The X-Minute City: improving quality of life across the whole urban area

The text below was written by Zakiyya Adam and edited by myself, and first published at the website of the Transport Studies Unit.

The15-minute cities seek to enhance quality of life for all. It’s a very simple premise: individuals should be able to access all of their daily needs within 15 minutes of walking or cycling from their home. The basic needs that should be accessible in this radius include: healthcare, education, commerce, entertainment, and employment. Where travel times on foot or by (e-)bike cannot be reduced to less than a quarter of an hour, high-quality and inclusive online services should offer a suitable alternative.

The concept is flexible and can be adapted. For instance, in Australia they speak about 30-minute cities (Sydney) and 20-minute neighbourhoods (Melbourne). This is why academics researchers increasingly refer to the X-Minute City as an urban planning approach that gives individuals and communities better access to everything they need to live full lives. 

By reducing the separation between individuals and everything they need to flourish, the X-Minute City unlocks numerous social, economic and environmental benefits, at both the City and the individual levels. Reducing the time spent travelling frees citizens up to use their time and money in ways that serve them better. Drawing resources into neighbourhoods unlocks new employment opportunities, inspires innovation and creates a sense of community. Reducing dependence on cars enables the creation of more green spaces, makes streets safer, reduces congestion, and lowers the air and noise pollution that makes local communities suffer.

First proposed in 2016, the 15-Minute City concept gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic when working from home became the norm for many, and the importance of having resilient local communities increased. The empowerment of individuals to access amenities without the need for a car has been viewed by some as a curbing of their right to use their vehicle. This is a misplacement of grievance. Unlike other urban planning initiatives, the X-Minute City does not restrict behaviour. It does not stop residents from driving, it simply seeks to make walking and cycling a viable and attractive option to them. 

Professor Carlos Moreno, the creator of the 15-Minute City concept, will be giving the Transport Studies Unit’s inaugural Annual Lecture on 29 February in Oxford. Carlos will introduce the 15-Minute City concept, explore its origins and evolution, and discuss the impacts the concept has had on urban planning and mobility around the globe to date. He will also explore the potential of the 15-Minute City in future urban and transport planning.

The X-Minute City warrants further academic attention, and so the TSU is excited to be leading SPECIFIC – a new research project that tries to identify how the X-Minute City can be realised in suburbs and outer areas in European cities with up to approx. 0.5m residents. It is much easier to fulfil all of your daily needs within a short time in suburban and outer areas than in city centres, even if only the use (e-) bikes are considered. And yet it is on those suburban and outer areas where most people live. 

With 14 partners, the TSU will organise ‘transition experiments’ in five cities – Bellinzona (Switzerland), Bristol, Graz (Austria), Maastricht (Netherlands) and Poznan (Poland) – in which local policymakers, communities, businesses and cycling advocacy groups will be brought together to design and test different interventions to enhance the feasibility and attractiveness of short cycling trips. These can be by commuters needing to get to work, people wanting to visit friends, or (e-)bike couriers delivering parcels or means. 

All experiments will centre the experiences and voices of individuals and communities that are often marginalised in transport planning, and so hope to make cycling and mobility in suburban and outer locations more equitable and socially just. 

In a participatory process of social learning, the teams in each city will develop lessons that will be shared across the cities. The researchers will also develop a tool or online game that will help other small and medium-sized cities help to support cycling in suburban and outer locations. In this way SPECIFIC will contribute to the practical realisation of 15 minute cities and to more healthy and sustainable ways of life for everyone in suburban and low-density settings across Europe.

The scalar dynamics of UK transport policy: low traffic neighbourhoods

Earlier this week a paper by Geoff Dudley, David Banister and myself was published in The Political Quarterly, and it can be downloaded for free until 31st October from here.

The installation of ‘traffic filters’ in the form of planters and bollards on certain residential streets that reduce access by car or van but offer passage to bikes and e-scooters — colloquially known as ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ or LTNS — is no doubt the most controversial transport policy of the last couple of years. Implemented first in London and shown to reduce car use and ownership, this policy is now travelling into other UK cities, including Oxford.

