HomeOperationsLight RailMaking the case for connectivity in the suburbs

Making the case for connectivity in the suburbs


It’s fair to say that many of us — myself included — often talk about public transport in terms of getting people to work, or maybe out on leisure trips.

Certainly the latter has come into the forefront of people’s minds lately, as day-trippers and holidaymakers helps drive recovery from dropping COVID pandemic numbers.

But now a new report from the Urban Transport Group says we should start looking at using transport networks to deliver sustainable transport within the suburbs. It looks everything from e-bikes to trains and trams in its considerations and case studies.

The vast majority of people — 80% — live in suburbs, but the Group suggests that they are often neglected when it comes to transport planning in favour of the city or the countryside. The upshot of the report is that there’s no decarbonisation without linking up the suburbs.

What is a suburb?

The Urban Transport Group says suburbs are:

  • Interdependent with a town or a city
  • Mainly residential
  • Low density and low-rise
  • Favoured by families with children

The report argues the case that COVID has helped people realise better what is on offer in the local suburbs. It says we should hold onto some of the lessons from the pandemic as climate change is one of the great challenges we still face.

It asks then that we give suburban connectivity a fresh look, taking into account the whole spectrum of travel types, to from and within these residential areas. These include city commuters, home workers, school children, carers and more.

It reminds readers that the types of suburbs vary wildly. Suburbs are busy, and can equally house poverty as well as green-leaf affluence.

It argues the suburbs for a new era should:

  1. Help people to access more of what they need locally, so people don’t have to go on longer trips for it
  2. Provide family-friendly sustainable transport choices, ensuring they are close to home,
  3. Prioritise gentle densification around sustainable transport infrastructure, bringing levels up in a tolerable way
  4. Provide reliable, convenient connections to the nearest town or city and key employment sites

In addition to the four foundations, the report urges policy makers to join the dots between transport and the decarbonisation and adaptation of the suburbs more widely – from using community microgrids to power homes and transport to the integration of blue and green assets, like rain gardens and green roofs, into transport infrastructure.

The report – The Good Life: The role of transport in shaping a new and sustainable era for suburbs – also features a range of case studies highlighting how these foundations are already being supported.

The report states:

“We are a nation of suburbanites. However, the ubiquity of suburban living is often not reflected in transport policy. We frequently fail to fully engage with, or even mention, suburban transport patterns and needs. Instead, cities, and to a lesser extent, rural communities tend to monopolise the policy landscape.

“Ultimately, the aim should be for all suburbanites to experience the promise of the ‘good life’ that the earliest suburbs offered to jaded city dwellers, transformed for a new era – where the suburb has a rhythm, spirit and buzz all of its own, powered by people and green energy; enlivened with trees, gardens, water and play; and rich in sustainable transport choices for all kinds of journeys – big or small, straightforward or complex – and all kinds of people, reflecting the increasing diversity of suburban life.”

Rebecca Fuller, Assistant Director at the Urban Transport Group, and author of the report, said: “The pandemic has forced us to move away from the idea that suburban transport is mostly about moving commuters in and out of town and city centres. The suburbs feature many more journey types, made by a diverse group of people, and these journeys now need to be made more sustainably in the face of the climate crisis.

“Far more attention needs to be made to suburban transport planning now than it has in the past. This report sets out the transport foundations for a new era for suburbs, and whilst it presents some potential solutions, it also aims to trigger wider debate about the role transport can play and the specific transport solutions that will help suburbs to thrive in a sustainable and equitable way.”

The Urban Transport Group will be hosting one of its Urban Transport Next online conversations on the suburbs on Tuesday 26 July. The free event will feature Rebecca Fuller of the Urban Transport Group, Dr Nicholas Falk of the URBED Trust and Steve Chamber of Transport for New Homes. Register here.


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