Analysis of barriers and enablers for street experiments

The urgent need to reduce emissions in light of climate change presents an acute challenge for urban areas clogged with private automobility. In combination with urban growth, a similarly pressing need for improved quality of life, including greener, safer and simply more public spaces is likewise at play in many urban areas (Switzer, 2019). To address these challenges, a ‘sustainability transition’ (Elzen et al., 2004; Grin et al., 2010) or radical shift towards new kinds of socio-technical systems, is needed (Köhler et al., 2019).

According to academic literature, a sustainable transition involves co-evolutionary developments between industry, markets, user behavior, policy, infrastructure and spatial arrangements (Geels et al., 2017; Moradi & Vagnoni, 2018). A well-known model for conceptualizing sustainability transitions is the ‘multi-level perspective’ (see figure 1). The MLP is characterized by three embedded levels: socio-technical landscape (cultural and social trends and shifts), regimes (user habits, norms and mindsets sustained by a diversity of actors and deep-structured rules) and niches (testbeds for radical alternatives and experiments that challenge and compete with the technologies, market, policy, culture, and industries of the regime) (Geels, 2007). The MLP theorizes that shifts at the landscape level put pressure on the regime, creating windows of opportunity for niche innovations to emerge and develop.

In the context of urban mobility, street experiments represent niche innovations that aim to disrupt the status quo upheld by the current system (VanHoose et al., 2022). Examples of these experiments include subtle modifications, like the remarking of street intersections to more radical projects, such as the closure of entire streets to traffic for pedestrian activities (see figure 2). Street experiments have proven to possess a transitional capacity, or ability to cause system change and support sustainability transitions (Ibid, 2022; Ex-TRA, 2022). The link between implementing a successful experiment and its upscaling, or embedding that experiment in new ways of thinking, doing and organizing (van den Bosch and Rotmans 2008), remains understudied. This may be related to confusion surrounding the concept of upscaling, which is often misconceived as the simple wider adoption of innovative products over time (Dijk et al., 2018). The process of upscaling street experiments can be complicated. At the experiment level, transitional capacity is not always maximized (VanHoose et al., 2022) and experiments are not always viewed as arenas for serious change (Hipp et al., 2017). Moreover, because experiments are highly contextual and practice-based, they are not easily replicated or scaled-up (Evans et al., 2016). At the level of the system, governance rules and regulations related to existing urban mobility and public space regimes have the potential to either limit or nurture experiments (VanHoose et al., 2022).

cultural/social trends and shifts
user habits, norms and mindsets sustained by a diversity of actors and deep-structured rules
testbeds and experimentation for radical alternatives
Figure 1. Application of the MLP to urban mobility. The system is composed of several regimes including urban public space, public transportation, private automobility. Against the backdrop of developments at the landscape level (e.g. climate change) innovative ideas to challenge dominant regimes are outed in the form of city street experiments. The process of upscaling involves the shift in ways of doing, thinking and organizing at the regime level. As indicated by the arrows, experiments have the capacity to disrupt regimes ( ) and are sometimes blocked at both the experiment and system levels ( ).
Figure 2. City street experiments are examples of niche innovations aimed at improving urban mobility conditions by shifting the use of streets from traffic towards people (Bertolini, 2020). Examples include the re-marking of streets to slow down traffic and allocate space to pedestrians and other forms of mobility like the Intersection Repairs in Portland (left). More radical examples include the repurposing of the entire street like the Living Streets of Ghent (right), which remove from motorized traffic to provide opportunities for playing, socializing, and exercising.


This deliverable aims to add to the subject of upscaling by exploring the question: Which barriers and enablers for upscalingand transitions exist for city street experiments? This question is explored based on the findings of a literature reviewconducted in two steps. First, based on Bertolini’s (2020) definition of city street experiments: “intentional and temporarychanges to the street use, regulation and or form, featuring a shift from motorized to non- motorized dominance and aimed atexploring systemic change in urban mobility and public life”, relevant key search words were identified: “experiment”“temporary”, “street use”, “systemic change”, “urban mobility”, “public life”, “barriers”, “challenges”, “enablers”, “opportunities”,“upscaling” and “transitions”. Peer-reviewed, scientific articles featuring these keywords were systematically searched for inGoogle Scholar, resulting in 177 articles. A second round of filtering involved scanning article titles and abstracts based on thepresence of the keywords. A third round included filtering articles based on the presence of empirical studies featuring streetexperiments as the unit of analysis. Experiments related to urban mobility that do not involve altering the streetscape (e.g. bike-sharing or Mobility as a Service (MaaS)) were not included. 12 articles were analyzed based on enablers and barriers for theupscaling of street experiments. The results of the literature review are divided into barriers and enablers at the ‘experimentlevel’ (i.e. related to the experiment design and process) and the ‘system level’ (i.e. related to the governance of streetexperiments or regulations related to permits). Where possible these are supported by non-empirical literature regardingtransitions and upscaling. The findings from across the individual articles are also categorized by recurring themes andpresented in order of popularity (i.e. presence in the literature). In the conclusions we reflect on the findings of the literaturereview.