Our paper does not consider the effects on traffic of the creation of LTNs but the policy processes behind their implementation. In the article we suggest that the LTN policy is an attempt to not only reduce local car use but also increase national government’s grip on local transport policy implementation. The endeavour to centralise implementation works through the conditions imposed by national government on funding allocated for LTN implementation to local authorities. Some of those conditions are so rigid that local authorities struggle to meet them, which leaves them two options: abandon their LTN plans, or fund LTNs through other (local) means. The latter is the course adopted by Oxford and is in some ways the best possible outcome for national government: it realises the ambition of the ‘centre’ without national government having to pay for it from the financial resources earmarked for active travel promotion. 

This approach to local transport policy differs from common understandings of neoliberal styles of policymaking — i.e. rescaling responsibility from national to local level without a concomitant rescaling of resources and capacities. Now, English transport policy has always remained powerful centralised elements, and stylised narratives about neoliberalisation of policymaking have never adequately summarised how transport policy is ‘done’ in England. Still, the LTN case seems to be heralding a new style of (attempting) central control over what local authorities do, in a context where the agency of the latter has been reduced by funding cuts in the wake of austerity politics overseen by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Then again, it is unclear at the current time whether this attempt to recentralise control over implementation of local transport policy is the beginning of a new trend of reassertion of central determination of what happens at local policy, or a temporary phenomenon. Only time will tell…

COP26 starting very soon

We are only few days away from the start of the COP26 in Glasgow. Expectations are modest about what the conference will achieve, but one thing that has been achieved is increased attention to and debate about the many types of action that are required to reduce CO2 emissions radically and rapidly. The debate is informed and to some extent shaped by communication initiatives by NGOs, universities and other institutions as well as discussion by the mass media.

Over the past three months I have been approached by media organisations from across the globe more than ever before, and my own university has also asked me to participate in some of its activities and initiatives. The comms team in my university has produced some wonderful animation for a brief video in which I speak about the potential and limitations of shifting towards electric mobility as part of collective attempts to reduce CO2 emissions from transport. It’s available on the university’s YouTube channel.    

Fleming Lecture at upcoming AAG conference

At the upcoming annual conference of the American Association of Geographers in Washington DC (3-7 April), I will give this year’s Fleming Lecture organised by the Transport Geography Specialty Group. The title of my talk will be “Geographies of transport in the new climatic regime”, a title that is directly referring to Bruno Latour’s latest book.

In the lecture, I hope to will reflect on Transport Geography research in the current era in which the earth system — the ‘geo’ — has become an active participant in public life. I will argue for an expansion of substantive concerns, theory, and methodology for geographical research about transport configurations. As an important part of this expanded agenda, geographers should contribute to a shift in the logics that help to organize and shape (transformations in) transport configurations, from a preoccupation with acceleration and efficient, reliable and normal movement to ongoing and just adaptation of such configurations to a variety of pressures and more sudden events. This shift comes with implications for research methodology too and shuld be accompanied by methodological orientations and practices revolving around concreteness, singularities, provincialization and description. In this way it becomes easier to study the necessarily context-dependent geo-social politics of transport. I will illustrate some of those politics using empirical examples from various ongoing research projects in which I am involved.

Day: Thursday 04 April 2019
Start Time: 5:00 pm
Room: Washington 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Marking 25 years of the Journal of Transport Geography – past/current/future developments

Call for Papers “Marking 25 years of the Journal of Transport Geography – past/current/future developments”

RGS with IBG Annual International Conference, 28-31 August 2018, Cardiff, UK.
Session sponsored by Transport Geography Research Group.

Convened by Richard Knowles, Frank Witlox and Tim Schwanen

We are inviting abstract submissions from two TGRG sponsored sessions at the 2018 RGS/IBG Annual International Conference, titled “Marking 25 years of the Journal of Transport Geography – past/current/future developments”.

In 2018 the Journal of Transport Geography – the leading interdisciplinary journal focusing on the geographical dimensions of transport, travel and mobility – will celebrate its 25 years of existence. To commemorate this anniversary we invite leading transport geography scholars to put forward their prospective views on the field. This field is very broad in scope, ranging from conceptual innovations, theoretically-informed advances, to empirically-oriented contributions on the movement of people, goods and/or information by any mode and at every geographical scale. We welcome papers that reflect on the field. How has our discipline evolved? What can we learn from the past? What are the new research avenues?

All accepted session papers will be published (after peer-review) in a Special Issue of Journal of Transport Geography.

