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Why Gothenburg’s low traffic model is paying off

The economic success of Gothenburg’s approach to integrated transport, high quality urban realm and more space for walking and cycling is transferable to many UK cities, believes Professor John Whitelegg

10 August 2022
Gothenburg is largely traffic free city experience populated with good walking, cycling and public transport offers and with very little traffic
Gothenburg is largely traffic free city experience populated with good walking, cycling and public transport offers and with very little traffic
Gothenburg’s blend of reduced traffic, public spaces and totally integrated public transport is transferable to the top 10 (by population) UK cities
Gothenburg’s blend of reduced traffic, public spaces and totally integrated public transport is transferable to the top 10 (by population) UK cities

 

There are many excellent, best practice, sustainable transport cities in Europe. A shining example is Gothenburg, Sweden, and what it tells us about what can be achieved across all dimensions of quality of life and sustainable transport in UK cities. 

The Gothenburg story is about the co-existence and inter-dependency of three world best achievements at the same time: climate change policy, sustainable transport policy and economic vitality.

Gothenburg boasts low traffic volumes, high quality public realm, generous space for walking and cycling and attractive, integrated public transport (buses, local trains and ferries). There is no UK equivalent.

With a population 1,049,592 million (in 2020), it is an economically successful city with an international reputation for its high quality environment and detailed attention to sustainability.

It is an example of best practice that is transferable to UK cities and essential if national and local government in the UK really does want to get to net zero carbon, sustainability and economically successful outcomes.

Gothenburg’s blend of highly attractive, traffic reduced, public spaces and totally integrated public transport is eminently transferable to the top 10 (by population) UK cities.

Gothenburg has succeeded where UK cities have failed. The city has created a calm, enjoyable, largely traffic free city experience populated with excellent walking, cycling and public transport offers and with very little traffic.

I am striving to understand why UK cities tolerate and encourage large volumes of car traffic with ungenerous amounts of space for those not in cars. More importantly, I want to be very clear about what we can learn from Gothenburg and how simple, easy and affordable it is to transfer its success to the UK’s top 10 cities.

Gothenburg is a world-leading example of the synergistic co-existence of high environmental and sustainability standards and outcomes and a hugely successful and vigorous local economy.

The importance of the automotive sector (Volvo) to the local economy is a perfect fit, with policies that promote lower levels of car use in the city.

The city is world-leading example of how we “can have our cake and eat it”. It has an enviable economic growth record directly linked to reductions in CO2 emissions. Economic growth is not only achievable on the back of carbon reduction but can also develop in ways that reduce carbon and boost job creation. This is a clear message to all UK cities and politicians that struggle to understand the links between low levels of car use and high levels of economic success.

How does Gothenburg do it?

Gothenburg has been recognised as the most sustainable destination in the world, four years in a row.

The key elements of the Gothenburg approach are discussed in Marcheschi (2022), Kenworthy (2019), Kenworthy (2020) and Kenworthy and Svensson (2022). 

They are:

The identification and implementation of best practice integrated, affordable public transport consistently over many years

Integrated/comprehensive ticketing that with one ticket covers trams, buses, local trains and ferries

The provision of generous amount of public realm and highway space for walking and cycling

The high cost of parking and levels of car parking provision much lower than comparable UK cities

A climate strategy that supports economic and business interests and is supported by the business community.

What can UK cities do?

All UK city politicians should watch this two-minute video and adopt the Gothenburg approach in all high level transport, climate change, public health and economic strategy policy.

References

Kenworthy, J. R. (2019). Urban transport and eco-urbanism: a global comparative study of cities with a special focus on five larger Swedish urban regions. Urban Science, 3(1), 25.

Kenworthy, J. R. (2020). Passenger transport energy use in ten Swedish cities: Understanding the differences through a comparative review. Energies, 13(14), 3719.

Kenworthy, J R and Svensson , H (2022) Exploring the energy saving potential in private, public and non-motorized transport for ten Swedish cities, Sustainability, 14, 954

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.

John Whitelegg is visiting professor, School of the Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores University and an associate of the German transport research organisation Zentrum fuer Mobilitätskultur in Kassel in Germany. He is a former member of the International Advisory Board of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in Germany and an adviser on road safety and promoting ‘active travel’ to reduce obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease to the World Health Organisation in Geneva. He is a board member of the Californian organisation ‘Transport Choices for Sustainable Communities’. In September 2020 he was appointed to the position of fellow in transport and climate change by the (UK) Foundation for Integrated Transport.

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