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Enhancing public space through mobility management: an interview with MOBILITY ACTION award winner Metropolia GZM’s urban designers

27 September 2023

With its creative transformation of a local university car-park into a pedestrian-friendly green space, Metropolia GZM snatched the first-ever MOBILITYACTION award title this past spring. The installation, built at the University of Silesia in Katowice (Poland), has converted part of the campus’ car-dominated surroundings into a public space for students, academics and community members to enjoy. The project engaged professionals from the public transport, cycling, social development, sustainable mobility and urban policy sectors, to craft a prototype that would decrease traffic and increase the space’s usability for students. We sat down with Pawel Jaworski and Aleksandra Hantkiewicz-Lejman, the urban designers behind the award-winning MOBILITYACTION, to discuss their experience building the installation and what they learned.

Why did the University of Silesia and the City decide to build this installation? We heard that there was a question from students asking “where can we eat sandwiches?” Was this the idea that sparked this project?

Pawel: Well, I think that there are two important reasons; the first one relates to the European City of Science. Next year, Katowice will receive this title and so examples of cooperation between the University of Silesia and the local government that are trying to transform public spaces in the inner-city area are very important. The second argument for this reconstruction is user experience, and for us it's crucial. The university has been trying to redesign this place as a campus for years and they have prepared several projects, but nothing has happened in reality. The students told us that they have basic problems with using this space. Perhaps it sounds funny, but the lack of space for meeting and eating together is a real issue. All departments have a break at the same time, which is around 1:00 PM. During this break, all the young people go out and try to find a place for themselves. If they fail to find one, they occupy benches in front of housing blocks. This shouldn't happen, it's a campus, and the concept of a campus is to provide all functionalities of an academic district on-site. When we were conducting the first interviews last year, everyone was telling us about those sandwiches and about this break. We were laughing at the beginning, but we realized pretty quickly that we should try to solve this problem.

Aleksandra: Students come here to have their lectures, laboratories, activities and then go somewhere else to work, go home, or simply go into the city. Now remote working is much more popular all over the world, so people are more flexible regarding everyday habits. This space unfortunately did not have the identity or character of something dedicated to students and academic life, so people were not spending quality time here. Students would only take care of the necessary stuff here and would then go somewhere else, somewhere nicer. The third thing was that, and it's still visible, this space is basically a big parking lot.

Pawel: Yeah! It’s one of the biggest parking lots in the inner-city. You can park here for free - because it’s not a public road and in Poland only public roads can be part of paid parking zones. It’s a real issue that gives rise to an urban and mobility problem.

Aleksandra: The problem is that when you are a pedestrian in this public space on campus, you have to watch out because you can be hit by a car very easily. It was really an issue for us and that’s why we decided to make a change here on this small section.

What was your experience with reducing the number of parking spots? Was it difficult to convince people that this space should be used for something besides parking?

Pawel: Yeah! Katowice is quite car oriented. We have a highway in the city centre, and many students often use cars because they cannot get here using public transport. What’s unique about this university is that a lot of attending students don’t live in Katowice, but rather in the surrounding areas and cities. They arrive by train, by car, by bus and so on, but mostly by car because it is still the cheapest form of transportation.

Aleksandra: It's kind of funny because arriving here by car for roughly three days a week, as many students do, is still cheaper than the public transportation.

What have you noticed from people that were initially opposed to the transformation? How do people perceive this space?

Aleksandra: It was completed last November. Usually, people say they prefer it to [what was there] before because they have more greenery and places to sit, stay for a meeting or just wait for classes. [Some say] they would have built it with different materials with some changes. Regardless, I think that in this budget and in this time, it's a very good and genuine design. It was oriented like a minimum viable product (MVP). From the very beginning of this process, we were saying that it's only temporary and it's only for tests, so please don't expect that it will be state of the art.

Pawel: It’s all a part of the process. When considering complex changes, we cannot concentrate on the small details right now, especially since we have a limited amount of money. The university, along with its partners, is still searching for larger EU funding for the target transformation. Once they secure a bigger budget, they will be able to make significant improvements. But at this stage, it's only an MVP.

What are the next steps in this process? How long will the prototype be there? If you receive more funding, what will happen?

Pawel: It started as a temporary change, but we noticed that it works well. Therefore, it will remain in place until the target transformation, although we’re uncertain when that will happen due to unclear funding possibilities. The university staff have submitted applications for various grant contests, aiming to secure funding for the next phase of the design work. I believe it will take years to prepare it properly, given the complexity of the area.

What were the main successes of this project? Do you wish to see similar projects implemented in the future?

Aleksandra: We had two real successes: the first success is that people are using it often, which was what we were dreaming of. The next success is that people engaged in university issues said they are encouraged with our work and the MOBILITYACTION Award. They want to make these types of prototypes in more locations around this campus. If we have managed to teach them how to do it without our support, then it would be a big success.

