traffic jams in the city, road, rush hour

Written by Sam Whitmore, Chief Marketing Officer, Cityshuttle

In Wales, the future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe recommended the adoption of  ’20-minute towns and cities’ back in 2020 to improve health, boost the economy and support communities. It’s also a policy backed heavily by Plaid Cymru.

The concept of a “20-minute city” is an urban planning idea that aims to create neighbourhoods where residents can access all their daily needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle, or public transport ride. The idea is to create compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods that provide easy access to a range of services, such as shops, healthcare facilities, schools, parks, and jobs, reducing the need for long commutes and improving quality of life.

The 20-minute city concept has gained popularity in recent years, as urban planners and policymakers recognize the need for more sustainable, liveable, and equitable cities. Proponents argue that 20-minute cities can reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, while also promoting physical activity, social interaction, and local economic development.

Several cities around the world have already started implementing 20-minute city policies, such as Paris, Melbourne, and Barcelona. These cities have adopted various strategies to achieve the 20-minute goal, such as building more cycle lanes and pedestrian paths, improving public transport networks, and increasing the density of mixed-use developments.

However, not everyone is keen on the idea and a lot will depend on how plans are implemented.

While everyone agrees on the need to reduce carbon emissions in cities, Oxford City Council’s Local Plan 2040, which promises to introduce a ’15-minute city’ has proved particularly controversial, with thousands of residents protesting against the proposals last month, leading to five arrests.

Their £6.5m trial plan for the City will see traffic filters installed on six key routes, enabling residents to drive freely within their own neighbourhoods but being fined £70 if they venture into another area, with walking and cycling being encouraged as alternatives.  However, it could be said that if the Oxford scheme proposed encouragement rather than fines, the concept of reducing car use would be better received among residents.

Do 20-minute cities work? 

The actual effectiveness of the 20-minute city concept is still a subject of debate among urban planners and scholars. Critics argue that the 20-minute city is a utopian ideal that is hard to achieve in practice, as it requires significant changes to existing urban structures, land use patterns, and transportation systems.

They also point out that the 20-minute city may not be suitable for all types of cities, towns or neighbourhoods, as it may not account for variations in population density, land availability, and urban form.

Rather than force 20-minute cities on residents in the way Oxford has planned, particularly as some areas have no safe routes for walking or cycling, the Welsh Government has currently allocated £60m funding for active travel schemes across Wales, with grants available for projects that improve safe routes and increase accessibility for residents who choose to walk or cycle.  It’s been better received than Oxford’s plans so far, although additional congestion from the roadworks while the work is completed is likely adding to the carbon emissions in the short term.

One thing is clear – something needs to be done to tackle the twin issues of pollution and congestion in our towns and cities, and with growing availability of greener transport solutions like cargo e-bikes for both families and logistics, the 20-minute city offers a good starting point for further research.

Success of any schemes will depend on careful planning, stakeholder engagement and ongoing evaluation of its social, economic and environmental impacts.

However, if the protests in Oxford are anything to go by, proposals based on encouragement will likely prove more successful than those proposing fines and enforcement.