Can new developments support 20-minute cities?

Can new developments support 20-minute cities?

Can new developments support 20-minute cities?

By Shereine Swindon

Basemap sustainable development image

Transport accessibility is imperative for sustainable urban growth.
Considering society, the economy, and the environment for the creation of jobs and essential services for all.

A 20-minute city is where everything we need is close to home. Where we can buy fresh groceries, go to work, go to a sports facility or a GP surgery and hospital, all within 20 minutes of our homes. The fundamental way in which we shape our cities is to facilitate, enable and encourage the kind of humanity we all want to enjoy. Striving to ensure the air is clean and promotes ‘Active Travel’ for everyone.

In building whole new communities, we have a unique opportunity to create and structure the cities in a way that is cleaner, safer, healthier, and more inclusive for all.  Achieving this is imperative for a long-lasting impact for generations to come.

The most important component to planning sustainable developments is to remove the over reliance on cars for access. This decreases high emissions and increases active travel for everyone.

Without sustainable developments, we will suffer from increased car usage, resulting in increased traffic and emissions.  When any new housing is approved it should be checked to ensure it is accessible via public transport, walking or cycling.  If it is insufficient then developers need to be-encouraged to improve transport links for the site.  Wider than this, if a point of interest such as a school or GP surgery does not have capacity, or is out of reach, collaboration needs to happen with local government about improving the infrastructure for that area.

To do this analysis, a reliable and authoritative approach is required.  Allowing all sites to be analysed consistently is vital when comparing different site locations for development.

Within sustainable development we need to consider three main areas:

  1. Economic development to enable the movement of people, jobs, and goods, to support the functioning of the economy.

  2. Environmental objectives to reduce air pollution by using alternative modes of transport.

  3. Society and equitable access for all socio-economic groups to core services such as healthcare and the ability to assess multi-modal route options. Encouraging active travel whilst minimising conflicts between traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians.

The importance of using software for analysis

Software allows for much of the heavy lifting to be done externally.  Historically, a planner may need to manually look up bus timetables, or workout travel times using crude methods in a GIS.  Now analysis software, the latest transport data, and authoritative data from Ordnance Survey can be utilised giving extra confidence in the results, crucial when making important decisions that will stand up to scrutiny.

One such piece of software is Basemap’s Travel Time analysis Software (TRACC), enabling the user to make a rapid analysis of accessibility by different transport modes. Importing either the latest or historic public transport timetables, road and footpath networks, and demographic data for detailed origin/destination calculations.

Potential destinations include:

  1. Employment locations

  2. Schools and colleges

  3. Universities

  4. Hospitals and GP surgeries

  5. Grocery Stores

  6. Town centres

  7. Green Spaces and Leisure hubs

These can be analysed against different transport modes, including public transport, walking, cycling and car, to give an indication of accessibility for new developments. This can be used at local level as well as nationally and internationally. TRACC can identify differing patterns of accessibility across various towns and regions by different modes of transport and can be compared to the car.

TRACC allows the underlying data to be edited, essential for looking at making changes to the network to facilitate improvements to accessibility. Improvements can include changing the network to merge or create new bus routes, create a new foot or cycle path, or even look at demand responsive services such as taxis and minibuses.  Users can find the optimal location of a new school or another destination.  All of this can be measured using demographic data to ascertain the real change in population access when these options are modelled.

TRACC modelling assesses whether investment and development are viable in potential areas and reviews the impact of any changes made to transportation within the specific area.

Bryan G Hall provide specialised consulting services to the construction industry to help with new build developments. They have been using TRACC for several years to demonstrate multi-modal site accessibility as part of the planning process.  Nick Calder a Senior Engineer at Bryan G Hall says that:

“TRACC gives us the flexibility to edit the underlying network which is very important for us.”

The planning team at the consultancy, work on hundreds of projects a year using TRACC to show that proposed sites are accessible to key services by walking, cycling and public transport. Based on the new site, the team draw up plans to see what can be reached within appropriate catchments, then look for deficiencies.  Nick also said:

If you are looking at a site on the outskirts of a town and looking at public transport accessibility, if it shows you can’t get into the city centre within an appropriate travel time, we would look at potentially improving or extending a service closer to the site”

This type of analysis and planning is already being utilised at Staffordshire County Council, using TRACC to drive sustainable development and produce accessibility appraisals to support their district councils in delivering housing and employment development.  The functionality of TRACC enables the council to calculate accessibility for public transport and travel time analysis. Joanne Keay, a Strategy Officer, said:

“Using TRACC has allowed us to get much more accurate results; we can put in the whole of our regional bus, rail and road networks, and now we can put in paths as well to show walking routes.”

In Summary

Developments should be located and designed to ensure we make sustainable travel a more attractive option, to not only reduce emissions but also improve residents’ health and wellbeing.

This is not only key when planning sustainable developments but also infrastructure, keeping essential services well located such as hospitals or GP surgeries.  Plans and decisions should ensure developments are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised.

Transport accessibility plays a fundamental role by prioritising mixed-use sustainable developments which is essential for 20 minute cities where walking, cycling and public transport are more attractive options of travel than driving. This is not a case of “build it and they will come,” sustainable travel requires breaking habits that are years in the making, but once we are set on a sustainable path, the benefits will be seen by future generations, for years to come.

Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – Gro Harlem Brundtland, leader in sustainable development and public health, and served as Director General of the World Health Organization.


This Article was written by Shereine Swindon and originally published in the modelling world Data and Modelling Yearbook 2021 in June 2021.

Keziah is the Digital Marketing Executive at Basemap Ltd. She has almost 2 years experience in the digital realm after graduating from the University of Plymouth with a BA in Illustration and an MA in Publishing.