Pawel: We work across different countries. I do my design work in Poland and conduct most of my research in Germany. It's been great to observe the experiments and temporary solutions in Berlin over the years, and I hope we can implement similar processes at the municipal level. Currently, we are trying to improve our prototyping model, recognising that there are numerous obstacles to overcome.

Perhaps the most significant success is that this small area has evolved from a mere parking lot into a semi-permanent greenfield. While the architectural shape can still be improved, the new function is undeniable and unquestionable. Just last summer, we were sketching out new traffic schemes and designing furniture. Today, after several months have passed, nobody wants to entertain the idea of reverting to the initial state, removing the installation, and returning it to a parking space. This, in my opinion, is the most rewarding outcome of our efforts.

Managing this project was a huge challenge, perhaps the greatest of our professional lives. We believe that now is the time to approach officials for a more substantial change. We've taken the first step, and we're ready for the second and third ones.

To learn more about MOBILITYACTIONS and how to register, click here.


Collaboration is key: European Mobility Week in the Republic of Serbia

23 August 2023

Svetlana Sekulic worked on behalf of the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure as the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK National Coordinator for the Republic of Serbia, where, alongside her colleague Klara Danilovic who works for the Standing Conference of Towns and Cities, she was actively engaged in finding new ways for Serbian municipalities to adopt clean mobility focused transport solutions. We spoke to Svetlana about the Ministry's plans for the main event week from 16 - 22 September. Don’t forget to register your town or city’s participation here!

In less than one month, EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK launches. What plans are in store for this year’s campaign?

Svetlana: Yes, we are less than one month away from EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK. Over the past few years, we recognised that timely preparation is the key to a successful implementation of the campaign. For this period, we organised an informative workshop. We organise this workshop once each year in the beginning of July for our local authorities that are interested in participating in the campaign. In this informative workshop, we provide them with information about the current topic of the campaign - Save Energy - as well as the support they can expect from us as National Coordinators.

This year there were about 40 participants, from 18 local authorities. During the workshop, we had the opportunity to hear from the Ministry of Mining and Energy about the preparation of an “Integrated Plan for energy and climate,” which contains a number of measures that affect the reduction of energy consumption in the transport sector. We also heard from the Ministry of Environmental Protection about relevant EU climate framework focusing on the transport sector's contribution to total greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, the City of Zagreb introduced us to projects that it implements in the field of sustainable urban mobility.

In terms of preparing and implementing the programme of activities during EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, along with the workshop, we organise some panels where participating towns and cities have the opportunity to exchange their experiences and present examples of good practice. This is all part of the successful organisation of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK.

What lessons were learned from last year’s campaign? Any best practices or experience that can be used moving forward?

Svetlana: Well, last year’s topic - Better Connections - was very interesting for us and our local authorities. It gave us an opportunity to implement many different and innovative activities in order to promote urban mobility. What we as National Coordinators have learnt is that better connections can lead us to better results and more knowledge.

We took advantage of the 2022 theme to organise activities with different stakeholders, including children from primary schools, students from universities, our colleagues from Serbia’s big National Rail Company, and some participants from local governments.

The organisation and activities related to better connections between the biggest cities in Serbia, Belgrade and Novi Sad, were great because we could promote that connection through sustainable forms of transport such as high-speed trains. The high-speed train between Belgrade and Novi Sad was put into use last year. It was really an excellent example of how, through connecting, we can learn from each other and have benefits from that.

Regarding best practices, a very good example for us is the cooperation between the Ministry and Standing Conference of Towns and Cities: this is because, on one side, we have the Ministry supporting our local authorities on the national level in terms of allocating incentive funds to support them to improve sustainable urban mobility in their municipalities. On the other side, we have a Standing Conference of Towns and Cities, the organisation that supports and closely works with local governments to help them reform and strengthen that process. I think that is such a good example that can bring good results and we can see that, in the last few years, we have growing interest from towns and cities to participate in the organisation of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK.

It is great to see how successful cooperation impacts the campaign! 2023 is all about saving energy through sustainable urban mobility. Why is it important to save energy and to help people accomplish this through transport?

Svetlana: Let's start with the fact that energy is needed for all of us to perform daily activities like talk, eat, drink and more. In order to spend it evenly and for energy to be sustainable, we should adopt some healthy lifestyle habits. By lifestyle habits, I mean that people should start to use some alternative transport modes, such as cycling or walking, to save energy, in addition to using public transport or any other shared transport mode.

I think that we as individuals can easily take small steps in order to have much greater positive effects on our health, environment and quality life in urban areas.

