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Cities are for people, not cars

Submitted by on 08 May 2018 – 12:29

Cities face the double challenge of improving mobility while making urban transport more sustainable. A sustainable urban mobility plan can stimulate behavioural shifts away from the use of private cars but must consider the needs and input of local people, businesses and other stakeholders. Evgeni Krussev, Deputy Mayor of Sofia, writes about his plan for building liveable cities

Cities are drivers of change. As a deputy mayor for transport, I know that getting it right in our cities means working with people to positively and tangibly improve their quality of life.

Urban transport accounts for around 40 percent of all CO2 emissions from road use and passenger cars make up by far the most amount of traffic on our roads. This has obvious effects on people’s physical, social and mental wellbeing through noise, pollution, accidents, lack of space and exercise.

At EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, where I lead the work on mobility issues, we support cities in developing sustainable transport measures and contribute to EU research and policy recommendations through our involvement in different city-led projects.

Cities face the double challenge of improving mobility while making urban transport more sustainable. A sustainable urban mobility plan can stimulate behavioural shifts away from the use of private cars but must consider the needs and input of local people, businesses and other stakeholders.

Building liveable cities

Public transport should function as the backbone of transport systems, in providing high capacity transport services at an affordable price.

In Sofia, public transport is our top priority: line 3 of the metro is currently under construction with 12 new stations along the 12km line. We are currently upgrading our bus fleet with 20 electric buses and the forthcoming procurement of hybrid buses. We are renewing our tram fleet with 28 second-hand Swiss and 10 Czech trams. Thanks to the investment programme of Sofia Electric Transport for 2017-2020, we will also get 13 new low-floor trams. Six electric bus lines will replace six conventional bus lines, with 30 electric buses. In addition, one new tram line and eight new trolley bus lines are foreseen to be constructed by 2025.

Designing a mobility system around people offers the flexibility to switch between different modes of transport. It also means prioritising and creating the right environment for other active forms of transport such as walking and cycling. Several cities, such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London, have invested in bicycle lane networks, and other cities, such as Brussels and Paris, are increasingly introducing pedestrianised areas.

To increase the capacity of the existing transport network, cities can use ICT – so-called Intelligent Transport System (ITS) solutions – in combination with traffic management centres, as is the case in Birmingham. Similar systems can be used to inform and guide road users and operators with up to date information, as in Madrid. ITS can also help create opportunities for local SMEs. Open transport data portals can offer service providers the ability to set local sustainability objectives by creating a levelplaying field.

Cities can lead by example, by greening their own vehicle fleet, by purchasing environmentallyfriendly vehicles or by incentivising electric car use, as in Oslo. We will follow the forthcoming EU negotiations on the review of the EU’s clean vehicle directive with high interest. Clearer definitions and simplifying procurement rules will help boost green procurement of vehicles in our cities.

Creating a level playing field

At the EU and national level, strategies for sustainable mobility should be developed together with city governments, given that cities are best placed to know which mobility measures are needed for their local circumstances. The Urban Agenda for the EU, through the partnership on urban mobility, is a positive step in this direction, as it gives cities a seat at the table on important topics.

We welcome EU strategies to boost the market of alternative fuels, such as the latest European Action Plan on Alternative Fuels. However, it is important to also remember that for cities, the most energy efficient solutions are walking, cycling, promoting public transport and car-sharing. Traffic, even with cleaner cars, remains a challenge in our cities in terms of congestion, liveability, road safety and parking space.

While deploying alternative fuels at local level will help improve air quality, this should be done in a technology-neutral way. Cities should be able to choose the options, including climate-neutral fuels, which best fit their local circumstances.

The ‘dieselgate scandal’ has revealed that real-life emissions in Europe are far higher than laboratory tests show. Air quality therefore remains a crucial challenge in our cities. We have pushed for more stringent emissions-testing legislation at the EU level. The new agreement to give the EU oversight of national car approval is a positive step forward to prevent another dieselgate in Europe.

Our challenges are great, but so are our opportunities to move towards cleaner, more sustainable and healthier modes of mobility. As cities, we can steer Europe towards a sustainable urban future that works for all our citizens.