List of selected scientific articles for review

  1. Brovarone, E. V., Staricco, L., & Verlinghieri, E. (2023). Whose is this street? Actors and conflicts in the governance of pedestrianisation processes. Journal of transport geography, 107, 103528.
  2. Dijk, M., de Kraker, J., & Hommels, A. (2018). Anticipating Constraints on Upscaling from Urban Innovation Experiments. Sustainability, 10(8), 2796. doi:10.3390/su10082796.
  3. Eyler, A. A., Hipp, J. A., & Lokuta, J. (2015). Moving the Barricades to Physical Activity: A Qualitative Analysis of Open Streets Initiatives Across the United States. American journal of health promotion : AJHP, 30(1), e50–e58.
  4. Hipp, J. A., Bird, A., van Bakergem, M., & Yarnall, E. (2017). Moving targets: Promoting physical activity in public spaces via open streets in the US. Preventive Medicine, 103, S15–S20.
  5. Mackie, H., Hirsch, L., Thorne, R., Witten, K., & Field, A. (2021). Creating the Circuit Breakers: An Examination of the Sociotechnical System Factors Which Impede and Enable the Delivery of Safe and Healthy Neighbourhood Street Design in Aotearoa New Zealand. Advancing a Design Approach to Enriching Public Mobility, 249-274.
  6. Marcheschi, E., Vogel, N., Larsson, A., Perander, S., & Koglin, T. (2022). Residents’ acceptance towards car-free street experiments: Focus on perceived quality of life and neighborhood attachment. Transportation research interdisciplinary perspectives, 14, 100585.
  7. Montero. (2017). Worlding Bogotá’s Ciclovía: From Urban Experiment to International “Best Practice.” Latin American Perspectives, 44(2), 111–131.
  8. Sarmiento, O. L., Díaz Del Castillo, A., Triana, C. A., Acevedo, M. J., Gonzalez, S. A., & Pratt, M. (2017). Reclaiming the streets for people: Insights from Ciclovías recreativas in Latin America. Preventive Medicine, 103, S34–S40.
  9. VanHoose, K. and Berolini, L. Forthcoming. The Impact of Municipalities on the transitional capacity of street experiments: lessons from Ghent.*
  10. 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.
  11. Van Wymeersch, E., Oosterlynck, S., & Vanoutrive, T. (2019). The political ambivalences of participatory planning initiatives. Planning Theory, 18(3), 359–381.
  12. Zieff, S. G., Hipp, J. A., Eyler, A. A., & Kim, M. S. (2013). Ciclovía initiatives: engaging communities, partners, and policy makers along the route to success. Journal of public health management and practice: JPHMP, 19(3 Suppl 1), S74–S82.
*Because this article was accepted but not yet published at the time of the literature review, it was not found via the GoogleScholar search but added manually by the authors.

Experiment level: enablers and barriers

Support from local governments in both the form of leadership and provision of resourcesenables city street experiments. Especially experiments that are more radical or invasive, aleading role from the local government legitimizes the project, thus helping to justify theexperiment’s aims and ambitions to resistant stakeholders (VanHoose and Bertolini,forthcoming). Nevens et al. (2013) echo the importance of getting people involved andconvincing them to partake in a new and uncertain project. In Ghent, the idea of LivingStreet experiment was a direct result of municipal leadership and proved to benefit from atop-down approach in the early phases of the project. It appears that the leading role canalso be shared as in the organization and implementation of the Living Street Hugo deGrootkade in Amsterdam where the municipality and residents shared the responsibilitiesequally, leading to a strong coalition between these two parties (VanHoose et al., 2022).


