Full title: Developing system-oriented interventions to reduce car dependency for improved population health in Belfast
Principal Investigators: Professor Ruth Hunter and Dr Leandro Garcia
Research team: Dr Holly Weir, Dr Iraklis Argyriou, Professor John Barry, Dr Claire Cleland, Professor Frank Kee, Professor Alberto Longo, Dr Gary McKeown, Professor Brendan Murtagh
Partners: Department of Finance Innovation Lab, Department of Health, Department for Infrastructure, Belfast Healthy Cities, Belfast City Council, Translink, Public Health Agency and Sustrans.
Funders: Medical Research Council Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) (MR/V00378X/1) and HSC Research and Development Office Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, an average person does over 80% of their journeys by car. This is very high compared to other parts of the UK, where 63% of journeys are made by car, and in Ireland, where the figure is just over 50%. Belfast is also one of the most congested cities in the UK. These problems are because too many people are driving too often. Being too reliant on our cars to get around leads to many detrimental impacts. For example, we walk and cycle less, our air quality worsens, and the number of road traffic collisions increases. It is, therefore, a growing issue in public health with more and more cities looking for solutions to help reduce our reliance on cars.
However, solutions to such a problem are not simple as there are many different groups involved in or affected by the transport system. If we are to find policies and programmes that help reduce car reliance long term, then these groups must work together to solve the problem.
To help to address this challenge in Belfast, Professor Ruth Hunter and Dr Leandro Garcia from the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, led a research project to funded by the Medical Research Council Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) (MR/V00378X/1) and HSC Research and Development Office Northern Ireland. The team included researchers from a range of disciplines including public health, systems science, urban planning, urban policy, economics, climate change and social psychology. The team were also supported by partners including Department of Finance Innovation Lab, Department of Health, Department for Infrastructure, Belfast Healthy Cities, Belfast City Council, Translink, Public Health Agency and Sustrans.
The project aimed to co-develop sustainable and scalable policies and programmes that reduce the reliance on cars in Belfast.
The research was organised into 3 workstreams:
1. understanding the multiple layers of the system that influence the reliance on cars in Belfast;
2. exploring the current evidence and knowledge of what has worked in other cities;
3. developing possible policies and programmes with key organisations to reduce car use in Belfast.
The policies and programmes were aimed at citizens who use their car for work, school drop-off, leisure, and other activities in Belfast. But other road users also directly benefit from less cars on the road, through less air pollution and fewer road traffic collisions. The general population will also benefit from cleaner air, less noise, and potential positive impacts on climate change.
The research included the following steps:
1. A survey using a technique known as Network Analysis to help understand the network of stakeholders involved in the development, implementation and evaluation of programmes and policies to reduce car dependency and how they might best work together.
2. A review of past and present policies and programmes related to car dependency in Northern Ireland in general and Belfast in particular.
3. A review of what other places did to reduce car dependency and increase walking, cycling, and the use of public transport.
4. A survey with road users in Belfast to evaluate and rank the importance of influences on car use and on alternative travel modes, using a technique known as Discrete Choice Experiments.
5. A visual diagram of the ‘system’ of the various aspects that affect car dependency, using a technique known as causal loop diagram to develop agreement among stakeholders about the nature, ordering and relationships between programmes and policies of different organisations to reduce car dependency.
6. A citizens’ jury with local citizens to sense-check promising intervention approaches and policies to explore and ensure the acceptability, utility, affordability, feasibility and sustainability of new initiatives. Possible policies and programmes included, for example: improved public transport, with the introduction of a new rapid transit system; investment in urban greenways to increase walking and cycling journeys; expanding the car-free areas of the city centre; congestion charging and reducing car parking.
The research produced the following outputs:
1. Identification of stakeholders influencing car dependency in Belfast and their relationships.
2. A review of the evidence for actions to reduce car dependency, leading to identification of possible new interventions and policies to be considered by stakeholders.
3. A map identifying ongoing and planned policies and interventions and their potential interplay.
4. A suite of potential co-ordinated policies and interventions ‘tested’ (in terms of acceptability and feasibility) with road users and local citizens in a citizens’ jury.
5. A consensual understanding of the evidence provided and implications for reducing car dependency in Belfast.
6. A roadmap for multi-sectoral action to reduce car dependency in Belfast.
Ruth F. Hunter, Claire L. Cleland, Frank Kee, Alberto Longo, Brendan Murtagh, John Barry, Gary McKeown, Leandro Garcia. Developing System-Oriented Interventions and Policies to Reduce Car Dependency for Improved Population Health in Belfast: Study Protocol. Systems 2021, 9(3), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/systems9030062; https://www.mdpi.com/2079-8954/9/3/62