'ABC' Planning as a planning instrument in urban transport policy



Country: a) Western Europeb) Netherlands
Type: Project, Policy, Concept, 1
Area: City/Town, 100,000 - 1 mill.
Actors: Local government, Regional government
Funding: Local government
Topics: Mobility and transport
Objectives: Increase use of public transport
Reduce car mobility
Reduce commuting distance
Instruments: Integrated planning approach
New environmental policies and regulations


Since 1990 the City of Utrecht has increased its efforts to implement the new Dutch town planning which is oriented towards the "compact city" concept. The ABC location policy classifies urban development areas according to the conditions of transport. As the City of Utrecht is located in the heart of the Netherlands growing economic centre, the Randstad, it is aiming to double its public transport capacities by the year 2015. The ABC planning in three major urban areas can be regarded as an example of good practice for the following reasons:

Concept and aims


In the Netherlands the conflicting policy areas of environmentally compatible urban development and of transport are addressed under the umbrella of a planning policy known as "The Right Business in the Right Place". This policy is designed to reduce dependence on the growing environmental impacts of travel, in particular private car use. A system of land-use planning measures aims to enable town planners to influence the volume of traffic by adjusting policy issues in the areas of housing, work, services and leisure. Land-use planning measures are designed to help to shape the pattern of urban development, to guide the location of major travel-generating uses, and to ensure a wide range of opportunities at the local level. Measures at local, strategic and regional level should be intertwined in order to achieve vertical and horizontal integration of different government functions. By establishing common working procedures the goal is to implement traffic-reducing policy at all levels of Dutch transportation policy.

During the mid-1980s the Dutch government introduced a new traffic management policy. The main aims are priority of business road use, use of public transport, and increase in car-sharing as well as of bicycle use. At the time the national target was to reduce predicted traffic growth between 1985 and 2015 from 72 % to 35 %. All Dutch provinces, i.e. the regional planning level, and all cities, use this national transport guideline as the basis for their traffic management. On the one hand urban traffic management can include 'pull' measures, mainly promotion of public transport and cycling. On the other hand, reduction in car use can be stimulated by 'push' measures: car parks, charges and tolls, transportation demand management, or street planning. The rational of this policy is that spatial planning can play an important role in influencing the amount of traffic and the mode of transport.

In 1989 ABC planning policy as it is known was introduced in Dutch location policy when the National Environmental Policy Plan laid the basis for drawing up procedural plans for each region. Representatives of the central government, the provinces and the municipalities have to consult with representatives from businesses, industries, public transport operators and interest groups in order to reach agreement on the classification of future urban locations and their infrastructure requirements. The classifications indicate the type of development and form the basis for setting priorities in development. This kind of large scale, long-term urban land-use planning has a major impact on extension plans in many Dutch cities, especially in Randstad which is going to strengthen its importance as the economic heart of the Netherlands. The ABC planning classification distinguishes in the following three categories:

  1. A localities are places with excellent public transport and poor car accessibility. These localities are typically suitable for offices with a large number of employees and many visitors. The sites have to be within 600 m of a national or regional railway interchange or within 400 m of a high quality tram or bus stop; not more than 10 minutes ride from a national railway station and a good connection to park & ride facilities at the outskirts of the city has to be available. Within this category is a further distinction between AI and AII locations. An AI location has to have be directly adjacent to a railway station whereas an AII location does not.
  2. B localities are places with a good public transport as well as good car accessibility. These locations are characteristically chosen for offices and institutions with a large number of employees which depend partly on car journeys for professional reasons. Such sites are within 400 m of a high quality tram or bus stop and no more than 5 minutes ride from a regional railway station. In addition, they have to be within 400 m of a main road connected to a national highway. BI, BII, and BIII locaities have to be defined according to needs of organisations in the area (e.g. parking facilities are attuned to encourage minimum use of cars).
  3. C localities are places with poor public transport and excellent car accessibility. In particular, such sites are suitable for car-dependent companies like hauliers, couriers or other industries. These sites are within 1000 m of a direct connection to a national highway. C locations are normally situated in the outskirts of metropolitan areas.

As the availability of parking space is a vital aspect in the reduction of car use in a certain area, the ABC categories are linked to a fixed number of car parks per classified area. The following ratio are in existence in the Netherlands:

minimum number
maximum number
AI (offices)
1 : 250
1 : 250
AII (offices)
1 : 175
1 : 250
B (offices, business)
1 : 125
1 : 90
C (business)
1 : 90
1 : 60
AI/AII (advanced education)
1 : 250
1 : 250
B/C (advanced education)
1 : 145
1 : 145
AI/AII (shopping centres)
1 : 90
1 : 40
B/C (shopping centres)
1 : 65
1 : 30

Ratio of parking spaces to gross floor space in relation to function and locality

This classification of urban areas is designed to enable governmental institutions at all levels to define a starting point from which they can find readiness to develop a common transportation policy in co-operation with other local non-governmental institutions. It is assumed that with this backing they will be able to lay the foundations for a reasonable plan of action for the locations. In total the land-use policy and the given or improved local transportation policy form the „transport region“. In Utrecht the transport region includes the city itself and eleven further towns in the region (the Regional Beraad Utrecht). At this spatial level town planning and urban land use planning is prescribed. Currently, the planning committee is provided by the regional administration but in future it should be elected by the inhabitants.

