have been experimented with. The results of this experimental program have recently been published in a manual for designing public space, entitled “Public Space Design Guidelines” (Ferorelli, 2021). Additionally, the city has instituted the Strade Aperte Plan as a response to the coronavirus pandemic (EXTRA, 2022), which includes low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets (The Guardian, 2020). As part of this plan, the municipality temporarily transformed 35 km of streets into cycling and space for pedestrians, however, it is unclear what the future of these cycling paths will be (Ferorelli, personal conversation, 2022).

Milan

The coronavirus pandemic and the need for more public space, a lessened need to travel to work and limited options in terms of vacation, stimulated the use of experiments in London, Bologna, Milan and Ghent. These were strategically employed in order to accelerate the transition towards greater sustainability.

While all of the six cities share the ambition to improve sustainability in their mobility plans and increase liveability, there are significant differences in their current trajectory which may relate to their sense of urgency and implementation of experiments. For instance, as a city with a strong tradition of cycling and livability in urban planning, Amsterdam could be considered further along on the path to sustainability than London, a city which has been heavily dominated by private automobility for the past decades. It could therefore be that the urgency in cities such as London are higher, possibly explaining the higher number of experiments as compared to other cities.

Cities with the role of promoter, in which the municipality takes on a top-down role, featuring municipal actors who initiate, finance and implement experimentation on their own, appear to have a greater number of experiments. Examples include London and Ghent and, to a lesser extent but still more than the other cities, Munich. This highlights two possible questions for research: is the role of promoter most effective for implementing city street experiments? And does this role and the greater number of experiments coincide with a higher impact on system change?

Two cities, Amsterdam and Bologna were incidentally enablers, meaning they supported experiments on an ad hoc basis rather than structurally. In Amsterdam, the Weesperzijde experiment and the Dapperplein were supported by the local government by way of EU subsidy. In Bologna, the experiments are primarily conceptualized by a ‘think tank’ for urban development (the FIU). City street experiments are therefore not a structural part of the policies of these two cities (categorizing them as non-role), but rather only occur by way of external funding and manpower.

Within the different roles there appear to be different degrees. For instance, Munich and London both fall into the category of promoter, however, in Munich the municipality primarily initiated the Summer Streets program totalling 14 streets, while the scale of the experiments in London reached over 300. Again, the question remains: what does this role mean for the quality of the experiments and their effectiveness on a local scale?

Especially relevant for larger cities like London and Munich, where the area of jurisdiction is so large that there are multiple levels of government within one city. City-wide policy and thus administrations may differ in their role as compared to the organizations acting on a more local level. This may add a dimension of complexity as local district plans might have to coincide with larger plans, as is the case in London

Reflections

References

Bertolini, L. (2020). From “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”: can street experiments transform urban mobility?. Transport reviews, 40(6), 734-753.

Citta Metropolitana Bologna (2019). Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan of Metropolitan Bologna. Available online: https://issuu.com/cittametropolitanabologna/docs/en-doc-sintesi-pumsbo

Comune Di Milano. (2022). “Reinventing Cities Piannale Loreto.” Available online: https://www.comune.milano.it/-/reinventing-citiespiazzale-loreto.

Experimenting with Streets to Transform Mobility (EXTRA). (2022). Time and space after school: Bologna’s first ‘school square. Available online: https://www.ex-tra-project.eu/post/time-and-space-after-school-bologna-s-first-school-square

Experimenting with Streets to Transform Mobility (EXTRA). (2022). Public Space Design Guidelines” from Milan. Available online: https://www.ex-tra-project.eu/post/public-space-design-guidelines

Ferorell, R. (2021). Experimenting with City Streets in Milan. Doctoral Training Network (DTN) Opening. Munich.

The Guardian. (2020). Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown. Available online: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/21/milan-seeks-to-prevent-post-crisis-return-of-traffic-pollution

Gehl, J. (2013). Cities for people. Island press.

