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Transforming the streets of Brussels for Car-Free Sunday: What does it take to organise a city-wide car-free day?

29 April 2024

Every year Brussels residents and day-trippers celebrate Car-Free Sunday, with its lively agenda of events and activities, plus a commercial boom for local retailers. Children, pedestrians and cyclists safely reclaim the streets and the entire capital becomes a city-wide street party. While over 3,000 towns and cities participate in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK every year, Brussels Capital Region’s city-wide car-free day is the largest annual car-free celebration in Europe! 

Opening the streets to pedestrians and cyclists requires time, funding, dedicated management and political support. To help other municipalities organise or expand their own car-free day, Stefan Vandenhende, (Brussels Capital Region, Cabinet of the Minister of Mobility, Road Safety and Public Works), shares invaluable insights into the workings, challenges and successes of this extremely popular Brussels tradition.

How to expand your car-free day

Even though Brussels’ Car-Free Sunday looks and feels like an extended street party, there are some rules – and exceptions – to ensure a smooth flow on the day: Public transport continues to circulate (and is free for all), while emergency services, people with disabilities and taxis are among the exceptions allowed to use cars; individuals can also request exceptions (e.g. people who need to move house), and any non-authorised use of motorised vehicles is prohibited. Enforcing this, and enabling the transformation of public space across the 162 km² region, means not only organising road closures and managing exception requests, but also clearly communicating these rules and transformations to the public.

“You start by defining an area, a bigger but coherent area can sometimes be easier. Communicate well in advance on the date, rules and exceptions. And then, most of all, make sure you facilitate both bottom-up as well as top-down events of all sizes and shapes, a car-free day should be about having fun,” shares Vandenhende.

Of course, regular car users need to plan alternative means of moving around, cafe owners need to be ready for big business, and pedestrians, cyclists and roller-bladers need to plan their social events and ensure they make the most of the shared public space. 

Reaping the rewards

A car-free day of this magnitude also requires financial investment and political backing. The Brussels Capital Region spends a significant amount on promoting and managing the event. However, its continued popularity, impact reducing air and noise pollution, and ability to show an alternative daily reality, make the investment worth it, as Vandenhende points out:

“For many of us in Brussels, it’s our favourite day of the year. It’s a day without worries, to meet your friends and neighbours in the street, to suddenly see kids cycle and play everywhere. A whole new city appears and it’s the most lively and pleasant chaos you cannot experience any other day of the year.”

Despite challenges originally raised by car lobbyists and those concerned about potential negative economic consequences arising from the Car-Free Sunday, Vandenhende and the organising team highlight that local businesses thrive on the day. In addition, drastically improved rates of air quality are achieved. The relaxed atmosphere and joy experienced by those present, and the ever-increasing number of participants from all around the country, clearly show that Car-Free Sunday is here to stay. In the latest opinion survey, carried out in 2018, more than 90% of inhabitants showed support for Car-Free Sunday. In a citizens' panel carried out by Brussels Mobility in 2018, the top three requests for improved mobility in Brussels included more and better-quality cycle paths, a larger cycling network connecting the suburbs with the city, and a Car-Free Sunday once per month!

Starting small is better than not at all

While a city-wide car-free day is the ultimate goal, it is clear that not all cities can afford to organise one on a similar scale. Vandenhende emphasises that Brussels also started small; car-free neighbourhoods were tested already in the year 2000 and quickly developed into the city-wide Car-Free Sunday people know and love today. While a coherent, larger area can also bring many economies of scale and may be easier to communicate, it is better to start small rather than not at all.

Check out the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK 10 essential steps to organising any car-free day, especially one that extends across an entire town or city. 

Humanising shared public space in Cyprus

18 April 2024

Last month, we sat down with Dr. Vana Gkania, the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK National Coordinator for Cyprus, to hear her insights from the 2023 campaign, her thoughts on the 2024 theme ‘Shared Public Space’, and the potential for greater awareness around sustainable mobility in Cyprus.

What activities are you most proud of from the Cyprus EUROPEAN MOBILITY WEEK 2023?

Gkania: I am very proud of the achievements of our capital, Nicosia. The municipality organised many activities during EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, in particular to promote their latest permanent mobility measures. Many of these measures focussed on achieving a better modal share and promoting bike networks. One focus, for example, is on better connecting the Universities of Nicosia with the city centre with new cycle lanes. 

There was also a special race with people dressed to impress while riding bicycles, scooters or roller blades. The focus was on dressing fancy, with the winners chosen because of the fanciest costumes. The prize was an impressive e-scooter! It all ended with a big party. This event took place at the beginning of the week and served as a launch - or kick-start - for the rest of the week. Nicosia was a Golden Participant (meaning it registered activities during the main event week, installed at least one permanent measure, and organised a Car-Free Day) and later applied for the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Award. I am very proud because it is not easy to become a Golden Participant. 

How has participation developed in recent years? 

Gkania: It has increased. In 2023, not only was the participation greater in quantity, but also the quality. In previous years, the activities tended to repeat themselves but now, local coordinators and organisers are being more creative and doing more interesting things to stand out.

What impressed you the most?