The joint policy of land-use planning and transportation planning is designed to put forward proposals of action containing the following local issues:

In Utrecht this policy is oriented towards the "compact city" guideline for town planning. As the city is located in the centre of the country it has to work extremely hard to combat effects of uncoordinated economic development and its environmental impacts.

Implementation and Impacts


Since the late 1980s the City of Utrecht has become a strong supporter of the policy of land-use management as traffic congestion has grown to a major urban problem. In view of recent plans for large scale urban development the planning instrument of ABC locations has been used to initiate three major urban planning projects which are primarily oriented towards the expected volume of traffic:

  1. The "Utrecht City Project" is Utrecht's only AI locality at the city centre.
  2. The "Rijnsweerd-Noord" project is a typical B locality development.
  3. The "Leidsche Rijn" is a major extension based on the 'compact city' planning philosophy and it includes several B and C localities.

The common aim of these projects is reduction of private car use by 14 % and an increase of bicycle use or car pools to 36 % by the year 2015. Compared to the current situation this means an increase in bicycle use and car pools by 50 %. In order to achieve the 14 % reduction in private car use, 26 % of in-area private car use had to be transferred to public transport and 17 % of the private car use to the designed areas had to be shifted to public transport. The policy of public transport and bicycle use versus car use can only succeed if a number of far-reaching measures are implemented. They aim to create the pre-requisities for a balanced location in classified areas (e.g. an A location needs an improvement in public transport infrastructure). In Utrecht the following measures have been taken in order to support land-use developments:

In addition to traffic-related policy the Utrecht City Council is continuously working on implementing of town planning according to ABC planning principles. As already mention three major areas are currently under progress.

1. The Utrecht City Project

The Utrecht City Project is the most ambitious of the three, as it affects the city centre and Utrecht central railway station. It is designed as the regions only and exclusive A locality and it is a model for the 'compact city' leitmotif. The plans include 1,000 apartments, 300,000 square metres of office space, and 25,000 square metres of shop space above central railway station. Public facilities (e.g. cinemas) and upgraded parks are designed to prevent the area become mono-functional and unfriendly. The current number of 100,000 commuters and travellers in transit is scheduled to double by the year 2015.

2. The "Rijnsweerd-Noord" project

The second project is located in the east of Utrecht halfway between the city centre and an out-of-town university campus. It is a B locality with a planned high-quality public transport link to the Utrecht city centre in less than 10 minutes. In addition, the location is also well connected to the national highway system. As it is a traditional office area with two large complexes dating the 1970s, the investors in two new office developments in 1988 and 1995 had to pay special attention to transport matters. Most of the buildings are within 400 metres of a centrally-located public transport stop. Furthermore, employers are under the obligation to reduce solo car commuting as soon as the city delivers the above-mentioned improvements in public transport, cycle lanes, and car-pool inducements. The city committed itself to help the companies by offering the services of "mobility consultants".

3. The "Leidsche Rijn" project

The third major project in Utrecht is also prominent as it is the largest single urban extension project in the Netherlands. It is located on the western side of the city centre and parts of the area belong to the neighbouring municipality of Vleuten-de Meern. By the year 2015 project planning foresees the development of 30,000 houses, 700,000 square metres of offices and 180 hectares of other commercial space. Again transport aspects will have an impact on planning as the development is concentrated within a six kilometre radius of Utrecht city centre. It is assumed that up to this distance, travelling by bicycle or public transport is faster, more efficient and more reliable for trips to the city centre than going by car.

In 1995 the master plan for the area had already focused on the existing and future high quality public transport links. Large B localities are directed to areas near the planned public transport stops which are also orientation points for the settlement of new residential areas. C localities in the Leidsche Rijn project are located close to existing highway exits.

Evaluation and Statements


The Dutch ABC location policy aims to change the pattern of urban mobility. As a planning instrument it is bound to a precise and restrictive interpretation of town planning. However, this policy is not without some drawbacks. The following impacts of the policy can occur:

From the inconsistencies of ABC planning it is obvious that the planning instrument can be further improved (e.g. distinction in the modal share the number of kilometres travelled). Nonetheless, the policy also has positive effects:

Source of Information


Servaas, Harry 1994: CO2-Reduktion und Stadtentwicklung in Utrecht, in: Klimabündnis / Alianza del Clima, (Hg.), Klimaschutz durch Verkehrsvermeidung. Handlungsansätze auf kommunaler und regionaler Ebene, Frankfurt/M, S. 265-275

Ebels, Enno 1996: Land-use management in Utrecht: A , B and C locations, in: EA.UE, (ed.), Environmentally Compatible Urban Transport, p. 40-43


Telefon:+31 / 30 / 286 44 70
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Address:City of Utrecht
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NL - 2503 RK Utrecht



The City of Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. The surrounding area houses a population of approximately 500,000. The city is located at the eastern part of the „Randstad“ which is the major economic, cultural and political centre of the Dutch state. Major products of the city's industry are machinery, processed food, metal items, chemicals, clothing, furniture and printed material. Tourism and construction are also important to the city's economic base. Utrecht is the site of the State University of Utrecht, the Utrecht Conservatory, and the Utrecht State Archives.



Project was added at 27.02.1998
Project was changed at 27.02.1998

Extract from the database 'SURBAN - Good practice in urban development', sponsored by: European Commission, DG XI and Land of Berlin
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