Gemeente Amsterdam. (2020). Amsterdam maakt ruimte. Agenda Amsterdam Autoluw. Available online: https://assets. amsterdam.nl/publish/pages/921204/iv1248-agenda_autoluw-22t. pdf (accessed on 12 January 2021).

Grötsch, M. (2021). Experimenting with City Streets in Munich. Doctoral Training Network (DTN) Opening. Munich.

Kronsell, A., & Mukhtar-Landgren, D. (2018). Experimental governance: The role of municipalities in urban living labs. European planning studies, 26(5), 988-1007.

Landeshauptstadt München. (2019). Rathaus Umschau. Retrieved December 15, 2020 from https://ru.muenchen.de/pdf/2019/ru-2019-06-14.pdf.

Stad Gent. (2022). Mobiliteitsplan, Circulatieplan en Parkeerplan Gent Gent. Available online: https://stad.gent/nl/mobiliteit-openbarewerken/ plannen-en-realisaties-mobiliteit/mobiliteitsplan-circulatieplan-en-parkeerplan-gent

Transport for London (TFL). (2021a). GLA – New studies show School Streets improve air quality. Available online: https://tfl.gov.uk/infofor/ media/press-releases/2021/march/gla—new-studies show-school-streets-improve-air-quality

Transport for London (TFL). (2021b). School Streets: Intervention Sites vs. Control Sites Full Report.

Uzunova, E. (2020). Change Your Vision: European cities in the pursuit of livable streets:a research and recommendation study.

VanHoose, K., de Gante, A. R., Bertolini, L., Kinigadner, J., & Büttner, B. (2022). From temporary arrangements to permanent change: Assessing the transitional capacity of city street experiments. Journal of Urban Mobility, 2, 100015.

Ex-plore more

Tools

Developing Strategies for Change During Street Experiments

Many factors at play when it comes to organizing successful street experiments. In our research, we identified enablers and barriers that either support or limit street experiments on their way to triggering system change. Additionally, we recognized the role that municipalities adopt towards street experiments as particularly important in this process. The Developing Strategies for Change workshop brings these findings together and offers an interactive format for civil servants to explore different roles and enable collaboration between departments.

Show more…
Research

Un indice per misurare la accessibilità di prossimità

The Inclusive Accessibility by Proximity Index (IAPI) measures accessibility to essential services using GIS, focusing on conditions that enhance or hinder walkability, cyclability, and social interactions at the neighbourhood level. Its implementation in Bologna allowed for mapping the quality of pedestrian and cycling routes, evaluating accessibility to neighbourhood services via active mobility, and assessing the impact of pedestrianization interventions on the quality of routes and public spaces. With its ease of calculation, transferable approach using open-source data, and the ability to update indicators and coefficients, IAPI can support the development of multi-sector policies at various scales.

Article published in Italian.

Show more…
Research

Measuring accessibility by proximity for an inclusive city

Accessibility is crucial for social inclusion, influenced by transport systems, land use, temporal availability, and individual features. It measures people’s ability to engage in social life and activities contributing to their well-being. This paper introduces the Inclusive Accessibility by Proximity Index (IAPI), designed to assess accessibility to essential services and activities for local residents. IAPI considers the physical and perceptual characteristics of urban spaces and paths, reflecting different mobility needs and habits. It guides urban planning to promote walkability, cyclability, and active mobility, aiming for a sustainable and inclusive city. Using Bologna, Italy, as a testbed, the paper details the IAPI methodology, results, and steps for scalability and context sensitivity.

Show more…
Research

Making walking irresistible: enabling level-of-service measures to achieve their potential

Despite walking’s exceptional benefits, it receives surprisingly little attention. To address this, the potential of “level of service” (LOS) measures to highlight the status of walking is investigated. A literature survey on various LOS measures reveals their distinct evolutionary paths and the lack of true commensurability across modes. A micro-simulation modelling exercise suggests pedestrians fare worse than drivers, even where walking is promoted, confirming measurement anomalies across modes. The availability of “ideal speeds” is crucial for commensurability; thus, a critical assessment of “free-flow” speeds for vehicles proposes using sprinting speeds for pedestrians to gauge performance.