If you interested in presenting a paper in this session, please submit to the session convenors (,, the following information by Friday 9 February 2018: Title, authors, affiliations and addresses, presenter and abstract (300 words).

Post-Doc position at Utrecht University in serious gaming for encouraging walking and cycling

Job description: The Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning of Utrecht University seeks to appoint a post-doc for the project “DEPICT: DEsigning and Policy Implementation for encouraging Cycling and walking Trips” financed by NWO-ESRC-FAPESP. The project is a close collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences NHTV, University of Oxford and the the University of São Paulo.

Qualifications: For this project, we search for a highly motivated post-doc with a PhD degree in Human Geography or related disciplines, preferably with experience in empirical research methods such stated preference techniques. You will work with the 3D immersive simulation technology Oculus Rift to analyse the impact of manipulations in streetscape and traffic environment design on walking and cycling in the Netherlands as well as in São Paulo.

Offer: The post is available from October first, 2017. You will be offered a temporary position for 15 months as post-doc. Employment conditions are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch Universities. Your gross monthly salary is dependent on experience and qualifications and varies between € 2.855,- and €3.908,- (salary scale 10) on a fulltime basis.

Contact: Prof. dr. Martin Dijst:

Geographies of Mobility Special Issue

A while ago the annual special issue of the Annals of the American Association of Geographers has been published, and this year’s edition is on the Geographies of Mobility and edited by Mei-Po Kwan and myself.

The special issue consists of 26 articles, plus an introductory piece by Mei-Po and myself, that seeks to bring together the multiple ways in which geographers examine the everyday mobilities of people. It consists of five thematic sections – conceptualizing and analysing mobility, inequalities of mobility, politics of mobility, decentering mobility, and qualifying abstraction. Empirically the focus is on mobility in various regions of the world, and not only in North America and Europe. The papers discuss issues as diverse as the everyday mobilities of young people, migrants and refugees, and sex workers; the relationships between citizenship and mobility; and the potential and pitfalls of big data for understanding mobility.

Special issue ‘Geographies of the Urban Night’

Our guest edited special issue of Urban Studies on ‘Geographies of the Urban Night’ is now available online and in paper copy. Urban Studies have posted a nice blog post written by Ilse van Liempt and Phil Hadfield on the issue — it is available here: (you may have to scroll down to ‘Friday, 30 January 2015’)

The Table of Contents is available here:

First ‘Progress Report’ online

It has been far too long ago since I last posted a blog. But the last months have been very busy (of course, they all are, but this time …). Anyway, today is a good time to write again as the first of three ‘Progress Reports’ on the analysis of transport in geography has just been published online. I have been asked to write three of such reports for Progress in Human Geography, which is arguably the leading journal when it comes to documenting the latest developments in the discipline.

In this first review of recent work on transport in geography I argue that the resurgence of interest in geography that previous commentaries have identifies continues unabatedly, not least because transport is widely seen or constructed as critically important to economic regeneration, the reduction of global carbon emissions and energy consumption, and reducing obesity. What is more, and perhaps most distinctive of the latest work on transport in geography, many geographers who would not identify as specialists in transport or even mobilities are now examining transport in one way or another (albeit usually not as their main interest).

Has transport returned to the core of the discipline as it once — read: during the heydays of the Quantitative Revolution — was? I seriously doubt it, but it is undeniable that ‘transport’ is more significant than it has long since been. And (a substantial) part of that renewed elan is independent from Urry and Sheller’s ‘new mobilities paradigm‘ or the mobilities turn in geography and sociology. But that is a topic for a future post.

The Progress Report can be accessed here.

Do Bike Sharing Schemes Reduce Energy Consumption?

Even though they have been around for some 50 years, bike sharing schemes (BSSs) have in recent years witnessed a dramatic growth in cities in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, North America, East Asia and to some extent Latin America and Australia (for overview of the current spatial distribution, see and Recent schemes differ enormously in terms of size, governance and business models. Compare, for instance, Hangzhou‘s mammoth scheme which is initiated, provided and run by the local state with Oxford‘s recent BSS experiment with 30 bikes and 6 docking stations that has been initiated by the county council but provided and run by a private company.

