How can footfall and transport be used innovatively to generate income and improve environmental sustainability in the City?


Challenge #4 was launched on February 15th 2012 and was by far and away the most popular and engaging discussion to date. Background information on this challenge was provided by Question Champion Jacqui Warren, a Sustainability Officer at the Council. Information provided to the GeniUS community centered around explaining the four key elements of the challenge, income, footfall, transport, and environmental sustainability and the background to these in York. It also explained the benefits meeting this challenge could provide the City.

What happened

Energy generating pavements - The feasibility of running the pilot of this idea and technology was explored for one of York's largest festivals, Illuminating York.

A location was identified for the installation of an electricity generating pavement within the Museum Gardens on a thoroughfare. This was intended to power the lighting of a light installation within the festival and hopefully to measure the amount of electricity that could be generated using this technology. It was also intended to give an opportunity to get public opinion and feedback. In the end the grant application we bid for was not accepted in this case.  Reasons were that the amount of installation costs for the 4 day period, vs amount of electricity generated with Pavegen’s mark 1 design wasn’t economically viable.  We are still interested in this idea and are awaiting the launch of the ‘mark 2 paving stone’ which is due out soon.  We like the concept but are awaiting a more robust and hardwearing product to be developed that can be left in-situ for longer.

Original Question and Conversation

How can footfall and transport be used innovatively to generate income and improve environmental sustainability in the City?

This challenge has 4 key elements:

1.Footfall – how bustling and busy a place is with pedestrians;

2.Transport – getting about from A to B by motorised transport modes such as a car, vans or motorcycle or by more sustainable modes such as walking, cycling, buses and trains;

3.Income - attracting, saving or generating money in the city to help the local economy thrive; and

4.Environmental Sustainability – delivering quality of life whilst protecting the environment i.e reducing carbon emissions which contribute towards tackling climate change, improving air quality, recycling, energy and water conservation, renewable energy generation and protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

When we combine these four elements together this challenge is about finding an innovative way to generate money from footfall and / or transport modes in a way that will improve environmental sustainability in the city.

For this challenge we are focussing on the City Centre, inside the Walls, however, we are open to innovate ideas for any part of York.

The Challenge

Traditionally, motorised transport is a major user of polluting sources of energy. For example, many of us use petrol in our cars to run them. Unfortunately burning such fuels to power our cars can have a wide range of negative impacts on the environment creating air pollution from nitrogen oxides and particulates, and carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

Changing our reliance from polluting to non-polluting modes of transport is challenging enough, which is why the city already has programmes like Intelligent Travel York, and its predecessor Cycling City York. But doing this AND generating income from these changes is even more challenging and we need your innovative thinking!


As a city we are fortunate in having many advantages enabling sustainable travel to be a realistic option for a large proportion of our residents, York also has a particularly high proportion of people who cycle (15% ) and walk (15%) and car trip levels (driver & passenger) are also much lower than the regional and national average (Census 2001).  In the city centre alone footfall in 2011 was just under 12 and a half million on Coney Street and eight and half million on Parliament Street.

Environmental impacts of transport

However, it is expected that there will be a significant growth in jobs and housing over the next 15 - 20 years. Such growth is likely to impact on the environmental sustainability of the city unless we can alter the way we travel and live.

Such growth is likely to increase the pressures on the transport network, which could lead to current levels of delay increasing and contributing to more carbon emissions and climate change and pollutants that affect local air quality and health.

By 2050 York’s carbon emissions are predicted to increase by up to 30%, currently 26% of York’s carbon emissions come from the transport sector and as a City we are committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2020.

In order to achieve this target the city is also committed to generating more clean energy from renewable energy sources such as solar energy, wind and hydro. However, there are other innovate ways to generate clean energy and we are actively seeking these too, such as generating energy from people as they walk!

York has also declared 2 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) based on annual average nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels that are higher than the government guidelines.

A presentation with more background information on this challenge and the work currently happening across the city on sustainable transport and climate change is available to view by clicking on the link  under attachments lower down the page.