I come from Belgrade, a city with around 50% public transport use compared to other modes of transport. It is very important that we continue to follow this trend. Additional energy savings can also be achieved by introducing clean public transport vehicles, which are energy efficient, as well as achieving the ambitious goal of the city of Belgrade, namely the construction of its first metro lines. This will reduce traffic congestion, reduce harmful impacts on the environment in terms of air and noise, and improve traffic safety.

What could sustainable mobility look like in Serbia in 10 years?

Svetlana: Very soon, Serbia will begin with the implementation of an important project – the Local Infrastructure and Institutional Development Project –, which will be finished in a few years. One of the aims of the project is to improve the capacity of local governments to manage sustainable infrastructure and improve access to economic and social opportunities.

In one of the components of this project, there will be Climate Smart Mobility, which should improve mobility within local governments by strengthening the system for the provision of transport infrastructure services and also by renovating and reconstructing transport infrastructure. The results will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These components also include both the development and the adoption of 25 Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans. We currently have nine SUMPs in Serbia, of which four are in place and five are still under development.

In 2021, the Ministry launched an annual national award for urban mobility. Through the evaluation of the award applications, I  have seen that my country has improved its way of planning in favour of active and sustainable mobility, public transport and other clean, intelligent solutions, and I hope to see this trend continue in the next ten years. Each year, more Serbian cities join the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign. We plan to continue this tradition and support them in promoting sustainable mobility.

Make sure to register your town or city’s participation in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK here.


Why a European Year of Skills?

19 July 2023

The European Commission has declared 2023 the “European Year of Skills.” Why a European Year of Skills? To highlight the importance of a workforce with in-demand expertise. Not only does helping people acquire the right skills lead to better job opportunities and an improved quality of life, but it will also contribute to sustainable economic growth and advance innovation. A skilled European workforce is key to ensuring a fair and just green digital transition.

To address many of the challenges that urban populations are currently facing - including rising levels of pollution, congestion and heat stress - planning authorities and urban mobility practitioners must possess the necessary skills; skills that enable them to renew and repair urban infrastructures for a sustainable, resilient and equitable future.

To better support the work of urban mobility planners and practitioners, the CIVITAS Initiative launched a survey to identify what urban mobility professionals require in terms of skills and training. CIVITAS - a flagship European Commission programme accelerating the implementation of ambitious mobility and transport goals - acts as a network of cities, for cities, dedicated to sustainable urban mobility. The survey poses a critical question: Which skills and knowledge are needed by professionals working for urban planning authorities now and in the future?

Representatives of local, regional, national and European authorities, consultancies, knowledge and research institutes, civil society/NGOs and industry are encouraged to participate in the short questionnaire, the results of which will be published on the CIVITAS website.

In addition to urban mobility practitioners, transport workers must receive continued training and education to ensure they are able to effectively - and safely - work within the different ecosystems of a fast-paced urban environment. Successful sustainable urban mobility infrastructure depends on more than the efficacy of urban planners and practitioners: once it’s all in place, skilled tram and bus drivers, traffic coordinators and other transport workers are what allow the system to thrive.

And while organisations and businesses focused on topics other than sustainable urban mobility will not need to provide the type of training and skills required for public transport operators or urban planners, they can still participate in promoting the use of sustainable and active mobility through MOBILITYACTIONS. MOBILITYACTIONS are awareness-raising actions that encourage a behavioural shift toward active and sustainable mobility, e.g. cycle to work schemes or mobility management plans. Examples include a successful citizen initiative in Bologna (Italy) to reduce city speed limits to 30 kmh and a collaborative project that spotlights youth voices in solving urgent mobility challenges in Rome (Italy), Dublin (Ireland) and Lisbon (Portugal).

MOBILITYACTIONS can be registered by groups of people, NGOs, research institutions, local and national authorities, public institutions and public and private companies at any point throughout the year. Offering the European workforce continued opportunity for growth is one thing; actively reinforcing this through changed behaviour is just the next step!

The urban mobility labour market is rapidly changing, as are the demands for workers. To guarantee that every person has an opportunity to acquire the right skills for their work, the European Year of Skills will continue to spotlight skill development opportunities and activities throughout Europe. This includes simplifying the recognition of qualifications across borders, providing information about relevant EU initiatives and funding opportunities, and uniting organisations and people so that they can exchange knowledge and experiences.

Learn more about MOBILITYACTIONS here.

The importance of clean mobility: an interview with the Czech Republic’s National Coordinator

28 June 2023

Dominica Tchaou is looking forward to her second year as the National Coordinator for EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK in the Czech Republic. She works for the Ministry of Environment and has embraced a quick learning curve to join the Europe-wide campaign to promote sustainable and active mobility. While challenges remain, Dominica is excited to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone to travel actively and sustainably, and to advocate clean mobility solutions.