Show more…
Research

The value of street experiments for mobility and public life: Citizens’ perspectives from three European cities

‘Street experiments’ (SE) temporarily reallocate street space from traffic to people. Existing research often evaluates SE from upscaling or public acceptability perspectives, but few studies explore what citizens value about SE in everyday life. This paper addresses this gap by analyzing how 458 citizens value five SE parklets and plazas in London, Munich, and Bologna. Using an inductive, qualitative survey method, it identifies valued mobility and public life dimensions, considering use value and social meanings. The findings show citizens prioritize SE’s public life benefits—enhanced streetscape, public space availability, and social interaction—over active mobility benefits. This framework aids understanding citizen evaluations and informs better SE design.

Show more…
Research

Urban transport experimentation: a network or hybrid governance process?

This chapter examines the governance of urban transport experimentation, emphasizing the role of collaboration and partnerships beyond government for policy innovation. It explores two propositions: whether municipal governments should primarily enable activities by civil society and private actors, and if voluntary experiment partnerships with shared sustainability goals effectively co-create policy innovations. Using empirical research from 108 transport experiments in Bristol and New York City (1996-2016), it finds that non-state involvement and network partnerships can be crucial but are not essential. Instead, urban transport experimentation is better characterized as ‘hybrid governance,’ featuring multiple co-existing governance modes.

Show more…
Guidelines

StreetEcho toolkit: a how-to guide

StreetECHO Toolkit Guidance provides an overview of the tool and guidance for the engagement of citizens in street transformation. It initially explores concepts underpinning the development of the toolkit, particularly examining streets as convivial public spaces and the imperative of bringing citizen perspectives and knowledge into discussions on street planning and design processes. In emphasising the need for participatory processes, the report highlights the development of accessible digital tools as crucial pathways towards achieving these goals. After reviewing a series of such existing tools, the document introduces the novel StreetECHO toolkit, highlighting its added value and innovative features, and instructing readers on how it’s utilised.

Show more…
Guidelines

Assessing experiments: Citizens perceptions and values

This report presents results from a study that examines citizens’ perceptions and values regarding street experiments in three European cities: London, Munich, and Bologna. The aim of the research was to understand how citizens value different dimensions of street experiments and to provide insights into the design of effective and inclusive street interventions. The study posits that by understanding and incorporating citizens’ values and preferences, practitioners can design street experiment initiatives that are more effective, inclusive, and aligned with the needs and aspirations of the community.

Show more…
Research

How Does Pedestrian Accessibility Vary for Different People? Development of a Perceived User-Specific Accessibility Measure for Walking (Paws)

Current accessibility measures often overlook the diverse needs of different user groups, leading to a mismatch between calculated and perceived accessibility. This paper proposes a new method that accounts for individual perceptions and walkability needs, developing Perceived user-specific Accessibility measures for Walking (PAWs) for seniors, children, women, and wheelchair users. By adjusting the Geo Open Accessibility Tool (GOAT) and using the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), the most important walkability attributes are incorporated and weighted. Results from Munich reveal a nuanced understanding of pedestrian infrastructure, aiding urban planners in creating more inclusive, equitable environments that enhance quality of life and access to amenities.

Show more…
Guidelines

Accessibility by Proximity tool – A report on its application

This report provides an in-depth exploration of the GOAT implementation process as a planning tool in the five EX-TRA Cities: Amsterdam, Ghent, Munich, London, and Bologna. It offers a technical breakdown of the tool’s development and functionality and a comprehensive overview of the GOAT implementation journey in each city, complete with thorough analysis and resulting insights.

Show more…