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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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Availability of urban functions by road, 2011

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data source and more Map: TRACC, RRG
Data sources: RRG GIS database
 

  • From most locations in Europe at least one city of more than 50,000 inhabitants can be reached by car in less than 60 minutes travel time. Regions in densely populated areas are in a better position.
  • In almost all countries regions exist where the population only has poor access to the services of general interest that cities offer.
  • These inner-peripheral areas, mostly sparsely populated and often mountainous or smaller islands offer their citizens a lower level of access to services.

Observations for policy

Access to and availability of public and private services and functions provided in urban nodes is crucial for daily life of citizens. Easy access to these urban nodes is required to fully benefit from these services. Accessibility of these urban functions determines the locational advantage of a region relative to all regions. Accessibility is depending on transport networks, for flows of goods and people between cities and rural and urban areas. Roads are dominant in transport networks, determining the accessibility of urban functions.

The higher the number of cities that can be reached from a given location in a reasonable time, the greater the opportunities are provided for economic and social activities and for general interactions. Furthermore, locations that are well connected to a larger number of cities ÔÇô i.e. locations from where several cities can be reach within a reasonable time ÔÇô are often considered to be more attractive for firms and people.

Policy context

Territorial Cohesion, one of the main objectives of EuropeÔÇÖs regional and urban policy, entails inter alia fair access to infrastructure services and the reduction of economic disparities. EuropeÔÇÖs transport network plays a key role regarding the flows of goods and people at local level between urban and rural regions, at regional, national, European and international level. Connectivity implies that cities and regions have access to the locations of materials for production and services and to markets. A general assumption is that cities and regions with higher accessibility are often more productive, more competitive and hence more successful than regions that are more remote and isolated. However, other factors play a role in explaining economic performance as well.

The 18 months programme of the Council, prepared by the Italian, Latvian and Luxembourg Presidencies and the High Representative explicitly mentions and thus emphasises the role of inner areas that are generally in decline. Development potentials exist that could be explored in order to assure an adequate level of accessible urban functions.

The Common Transport Policy aims at developing competitive modes of transport that helps to reduce the ÔÇťperipheral natureÔÇŁ of regions as well as the development of lagging regions with poor endowments of transport networks and high transport costs. This policy aims at a core European network connecting 94 main ports to rail and road links, 38 key airports with rail connections, 15,000 km of railway lines upgraded to high speed and 35 cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks. Territorial connectivity and the importance to remove bottlenecks in the transport infrastructure are also addressed in the Territorial Agenda 2020 and EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020, aiming at the creation of faster, more environmental friendly and growth-related transport facilities across Europe.

Map interpretation

The map illustrates the accessibility to cities by road. It shows that most European areas are well covered by EuropeÔÇÖs road network. However, some regional differences can be noted. People in Western Europe can reach the most urban functions within an hour. Agglomerated areas in Europe, such as the Ruhr area, England, Paris, the Benelux countries, Northern Italy as well as metropolitan regions in other countries have the highest accessibility in terms of number of cities that can be reached within an hour by road. Furthermore, the coastal axis from Barcelona via Valencia to Murcia, Saxony in Eastern Germany or Upper Silesia in Southern Poland stand out as areas with polycentric systems providing a high number of urban functions.

Places that cannot be reached are the so-called inner peripheral regions. These can be found in basically all European countries, for example, many parts in France or Spain, or areas in Poland or Czech Republic. Other regions where urban functions are less accessible cover mountainous regions, small islands and sparsely populated regions such as the northern periphery. In many of these areas the amount of cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants is lower. However, basic services of general interest might be present in smaller cities serving a wider area in these less populated places.

Concepts and methods

The availability of urban functions by road are illustrated by the number of cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants that can be reached within a travel time of 60 minutes. Calculations are made for raster cells of 2.5×2.5 km. If the travel time to a city is less than 60 minutes, the destination is within reach and added to the number of destinations for that raster cell.


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