Triple Access Planning

Navigating the path to sustainable urban mobility: insights from a conversation with UK practitioners

By Daniela Paddeu, Glenn Lyons, and Kiron Chatterjee, UWE Bristol

Addressing global climate change is not just a stock phrase; it is a call to action that resonates deeply with the challenges and aspirations faced by urban mobility planners.

We interviewed 23 practitioners between September 2022 and February 2023 to understand their perspective on the past, the present, and the future of urban mobility in the UK. These were predominantly transport planners, with some spatial planners, and a few planners who were looking at the role of digital services. Although all involved in planning in their current work, they had a wide variety of educational backgrounds and experience. We used the ‘Seven Questions’ interview method, which is designed to be thought provoking and to allow interviewees flexibility in responding while taking them on a ‘thought journey’ between the past, present, and future.

What have we learned?

Exploring the perspectives of practitioners allowed us to identify some pathways to a vision of success for urban mobility planning. We identified key themes, including transport decarbonisation, accessibility to opportunities, travel behaviours, transport system characteristics, urban environment design, mindsets of the public and politicians, and governance and technical processes.

The urgent need to decarbonise transport, while providing equitable access.

Transport decarbonisation came out as a strong theme across all practitioners. It is not just about ‘hitting net-zero decarbonisation targets’. It is about understanding how to achieve ‘intelligent decarbonisation’. This means that we should promote more equitable and effective ways of encouraging active travel and placemaking to enhance local service accessibility. We need to provide evidence that sustainable measures produce environmental and social benefit, and we should engage with the public to increase acceptance of carbon reduction schemes. To do so, recognising that we need to overcome public reluctance and empower local authorities are crucial steps.

It is not only about decarbonisation though. Success in urban mobility planning should be measured by ensuring the population has sufficient accessibility to opportunities. This includes the need for transport to contribute to good quality, equitable access to goods, services, and opportunities. The Triple Access System concept, encompassing mobility, proximity, and digital access, was highlighted by practitioners as a valuable tool for prioritising areas in need of better accessibility.

The impact of digital access, accentuated by the rise in home working and online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic, can be another key tool to increase urban accessibility. Reducing the need for travel, while enabling people to (virtually) undertake activities, will support transport decarbonisation, and increase urban accessibility. However, despite the importance of digital connectivity, physical mobility is still seen as playing a crucial role in people’s lives.

The vision of success among practitioners often focused on the need for a shift in travel behaviour and patterns, emphasising a reduction in car use and an increase in active travel and public transport. This would not only help achieve carbon reduction targets but also address other issues such as congestion, air quality, health, and liveability of urban areas. Modal shift can here play an important role. We will need to design appropriate and effective modal shift strategies. This can include, on the one hand, the adoption of a model hierarchy favouring pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport. On the other hand, we will need to understand how to reduce the use of car with stick measures (e.g., traffic restrictions) and explain what the social benefits are to the population. This could be accelerated by engaging with local developers to create low-car developments. An ideal transport system was described as one that offers a real choice of alternatives to the car, promoting multimodality, which will be enabled through the integration of various transport modes through concepts like Mobility as a Service.

The way we design our urban space to maximise access to places, goods, and opportunities.

Another important factor to achieve the success of urban mobility planning would be designing the urban environment in a way that limits the need to use motorised transport, as we can access everything we need walking or cycling (or online). We will need to create places that are liveable, walkable, and pleasant, where residents can meet most of their needs locally, reducing the need for private car ownership. The 20 Minute Neighbourhood concept was seen as being a powerful concept but will require improved road safety to support active travel. Success in urban mobility planning was described in terms of developments that prioritise safe walking and cycling.

It is rather unfortunate that the ‘20 Minute Neighbourhood’ concept has been weaponised as part of current so-called culture wars. A commonly mentioned necessity for change in our interviews was the transformation of mindsets among the public and politicians. It is important to win hearts and minds to encourage people to adapt and change their behaviours. To achieve this, communication, education, and changing the narrative to emphasise positive aspects and social benefits of sustainable transport are key. It is not just about the public. A change in the mindset of politicians is needed, whereby there is reduced influence of car drivers on political decisions. It becomes therefore important to improve consultation and to find new ways of engaging younger communities to achieve better public engagement.

Key take aways from the interviews

With this blog we wanted to share some insights from practitioners’ hopes and fears about achieving their vision of success for urban mobility planning. All the practitioners that we interviewed acknowledged that power in the UK is very centralised, and the relationship between central government and local government in decision-making processes and financial support are key threats to future success. There should be a greater devolution of power and funding to local governments, providing them with more autonomy to implement effective plans. In particular, longer-term funding settlements and improvements in the transport appraisal process could enhance the efficiency of local authorities in supporting public transport services. Cross-sector collaboration, a long-term perspective, appropriate funding, and political agency become essential for successful urban mobility planning.

The conversations we had with practitioners shed light on the multifaceted challenges and aspirations within urban mobility planning. The Sisyphean nature of urban mobility planning, coupled with new catalysts for change such as the climate emergency, deep uncertainty, and digital accessibility, presents both opportunities and challenges. This has been a deep learning experience for us, and we received a strong message about the need for collaborative efforts, a long-term perspective, effective communication, and a balance between technological innovation and evolutionary planning. As practitioners navigate the complex landscape of urban mobility planning, the blog calls for a collective effort to address the pressing issues and move towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Triple Access Planning

System Thinking: a powerful tool to Triple Access Planning

I have been working as a researcher in sustainable transport and new technologies for the last seven years, and in the last couple of years I had the opportunity to work on research projects that explored the future of transport systems, including the role of digitalisation, new technologies and decarbonisation. I was therefore very excited when I was offered the opportunity to work in the Triple Access Planning (TAP) for Uncertain Futures project.

