The transition towards the use of more sustainable mobility solutions needs an integrated and flexible approach, which is shown by the Spanish City of Gavà in the Gavà Mar area. Changing the behaviour of inhabitants takes time and effort to convince ánd listen to people. The rewards of the gradual change that took place are multiple: a better access to the beach, reduced noise and pollution levels, higher road safety and less emission of CO2.
Gavà is a city located close to the sea near Barcelona with several quarters. One, Gavà Mar, is at the seaside.
The residents of Gavà live 1 hour's walk from the beach area of Gavà Mar. Consequently, the most common method of transport to the beach has always been by car. With additional people visiting from nearby towns and cities, this resulted in overwhelmed parking areas and excessive traffic during the summer months. Local residents even had trouble getting in and out of their own houses. This caused a lot of complaints.
At the time, the city had 20.000-30.000 cars transiting daily across the town and only 2,500 parking spaces available.
In the summer of 2016, several initiatives on sustainable mobility were promoted to improve the situation in Gavà Mar. First, illegal parking was reduced by increasing police surveillance as well as limiting the number of vehicles that can access the city per day.
Secondly, the City Council reduced the use of private vehicles overall. This reduced noise, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017 Gavà’s City Council decided to start a campaign under the slogan "No hi donis més voltes: A la platja millor en bus o en bici", which means “Do not think further, going to the beach is better by public bus or cycling”. The campaign aims to reduce the concentration of private vehicles and increase the use of sustainable mobility by implementing 4 measures:
Public transport: The frequency of the main bus line to the beach was increased and was free on weekends and on public holidays to encourage its use.
Space for bicycles: New bicycle lanes were created, taking space away from private vehicles on the road from the centre of Gavà to Gavà Mar. The bicycle parking service in the Gavà Mar area was also reinforced by taking away space from private parking.
More space for pedestrians: Specific areas for pedestrians were created in the space gained with the creation of the cycle lanes. Further space was created to facilitate access to bus stops.
Parking: Parking spaces near the beach were marked in orange, and were exclusively for Gavà Mar residents or eco-vehicles. Specific car parks for non-resident vehicles were created close to the train station and at a Commercial Centre. Some shuttle buses were assigned to connect people to and from the beach to these two new parking areas. Traffic signs were placed on the access roads to Gavà Mar when the car park was full to reduce the entry of further vehicles and thereby avoided congestion, and pollution.
In addition to the challenge of implementing these measures with the minimum possible budget, the biggest challenge was to change the behaviour of the population and encourage them to cycle or use public transportation rather than drive to the beach.
Some measures were initially controversial but were eventually accepted.
Reducing the number of car lanes to install a cycle lane and widening the pedestrian area to improve walking in the streets near the beach was a very controversial decision that initially caused some anger from part of the population.
Implementing the orange zone to reduce the use of private vehicles was strongly opposed by shopkeepers and the restaurant sector. The fear was that their business would be affected. The city listened to those concerns and improved the situation with, for example, dedicating some parking slots in the orange area to restaurant users, even if they were not residents.
All the other measures were accepted by Gavà residents since their first implementation. The one that had the greatest acceptance was the free public transport.
Every year, the Council maintains and modifies the summer campaigns. The impact of the new measures introduced are studied, improved and extended annually. The Council meets with Gavà Mar residents at the beginning of the summer campaign to explain the measures to be carried out and at the end of the season in order to receive feedback.
Between 2019 and 2016, private car use was reduced by around 15% and the use of the free public transport line increased by 92%.
Changes in mobility behaviour are in general slow. Their acceptance and use depends on a change of habit. In this context, and in the face of an upward trend in the use of private vehicles, a lower acceptance was expected. The results show that the main objectives have been achieved – reduction of private vehicles and increase in the use of public transport causing a reduction of the pollution in the Gavà Mar area.
There are plans to reduce the number of vehicle lanes further to create wider pedestrian lanes and increase the number of cycle lanes. The implementation is not immediate to give citizens the time to gradually adapt to new habits.
The main benefits are a reduction in the use of private vehicles leading to a reduction in CO2 emissions and traffic pollution, greater road safety through wider pedestrian lanes and the move of the cycle lane to the road.
What was learned - what can be recommended
The city has learned to mobilise various stakeholders in a new way and it managed to improve results and implement new measures. A basic approach is to listen, learn and constantly adapt. This is why the city Council holds regular meetings with the Gavà Mar neighbours to hear their opinions and demands. This has allowed the project to evolve.
Gavà has found that implementing measures that may be controversial has to be accompanied by an active promotion followed by listening to neighbours and other stakeholders’ opinions. It is important to be flexible and to apply small modifications of the initial plan to prevent issues with neighbours and business owners in the area.
This is the reason why the recommendation of Gavà to similar cities is to be resilient but inclusive. It is also very important to explain plans in advance and to have the necessary budget to make the changes properly.
For more information, visit the Gavà Beach Mobility website.