What may be the benefits to tackling this challenge?

Depending on the solution, the benefits may include:

  • A healthier population that walks and cycles more (and saves money from it too!)
  • Cleaner air and improved health benefits
  • A city reducing carbon emissions and the future impacts of a changing climate
  • Less congestion across the city
  • More people visiting the city and spending their money in the city
  • Generating clean energy and reducing the city’s energy bills

Less of this:

And more healthy people to enjoy a healthy environment

But how do we solve the challenge?

If you think you know how to tackle this challenge tell us.

For this challenge we are focussing on the City Centre, inside the City Walls, however, we are open to innovate ideas for any part of York. All we ask is that you stick to the challenge question and involve footfall / and / or Transport modes, income generation that will improve the local environment.

Here’s some ideas:

One such idea could be for example how we could generate energy from people as they walk. York’s footfall figures in the city centre are potentially a great untapped resource - in 2011 there were 12.5 million on Coney Street and 8.5 million on Parliament Street. Technology exists which can exploit all this movement and convert it into a renewable energy source – and potential income!

Ideas could be based around new technology or simply doing things differently or encouraging people or businesses to behave in a different way. For example, discounts could be offered at attractions for people arriving on push bikes – encouraging more cycling and potentially increasing visitor numbers.

Promising ideas will be investigated by experts, working with the originator and affected groups and, if plans are agreed, the Council has committed to make them reality.

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Replies are closed for this discussion.


  • Sorry Tom wasnt at the event yesterday - sounds like he could have added to the debate nicely! Watch out for details of the report back and presentations from those who were there - Im sure some of the ideas can be taken forward, though of course Im biased having suggested some of them! Andy

  • Reading the comments from other people just reminded me of something. 

    The problem with car-sharing systems is not that there aren't enough cars or people, its that our current way of using them does't match up. What if there was a way to connect both cars & people while getting over the trust issue (lets not forget we get in taxis all the time with no idea who is taking us home) then we have a solution.

    So i have been thinking - what about you create a badge that people can buy on ebay. The traveler displays the badge (and signals themselves as a hipster natch) and anyone driving along can pick them up. They both scan the badge's QR codes to match the journey and they both continue the journey as if they already knew each other. Its combining AirB&B, Couchsurfing and ebay into a beautiful travel system. Do I win ten pounds?

  • I think it's important to recognise that the factors we want to change tend to be:

    - Intangible in that we can't physically see the NO2 and other pollutants being generated by our journeys... or them being inhaled by our children;

    - Cumulative in the sense that one individual driver doesn't think they are causing the traffic jam, i.e. it's only visible when small outcomes are aggregated;

    - Deferred in that the costs/benefits are time-shifted from the event itself, so you only notice the financial cost each time you fill-up your car (rather than per journey) and the health costs only when you realise that you are out of breath when you reach the top of the office stairs, but your cycling colleague isn't;

    - Irrational in that (for lots of reasons) individuals don't necessarily make the best judgements. For example, the deferred consequences described above lead to what psychologists or economists might know as 'hyperbolic discounting,' e.g. that our comfort now (e.g. driving today because it's wet) is more important than our health tomorrow. Another example is using the car because you are "in a hurry" right now, only to squander lots of time before or afterwards;

    - Open-loop in that we don't receive much information on the net consequences of our decisions; We may see our fuel bill or weigh ourselves on the scales once in a while, but it's much harder to associate that information back to the decision to make multiple short car journeys than it is to associate your weight gain to the chocolate cake you had the night before. In other words we quickly discount the connection between many different causes and effects;

    - Incomparable in that we rarely accurately assess the opportunity cost of alternative options. Many people don't habitually do 'what-if' exercises like: how much money would I save if I cycled? or how much fitter would I be if walked? Online calculators do exist but realistically making comparisons of CO2 emissions, journey times, money saved, convenience, is too hard and instead we make biased judgments that put more emphasis on factors like staying dry or saving time, than saving the planet.