Intuition would suggest that BSS help to reduce energy consumption in urban transport, but I don’t think we really know much about their energy implications, for various reasons. First, on top of the existing diversity in schemes, the growth in both the number of schemes and size of individual schemes means that the social practices in which shared bikes are enrolled and hence the energy implications are diversifying rapidly. This increases uncertainty about energy implications. Second, there is a lack of appropriate data. This claim may appear counterintuitive given that most 3G and 4G schemes are hailed for the unique data they generate. But these data suffer from similar limitations as many other ‘big data’ on transport in being extensive but also thin on actual content. They either show which bikes are docked at (many) specific moments at particular stations, or where in physical space a given bike is at particular times. At best, we can reconstruct high-resolution space-time trajectories of individual bikes, but learn little about how bikes become coupled to and enrolled in the space-time paths (time-geography) and activity/travel patterns (activity-based travel behaviour analysis) of individuals, or in social practices (practice theory). Neither do we currently know much about how the space-time trajectories of shared bikes are related to those of other, motorised modes of transport. Consequently, as far as I am aware, there is little or no robust evidence that BSS usage actually substitutes for more energy-intensive ways of moving around the city, or about the extent to which schemes generate new demand for mobility. The nascent, and often rather celebratory, academic literature on BSS usage tends to examine trip patterns in isolation from wider urban transport systems. What is known on substitution comes either from modelling studies, in which all kinds of often strong assumptions about modal choice and substitution are made, or from studies using questionnaires with general questions about mode use that often lack the required precision, validity and reliability.

That said, there are good reasons why BSSs might help reduce energy consumption. Not only are the embedded energy and greenhouse gas emissions likely to be much lower for a BSS than for a bus, light rail or car system of the same spatial extension (a life cycle analysis examining this conjecture would be useful!);  by reducing the ‘last mile’ problem of ‘egress’ transport from a public transport stop to one’s final destination, a BSS can – if integrated adequately into a multimodal transport system – increase the attractiveness of public transport for people who might otherwise be using a private vehicle. BSS usage in a city context also generates all kinds of indirect effects, which might even exceed direct modal substitution effects. Use of shared bikes for utilitarian trips, for instance by people commuting into London by train seeking to reach their final destination, may increase those people’s inclination to cycle in other situations, for instance around the home for non-work trips. Widespread use of shared bikes in cities may also increase skills and competency among a range of road users: cyclists may begin to feel more confident in using bikes in other contexts, including those where conditions (infrastructure, actions of other road users) are less conducive to cycling, and drivers of cars and goods vehicles become more attuned to sharing the road with cyclists, possibly to the extent that subconsciously reckoning with cycling at left turns and other risk traffic situations becomes second nature. This reasoning obviously is a variant of the more widely known ‘safety in numbers‘ argument.

The question of energy consumption should not only be looked at through a lens of instrumental rationality and effectiveness; issues of social justice should be considered as well. Few studies have so far examined the social distribution of benefits, but the limited work that is available suggests that white, middle-class men are most likely to regularly use a BSS (e.g. Goodman and Cheshire 2014). It would appear that BSSs do little to address inequalities in access to transport that exist in most cities. Perhaps this is not surprising if the proactive approach of many local governments regarding BSS is placed in a wider context of urban entrepreneurialism and government-led, pro-growth oriented gentrification and regeneration. Having a BSS in a city is then not merely about environmental or social sustainability (air quality, GHG emissions, redistribution) but – and perhaps primarily – about creating an environment capable of attracting the mobile capital of firms, tourists and prospective residents by offering a transport scheme that is both fast and congestion-free, and fashionable and fun. There are also opportunity costs: pouring public money into a BSS probably means that less funds are available for more socio-spatially inclusive initiatives that can promote cycling as an energy-efficient means of urban mobility, such as bike co-ops, maintenance workshops or cycling competency training. Community-led, grassroots initiatives should not be romanticised and many in UK cities are to some extent supported by councils, but it would appear that these activities have greater potential than BSSs to reach migrant communities, the elderly and the urban poor and thus to link energy efficiency aims with progressive public health and social agendas.

BSSs have potential to reduce energy consumption in urban transport, if adequately integrated in a wider multi-modal transport system and as long as they do not constitute the mainstay of cycling policy and local governments’ financial support for cycling. It is a cliché to say that more research is needed, but we really need to know much more about how BSS usage is shaping and shaped by social practices in the city, what its energy implications are, and how BSSs link in with pro-growth agendas that do little to redress the soaring inequalities in mobility, life chances and health in contemporary British cities.