2022 was actually your first year as a National Coordinator. Do you have any examples of activities that stood out to you during your first ever EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK?

We have a lot of people and stakeholders participating, including companies and NGOs. One of the programmes that I really liked was “Bike to Work,” which is a month-long team challenge in May for companies and organisations. This project aims to motivate people to commute to work using active mobility. Last year, almost 25,000 people participated! I also liked “Walk to School,” which is organised by an NGO to encourage safe school zones and get kids and parents walking to school. We can actually already see some impacts from the “Walk to School” campaign as some of the participating schools have decided to permanently establish school streets that are now always closed to motorised vehicles from 7:30 - 8:30 in the morning. In 2022, 306 schools in 168 municipalities participated, impacting over 70,000 children.

That is fantastic! As you know, one of the issues we hope to bring awareness to is the role of sustainable, active travel in mitigating pollution. In Europe, at least 1 in 5 people are exposed to noise levels that are considered harmful to their health. How can sustainable mobility help to reduce noise pollution?

As part of the EU Zero Pollution Action Plan, we have a target for 2030 to reduce the share of people chronically disturbed by traffic noise by 30%. However, we are not progressing as much as we should and this may be because the amount of individual transport is increasing. Obviously, we would like to make the opposite the case, not only to fulfil goals at the European level, but to improve quality of life at the local level.

So what are some solutions? Well, one of them is creating low-emission zones in urban areas. This can instantly reduce noise levels and helps reduce air pollution. We are now trying to revise regulations for low-emission zones in the Czech Republic. We have incorporated them into our Air Protection Act and are improving the system so that municipalities will implement them.

When we discuss the problem of noise, electric mobility is a better alternative because the car engines are quieter. But we also need to consider the tire-pavement noise which level increases alongside with the speed of a vehicle. That’s one of the reasons why low-speed zones can be really helpful, especially in the residential areas.

Alongside noise pollution, air pollution remains cause for concern. According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is the single largest environmental health risk in Europe. How are you working to introduce clean mobility solutions into the current infrastructure?

We have one national policy framework that puts everything into a single package: the National Action Plan for Clean Mobility. The Ministry of Environment is one of the ministries that is responsible for achieving these targets. The plan is currently being updated based on new Regulation for the Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure (AFIR), so now we need to actualise the policies and measures that are necessary to ensure mandatory targets are reached. The plan will also contain objectives regarding public transport, car-sharing and non-engine vehicles, like e-cargo bikes, and support measures such as financial support, awareness-raising and education.

Furthermore, we implemented The Concept of Urban and Active Mobility, as a strategy for walking and cycling and a methodological document for towns and cities to facilitate the development and updating of their SUMPs.

It seems like clean mobility is a key area for the Ministry. Why is it so important?

We are aware of the situation with the climate and that we need to take action to adapt and decrease emissions. In the Czech Republic, we need to urgently make progress and to replicate successful mobility solutions that are being used across Europe, like what we saw in Ghent (Belgium) for the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Awards ceremony.

As I see it, the car has a specific position in society and some people are still really attached to it. We need to make people understand that we don’t want to take their cars away to make their lives harder, but that we can actually make their lives better with sustainable and clean mobility, especially in the long term. And, to make this statement credible, we must support people by providing a sufficient amount of alternative transport modes.

Recently, the Minister of Environment decided that our Ministry will only add clean vehicles to its fleet from now on. By embracing clean transport, the Ministry hopes to set an example and encourage the adoption of more sustainable practices.

For more information about the upcoming EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, take a look here.

Prioritising collective mobility: an interview with Poland’s National Coordinator

31 May 2023

Maria Perkuszewska has coordinated EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK in Poland for the past seven years at the Ministry of Infrastructure. During her time as National Coordinator, she has helped the campaign grow - last year 242 Polish cities participated - and even continued to promote safe, sustainable and active mobility solutions throughout the height of the pandemic. We spoke to Maria about improving public transport services and the inherent connection between accessibility and sustainability.

Sustainable mobility has the power to improve transport in towns, cities and beyond, including for children. What do you think it means to move sustainably?

Maria: When we speak about sustainable transport or sustainable mobility, we have to think about what it means for something to be sustainable. We often understand ‘sustainable’ to mean using resources in the most efficient way. When mobility is sustainable, it means it uses energy in a clean way and that it is not harming the environment or climate excessively. Sustainability should also be inclusive and sustainable development must be accessible to all.

We see all transport modes as part of sustainable mobility, but each mode has its own features that should be used in a sustainable way. When we are talking about urban transport, the most sustainable way of moving around the city is, of course, public transport or active mobility. Good public transport is one that is frequent, efficient, reliable, safe and convenient for passengers. Then passengers are happy to use it. Public transport is sometimes the only way to get around or be active in society for those who do not have their own car. That's why one of the goals of the Ministry of Infrastructure is to combat traffic exclusion and thus improve public transport offerings.