Local governmenttakes leading role inthe organization andimplementation ofstreet experiments
Empirical datasource(s): VanHooseet al. (2022);VanHoose andBertolini (forthcoming)

Street experiments garner momentum by way of building coalitions (reaching-out) andprofiting from actor networks (reaching-in) that surround their niche development(VanHoose et al., 2022). In doing so a multitude of actors, including civic and marketparties, are brought into contact and connected by a shared goal. This process, similar toother forms of community activism (VanHoose & Savini, 2017), is fueled by bonding andbridging social capital and has the potential to result in an awakened or increased sense ofcommunity (Ibid.). This is also highlighted in a study of car-free street experiments in Malmoand Gothenburg, Sweden which stresses the value of including people’s perceptions ininformed decision-making processes concerning the design and introduction of thoseinterventions (Marcheschi et al. 2022). As the initiator of the Umparken Schwabingexperiment described: “It was only successful because we had good partners on board. Wehad the city… and we also had relevant partners and startups that were open to doing thisproject. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened in such a short time frame. The project withits short planning and preparation phase didn’t fit into the usual processes of the city ofMunich at all” (VanHoose et al., 2022, p. 8).

The experiment ismobilizing, inclusiveand features adiversity ofstakeholders
Empirical datasource(s): VanHooseet al. (2022); Marcheschi et al.(2022)

A major barrier is finding the necessary financial means to support an experiment, withoutasking too much effort from one or a few partners (Nevens et al., 2013). A too ambitiousprogram could act as a barrier for experiment organizers, underestimating the energy, timeand resources required to put on a street experiment. The experiment Weesperzijde Testbedin Amsterdam suffered from unclear goals related to its too ambitious program (wanting toexplore shared mobility, parking solutions and organize social activities). Additionally, theUmparken Schwabing West experiment in Munich struggled to achieve their goals as a resultof too ambitious and radical program. When funding and staffing are inconsistent or limited,the quality and sustainability of the initiative is less certain (Zieff et al., 2013). A lack offunding was also mentioned as a barrier in an evaluation of the Open Streets initiative in theU.S. (Eyler et al., 2015). Additionally, Sarmiento (2017) noted that stable sources of fundingacted as a barrier for Ciclovías.


Too ambitiousprogram andunderestimation/ lack of required timeresources
Empirical datasource(s): VanHooseet al. (2022); Zieff etal. (2013) Eyler et al.(2015); Sarmiento etal. (2017)

The very attributes that sets city street experiments apart is their temporality and informality,however, their positioning as one-off, fun events, rather than as long-term strategies (Hippet al., 2017) has the potential to limit their range of influence. In fact, “several of thebarriers, tensions and challenges identified by the literature seem to concern the weakrelationship with city-wide, mainstream policy, financial, legal, and organisationalframeworks” (Bertolini, 2020, p. 744). This is the case if evaluations are not linked to anylong-term policy development (VanHoose et al., 2022). The experiment should beconsidered within the broader transition context (the coherent narrative of vision, pathwaysand actions) (Nevens et al., 2013).

A weak connectionbetween the streetexperiment andlong-term policies
Empirical datasource(s): Hipp et al.(2017); VanHoose etal. (2022)

A lack of clarity concerning experiment goals can act as a barrier, bringing thelegitimacy of the project into question. In the case of the Torino Mobility Lab, the lack ofa clear vision and intentions of the project were never made clear to stakeholders (VitaleBrovarone et al., 2023). “In the absence of a clear overarching vision for the future ofTurin’s mobility, the TML appeared to many as motivated by the desire to seize a fundingopportunity or a political move by an administration approaching the end of themandate (p. 8).” This ignites negative perceptions of the experiment, ultimately acting asa barrier. According to Eyler et al. (2015), getting participants to understand the conceptof Open Streets was an important challenge.

Lack of a clearvision andleadership
Empirical datasource(s): VitaleBrovarone et al.(2023); Eyler et al.(2015)

A major barrier with regards to the monitoring of and learning from an experiment is a lackof capacity and resources (time and money) to monitor, assess and learn from experiments. In the Torino Mobility Lab, the municipality had a limited capacity in terms of skills andgovernance needed to learn from the experiment (Vitale Brovarone et al., 2023). This is animportant barrier for scaling up learning experiences (Grin et al., 2010). As Nevens et al(2013, p. 119) write: “An experiment only fails when nothing has been learnt from it.”

Failure/inability tomonitor, assess andlearn from experiment
Empirical datasource(s): VitaleBrovarone et al. (2023)

In their analysis of open street initiatives in the United States, Hipp et al. (2017) note thelimited impact as directly related to their low frequency. Such one-time events are unable togenerate transformative processes that may influence other contexts and practices (Savini& Bertolini, 2019).