    In response, York could positively influence behaviours by 'closing loops' and presenting information back to people in a way that shows the tangible, cumulative, immediate , rational and comparable impact of their behaviors. Some quick ideas on ways to do this:

    - Digital traffic counters/displays that show 'vehicles today/this week' that enter the City and whether that is up or down on the weekly average, perhaps green if we are improving and red if we are getting worse.

    - Add signs, perhaps on the sides of bus-stops (or painted on the roads), that show the fuel savings, journey time, CO2 avoided and calories burned if you cycled or walked from that point instead of taking your car: "Here to York: average £3.40 fuel by car or 250 calories by bike"

    - Roundabouts in the City are being sponsored by businesses, but how about each one having a 'message' to drivers with facts about the potential benefits of other forms of transport?

    - Air Quality also needs to be translated into a display or even a moving sculpture that illustrates the volume of pollutants in the atmosphere and whether we are getting better or worse as a City.

    - Exploit 'mobile signs' by offering discounted luminous tabards to cyclists that list benefits of cycling, or further messages on the back of buses.

    - On the 'park and ride' signs on the outskirts of York, add the average cost and time saving per user compared to heading to city centre parking.

    - Equally on the other facets of the challenge, how about a central information board (or at least web pages) in York that, with help from utility companies, tell how much water is the city is consuming or how much energy we are using? and if the trend is improving or worsening?

    - We see police signs of the style "Accident hotspot: 15 serious accidents here in the last two years", but we should consider using other information boards in the same way, e.g. "Traffic congestion zone: is your journey necessary?"

    - More visible 'in-your-face' indicators (Red/Amber/Green) on how we are progressing as a City on reducing congestion, saving energy, doing exercise, etc. and perhaps some more public celebration of individuals and businesses that are making a noteworthy contribution to reducing it. Perhaps with pledges from businesses.

    The challenge of 'information asymmetry' also cuts both ways: for example using the bus can feel more expensive because many passengers pay cash each time they use it, whereas many car drivers don't factor their fuel (ignoring insurance, maintenance, depreciation), parking into the cost of that journey. So a major benefit of an Oyster card on the Underground is that you don't feel the pain of parting with cash per journey each day, but net at the end of the month you are better off than using a car. Add the fact that it's far more convenient, then an integrated Oyster style card for York would make a massive difference to people's use of public transport.

    Another major opportunity is a YorkApp (web/phone/information points) that combines live transport information (possibly geotag driven) with mechanisms to support changes in behaviour. It could include: (i) a journey planner that gives alternatives for car/bus/bike but also quotes the average net cost/impact of each, (ii) live information on the location and timings of the next bus from my current stop, (iii) easy registration of 'my journeys' to alert you of car sharing opportunities, (iv) updated information on York's progress in improving it's transport/environment performance. Once again, most of these exist but they are currently fragmented in different web sites or services that could instead be integrated into one easy-to-use App that would save everyone time. Furthermore directing visitors to such an App (via Visit York) before they arrive would also help to encourage the use of trains, park and ride, as well as information on attractions, shopping etc to benefit the local economy.

    This turned into a long reply, but the general point is that information is a key way to change behaviours. Nevertheless we will always be chipping away at a subset of people who are in a position/mindset to change habits. A first step is to get much better published evidence on the who/when/where/how/why of journeys in the City from which we can get a baseline and target particular segments with more focussed strategies for improvements.
    • Some excellent points here that need exploring further. Quantifying pollution, congestion, fuel costs etc and making drivers aware of the choices they are making has to be the first step to changing behaviour and making alternatives appear more attractive. More visible 'in-your-face' indicators (Red/Amber/Green) are definitely the way to go, including translating air quality into meaningful information, combined with signs such as 'please switch off while queuing' could surely make a difference in peak time congestion waiting for lights at junctions around the centre.  