It's very important to educate children about sustainable ways to move. Then, when you have a small errand to run, the first choice will be to go on foot, to bike, or to run some errands using public transport. You don't have to always use a car.

Do you have some examples of what different cities or towns are doing in Poland to make it easier for people to use public transport or easier for kids to, for example, walk or cycle to school?

Maria: I would first mention one thing: in Poland, we have a strategic document for transport, which is called the Strategy for Sustainable Transport Development 2030. In this document, we have defined some priority areas, one of which is changes in individual and collective mobility. We have defined some actions that have to be undertaken in order to make transport in Poland more sustainable.

When it comes to what you are asking, a lot of cities in Poland introduced the campaign “Rowerowy Maj”. During the month of May, a month when in Poland there is usually nice weather and kids can bike to school or use scooters, there is a competition between kids, between schools or between different groups to travel sustainably to school. It became very popular in many cities. Some of the cities even organise this campaign for adults, namely for people that commute to work. Some cities, such as Gdynia and Katowice, offer prizes in this competition.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to encouraging people to use sustainable mobility or make active mobility choices?

Maria: I would say that people are creatures of habit. We think the biggest challenge is changing behaviour; to convince people that, from time to time, they can use different modes of transport, they can try something new. The statistics are there: a lot of car trips are very short and actually could be replaced with other mobility modes, either on foot, public transport or by bike. I think that the biggest challenge is to convince people that there are options other than a private car, but the second challenge is to provide them with these options because we cannot create, for example, a car-free zone and not have relevant alternatives. If you want to close a street or some part of the city to cars, you need to give people who use them the possibility of reaching their destination other than by car. That’s either public transport or bike infrastructure, or facilities to park their cars outside the closed zone. If you want people to commute to work by public transport, the public transport has to be reliable, frequent, safe and comfortable.

Unfortunately, I think the pandemic negatively impacted the sustainability of transport because for many months public transport faced restrictions regarding the number of passengers. A lot of people were afraid to use public transport because they were afraid of becoming ill. Polish data shows that public transport is slowly recovering from the pandemic, which is a challenge for all organisers of this type of transport.

As you say, it sounds like people had health concerns about using public transport during the height of the pandemic. Looking to the future, do you have any exciting developments for 2023?

Maria: We have good practices on how to support cities for EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, including the distribution of promotional items and helping them register. Recently, we finished one of our reforms for a resilience plan for Poland, which is also related to Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs). We continue to support and encourage cities to create SUMPs. We also have some targets for the upcoming years, and right now we are supporting 46 cities in developing SUMPs. We are providing technical support and our experts are working with the cities on these documents. In Poland, we are seeing that the sustainable approach to mobility is becoming more common. All of the 16 regional capitals are finishing their SUMPs for the functional areas, so we are really excited about this because I think that everything starts with a good plan. If you have a good plan, you can move forward and build on this.

Every year, more Polish cities join the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign. We plan to continue this tradition and support them in promoting sustainable mobility.

Want to learn if your town or city participates in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK? Take a look here.


Rethinking road safety to reduce fatalities

17 May 2023

Over 20,000 lives were lost on EU roads in 2022. Almost half of those were pedestrians, cyclists and people travelling by scooter or motorbike. In order to achieve Vision Zero - the European Commission’s goal to reduce road fatalities to zero by 2050 - we need to rethink road safety and mobility.

According to the Commission’s most recent data, 52% of road traffic fatalities occur on rural roads, 39% in urban areas and 9% on motorways. Within urban areas, vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, represent 70% of total fatalities. In fact, cyclists are the only road user group that has not experienced a drop in the number of fatalities over the last decade.

To significantly reduce these figures in the coming years and pave the way for a Europe with no road fatalities, we need to tackle all elements of the EU’s Safe System approach - safe infrastructure, safe vehicles, safe road use, safe speeds and better post-crash care. Sustainable and active mobility solutions are a key part of the equation: when prioritising active transport, including walking and cycling, and investing in clean public transport, it becomes clear that road safety is an intrinsic component of any mobility solution. For example, as part of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, 3,700 towns and cities have implemented new traffic regulations that support safe traffic circulation and create safer and more effective travel spaces for vulnerable users. Meanwhile, over 7,600 towns and cities have improved local infrastructure by building new footbridges, road crossings, wheelchair ramps and more, which, when correctly implemented, all improve road safety.

Because road safety and sustainable mobility are not mutually exclusive, the success of one often strengthens the effectiveness of the other. In addition to supporting local solutions, the European Commission also recently proposed updated requirements for driving licences and better cross-border enforcement of traffic rules. While bustling city centres are of major concern, the statistics reveal that rural roads are also deadly.