Low frequency
Empirical data source:Hipp et al. (2017)

Street experiments should be well-designed, considering the users. For instance, in the car-free street experiments in Gothenburg and Malmo, pedestrians did not feel safe to walk inthe middle of car-free streets due to the lack of separation between pedestrians andcyclists (Marcheschi et al. 2022). Especially experiments which aim to increase socialinteractions and serve as a place to sit and relax should feature high quality options fordoing so. The creation of places that support social interactions and positive socialatmosphere, rather than functioning as a passing through corridor, increases theacceptance of the intervention (Marcheschi et al. 2022).

Inconducive design
Empirical datasource(s): Marcheschiet al. (2022)

Experiment level: enablers and barriers

Factors related to the scalability of the Ciclovía program of Bogotá across the worldincluded local officials from Bogotá traveling across the world to share their experiences(Sarmiento et al., 2017). Additionally a network of experts (public health, sustainabletransportation, Ciclovía organizers) helps to share information and increase learning amongnew stakeholders. ( Montero, 2017 ). Despite challenges, the committed and strategic work ofthe organizers has been key for the success of the Cicolvía experiments


Active promotion
Empirical datasource(s): Sarmientoet al. (2017); Montero(2017)

Established institutions, policies and regulations surrounding street use can act as a barrierto street experiments which don’t fit into these processes (Nevens et al., 2013). During theFuture Streets experiment in South Auckland, several obstacles in the design and delivery ofthe intervention including funding uncertainties, conflicts around project governance,regulatory barriers, and rigid project management processes were encountered. Thisresulted in a delayed implementation (Mackie et al., 2021). In Ghent, the civil servantsresponsible for the organization of the Living Streets strategically decided to set up an NGObecause the experiment was constrained by bureaucratic processes (VanHoose andBertolini, forthcoming). In Amsterdam, resident’s request for a permit to organize a livingstreet were denied by the Municipality on the grounds of insufficient funds, doubts aboutpublic support and the lateness of the application. To combat this, residents found aloophole in the bureaucratic system, applying and receiving temporary parking permitstypically used in the event of moving or construction (VanHoose et al., 2022). Lastly, out of32 program organizers who wanted to expand their Open Street experiment across theUnited States, 13 noted consistent barriers to expansion including funding and arrangingpermits (Hipp et al., 2017).


Institutionalregulations and processes
Empirical datasource(s): Dijk et al.(2018); Mackie et al.(2021); VanHoose and Bertolini(forthcoming);VanHoose et al.,(2022); Hipp et

By transforming streets into places for people and not for cars, street experiments ask abehavioral change of users. Car owners not wanting to give up their parking spaces was theprimary form of resistance in the case studies Umparken Schwabing and the Turin MobilityLab (VanHoose et al., 2022; Vitale Brovarone et al., 2023). In the latter, there was a firmopposition to painting the roads because it was incompatible with the cultural value of thestreet, while the large amounts of car traffic were not seen as disrupting the culturalheritage (Vitale Brovarone et al., 2023). Related to this, a perceived disruption in placeattachment led to resistance in the car-free street experiments in Malmo and Gothenburg,Sweden (Marcheschi et al. 2022). In Ghent, the Living Streets challenged place attachmentfor some residents which resulted in two opposing camps (those for and those against)(Wymeersch et al., 2019). In the Piazza Zenneti experiment, which turned a former parkinglot into a place for sitting and relaxing, local residents were initially wary of theirneighborhood gentrifying as a result of the project (VanHoose et al., 2022).

Institutionalregulations and processes
Empirical datasource(s): Dijk et al.(2018); Mackie et al.(2021); VanHoose and Bertolini(forthcoming);VanHoose et al.,(2022); Hipp et

Mobility governance is often organized in a top-down manner (Dijk et al, 2018) leaving littleto no space for reflection, re-consideration and learning (Nevens et al., 2013). For city streetexperiments, this is reflected in entrenched ways of working (Mackie et al., 2021). Thetypical ‘command and control’ attitude from politics and administrations (Nevens et al.,2013) or an ‘expert-driven’ tendency towards urban mobility blocks the implementation ofmore coordinated and holistic approaches (Dijk et al, 2018). Because of this, mobilitygovernance usually only involves a subset of stakeholders, which can act as a barrier for therepresentativeness and potential outcomes of this project.

