As part of Climate KIC’s "Pioneers" program, I worked for a month at the Sustainable Mobility office in Wroclaw, in Poland. The office is focused on ​​transport modeling, so it’s in charge of collecting real data on flows and citizens’ travel behavior, and using them to predict future situations in the road network. At the time of my visit, they were planning the new complex mobility study, which includes the general survey (in person and virtual), digital and manual counting, and big data collection. We also made several modeling of future scenarios taking into account some infrastructure works that are planned for the coming years.

Wroclaw, with a little more than 600,000 inhabitants, has a big challenge: to reduce congestion. It’s a car and suburb loving city. All the roads that leave from the city usually have congestion every day at rush hour, there is not enough access by train to suburban neighborhoods, and, although a good job has been done to ban free parking in the center, in the rest of the city car users can park where they please. Looking back on history, this is a country that came out of communism a little more than 20 years ago, therefore people perceive having a car as a symbol of freedom and self-determination, something that previously they could only imagine. The Sustainable Mobility Office of the Municipality faces a challenge that is not at all negligible.

To evaluate past interventions and develop future strategies, we worked in the planning of the complex mobility study. For this we made a comparison of studies in different cities, including Barcelona and Warsaw. The Municipality of Wroclaw was drafting the tender, so it was time to add or remove elements according to the lessons learned in other contexts. It was interesting to see how cultural differences have an influence on this type of study, for instance, while in Barcelona the mobility survey is done by telephone, in Poland it must be done face-to-face because there is no culture of answering anything by phone. Of course this causes costs to rise in a study that is already quite expensive to begin with. Attempts are being made to collect information through virtual surveys, but the reliability of the data is still uncertain. And as if that was not enough, previously bidding was declared void for bureaucratic issues and lack of budget, which in turn generates more costs by launching a second contest.

We also prepared a comparative study of possible future scenarios for 2019, 2025, 2030 and 2050, based on the new infrastructure works that are being executed and are planned for the coming years. Basically it’s about expanding and completing the road ring that will decongest the center, and remove the elevated infrastructure that divides the city. For this we used the PTV Visum tool from the German developer PTV Group, a powerful tool that is now getting quite popular in several cities. What still represents a threat to a more realistic model, is the inclusion of non-motorized means of transportation. The challenge may come from the lack of data that the city may have, or from the lack of reliability in the software to deal with human movements that do not follow a necessarily predictable pattern. There is a lot of discussion about how to collect more accurate and reliable bicycle and walkability data to be included in the model, and thus be able to design taking into account all actors and all means, but so far few cities have managed to obtain important results in this regard.

During my stay there was a conference called Divercity, which brought together several influential experts from the region. One of the field trips was a bicycle tour around Wroclaw pointing out the advances of cycling infrastructure. Wroclaw is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Poland, thanks in part to the great activist network that has fueled its growth. The person in charge of the bicycle at the Municipality comes from the strongest group of activists, which means that a permanent link between the public administration and citizens' interests is maintained. That is reflected in the infrastructure; In spite of having bike lanes where the perception of safety is non-existent (even for an experienced urban cyclist), they have managed to optimize resources and, with a little creativity, have achieved an interesting cycling infrastructure (see photos below).

Short but interesting experience of working in a car-loving city, from the public administration perception. It is clear that the challenge is not easy and that our cities do what they can to solve the problems in the best way, but it is also very noticeable that lack of innovation and a bureaucratic administration can be large obstacles to moving ahead. I want to give a special recognition to the admirable work that the women are doing in the Office of Sustainable Mobility; without their contribution, it would be much harder and slower to achieve any result.