Sustainable transport scheme recruits 500 new cities

By on 22/09/2016
European Mobility Week runs from 16 to 22 September

Nearly 1,000 European local authorities are hosting a car-free day today to mark the end of European Mobility Week, which runs from 16 to 22 September. Some 2,390 European cities in 51 countries have taken part in the celebration of sustainable transport – a substantial increase on last year, when 1,873 cities took part.

With air pollution climbing up the global agenda, more and more cities are committing to pedestrianisation projects that experts say improve quality of life and even boost local economies. “A lot of people thought that… promoting sustainable transport is for the Copenhagens and the Amsterdams of this world. But you can see that many, many more cities are moving in that direction,” said Peter Staelens, project coordinator for Eurocities, a network of European cities that helped organise the campaign. “National and local authorities are under much more pressure from the EU to meet air quality standards.”

Along with the 908 local authorities hosting a car-free day, a further 290 have permanently created or enlarged pedestrian streets this year, according to European Mobility Week organisers.

Staelens told Global Government Forum that cities are encouraged to measure air quality during car-free events, in order to amass evidence of the benefits of pedestrianisation.

Some initiatives are particularly inventive. In Casalmaggiore, northern Italy, authorities introduced a ‘tangenziale dei bambini’, or children’s ring road. Equipped with traffic signs and nine exits, the two-kilometre pathway allows pedestrians and cyclists to get to school, the library or the gym without encountering car traffic.

The car-free zones organised by Brussels, Belgium, and Stockholm, Sweden, were particularly extensive. In Malmo, Sweden, one commercial street in the city centre is car-free for the whole week.

Citizens are increasingly pushing for pedestrianisation, Staelens said. “A lot of people don’t find it acceptable any more that their streets and their neighbourhoods have to accommodate a lot of car traffic.” But not everyone is in favour of pedestrianisation, and the key for local authorities is to get residents involved from the start, he added.

The aim of this year’s mobility week is to encourage local politicians and the public to look at smart, sustainable mobility as an investment for Europe.

The European Commission estimates that road congestion costs 1% of the EU’s GDP per year. Research indicates that employees who walk or cycle to work are more productive, while trading can increase significantly in areas where walking and cycling become the norm.

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About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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