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NovaTerra Connected Cities / february 2007 / 32

Covilhã: mobility in
a mountain town
Jorge Humberto and Gaspar Gonçalves, Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI), Portugal Steep gradients in Covilhã uptown.

Frank van der Hoeven, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Netherlands
Photos: Jorge Humberto and Gaspar Gonçalves

The activities of the Connected Cities network include showcase located on one of the hillsides of the highest mountain of continental
workshops. These are based on a give-and-take formula in which a Portugal. Around half the population live in Conceição, Santa Maria,
partner can invite other partners to illustrate an inspiring case study São Martinho and São Pedro, the four central parishes. The urban area
or present an issue or a problem and ask for advice. The ‘Mobility in of Covilhã has a low population density, only a third of the national
Covilhã’ showcase is a clear example of the latter. Showcases are average.
prepared in advance. In the case of Covilhã the local authority and The easiest way to describe Covilhã is to divide it into three parts: the
the university produced a lengthy paper and a comprehensive uptown, the downtown and the new town. The uptown includes the
presentation. Both documents provide insights in the main historic centre, old residential buildings, churches and services such
characteristics of the town and the mobility problems it faces. Low as banks, insurance companies, medical services, shops, the town hall,
density mountain town Covilhã, founded in 1186, is a large town of local government offices, police and fire brigade, the main university
35,000 inhabitants in the eastern midlands of Portugal. The town is buildings and day care centres. The downtown has the train station,

NT_S#january07_DEF.indd 32 26-01-2007 11:02:16

NovaTerra Connected Cities / february 2007 / 33 local shops. private and has a fleet of fourteen mostly old buses and the present at peak traffic hours. Parking in the downtown and in the new experts did not refer to problems with links to the cities and regions town is plentiful. amount of on-street parking space. The main traffic generators are the university facilities. The difference in altitude hampers movement through the town. The time. mostly free and on-street. The new town is bisected by a road that connects the town to the two industrial parks to the north and south (the TCT road axis). The barrier caused by the two creeks doubles the distance of the main access road to the uptown centre. prison.000 parking spaces for public use. In the uptown some gradients are as steep as 13%. instead of the to work and school. the share usual 400 m. The public transport company is 30 minutes and 60% take less then fifteen minutes. elementary and secondary schools. which results in issues are characteristic for a small town in a rural area. in line with other cities. The main land uses in the new town are residential developments. distance between bus stops is around 300m. some financial services. a low frequency. traffic queues still form. New users experience considerable difficulty The uptown is the only area where paid parking spaces outnumber using the system because very little information is available and unpaid spaces and provision of off-street parking outstrips the there are only three ticket outlets. on average served by one bus per hour. but generally last no operator is not encouraged to invest in providing a better service. municipal offices and residential areas. to the north and south of the town. Covilhã’s main mobility problems relate to centre have access to a nearby legal parking space. the regional bus terminal. These on-street parking space here is not well defined. The main artery through the town is a busy national road. The steep slopes and medieval layout makes it a challenge to implement good mobility solutions. mainly in distance to the bus stops is limited by the steep gradients of most the four central parishes. the hospital and health centre and the new medical school. The average Private cars are used for about half of the trips to work and school. Few residents in the historic Mobility problems Overall. private car usage and walking. shopping centres. in Portugal or Spain. Almost all the old textile industries in the town have been converted into teaching facilities by the local university or have moved to the two suburban industrial parks. In some areas. 90% of the journeys to work or to school take less then commercial speed is around 15 km/h. The low population density does not create the best conditions for public transport. especially walking.indd 33 26-01-2007 11:02:21 . rarely have to stand. the sports complex. town hall facilities. but will still partly make use of the existing road network. The admissible walking A quarter of the trips to work and school are made on foot. the hospital and medical school and the central business district in the uptown. the new shopping centres. day care centres. Covilhã’s road network is determined by its historical centre. The Covilhã illegal or irregular parking. There is no Local people do not seem to experience many problems with trip space for dedicated bus lanes in most of the urban area. An external ring to access the mountain is planned. The streets are narrow and most permit only one-way traffic. Gradients to overcome by pedestrians. network covers about 65% of the urban area of Covilhã. which is used to access the national park and ski track on the mountain passes above the town. Buses account for about a sixth of the trips streets: the catchment area of the bus stops is 250 m. let alone to cities and regions in the rest of Y NT_S#january07_DEF. more than five to ten minutes each. The urban bus routes are almost all one-way loops with of the bus in the modal split is double the average at one third. Occupancy rates are always lower than two-thirds and passengers The town has well over 4. Much of the the use of public transport. Despite this. modal split The bus is the main type of public transport in Covilhã and the The private car plays an important role in the residents’ mobility. Slopes of over 8% are common. barriers Covilhã faces three natural barriers: two creeks (Goldra and Carpinteira) and a difference in altitude of 230 metres between the uptown and the new town.

