E-bikes, cargo bikes, mopeds, shared mobility: new modes of transport, combined with traditional ones like trams, buses and metro, today offer urban travellers a wealth of options that were unthinkable only a decade ago. When moving from point A to point B, users are spoilt for choice.
To help travellers decide what best fits their needs, multimodal mobility route planners help to make sense of all those options; they do so by providing a digital list of transport modes for each given journey, often in combination with each other. For example, pairing a train and a shared bike might be the best option to avoid car traffic on the way to the city centre.
Although digital, multimodal mobility is yet to be adopted on a wide scale, in recent years a group of European cities have boosted this sector’s expansion with trailblazing schemes.
Antwerp is one of them, together with Vienna, Helsinki, Hannover and Milan.
No wonder, then, that in just a few weeks Antwerp will host this year’s Eurocities Mobility Forum. The ‘Smart Ways to Net Zero’ event will run from 16 to 18 November in Belgium’s second-largest city, gathering European Commission and city officials, policy makers, mobility experts and practitioners alike.
“Antwerp is part of the 100 Climate-neutral and smart cities and boasts award-winning actions on transport innovation, so it will be the perfect host of the Eurocities mobility forum ,” André Sobczak, Eurocities Secretary General says.
“Antwerp’s digital mobility model shows that there’s a smart way to reaching net zero emissions while providing user-friendly services to residents. The Eurocities Mobility Forum will be an unparalleled opportunity for urban leaders to come together and discuss the green and digital mobility transitions of the future,” Sobczak adds.
What a journey
In 2017 Antwerp reached an important milestone in its multimodal journey with the ‘Alliance for the future’, an agreement between different partners to offer better mobility options and improve life quality in the Antwerp region. The initiative laid the foundations for a shift towards sustainable transport modes and led to the ‘Routeplan 2030’ regional mobility plan.
Antwerp continued in this path with the ‘Big Link’ project for the completion of Antwerp’s ring road and to provide a green lung in the city.
In anticipation of ‘Big Link’ road works that were expected to cause a major rerouting of local traffic, Antwerp launched ‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’. The programme’s goal was to keep road users informed and help them to avoid disruptions by offering alternative routes to all road users.
Six years on, ‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’ now boasts its own namesake website, mobile app and route planner; today not only do they guide travellers through road works and traffic but also inspire them to opt for sustainable and active travel.
“In Antwerp we try to give users a positive message: ‘We have a lot of alternatives, feel free to try them and experience the benefits of multimodality yourself’. Of course we have to be ready to offer these options, and this implies investing in what I like to call the hardware and software of modern mobility,” says Koen Kennis, Deputy Mayor of Antwerp and Mobility Chief.
“The hardware: infrastructure such as comfortable bicycle lanes, low-emission zones, pedestrian areas, bike parking, shared mobility, transport hubs. The software: stimulate integration of mobility providers with Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms, support data exchanges, etc. The final goal should be a seamless journey experience,” Kennis adds.
How it works
‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’ hinges on a digital route planner, its main feature. If you want to take a journey from the Grote Markt tourist landmark to the residential Thonetlaan, for example, the tool will display all possible routes, including a combination of transport modes available for this journey.
Would you like to keep in shape and burn as many calories as possible? Then you can choose the ‘Most Active’ journey and walk for 1.4 kilometres. Getting to your destination this way will allow you to burn 92 calories, though it will take you a bit longer (22 minutes).
If you’re in a hurry, instead, cycle to Thonetlaan in just 10 minutes and burn 91 calories. Not a bad choice for staying active either.
And if you’d rather get there by other means of transport, the route planner has eight other suggestions to reach Thonetlaan by tram, scooter, bus, train, private car, or a combination of them.
The ‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’ route planner bears all the hallmarks of digital and integrated mobility. Like other similar schemes, shared mobility is an essential element of this model and proposes easy alternatives to people who wish to opt out of their cars. In the Belgian city, the offer includes 4,596 shared bikes, 2,900 e-scooters and 500 electric mopeds.
Leading by example
Such rich variety is possible thanks to a partnership between the municipality and 134 shared mobility providers and private entrepreneurs.
In addition, ‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’ works with companies to devise customised solutions and coax employees to cycle or take public transport to work, in a further boost to active and sustainable mobility.
Backed by the European Commission and the Flemish government, ‘Smart Ways to Antwerp’ won the 2019 CIVITAS Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement Award, one of Europe’s most prestigious prizes for clean and sustainable mobility. That same year, Antwerp was awarded the Eurocities award for its ‘Big Link’ project.
In addition, Antwerp is a participating city of SCALE-UP, a digital mobility project to optimise international transport connections and adopt climate enhancing initiatives against congestion, noise and air quality.
Efforts yield results
The pandemic further contributed to reshaping Antwerp’s mobility landscape, accelerating a shift to cycling that was nevertheless a decade in the making.
Data points to a steady decrease in car use as residents swapped their fossil-fuelled vehicles for bikes.
A 2010-2020 Antwerp mobility report shows that while the number of those travelling by car and public transport went down, cycling uptake ramped up by up to 13%.
Today, 34.1% of people cycle to work, almost as many as those reaching their workplace by car (35%), an enviable sustainable mobility success.
By weaving a web of infrastructural changes, the municipality helped to upsurge local cycling uptake and convinced many locals to opt for clean modes of transport. New bike stands, the extension of tram lines, e-vehicles charging points, and the promotion of shared mobility all contributed to making active and green travel convenient and safer.
Antwerp now boasts 576 kilometres of cycling paths and 741 kilometres of ‘slow roads’ where motor vehicles are not allowed, 32 neighbourhood car parks as well as 2,385 spaces in park and ride facilities.
A Eurocities flagship event
Digital and integrated mobility will feature high on the 2022 Eurocities Mobility Forum agenda, including electromobility, sustainable urban logistics, multimodal hubs as well as partner engagement in co-creation and co-design. The “Towards a seamless journey experience via digitalisation” debate will be one of highlights of the first day and will be moderated by a European Commission official.
On 17 November, participants will have a unique chance to explore Antwerp’s digital and integrated mobility solutions with a mobility safari study visit.
To learn more, click on the link for the 2022 Eurocities Mobility Forum Agenda