The proposed new driving licence rules are inspired by best practices in Member States and focus heavily on road safety. Measures include a zero tolerance rule on drinking and driving and adapting training to better prepare drivers for the presence of vulnerable users on the road. The EU is also proposing the first-ever digital driving licence that works across borders, which will allow for easier replacement, renewal and exchange.

With this Europe-wide update, we are one step closer to achieving Vision Zero. Nevertheless, long-term solutions in infrastructure are needed across Member States to protect vulnerable road users, especially in urban areas. And, there is really no excuse. Many measures require little investment and planning to implement. For example, 30 km h zones for pedestrians, new traffic signs and safety barriers. Measures that require more planning, such as better-integrated public transport, roundabouts and separate bicycle facilities, can be carried out in the near future. Regardless of the solution, there are many options for towns and cities to begin creating safer streets for all today.

For more information about permanent measures implemented as part of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign, visit our Impact page.

Choose sustainably: Finland’s National Coordinators underline the importance of mobility habits

24 April 2023

In 2022, Finland broke its personal record for the number of towns and cities that participated in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK. We sat down with Jenni Marsio, Finland’s National Coordinator, and Anni Hytti from Finland’s Transport and Communications Agency, to discuss their ambitions for the upcoming year, strategies for improving sustainable mobility in smaller towns (hint: trip-planning and electric bicycles!) and what they think of the 2023 theme ‘Save Energy.’

The theme for 2023 is ‘Save Energy,’ which is something that Finland also focused on in 2022. How can sustainable and active mobility help people save energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels in their daily lives?

Anni: I would say that active travel is actually the key to sustainable mobility, and energy saving as well. I think the challenge, at least for us, is to get people to move actively because there are quite a lot of people who still rely on their car, even for shorter journeys. That’s a real issue, I think. So active mobility is probably one of the key things. Really, whatever you do for sustainability and active [travel] modes is a good thing and helps in this matter.

There is also the Clean Vehicle Directive, which requires public transport organisations, and other organisations that do public procurement, to procure cleaner vehicles, so that public transport continues to become cleaner all the time. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient as well and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

In Finland, many people live in smaller towns or rural areas. For people who do not have direct access to public transport or need to travel greater distances, how can they travel more sustainably and save energy?

Jenni: This is of course something that we have discussed a lot when planning the campaign because some of the messages that work really well in bigger cities might not work in smaller cities. At the same time, of course, we have to remember that also in Finland urbanisation is happening and more people are moving to cities or to city-like environments, where they have access to public transport or they actually live so close that they can walk or take the bike. But there are areas where it's still a challenge and we have some recent studies that indicate that electric bikes might be helpful.

Anni: Yes, definitely. Not the most remote areas, though. That’s always a challenge, and there you have to plan how you move around so that you can make fewer trips. But in places where the distances are 10-20 kilometres, electric bikes offer a good solution, or at least help people move around. We are still in the process of writing the research, but we do have some results that actually support the idea that if you get an electric bike, you can give up your car for shorter journeys. Usually it's more fun to move around with an electric bike and it's easier because you don't have to think about parking so much and you can still easily carry quite a lot of stuff. Also, when you live in an environment where you have a lot of hills or if your commute is 20 kilometres, you probably don't want to do that with a regular bike because you sweat a lot and so on, but with an electric bike it’s already a possibility.

Jenni: I think what (Anni) said in the beginning is really important: planning a bit more, thinking about car-sharing, combining trips. This behaviour can help a lot!

Definitely! EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK is all about encouraging people to make more sustainable travel choices that make sense for them. What are the challenges to moving sustainably in Finland? What solutions have you seen that have been successful, both in big city centres and smaller towns?

Anni: One of the biggest challenges, as we’ve already mentioned, is changing habits and traditions. If you own a car, which many people do, and it’s just sitting there in your front yard, you are quite prone to using it. We have to unlearn using the car, especially for short distances. If you live somewhere and you have a supermarket that is 1.5 kilometres away, you may tend to take the car because it seems so easy. So, we have to find ways to encourage people to leave the car at home and walk or take the bike to the supermarket, for example. Because people have already made an investment in the car, people feel the need to use it as much as possible.

Jenni: We were discussing what has already worked well and there already are so many cities in Finland that are doing a lot for sustainable mobility in their infrastructure, by doing actions such as building new bike paths and creating plans for the future, not only in larger southern cities like Tampere and Helsinki, but also in northern cities like Oulu, which has such a good reputation for giving people the possibility to travel sustainably. Even the smaller cities are quite excited about the topic and even if they have not done so much already, they have created nice plans for the future.