My first task as part of the research team at the University of the West of England (UK) was to design and develop a tool to support Triple Access Planning. I was told we were going to use System Thinking to better understand the interconnections affecting accessing access in urban areas between the Transport system and the Telecommunication and Land Use system. Therefore, I did some research to understand better what that meant in practice.

I asked myself: “What is a system?”, and I found a very nice definition by Donella Meadows, who says that a system is “a set of elements or parts interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time”. I was quite happy with this definition, as I had been introduced to Transport Systems when I started my master’s in Transport Engineering, and I learned how a transport system and the internal relationships among its components can be dynamic, complex, and influenced by a series of internal and external factors (or systems). This might sound very complicated, but it is fundamental to understand how to design a better, more efficient, inclusive, and cleaner transport system in the future.

With system thinking I learned that it is possible to understand why and how systems behave the way they do, and how it can be used to communicate and share expertise with local experts and planners. Barry Richmond talked about “System thinking” already in 1987, suggesting it can be used to analyse and explain complex interdependencies. The literature does not provide a unique definition, but rather a range of different descriptions of what “system thinking” is, and this underlines its high complexity. To simplify it in a few words, we can say that it is a system of thinking about systems.

When we use system thinking, we need to consider:

  • Elements, components, or variables, which characterise the system.
  • Interconnections, relationships, or flows, between the elements, highlighting dependencies.
  • A purpose, which is the most important thing we need to have clear when we decide to use system thinking, as this will guide us in understanding how the system behaves.

There are several tools that we can use to apply system thinking, including Network Analysis, System Dynamics, Logic Mapping, Viable System Mapping, Cognitive Mapping, Theory of Change, Soft Systems Methodology, Agent-Based Modelling, and Causal Loop Diagrams.

We wanted to co-design with the project partners (e.g., academics and practitioners) a system of systems that included the Transport System, the Telecommunication System and the Land Use System. Due to the nature of the research we decided to use the Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) method, as it is very helpful when you want to transfer and visualise the variables (and their relationships) that you already have in your mind in a diagram. CLDs use only two elements: variables (indicated with their names) and causal links (indicated by arrows). The (direct/indirect) nature of the relationships between variables is indicated by a positive or negative sign.

Figure 1. Example of loops from the diagram we co-designed at the workshop series.

In addition, the CLD allows to identify feedback loops and priority areas where to start/focus and therefore design a strategy. We found that this is a very powerful tool when you want to work on system thinking with experts who speak different “languages” (e.g., academics, practitioners, transport planners and local authorities). This is why system thinking and CLDs can be used by practitioners and transport planners to explore how the bigger-picture dynamics can change when some parts of the system change.

Across five online multi-stakeholder workshops with the TAP partners we have considered a range of variables with different natures (e.g., Congestion, Land Use Diversity, Homeworking), all interconnected within the three sub systems (Transport, Telecommunication and Land Use) to compose the Triple Access System. System Thinking was completely new to most of the participants, so we ran a first workshop to allow them to familiarise with the concept. First reactions from some participants were something like “Why am I here?”, “What are they asking me to do?”, “I don’t feel I have the right expertise to do this”, and this is why having a well-designed whiteboard and a good moderator are crucial.

All things considered, I have gathered some tips to use System Thinking in the future:

  • Identify stakeholders– including transport practitioners, city planners, local authorities and academics/experts. It does not matter if they have little (or no) experience in system thinking, as you will oversee the process, making them feel comfortable when you are running your workshop(s). It is important that they are varied and have a role in influencing the system.
  • Think about access – not only transport issues and solutions. Transport is a derived demand, so we should move beyond ‘only considering transport solutions for transport problems’ and consider other additional solutions, as transport solutions may not be the only recourse to addressing transport problems. This include the strong link between transport and land use, but also other solutions within the broader concept of urban accessibility.
  • Consider the key role of Digital Connectivity in the future of urban accessibility – especially with virtual mobility replacing physical mobility to fulfil urban access needs. This “third leg” has been largely ignored in transport planning so far, but it is increasingly finding its space in changing the way people access and move in an urban area.
  • Think about the Triple Access System – try to understand how variables are related to each other and how the system behaves in order to design a sustainable urban mobility plan.
  • Keep it simple – understandable by experts and non-experts, and easy to use – avoid ambiguity when you define a variable, which would only unnecessarily increase complexity, and try to keep simple relationships among variables, avoiding direct connections when indirect connections are possible.
  • Be patient – take your time and do not feel rushed to find a conclusion quickly. TAP is an approach to visualise and communicate what our minds think urban accessibility is. It can therefore support researchers, practitioners and transport and city planners to better think what the system is, and at the same time to understand what implications a specific measure can have. It is therefore important to gather a good understanding of how the smaller issues/relationships/sub-components contribute to the bigger picture.

Thinking together added incredible value to our understanding of what Triple Access System means and how the sub-systems can interact to each other’s in a complex and uncertain future world.

I hope this post helped you understanding how the power of system thinking can support us in future transport planning. If you liked this post or have any questions/comments or other resources to share, please contact me at


Daniela Paddeu is Senior Research Fellow in Transport Studies at UWE Bristol, and a member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures project team.