historical centre more attractive to live and shop. Two underground encouraged as well: electric bicycles (e-bikes) and walking. polluting fuels. especially to the older desired modal split feasible? Can the quality of the bus service be public buildings. The Covilhã experts already had some solutions in mind. So. provoke a reaction from the other partners and elicit their opinions. at first sight. Covilhã has to develop a spatial vision before it can address the mobility questions it has raised. The revenues from will be encouraged to travel to and from the uptown to make the on-street parking contribute to their financing (for the next 40 years). is to unnecessary long because of the loop configuration of the system. the non. what would be better: hydrogen fuel cells or electricity? Is it feasible for buses to include spaces for bikes? Local authority will apply Can parking revenues or road pricing help to subsidise public financial incentives for transport? Could pedelecs or e-bikes provide solutions for the steep slopes of a mountain town like Covilhã? Could elevators and the use of non-polluting escalators improve the accessibility of the town centre? And finally: could park and ride systems be feasible and help to reduce traffic fuels problems in the town centre? Ensuring sustainable urban mobility During the workshop the experts from the other partners formulated opinions based on Covilhã’s scenario. Covilhã’s mobility issues seem to be desired future scenario restricted to the town itself. downtown and new town seem so large that Covilhã probably needs tailor-made solutions for each of the areas. solutions. Parking facilities will be improved to make them The steep gradients between the downtown and the uptown more acceptable to residents and illegal curbed as a result. with particular attention to the relations between them. The specific conditions of the mountain town clearly require Covilhã downtown. even if the solution is generally considered sustainable. while the overall pedestrian accessibility of the uptown and the older public buildings Walking will be upgraded. They also have difficulty manoeuvring in the narrow streets and similar problems and been successful in implementing adequate road intersections. The materials used to Paid on-street parking solutions will generate long-term revenue surface the pavements are slippery during wet weather and many that will contribute to the financing of other mobility systems. its main objective. To achieve this the Private car use proportion of journeys by public transport needs to double. The ambition of the desired scenario is to cut the share of the private car in the modal split by half.indd 34 26-01-2007 11:02:23 . Although the scenario may be considered too ambitious and The frequency of the bus service is low. it is difficult to tell if a solution is right or wrong. innovative strategies for clean urban transport. As a next step the local authority and the university have drawn up a desired future scenario. Residents car parks in the town centre are privately owned. More insight into the use of public transport and walking patterns is necessary as well. In the Access by car to the historic centre is limited by reduced scenario the town will design a self-sustainable public transport manoeuvrability and illegal parking of private cars in the uptown concession that will ensure high quality standards. Most off-street parking is the local authority will apply financial incentives for the use of non- privately owned and out of the local authority’s control. steered the Measures and facilities to provide adequate access to the town for discussion of the scenario by asking several detailed questions: Is the people with reduced mobility are lacking. These are outlined briefly below. make the town difficult to navigate by foot. The local authority should undertake detailed traffic studies the get a better idea of the main origins and destinations in the town. The differences between the uptown. cause air pollution and use too much The local experts wanted to know if the other partners have faced fuel. Without a clear idea where the town wants to go. The general feeling among the Connected Cities network was that mobility should be used as a way to influence or steer urban or regional developments. Other sustainable transport modes of transport are central areas contain many unused parking spaces. enhanced by moving towards mini. pavements are often too narrow or cluttered with obstacles. NovaTerra Connected Cities / february 2007 / 34 Europe. say the local experts. At the same time obstructs public transport and pedestrians. The buses are old and noisy.or midi-buses? If alternative fuels are to be applied. The travel time is possibly unfeasible. These strategies NT_S#january07_DEF. aimed at improving the residents’ Bus system mobility.