Anni: One thing we should probably add too, is that one of the challenges is how you plan areas. Quite recently, there was research published in Finland about how children move in their daily lives, and how fit they are. What we can see over the years is that children’s fitness is declining and one of the reasons could be the fact that many kids are taken to school by cars these days, especially because schools are more spread out. This has to do with city cross-sectoral planning, infrastructure and ensuring that people can access the things they need.

What do you have in store for the 2023 campaign?

Jenni: Well, I think we were quite excited last year because we got a record number of cities to participate. And, as you know, we already had this topic last year of ‘save energy’ which was a huge topic in all of Finland and people seemed to really like it. So, we are still excited about that and obviously this year will still want to continue because we’ve proved that it works, it’s interesting and it’s really timely. Now we are aiming for even more cities. We want to break the record!

To learn more about EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and if your town or city participates, click here.

An invisible threat: how sustainable mobility can help reduce noise pollution in cities

4 April 2023

Noise is the second largest environmental health threat in Europe. At least one in every five Europeans is exposed to noise levels that are harmful to their health.

With 20% of the EU population experiencing excessive noise levels, the most disruptive of which come from road, rail and air traffic, sustainable and active mobility offer key solutions to help combat this invisible health hazard.

Cities and towns across Europe struggle with the toll noise pollution takes on residents’ daily lives. Data from the European Environment Agency identifies Paris as one of Europe’s noisiest cities: more than 5.5 million people suffer due to noise that exceeds 55 decibels; 432,000 French residents take tranquillisers to cope with it. Meanwhile, 2.6 million people in London and 1.7 million people in Rome are exposed to disruptive levels of noise.

In addition to the myriad short and long-term health risks exacerbated or created by noise pollution, including increased blood pressure, problems focusing, insomnia and cardiovascular issues, the cost of noise comes with a heavy price tag. A report from CE Delft estimates that the social cost of road traffic noise in Europe is between 30 - 46 billion euros per year, representing approximately 0.4% of total GDP.

So, what is being done to mitigate this unseen threat to our health?

The European Environmental Noise Directive is designed to help cities identify, and reduce, noise pollution levels. Relevant authorities are also encouraged to join the Green City Accord to achieve better compliance with pollution-prevention laws, including the Environmental Noise Directive.

Local and national governments are also developing targeted Noise Plans to address pollution levels, such as Paris’ Plan Bruit which introduced numerous sustainable mobility solutions, including the installation of sound barriers, roadside noise checks and low-noise asphalt. In addition, the plan supports the French capital’s ongoing efforts to minimise car traffic in the city centre and expand cycling networks, while banning the most polluting vehicles.

Sustainable and active mobility solutions are an integral part of less noisy environments. As part of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, thousands of towns and cities across Europe have implemented permanent measures that reduce car speeds, especially around school zones, which is also an effective measure for reducing traffic noise. The extension or creation of green areas is another holistic solution to tackle both noise and air pollution, and as part of the campaign, over 3,600 new greenways have been constructed.

While noise pollution may not be the most obvious issue cities have to confront to improve quality of life for residents, it is an important part of people’s daily lives and can significantly impact wellbeing. Sustainable mobility solutions and active mobility choices, such as walking or cycling, can help reduce noise pollution and create environments that are more comfortable to live, work and play in.

Learn more about the impact of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign and the permanent measures implemented by participating towns and cities, here.

Braga and Metropolia GZM win European urban mobility awards; Ukrainian cities receive special mention

24 March 2023

In 2022, nearly 3,000 towns and cities from over 50 countries participated in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK to raise awareness about sustainable mobility and foster Better Connections with their local communities. In addition, 1,456 MOBILITYACTIONS were registered by businesses, civil society organisations, and more, to promote behavioural shifts toward sustainable urban mobility.

From Cyprus to Iceland, Portugal to Finland and beyond, permanent measures, interactive awareness-raising activities, mobility management plans and active mobility events were implemented to demonstrate the benefits of a world in which active, sustainable travel is the norm.

Of all the participants, two rose to the top for their outstanding campaign-related efforts: Braga (Portugal) and Metropolia GZM (Poland) snatched the titles of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK award 2022 and the first-ever MOBILITYACTION award, respectively, at the MOBILITYAWARDS ceremony in Ghent, which featured a keynote speech from Ghent’s Mayor Mathias De Clercq. A well-deserved special mention was also bestowed on Chernihiv, Kamianets-Podilskiy, Lviv, Poltava and Uzhhorod (Ukraine) for their participation in the 2022 campaign despite the ongoing war.

