Equitable accessibility to the sustainable city: insights from geographic analysis and open data

Friday 29.4 at 10.00–11.30

The accessibility of sports facilities: various dimensions of accessibility and how to apply them in planning 

Marisofia Nurmi & Petteri Muukkonen, University of Helsinki

Municipalities in Finland are obligated to offer possibilities for sports and exercise. Promoting and enhancing residents’ possibilities for physically active life is also a way to prevent social exclusion, and to build socially more sustainable communities. Good accessibility of everyday services (including physical activity environments) by active travel modes enhances also environmentally sustainable lifestyles in cities. However, there are many challenges that municipalities face when trying to manage and promote equal accessibility of sports facilities and physical activity environments. How is accessibility defined? What kind of information is needed, and which aspects should be considered in the planning of sports facilities and services?

Accessibility in geographical research is usually approached from a spatial accessibility perspective, based on distance, travel time or travel costs between home and the destination(s). This spatial accessibility has also been adopted widely in the planning of sports facilities. Other widely recognised dimensions of accessibility are related to the physical accessibility of facilities for people with limited physical abilities. However, when it comes to examining equality of access to sports facilities, other important dimensions of accessibility emerge, including social dimension.

In this presentation, we will discuss different dimensions of accessibility identified in interdisciplinary discussions as part of the research project Equality in suburban physical activity environments (Yhdenvertainen liikunnallinen lähiö, YLLI). Secondly, we will present an example from our co-creation process with cities, with an aim to develop knowledge-based management and equality measures in sports planning.

Urban everyday mobilities in later life 

Henna Luoma-Halkola, Tampere University

In my doctoral research, I study older persons’ urban everyday mobilities with qualitative research methods. I explore what kind of meanings mobility has in later life and how older persons negotiate their socio-material surroundings when they organize their everyday mobilities. One central case I have scrutinized involves a dial-a-ride bus service that provides door-to-door transport for people with mobility restrictions. I have made interviews and go-alongs (shared bus trips) with dial-a-ride bus users who have used the service regularly for several years. Drawing from the actor-network theory, the findings provide very detailed understanding about how the participants navigated in their local environments during their everyday bus journeys, including how they utilized a wide range of know-how accumulated over the years that helped them to anticipate and overcome barriers. The findings also make visible diverse things that shaped the bus journeys, such as social norms and rules, people, weather conditions and technical devices. Moreover, they highlight the participants’ considerable local expertise and the ways in which they had actively shaped their living environments – emphasizing the need to engage older persons with various mobility restrictions into urban planning processes. Finally, the findings also shed light on the manifold meanings of mobility in old age that can inform the development of supportive living environments and transport services. In my presentation, I will focus on outlining these main findings and reflect their implications on accessibility related to sustainable forms of mobility.

Active transportation policy and practice in the city of Oulu from 1998 to 2016 – A mixed methods study 

Mikko Kärmeniemi, University of Oulu

Land use and transportation policies are recognized globally as major sources of physical inactivity, but there is a gap between research and policy implementation. Successful research translation requires context-specific, policy-relevant evidence of the implementation of local policies. Our objective was to produce an integrated view of community planning policies and the association between urban form characteristics and transportation mode choices in the city of Oulu from 1998 to 2016.

This mixed methods study was conducted in Finland and combined both quantitative and qualitative data. Publicly available policy documents related to land use and transportation planning strategies were derived from the web pages and archives of the city of Oulu and analyzed with document analysis. Generalized linear mixed models were used to study the association between urban form development and transportation mode choice.

Increasing density and diversity of the urban form, emphasizing active transportation and developing the city center were highlighted in the community and transportation planning policies. In practice, urban form development focused on the inner city, but in the outer urban area and urban fringe sprawl and car dependency increased. Increases in density, mix and access networks were associated with increased walking and cycling, and decreased car use, but not with the use of public transportation. Overall, the active transportation mode share decreased by 2 percentage points during the follow-up.

Increased urban form density, functional mix and access networks were associated with increased active transportation mode choice. Even though development in these factors were set as policy goals, community planning outcomes were not fully in line with them and no consensus was established in order to limit the dominance of private motor vehicles. Decreased active transportation mode share might have been due to inadequately assessed functional mix outside the inner city, increased urban sprawl and building more capacity for cars. In the future, stronger political leadership, increased density, better access to nearby services combined with investments in public transportation are required to meet the policy goals.

Accessibility modelling beyond the average person: an age-aware travel time matrix 

Christoph Fink, Elias Willberg & Tuuli Toivonen, University of Helsinki

Accessibility has been widely accepted as a primary indicator for the quality of urban mobility (Handy, 2020), and travel time matrices have proven an invaluable instrument to assess accessibility at an urban scale (Tenkanen & Toivonen, 2020). Travel time matrices, spatial data sets of the travel costs (e.g., time, but also emissions or pleasantness to the traveller) between a complete set of origins and destinations in a city, have improved over the years: with efficient and versatile routing algorithms and powerful computing infrastructure, models now take into consideration and compare different modes of transport (Salonen & Toivonen, 2013), and temporal dynamism (Järv et al., 2018).

However, differences between people’s mobility behaviour have not seen ample attention. All too often, models implicitly are tailored to an assumed ‘average resident’, and individual preferences and limitations are left unconsidered. In reality, people experience urban mobility in vastly different ways. An important proxy variable, that is also easily available to planners, is age: young adults walk fast, but often cannot drive a car; older adults and families with kids walk slower, have higher demands concerning the physical accessibility of infrastructure, and might favor routes with more amenities such as park benches or playgrounds for a rest on the way.

We present a multi-modal travel time matrix for Helsinki, and a tool chain to compute travel matrices from openly available data, that take into consideration the different capabilities, preferences, and requirements of people of different age. Our model design is informed by literature and by co-creation workshops held with residents of a core age group, older adults, and city administration workers. Our approach contributes to a better representation of real-life mobility in planning for equal and sustainable cities.

Enriching and scaling measures on sustainable travel environments with novel data and tools

Elias Willberg, University of Helsinki; Age Poom University of Tartu;  Christoph Fink, University of Helsinki; & Tuuli Toivonen, University of Helsinki

The essential role of travel environment in supporting or discouraging sustainable travel in cities has been increasingly recognized. The development of travel environments can provide planners and decision-makers a strong lever to support behavioral change towards active mobility, which is essential to reduce the environmental impact of transport and to promote public health. Yet measuring the quality and spatiotemporal variation of different travel environments, linking the quality measures with realized mobility data on urban scale analyses, and integrating those measures to urban frameworks, such as accessibility, has been challenging.

In this presentation, we provide empirical examples of our research that has sought to tackle above-mentioned challenges with the help of mobile big data and tools. These examples deal with 1) measuring the spatial variation of cyclists’ environmental exposure and the role of route choice in exposure improvement using bike-sharing data, street-view images, and environmentally-aware routing tool, 2) assessing the impact of seasonal variations in the quality of pedestrian environment on walking accessibility by combining street-level data collection campaign to open accessibility modelling, and 3) understanding how people’s perceptions of travel environment greenery correlate with modelled measures produced using various sources of data. We show how new data sources on active mobility and urban environments as well as open tools can support a more comprehensive understanding and measurement of travel environments and the integration of travel quality into the frameworks characterizing urban dynamics. We also discuss existing challenges and barriers in understanding and measuring the role of travel environments for sustainable urban mobility.