SUMPthing to be proud of: insights from the City of Aachen

Picture of Aachen's city centre, including its cathedral, with green hills in the background.

The German City of Aachen has long been a source of inspiration for mobility practitioners, thanks, in part, to their exceptional Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) approach, and to their commitment to urban mobility transformation. The city was recognised as a runner-up for CIVITAS Awards in 2016, 2018 and 2020, and won the prestigious “Transformation Award” at the CIVITAS Awards 2021.

There is much that others can learn from Aachen and its longstanding commitment to mobility transformation. This is why the city was recently profiled as a CIVITAS Success Story, and hosted the CIVITAS Forum 2021, which took place this October.

Over the last several months, insights on the efforts made to transform the City's urban mobility were captured through conversations with City of Aachen representatives, including with Julia Scholtes, Project Lead, #AachenMooVe!, City of Aachen. Insights from those conversations follow.

What makes Aachen’s SUMP so impactful?

Aachen’s SUMP is unique in a number of inspirational ways. First, Aachen treats its SUMP as a cyclical process, which includes assessing the situation, setting targets, planning, making decisions, organising, implementing, and then beginning again with assessing. In this way, SUMP implementation is always ongoing. Second, Aachen’s SUMP is equipped with 25 measurable indicators – including quantitative and qualitative indicators. This is critical to the city being able to monitor its progress.

What does the SUMP actually look like?

Aachen’s strategies are underpinned by six core sustainable mobility goals:

  1. Short distances
  2. Road safety
  3. Environment-friendly and social mobility
  4. Accessibility
  5. Reliable and comfortable mobility services
  6. Efficient and affordable mobility

Let’s explore these a bit further. Aachen is a medieval city, which helps explain why it has a dense urban core. The city aims to take full advantage of these short distances, and to maintain this character moving forward, as this will encourage locals to make use of more sustainable modes – like walking, cycling and public transportation. In fact, Aachen aims to have these sustainable modes dominate all trips under 5 kms.

Increasing walking and cycling is invariably linked to road safety. On the one hand, pedestrians and cyclists are particularly vulnerable road users, so efforts to increase walking and cycling must be accompanied by concerted efforts to ensure their safety. On the other hand, reducing car traffic has a clear impact on reducing road deaths. Through its SUMP, Aachen aims to achieve zero deaths from road accidents.

In fact, reducing car traffic has a number of positive knock-on effects. It not only reduces road deaths, but also contributes to more environmentally-friendly and social mobility and neighbourhoods. Sustainable urban mobility means a reduction in air pollution and noise, and an increase in ‘social mobility’ options – like walking, cycling and public transportation – which foster senses of community amongst neighbours, and enable commuters to form social relationships.

In order to meet ambitious urban mobility goals, sustainable modes must be accessible for all people. This must include oft overlooked groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. Furthermore, Aachen aims not only to have accessible mobility services, but to have accessible, reliable and comfortable services. This means ensuring high quality infrastructure – spanning roads, footpaths, shared bicycles, buses, and more – as well as punctual public transportation. Walking, cycling and public transportation must be viable and comfortable options for all: even those who are running to an important engagement and must be sure that their bus will run on time, or that their bicycle lane will be safely paved.

Finally, mobility in Aachen must become even more efficient and affordable. Currently, the city has just over one person on average in each car. This is a wholly inefficient use of the road and of vehicles. Strategic pricing can help ensure that it is more economically efficient to, for example, take a bus rather than park your car. Plus, making sustainable modes more affordable will not only improve the efficiency of Aachen’s transport system, but is also the just thing to do, ensuring that all people are able to freely commute in the city, regardless of their income level.

Generally speaking, so much of sustainable urban mobility in Aachen comes down to improved quality of life: whether through cleaner air, more social commutes, more reliable transport, or more affordability.

Breaking down borders

Aachen also provides us with an example of how working across borders – both internal and external – is essential to making a city's mobility system work.

Ms. Scholtes attributes much of Aachen's success to the fact that the city's various departments have really come together around the goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2030. This has served to break down political silos to ensure collaboration to create sustainable streets, mobility and transport. As she puts it:

"We have managed to get really good integration between the Environmental and the Mobility Departments within the city administration, through our common goals of climate neutrality and environmentally-friendly traffic. This very good interaction between these two departments helps a lot in implementing all kinds of measures."

Furthermore, due to its unique geographic location at the intersection of three European countries, Aachen has had to learn to work not only between internal city departments, but even across national boundaries. Taking this wider, regional perspective is essential. As Stefan Jücker, Planning, Mobility & Climate Councillor, StädteRegion Aachen put it at the CIVITAS Forum:

"Mobility does not end at borders. Citizens don't want to be confined by politics, they just want to go."


To learn more about Aachen’s work, including watching the interview with Julia Scholtes that primarily informed this article, explore Aachen’s CIVITAS Success Story at:

Author: Adrienne Kotler




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