Lisbon puts pedestrians first –
why smart cities are inclusive cities

Pedro Alves Nave and Pedro Homem de Gouveia from the city of Lisbon

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Solving mobility issues in a city with over two million citizens is more than just building additional lanes and larger parking spaces or improving the signal timing for traffic lights. It is about providing a safe and inclusive environment for every citizen – whatever means of transport they choose. Taking this into account, the task is to put cycling and walking, the most common way of movement, on an equal level with motorised modes.

Pedro Homem de Gouveia, Coordinator of the Pedestrian Accessibility Plan Team, and Pedro Alves Nave, Associate Coordinator of the Pedestrian Accessibility Plan Team, both from the traffic department of Portugal’s capital, do not only share this vision, they have also developed concrete strategies and put them into practice – because a smart city is a city for everyone.

From car-centred to non-motorised mobility
Lisbon faces different challenges as a historic city with particularly narrow roads, a hilly topography and too little focus on non-motorised traffic. Especially during the second half of the 20th century, as car use increased, the city dedicated a significant portion of its narrow streets to car traffic and parking. Consequently, very little space was left for pedestrians, as the standard width of a sidewalk in Lisbon is almost non-existent and often narrower than a person’s forearm.

This has resulted in too many accidents, involving primarily children and elders because, very often, they have no choice, but walk on the street. If pedestrians then also need to use a wheelchair or any kind of walking aid or simply carry home two heavy bags full of groceries, the situation gets even worse. In short: road safety and accessibility are pressing issues. Especially with an aging population, almost a fourth is 65 years old and over, the city needs to act. In 2016 alone, the statistics of road accidents involving pedestrians show 735 pedestrians were hit by cars when crossing the street.

To take action, Lisbon joined the FLOW project, not only with the aim to reduce congestion, but also to put walking and cycling on an equal footing with motorised modes. By enabling people to walk freely, conveniently and safely, the city makes it easier for them to shift from cars to bikes or walking while also encouraging them to use public transport services. This brings additional improvements because emissions drop. This is why the project focuses on three concrete measures: longer green times allocated to pedestrians, adaptation and removal of pedestrian underpasses respectively overpasses and more pedestrian walkways as well as bike-only lanes.

In 2014, the city started to roll out the Pedestrian Accessibility Plan to reduce barriers for walkers. Its agenda includes a clear strategy with five operational areas that all focus on different key issues. But most importantly, city officials also listen to what the citizens of Lisbon have to say, particularly to those who are more vulnerable to accessibility barriers. By collecting input from them, the community gets to have a say as well.

But eliminating barriers does not only include physical obstacles. First and foremost, it is about altering the way Lisbon’s citizens and traffic officials approach the change that takes place right in front of their doorsteps. Shifting the car-centred mobility management to an inclusive, safe and effective infrastructure is a complex task. The ones with the loudest voices, in this case the car owners, might not necessarily agree to give up their privileges. They need to be encouraged to change their perspective by walking a mile in another citizen’s shoes. In the end, it is a process that involves everyone and every vehicle, be it bikes, buses, motorcycles or cars, and, of course, pedestrians.

But how to decide which interventions work best for Lisbon without being able to try them out, let’s say, during rush hour? It goes without saying that developing a strategy for a better traffic management, presumptions and ideas need to be thought through carefully. They might work out in theory, but not in a real-world scenario, where individual vehicles or pedestrians behave unpredictably. Lisbon’s challenge is to make sure children arrive at school safely, commuters make it to their workplaces on time and tourists can navigate the city comfortably.

From simulations to solutions
To meet these different needs, the city teamed up with PTV Group to continue the successful collaboration already established during the FLOW project. Here, PTV Group had supported the traffic department of Lisbon through consulting work, training and the provision of software solutions. Taking this partnership one step further, Pedro Homem de Gouveia and Pedro Alves Nave now use PTV Vissim, a multimodal traffic simulation software, to try out different traffic scenarios on a microscopic level. With the software, the two officials can model the movements of individual cars, bikes or pedestrians focusing, for example, on one particular intersection and test various scenarios within a virtual environment.

With the challenge of only having a small team available at the traffic department, Pedro Homem de Gouveia and Pedro Alves Nave know they can rely on PTV Vissim. The simulations are based on scientifically profound methods, help decide which options work out best, and thereby establish a maximum amount of transparency and trust. “3D animations are not only easy to understand, they also make it easy to communicate the interventions planned for each intersection, traffic light or bus stop. This is important because citizens want to be informed before the construction work starts making sure that the city has their best interests in mind. Tables and figures don’t do the job. But a 3D animation of the neighbourhood does”, says Pedro Homem de Gouveia.

To get concrete: based on the insights gained with PTV Vissim, Lisbon has already realised several projects – for the good of both, motorised and non-motorised road users. The vision of a more pedestrian-friendly city is now reality:

  • Widening pedestrian walkways and adding traffic islands to reserve more space for people going by foot or using bikes.
  • Extending the length of the green interval at traffic lights to enable pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross the intersection.
  • Adding more bike lanes, not only to connect the city’s green areas, but to promote cycling as an efficient and healthy means of transportation.
  • Creating bypasses for busses to make them avoid particularly narrow streets with a high number of pedestrians crossing.

As of today, 27 interventions for the benefits of pedestrians have been completed. But this is just the beginning, as further work is in progress at 36 other sites throughout the city.

Do you want to know how you can conduct traffic analyses with the world’s most advanced and flexible traffic simulation software? Discover the functionalities of PTV Vissim.