Gaps in the sustainable mobility planning guidelines from a sustainability principles point of view

Gaps in the sustainable mobility planning guidelines from a sustainability principles point of view 2020-05-12T09:27:44+00:00

This research was authored and presented by Varvara at a poster session at the IST conference in Gothenburg 2017 Poster_IST_VSHD or (requires login)

Non-published abstract by Nikulina, V., Borén, S., Ny, H., Simon, D. (2017):

Increasing demand for transportation services worldwide is one of the main present-day urban challenges from a sustainability point of view. The transportation sector is a complex system with multiple stakeholders involved and a number of factors, such as availability of infrastructure, affecting it. Decision-making processes for sustainable transport systems are consequently very complex. Traditionally transportation planning addresses various issues related to vehicles, safety, maintenance, and vehicle- and infrastructure-related environmental impacts, while issues such as strategic land use and impacts on non-motorized travel are often overlooked except as part of integrated land use and transportation studies or holistic urban development plans. Hence, a key current transportation sector priority should be to provide accessible mobility services with reduced environmental and societal impacts. The challenge goes beyond the region/country borders and spreads worldwide. This requires a systems approach to address it. The necessity of a rapid transition towards sustainability is recognized in Agenda 2030 and the Paris Accord and presented in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – target 11.2. under Goal 11 (UN n.d.):

“by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notable by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

Goal 11 with its targets and indicators has been tested in the diverse conditions of five cities: Bangalore (Bengaluru), India; Cape Town, South Africa; Gothenburg, Sweden; Greater Manchester, United Kingdom; and Kisumu, Kenya, and compared. Each city encountered problems with the relevant data, and each of them proposed changes in targets and indicators including 11.2 (prior to the formal announcement of the SDGs) to meet the local needs (Simon, et al. 2016).

Plans for sustainable personal mobility need to be revised or created in order to achieve the SDGs and develop towards sustainability. Moreover, policy makers, academics and industry constantly face the dilemma of short-term demand versus long-term sustainability needs, which creates conflicts of interest. At the same time, the needs in one part of the world might be very different from those elsewhere. All these issues are part of one challenge – sustainable mobility. Therefore, there is a need to identify any gaps in current planning guidelines for sustainable personal mobility.

The present article examines three diverse examples of urban mobility plan guidelines: Stockholm, Johannesburg and UN-HABITAT, and identifies gaps in relation to rapid transitions towards a principled definition of sustainability that has developed and tested over 20 years within the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) (Broman and Robèrt 2015). The principles include both the ecological and social sustainability perspectives. They are designed to be used for “backcasting from a principle-framed vision” and act as boundary conditions for sustainable solutions. The principles state that (Broman and Robèrt 2015):

“in a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing

1. concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (principle 1)

2. concentrations of substances produced by society (principle 2)

3. degradation by physical means (principle 3);

and, in that society, people are not subject to structural obstacles to

4. health (principle 4),

5. influence (principle 5),

6. competence (principle 6),

7. impartiality (principle 7), and

8. meaning-making (principle 8).”

The analysis of the case studies finds that the sustainability principles are reflected in the guidelines to differing extents. None of the cases systematically considers increasing concentrations of substances in the biosphere as a requirement for sustainability (principle 1). Construction and renovation, included in the planning process, might require extraction of minerals, which leads to indirectly associated emissions (principles 1 and 2). For example, the Johannesburg and UN-HABITAT cases promote electrification of transportation systems but do not include all the sustainability problems that associated resource depletion from lithium extraction would require. Meanwhile the Stockholm case has ambitious infrastructure development plans without sustainably managed resource use. In addition, the Stockholm case has a time frame until 2030, while the other two cases do not, which might have affected the aspects taken into consideration. Moreover, none of the cases mentions the need rapid transition, meaning that strategic prioritization criteria still constitute a blind spot.

Key words: sustainability, transportation, personal mobility, fast transition, sustainability principles, systems approach, context-based approach


Broman, Göran Ingvar, and Karl-Henrik Robèrt. “A framework for strategic sustainable development.” Journal of Cleaner Production, October 26, 2015: 1-15.

Simon, David, et al. “Developing and testing the Urban Sustainable Development Goal’s targets and indicators – a five-city study.” Environment & Urbanization, April 2016: 49-63.

UN. Sustainable Development Goals. n.d. (accessed October 14, 2016).