http://connectedcities. The Connected Cities network Antonio Cunha. what do they try to solve? Reactions to: goncalves@nova-terra. travel demand management. The content of this The South Wing of the Randstad covilhã: mobility in a 32 process in which all the relevant stakeholders are represented. Postbox 30833. Atelier Zuidvleugel Jorge Y NT_S#january07_omslagDEFdef. The links spatial vision with an integrated innovative strategy for clean urban Henrik Sander and Michael Koch concept for cities with the outer parishes could be served by new mobility concepts for transport based on adequate Publisher Nirov. Varandas. 2500 GV Covilhã newtown. The specific conditions of smit@nirov. The second solution reflects the concern that the vitality of the historic town is under 3 editorial cohesion again for urbanism much pressure. the efficiency of the solutions should be monitored and if in smaller expert groups on specific solutions: the overall spatial views of the park and ride scheme. The Hague. The challenge is clearly there and the Cover photo: Atocha station. such solutions should not be taken too literally because opportunities are plentiful. we could explore that may be made of the 17 high speed investments apply restrictions on car access. It is more interesting is to see what their objective is. FP7 has just therein. overcoming the steep gradients ISSN 1570-0402 and height differences in the town. J. Rui Rocha and Stefan van der Spek passengers that guarantee accessibility for all. Egon Walesch. combines enough knowledge and experience in this area and several A spatial survey for Stedenbaan 2010–2020 All the solutions should be subjected to an interactive planning partners expressed their willingness to help with this task. the European research programme. the that problem. Finding a balanced way for several modes of transport to work together might Editorial tramways in france – born 22 transport provide solutions that are more sustainable. It is time to act. The first solution reflects the idea strategies for clean urban that we should not choose between the car and the Office support: The first solution tried to integrate the existing bus system into a the mountain town Helen Kokshoorn. bus The Managing Authority is not liable for any use about curbing use of the private car. Belgium Correspondence Nirov. The second solution focused on improving clearly require innovative pedestrian access to the town centre. February 2007. whether initiatives can be undertaken within the Seventh Framework information contained Detlef Golletz. kokshoorn@nirov. The limited accessibility is believed to contribute to Frank van der Hoeven Sophie Labbouz and Youssef Diab should ensure accessibility for all. it has to offer alternatives and rapid transit systems and paratransit. Jorge Editorial Board Jan Hein Boersma Evelien Brandes Huib Haccou Frank van der Hoeven (issue editor) Derek Middleton (English editing) Anne Schram Michiel Smit (editor in chief) Athanasios Ziliaskopoulos (guest editor) 17 22 27 32 Graphic design Studio Bau Winkel Print Gewa. such as paratransit.nirov. Gösta Weber and Celine Chambron Programme (FP7). Once Connected Cities can offer the local authority an opportunity to work publication reflects the 11 space and line mountain town applied. Arendonk. they are developed in a limited time. The Hague. In the case of Covilhã. Michiel Smit. The Netherlands (www. Madrid (photo: Frank van der Hoeven. The Netherlands.indd 2 29-01-2007 11:04:44 . Gaspar Gonçalves and Frank van der Hoeven necessary adjusted to ensure the desired results. accessibility of the old town and the older public building is clearly Project part-financed by the European Union Public transport and regional urban landscapes The potential of cybercars an issue. Nova Terra on the EU Content 3 6 11 supported project ‘Connected Cities’. Additionally. If Covilhã is serious vision. In our seem to match FP7’s focus. workshop results published its first calls for proposals and the issues Covilhã faces In the end the workshop produced two solutions. transport development. The bus system appears to be antiquated and the feasibility In the end we left Covilhã with the feeling that the town needs a 6 connected edges towards a new mobility 27 of a European bus system of the future should be explored. Rotterdam) experience.