Smart urban transport to enhance livability in Tbilisi
Imelda served as the national urban planning coordinator of the ADB Future Cities technical assistance from its inception until April 2017, and became the team leader from May to December 2017.
Gernot Lenz is a transport planning and modeling specialist at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. His research at the Center for Mobility Systems focuses on smart cities, urban mobility, transport modeling, and traffic simulation. For more than 10 years he has been responsible for transport planning aspects in various projects throughout his research domains. Gernot served as the project manager of AIT’s Knowledge Capacity Development project regarding Urban Transport in Tbilisi under the ADB Future Cities technical assistance.
Stefan Seer is a senior scientist at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, where he leads the Integrated Mobility Systems research group. Stefan and his team focus on enhancing the reliability of transport systems, making traveling more efficient, safe, and comfortable while improving its sustainability. He is also a research affiliate with the SENSEable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Leveraging on partnerships, the Future Cities technical assistance paved the way for Tbilisi’s ‘project of the century’.
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a picturesque, medium-sized city that fuses the past with the present — and there is no better example of this than the city’s transport system.
The city, while historic and attractive (judging by the volume of tourists), faces a host of urban challenges such as traffic congestion, pollution, and poor public transport service. Its urban sprawl also constitutes of low-density development along main road networks and the city is pockmarked with plentiful and inexpensive on-site parking that have helped to promote a car-centric lifestyle. Meanwhile, poorly maintained footways discourage walking. In addition, Tbilisi’s infrastructure and traffic flows converge on a single corridor, further contributing to negative impacts.
These problems stem from past and present urban planning decisions. Of the former, the way the city was designed before follows the natural topography of Tbilisi with its hilly terrain, making it difficult for vehicular traffic. Tbilisi also maintains old Ukrainian buses and a metro system from its Soviet days. Of the latter, there is a lack of planning for future developments.
Currently, the major mode of transport is public transport. About 50% of households own a car but car ownership is rising quickly. The city government recognizes the need to shift to sustainable urban mobility, and would like to be a model in the Caucasus region.
ADB, since 2010, has been supporting this aspiration through the Sustainable Urban Transport Investment Program (SUTIP) in Georgia. Under the project, the Tbilisi Sustainable Urban Transport Strategy (2015–2030) was born and endorsed by the City Assembly in January 2016.
Then Tbilisi Deputy Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze called the metro upgrade, "Tbilisi's project of the century". Rehabilitating the over 50-year-old metro system would significantly boost public safety and operational efficiency.
The Future Cities regional technical assistance, implemented from 2016–2017, has likewise given the city opportunities to expand and concretize its action plan under the transport strategy. It provided knowledge, capacity building, and project preparation support for the city. In particular, through the Future Cities’ intervention, prefeasibility funding from the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) was initiated for two key proposed projects: the Bus Network Improvement and Pilot Surface Transit System (also referred to as the Bus Rapid Transit/Light Rail Transit study worth $450,000) and the Metro Rail System Rehabilitation ($400,000). These studies requested by the local government were endorsed by the Ministry for Regional Development Infrastructure.
The bus study was prepared by Mott MacDonald, a British consultancy with previous experience with similar public transport systems such as in Baku and Moscow. They assessed the restructuring and rationalization of the bus network; the conceptual definition and location of pilot surface transit system for either a bus rapid transit (BRT) or a light rail transit (LRT) system; and a strategy for parking management. The study contains components to promote an efficient, affordable, safe, environmentally friendly, economically viable, and financially sustainable bus and/or LRT system. It also compares different transport modes and costs. For instance, cost-wise a BRT ($71 million) would be cheaper than a tram ($343 million).
The metro upgrade study, on the other hand, was completed by French engineering and consulting firm Systra in August 2017. Then Tbilisi Deputy Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze called it “Tbilisi’s project of the century”. Rehabilitating the over 50-year-old metro system would significantly boost public safety and operational efficiency. Currently, issues include out-of-date escalators and electro-mechanical equipment, as well as poor track alignment. The study assessed options for upgrading and improving metro operations to meet present global technical, operational, safety, and accessibility standards.
Aside from these, a knowledge partner – the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology – was engaged under the Future Cities technical assistance (similar with the other five cities of this initiative) to provide Tbilisi with additional expert knowledge and capacity building in urban transport.
The first part of the engagement was on diagnostics followed by smart urban planning and management. The diagnostics highlighted gaps in urban transport planning and operations management as well as local capacity vis-à-vis modern, digital transportation planning, management and monitoring methods and tools. This led to the dissection and analysis for planning and optimization of a multimodal transport hub modeled on Tbilisi’s Didube station, a key convergence spot of the public transport network north of the city; multimodal transport data collection via smartphone app; and capacity building and further linkages.
A concept was developed for the redesign of Didube station using six scenarios. These scenarios included measures to reorganize local and regional bus stops, ensure a smooth traffic flow, and improve the comfort in public space. Two scenarios were the subject of a detailed impact assessment using the multimodal traffic simulation software VISSIM and the pedestrian simulation framework developed by AIT allowing an in-depth analysis of passenger flows inside the station during regular operations and emergency evacuations.
The smartphone app tool, meanwhile, has been adapted to match the local conditions in Tbilisi following test and evaluation surveys. Survey results through the app indicate more detailed information compared with conventional surveys, since AIT’s smart survey automatically detects the transport mode used and captures short trips, walking, and transits between different transport modes. Since the proof-of-concept was successful, the tool is ready to be expanded to include other information such as climate resilience or as part of a household survey. For a full rollout, it is recommended to build up local technical assistance for participants in order to achieve smooth results and high-quality datasets.
In support of capacity building for the creation of a knowledge hub for sustainable transport, short, medium to long-term opportunities were explored in the form of a training on open source GIS (QGIS), cooperation at university level (between Technical University of Georgia and the Vienna University of Technology), and cooperation at city administration level, e.g., through twinning.
Both the metro and bus studies and the AIT intervention strongly contribute to a multimodal transport and sustainable urban mobility in Tbilisi, supporting its goal to be a leader in the region and becoming a smart, future-ready city.