Turning Varna into a sustainable mobility and tourism city

Impact StoriesELEVATE

Image of new bicycle garage in Varna

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented sustainable neighbourhood planning and SUMP solutions, both as news items, and later in a podcast episode, compilation publication and infographic.

This story examines professional coaching offered as part of the PROSPERITY project, which looked at ‘closing the gap’ between the needs and demands of the cities developing and implementing SUMPs, and those of higher administrative institutions, whose support is required to prepare and support SUMP programmes. This was done through a unique, facilitated approach to involvement and activation.

Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories



One hundred years ago, the Bulgarian city of Varna was declared a “seaside city resort”, and now it is both a tourism city and a sustainable mobility city.

Local context

In the years following Varna's declared title as a “seaside city resort,” the city experienced years of war and the progressive decline of its commercial seaport. Now, however, this identity has made the city one of the most famous European tourist destinations.

The official Decree signed by the local government at that time set out a vision that: “Nature itself, with the beauty of the area, shows and dictates the direction of stable and beneficial development.”

Varna is the second largest city in Bulgaria with a population of nearly 350,000 residents. Local policy makers have fully committed to sustainable mobility principles. City officials and policy makers are keen to create an attractive, fast and accessible public transport system, to deploy technological solutions for traffic management, and to further expand cycling infrastructure, all with the vision of improving quality of life for locals, and strengthening tourism.

In this context, Varna received support from CIVITAS PROSPERITY to develop its first SUMP.


Thanks to support provided during three coaching sessions with CIVITAS experts, Varna’s local SUMP process has now been presented, discussed, analysed and taken up as part of the city’s organisation and ongoing programme to improve transport infrastructures and sustainable mobility.

A number of measures previously planned within the Varna Integrated Urban Transport Project – a strategy funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – were being implemented when the city joined PROSPERITY, which led them to rather request that the project support them with coordination and analysis of ongoing activities to ensure their consistency and coherence. Furthermore, Varna felt they lacked knowledge to fully put the SUMP planning cycle into practice, and sought support to build-up a motivated working group to prepare upcoming SUMP phases.

As a first step, a Bulgarian version of the EU SUMP Guidelines was provided and used as a main source text.

During the preparatory activities and before each coaching session, a number of interviews were carried out by PROSPERITY coaches, which ensured a tailored approach to coaching, informed by the specific needs raised by the city and the public companies working on mobility and traffic management.

Next, coaches analysed Varna’s vast sustainable mobility materials and resources, such as its planning processes, demographics of car ownership, public transport scheme, master plan, integrated plan for reconstruction and development with its traffic and road infrastructure plans, and cycling network. Information on prior stakeholder involvement was also collected and discussed with a newly established sustainable mobility working group. Further details on the real functioning of Varna’s mobility system were also analysed “live” during technical site visits.

Varna’s SUMP

The city already had a well-extended and newly built cycling network in addition to numerous walking and cycling paths along the Sea Garden, an iconic Varna landmark, which is the largest landscaped park in the Balkans and serves as a green and protected entry to the sea. Several on-street bike garages were also already installed. However, there remained relatively few cyclists on the streets.

The city also has a well-connected and well-used public transport network, including newly purchased trolleybuses, and plans for a new bus rapid transport system. The city has also a good info-mobility system managed via a dedicated smartphone app.

With all of this sustainable infrastructure in place, the decision was thus made for Varna’s SUMP to focus on so-called ‘soft measures’ that lead to behaviour change such that people make more use of sustainable mobility infrastructure and increase its modal share. This included, for example, making walking distances more evident, with clear signage and wide-reaching communication materials.

In addition, Varna has experienced distinct challenges, including sidewalks in bad conditions and often occupied by cars, as well as a new paid parking scheme that was not interlinked with other parking or park&ride options. New sustainable mobility options were not sufficiently highlighted in communication materials, and their advantages not always disseminated. The city also saw a need to work on creating an “active mobility culture”.


Following each PROSPERITY activity and coaching session, summaries and next steps were compiled as homework.

The coaching sessions helped Varna’s SUMP team assess the impact of their long-term vision and strategic documents and plans. They learned how to prepare a baseline analysis and to develop a common vision with stakeholders. Challenges and opportunities were discussed and collaborative work was carried out on how to set objectives, targets and to articulate packages of measures. A number of actions emerged as fundamental for the implementation of, for example, the new parking strategy, particularly focusing on stakeholder involvement and communication.

Other measures and activities that will be part of an upcoming SUMP include: the reclamation of port authority areas and facilities; the construction of a bridge across the lake of Varna, the initiation of a second Sea Garden; and a new 40 km cycling route.

PROSPERITY provided the city with locally-specific guidance to help them govern the SUMP process. Varna is now ready to take this work forward, and to spread their achievement to other Bulgarian cities.

Further reading



Photo Credits

Cosimo Chiffi
Visit Varna



Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories




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