Braga impressed the jury with its commitment to raise awareness on sustainable mobility with many stakeholders, including universities, local businesses and residents. During the campaign’s main event week, from 16 - 22 September, the Portuguese city worked with over one hundred companies to open streets for pedestrian use and construct interactive green spaces. A “Mobility Safari” involving 30 companies was also held to illustrate the importance of decarbonisation and the impact of sustainable mobility in advancing this goal. Active mobility activities for all ages - such as gymnastics and cycling - were organised to spread awareness on the benefits of sustainable mobility. The city also launched the first phase of implementation for its bike-share service.

Meanwhile, the MOBILITYACTION jury selected Metropolia GZM for its comprehensive approach to transforming a local university car park into a green, pedestrian-friendly space. Engaging professionals from the public transport, cycling, social development, sustainable mobility and urban policy sectors, the Polish metropolis co-created a car-park transformation that would not only benefit the university, but would also decrease related traffic and encourage locals to use the space. Urban furniture and greenery were installed, as well as traffic calming measures. The first reports show more people from on- and off-campus frequenting the area. Urban designers are currently conducting interviews to better understand how to remove all ground-level parking spots and implement accessible public transport solutions across the campus.

Braga competed against Sofia (Bulgaria) and Zagreb (Croatia) for the title, while Metropolia GZM was in competition with Ar2gether (Italy) and UCB Pharma (Belgium).

In addition to celebrating the winners’ achievements during the award ceremony, a spotlight was placed on the five brave Ukrainian towns and cities that participated in the campaign in spite of Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine.

Lesya Loyko, National Coordinator for Ukraine, described how it felt to receive an unexpected special mention:

“It came as a total surprise to me, the organisers managed to give it in complete secret. I was told there would be this little video about five Ukrainian cities and I appreciated that very much…when I saw the award, I was very touched. Surely, I take it as a sign of appreciation for the cities. It is not my award as a National Coordinator, but it is truly an award for the cities that try to do important things through the pleasant approach of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK. The cities are in a difficult situation because of different aspects. They have an agenda to first address the critical needs of their people, but still they are on this route to sustainable mobility and they use the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK to underline important things, such as changing the city's environment in favour of pedestrians, cycling and public transport.”

Chernihiv, Kamianets-Podilskiy, Lviv, Poltava and Uzhhorod organised sustainable mobility awareness raising activities during the week of 16 – 22 September. Activities included a cycling race to bring humanitarian aid to a local village, opening city streets to pedestrians for a ‘Car-Free Day’ and workshops on tactical urbanism.

To learn more about the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and MOBILITYACTION awards, click here.

To learn more about campaign participants, click here. Discover MOBILITYACTIONS, here.

When we travel ‘slowly’ the journey becomes as important as the destination

21 February 2023

Why do we travel? Is it to learn more about other people and places? To explore new cultures and cuisines? Today, there are more ways to travel than ever before. In our fast-paced world, people are often focused on ticking destinations off a list, instead of slowing down and enjoying the journey. ‘Slow travel’ is a movement pushing back against the idea that “more” is better and “faster” is always fun.

Like the Slow Food Movement, which began in Italy in the 1980s as a way to protect local cuisine and traditional farming and cooking methods, Slow Travel underlines connection to people and places, and rejects the ‘fast life’.

Slow travel, and tourism, encourages people to take their time while exploring local heritage and history, and to keep an eye on how their travel and activities impact the local community and the environment.

Sustainable and active mobility is an important part of slow travel because it helps to reduce emissions and save energy. This could mean choosing to take the train for several hours to your destination of choice, instead of opting for a one-hour flight. Or it could mean planning a bike trip to a nearby town or heritage site, instead of renting a car.

In addition to saving energy and helping to reduce transport related emissions, travelling sustainably can also add to the travel experience: just take a look at these six train routes across some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes, including the German Rhineland, the Swiss and Italian Alps, Ireland’s Golden Vale and the Tarn Valley in France. All of these trips can be taken with an Interrail pass. When you travel ‘slowly’ the journey becomes as important as the destination.

Of course, it is not always possible to choose public transport or active mobility modes to arrive at your destination. However, slow travel is also about mindset. It can be practised once you arrive at your destination - by choosing to travel sustainably to local sites and restaurants and to support local businesses - and encourages you to live in the moment, while reflecting on how and why you travel.

Some tourist destinations are starting to support ‘slow travellers’ by making it easier to make sustainable travel choices. For example, Destination nature is a programme offered to visitors of the Swiss National Park and surrounding areas. The programme creates, and promotes, travel packages with attractive public transport prices. There are also many innovative, flexible and sustainable mobility options on site to support travellers as their plans develop.

So, the next time you’re thinking about travel, ask yourself: why do I want to go here? How do I want to get there? What impact am I leaving behind? If you ask yourself these questions, then you may begin to see how slow travel can help you get the most out of your experience, while leaving less behind.