The implementation gap- the case of accessibility instruments

Accessibility is an essential feature of a well-functioning city or urban region. In particular, the concept of accessibility provides a framework for understanding the reciprocal relationships between land use and the transportation system. Accessibility, however, encapsulates more than a measure of vehicle speed; it is a measure of opportunity or ease of access for people, with different attributes, to the activities they wish to engage in. The concept, thus, incorporates a focus on the proximity of origins to destinations, the concentration or spatiality of activities, the quality of mobility systems available to overcome spatial separation, and the perceptions, interests and preferences of people who live and work there. Such a framework has important potential advantages when transferred to the realm of urban planning.

Despite the large number of accessibility instruments available in the literature, they are not widely used to support urban and transportation planning practices. Transportation planning mainly focuses on the efficiency of the transport system itself and is only passively reacting to plans made by urban planners. In their turn, urban planners often fail to adequately incorporate knowledge about the functioning of transport systems. Such an approach neglects the influence of interventions in the transport system on broader and often conflicting economic, social and environmental goals. By keeping the accessibility language out of the practice level, older paradigms resist more informed approaches.

COST Action TU1002 seeks to find out why Accessibility Instruments are not more often used in urban and transportation planning practice and how to improve this. Accessibility Instruments have been around since the 1960s but practitioners do not appear to have found them useful or usable enough for addressing the tasks of sustainable urban management. This Action has brought together the developers of twenty–four Accessibility Instruments to work with land use and transport planning practitioners to explore how these instruments can play a more supportive role in enhancing accessibility in European cities and beyond.


These twenty–four Accessibility Instruments were gathered and analysed so as to understand in detail their characteristics, planning issues addressed and specific purposes. Accessibility Instrument developers’ perceived relevance for urban planning was assessed, while the Instruments’ strengths and weaknesses were identified.

This detailed overview on the status quo of Accessibility Instruments in Europe and beyond is assembled on the first report of this Action entitled Accessibility Instruments for Planning Practice. The focus was as well set on the local practitioners. The commitment to understand users’ view on the usability of the Accessibility Instruments was realized through a set of seventeen interactive workshops which took place around Europe and Australia.


The results of this second stage can be found in the second Report of this Action entitled Assessing Usability of Accessibility Instruments.

So what is the future of accessibility instruments?

This research intends to create value for both accessibility instrument developers and users. Instrument developers, need to have information on the planning context and tasks, and the skills and preferences of urban planning practitioners so that these characteristics can be reflected more effectively in existing and new instruments being developed. Potential instrument users, need to have a verification on how accessibility instruments can provide information on the appropriate and equitable level of service provision and have information on the impact of proposed urban and transportation planning decisions on the accessibility of people across their jurisdiction.

This post was written in collaboration with mr. Tiago Patatas, junior researcher, CITTA – Research Centre For Territory, Transports and Environment,  University of Oporto and mr. Ron Bos, University of Amsterdam

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