      • I am sure many of these will have been considered and initiatives like IBM's Smarter Cities will have other case studies/ideas. However, I haven't seen much detailed published evidence on transport usage in York. If we had a means to share and grow an evidence base then we could make more targeted and cost-effective improvements to change local behaviours. One example is doing a sample census on City Centre car park users to find the reasons for their decision to drive and park in that location. If, for example, significant numbers were in the position to use Park and Ride instead, then tickets for that car park could have '15% Park & Ride Discount' vouchers printed on the reverse side. Other interesting data we could look at would be occupancy figures for cars arriving in the city centre. Likewise, City Centre employers could be allowed to offer their staff discounts on using the Park & Ride (or discounts to all frequent users). Before making any changes we need sufficient evidence on people's motives, habits and a means to measure the impact/benefits - ideally via controlled trials in the first instance. The solution to York's evolving sustainability challenge won't be a 'silver bullet' change (there probably isn't an affordable one) but a portfolio of interventions that are evaluated and improved on an ongoing basis.

        What these suggestions don't cover is the part of the challenge question on how to generate income to support environmental sustainability. For that side I would look at how the economic development and sustainability can be reinforcing. Tourists, shoppers and businesses will all be attracted here if we can provide efficient/fast and environmentally friendly transport and places to work/eat/shop. Once again evidence plays a role here, for example in understanding key metrics like the impact one tourist visit (or one tourist pound spent) has on the local economy and sustainability. Visitors and businesses will be attracted to York precisely by demonstrating that we are a 'Smarter City'.
        • This is an excellent point. One aspect I would explore is whether we should change the park and ride so that the charge is per vehicle, with free bus travel rather than free parking then paying per adult. That would immediately make car sharing financially more attractive and make more efficient use of the parking spaces. It would also start to undo the perverse situation where the council at present depends on parking income that comes entirely from city centre parking, yet has a policy supposedly to cut car use in the city centre. About £8m per year of council income comes from its car parking charges.

          • And how will it increase footfall?

          • Another idea is to work with schools and businesses to facilitate more mapping of user journeys within York. If there are clusters of parents or employees that live in particular areas, or travel along specific routes, then specific strategies could be used  - such as matching journeys for lift sharing (Liftshare does this but needs matching sign-ups) or directing people to alternative forms of transport. These could be addressed in a pareto manner on a City-wide basis, e.g. travel information for those who drive from Leeds to York. Once again, we need better data on journeys to target our improvements and to know if they are working.

            Thinking more radically, smart parking ticket machines would be a great solution to the information gap. Imagine a touch-screen ticket machine that prompts users to quickly enter three bits of information: (i) the first three or four characters of the postcode or location where they started their journey, (ii) their number of passengers, and (iii) the purpose of their visit - business or pleasure. Their arrival times and duration of stay would be recorded. Overall it should give a statistically significant dataset that would build a comprehensive map of usage from which to identify and tackle usage patterns.

            This suggestion addresses council-operated car parks (and similar surveys could be done of businesses) but not 'through-traffic' that must be a big cause of congestion. One way to tackle that information-gap is through a network of TrafficMaster cameras (the ones on blue poles) that anonymously log journeys from point to point through key routes in the city. Dynamic understanding of City-wide traffic flows would support justifications for pedestrianisation, one-way systems, diversions to ring-roads, and even better signposting on best routes.

            One final note is on the 'second-order' effects of transport: in that improving traffic flow will encourage more car usage, so arguably all we achieve is yet more congestion with a greater number of (polluting) cars in the city. The systemic answer is therefore to go for pedestrianising everything within the City walls or eventual congestion charging according to vehicle emissions.

            • Thanks to everyone who has submitted comments and solutions to this complex challenge. We are staggered by the volume of ideas and the variety. The challenge is now closed and we will shortly be starting the hard process of evaluating them. For people who have posted solutions, we will be in touch shortly inviting you to a workshop to help us refine and shortlist solutions into a preferred solution / solutions(s) that will be further considered and taken forward where possible as per the creative council process ( see )

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This website is for anyone and everyone to share ideas on how we can tackle the challenges that York and its inhabitants face. We want to encourage and develop new and imaginative ways for the city to meet some of its key challenges.