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July 26, 2022

This is Gothenburg

Professor John Whitelegg was appointed FIT Senior Fellow in 2020.

Road safety

Gothenburg facts & figures 2021

There are many excellent, best practice, sustainable transport cities in Europe and in this short article I want to talk about one, Gothenburg, Sweden and what it tells us about what can be achieved across all dimensions of quality of life and sustainable transport in UK cities. The Gothenburg story is about the co-existence and inter-dependency of 3 world best achievements and all at the same time: climate change policy, sustainable transport policy and economic vitality.

Gothenburg is a superb example of low traffic volumes, high quality public realm, generous space for walking and cycling and attractive, integrated public transport (buses, local trains and ferries). There is no UK equivalent.

Gothenburg (population 1,049,592 million in 2020) is an economically successful city with an international reputation for its high quality environment and detailed attention to sustainability.

The Gothenburg model is best practice, transferable to UK cities and essential if national and local government in the UK really does want to get to net zero carbon, sustainability and economically successful outcomes.

The Gothenburg blend of highly attractive, traffic reduced, public spaces and totally integrated public transport is eminently transferable to the top 10 (by population) UK cities.

100 Largest Cities and Towns in the UK by Population | The Geographist

No UK city has achieved the successes of Gothenburg (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Gothenburg: the successful city

Gothenburg facts & figures 2021

This is a central Gothenburg in the middle of a weekday and not photoshopped. Gothenburg has succeeded where UK cities have failed. The city has created a calm, enjoyable, largely traffic free city experience populated with excellent walking, cycling and public transport offers and with very little traffic.

Space Fishman balloons and feet
Space Fishman balloons and feet

I am striving to understand why UK cities tolerate and encourage large volumes of car traffic with ungenerous amounts of space for those not in cars. More importantly I want to be very clear about what we can learn from Gothenburg and how simple, easy and affordable it is to transfer the Gothenburg success to the top 10 (by population) UK cities.

Gothenburg is a world leading example of the synergistic co-existence of high environmental and sustainability standards and outcomes and a hugely successful and vigorous local economy.

Space Fishman balloons and feet

Figure 2: The 10 top companies in Gothenburg

Gothenburg facts & figures 2021

The importance of the automotive sector (Volvo) to the local economy is a perfect fit with policies that promote lower levels of car use in the city.

Gothenburg is world-leading example of how we “can have our cake and eat it”. It has an enviable economic growth record directly linked to reductions in CO2 emissions. Economic growth is not only achievable on the back of carbon reduction it can develop in ways that reduce carbon and boost job creation. This is a clear message to all UK cities and politicians that struggle to understand the links between low levels of car use and high levels of economic success.

Space Fishman balloons and feet

Figure 3: The relationship between economic success (real gross regional product) and CO2 reduction

Gothenburg facts & figures 2021


Gothenburg has an impressive modal split outcome:

Walking and cycling 26.3
Public Transport 20
Car 53.7
Total 100

Source: Kenworthy (2019)

How does Gothenburg do it?

Gothenburg has been recognised as the most sustainable destination in the world, 4 years in a row:

Public Transport | Independent Guide | This is Gothenburg

The key elements of the Gothenburg approach are discussed in Marcheschi (2022), Kenworthy (2019), Kenworthy (2020) and Kenworthy and Svensson (2022). They are:

  • The identification and implementation of best practice integrated, affordable public transport consistently over many years
  • Integrated/comprehensive ticketing that with one ticket covers trams, buses, local trains and ferries
  • The provision of generous amount of public realm and highway space for walking and cycling
  • The high cost of parking and levels of car parking provision much lower than comparable UK cities
  • A climate strategy that supports economic and business interests and is supported by the business community.

And what can UK cities do?

All UK city politicians can and should watch a 2 minute video and adopt the Gothenburg approach in all high level transport, climate change, public health and economic strategy policy.

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