Institutionalregulations and processes
Empirical datasource(s): Dijk et al.(2018); Mackie et al.(2021); VanHoose and Bertolini(forthcoming);VanHoose et al.,(2022); Hipp et

The established transport planning context is at odds with the nature of experimentation,hence constraining upscaling (Dijk et al., 2018). Institutionalizing experiments undermines thevery essence of experiments (VanHoose and Bertolini, forthcoming). In Ghent, after years ofexperimenting, the Living Streets were deemed a successful project and were adopted bythe municipality. In doing so however, the project lost its original value as it was modified tofit into formal institutional processes (e.g. dedicated start and end date, using a crane toplace street furniture instead of letting residents do it themselves).

Institutionalregulations and processes
Empirical datasource(s): Dijk et al.(2018); Mackie et al.(2021); VanHoose and Bertolini(forthcoming);VanHoose et al.,(2022); Hipp et

Analysis and conclusions

The implementation and upscaling of city streets experiments is a difficult process. Based on the literature review, weidentified several enablers and barriers for upscaling experiments at two levels: the experiment level and the level of thesystem. It should be noted that there is a limitation to the chosen method: certain articles may have been excluded as a resultof the keywords that were chosen. While we designed the search to be as comprehensive as possible, there is a risk thatrelevant articles may not have been included in the literature review. The following conclusions can be made, which arepotentially useful for both transition scholars and for city-makers interested in experimenting with city streets.

Literature on upscaling heavily theoretical with little empirical examples
Transition literature focusing on upscaling of experiments is quite large, however it remains largely theoretical. Generallyspeaking, there is a lack of empirical studies which focus on enablers and barriers for city street experiments and the upscalingof experiments to the level of the system. There is a need for more empirical research to test the theories on upscaling in examples from practice.

Experiment level enablers
At the experiment level, ‘Loc al government takes leading role in the organization and implementation of street experiments’and ‘The experiment is mobilizing, inclusive and features a di versity of stakeholder s’ were the only two enablers named at theexperiment level and both were named by two sources. Based on the literature review, support from the local government as aformal institution helps to legitimize street experiments, justifying the experiment’s aims and ambitions to resistant stakeholders.Additionally, the provision of certain resources can help to support street experiments, which, as identified as an experimentbarrier, require an often underestimated amount of time, energy and funding. The second identified enabler involves theinclusion of different stakeholders. Because street experiments can be contentious and aim to change the status quo, it couldbe beneficial for experiments to prioritize the building of coalitions and involving different parties from the start.

Experiment level barriers
Too ambitious program and underestimation/lack of required resources’ was the primary barrier at the experiment level. Acrossthe empirical examples, overly ambitious programs resulted in a struggled to achieve experiment goals. This is linked to anunderestimation or lack of funding, which bring the sustainability of the initiative into question. Organizers of city streetexperiments should therefore be realistic in terms of goals, and ensure that there are stable sources for funding in place.

Experiment level enablers
At the level of the system, ‘Active promotion’ was the only enabler named in the literature. This enabler was derived from theanalysis of an example of street experiment that has successfully been upscaled: Ciclovías. The role of local officials who sharetheir lessons learned is key to the upscaling of successful experiments. These lessons were further spread via a network ofexperts (public health, sustainable transportation, Ciclovía organizers). The sharing of knowledge and learning from experiments seems to be a key aspect for the upscaling of experiments and represents an important part of this process thatshould be further researched.

System level barriers
At the system level, several studies named ‘Institutional regulations and processes’ as a challenge for street experiments,making it the primary barrier at the system level. Examples from different countries (United States, New Zealand, TheNetherlands, Belgium) reveal this barrier is not related to a specific governance system but is more universal. Establishedinstitutions, policies and regulations surrounding street use can act as a barrier to street experiments which don’t fit into theseprocesses. Interestingly, the primary enabler at the experiment level ‘local government takes a leading role’ seems to contradictthe system barrier ‘institutional regulations and processes’. This is best illustrated by the cases Weesperzijde testbed and theLiving Streets in Ghent. Despite the leading role from the local government, the experiments were still halted by institutionalbarriers. This may represent an important consideration for upscaling. Despite best efforts within experiments, overcomingobdurate bureacratic hurdles remains the primary challenge for street experiments. It would be useful for researchers andpractitioners to explore examples where street experiments overcame this barrier in order to understand how this processworks.


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