Gkania: In Aglantzia (a suburb of Nicosia), the local coordinator organised an art installation outside the Athalassa park that represents the space occupied by a car, relative to bikes. Essentially it is a bike parking space in the shape of a car. It was the motivated new local EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK coordinator for Aglantzia, who made the difference here. 

Let’s talk about Shared Public Space – the 2024 theme. What does this theme mean to you? 

Gkania: I believe that Shared Public Space is about the humanisation of public space. It is about freeing up space that is normally used by car traffic to non-motorised mobility. Space is where you feel safe to move without having to follow specific signs or routes, regardless of how you choose to move. All should feel equal on the streets.

What Shared Public Space challenges have you faced in Cyprus?

Gkania: Cyprus doesn’t have big plazas like those in other European countries. Public space is therefore mostly about our streets. In Cyprus you cannot see many pedestrians; car drivers are not used to them. Car drivers still feel dominant; over 90% of all trips are made by car in Cyprus. We need to raise the visibility of pedestrians and balance out the streets. It is hard to imagine removing the traffic lanes or on-street parking. Political pressure is huge to not change; shopkeepers and traders are reluctant to embrace change. It is not easy to stimulate interest. The Ministry of Transport, Communication and Works and the municipalities try to promote sustainable travel, but the car is the dominant mode of transport in Cyprus and many people still use it, even for short distances. Our streets have been oriented for years around the needs of cars. They weren’t built like this in one night; so, we can’t fix them in one night either.

What Shared Public Space successes have you achieved?

Gkania: Over the last years Cyprus has introduced lower speed limits for shared streets. In the historic core areas, the limit is 30 km/h. But a new law is about to be implemented regarding Special Measures for the Reduction of Atmospheric Pollutants and Greenhouse Emissions from Road Transport that refers to low emissions zones, through which the movement of polluting vehicles will be prohibited, allowing exceptions only for residents. In recent years, SUMPs (Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans) have helped a lot. So, things are moving forward, despite resistance.

What potential is there for spreading more awareness around sustainable mobility?

Gkania: We continue to push for change; we have given free promotional materials to municipalities - for example stickers of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK mascots and colouring blocks for children. This helps. The front cover of the colouring block translates as ‘Imagine your city in whatever colours you want!’.  We also have local awards to encourage active participation. The public has increasingly participated in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, so it is making a difference.

The potential lies with younger people; they want to see change. Older people aren’t willing to change as much or give up old habits. With the youth, change is progressing. The more people see mobility initiatives and new permanent measures, the more they support them and open up. 


Dr. Vana Gkania has been the National Coordinator for Cyprus for EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK since 2018. She is an Executive Engineer in Sustainable Mobility at the Public Works Department, Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works, Cyprus.

Learn more about EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK in Cyprus via the facebook page and the website.



Budapest and Nudgd win Mobility Awards!

21 March 2024

On 14 March Budapest and Nudgd (Helsingborg) won the respective EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and MOBILITYACTION Awards 2023 at a lively public ceremony in Brussels, attended by nearly 200 mobility practitioners, policy-makers and enthusiasts.

Budapest won the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Award in recognition of its huge car-free days and awareness-raising activities, as well as the permanent mobility measures it implemented, ranging from new bicycle lanes to the introduction of speed limits (partly on the same roads) for greater space-sharing and safety. Deputy-Mayor of Budapest, Kata Tüttő, shared her enthusiasm for receiving this prestigious EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Award on stage, highlighting the tough times her city had faced in 2023 due to rising energy prices. She explained that Budapest’s response was to ensure the extra costs of transport, public services and redesigning public space, were carried by the city.

“We are redesigning public space, as are many cities. We know that the citizens are happy if the public space is connected, not divided […]. Cities have a lot to do. It is up to cities in the next years to keep Europe, with its very ambitious goals, on track”: Deputy-Mayor of Budapest, Kata Tüttő

CTO / Co-Founder at Nudgd, Ola Rynge, collected the MOBILITYACTION Award on behalf of Nudgd's innovative behavioural change platform. This award places a spotlight on civil society organisations, businesses, citizen initiatives, educational institutions and municipalities promoting sustainable mobility throughout the year. Developed in Helsingborg, Sweden, Nudgd’s platform leverages behavioural science to encourage sustainable travel-to-school habits. Ola thanked the teams involved in the success and highlighted the need for further work on behavioural change for more active mobility:

“It is a great honour to be here receiving this prize. It was a team effort, not only for the team of Nudgd, but also for the City of Helsingborg of course […] I would also like to extend a thank you to all the MOBILITY ACTIONS that were made throughout Europe […] we need to work more to change our behaviour for more active transport”: CTO / Co-Founder at Nudgd, Ola Rynge

Speeches from Magda Kopczyńska, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission, Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mobility of Belgium and Herald Ruijters, Deputy Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission focussed not only on the winners but also on the success of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign as a whole, celebrating the huge efforts of all participants in the awareness-raising campaign to promote greener mobility and contribute to European climate goals.

“If we look back at all the numbers from when we started and see where are now, we can only be optimistic that so many people from all over the European Union and beyond, share the passion and share the commitment to do things together, to push urban mobility. Today we are celebrating achievements of every single person and entity who participated in the European Mobility Week last year”: Magda Kopczyńska, Director-General for Mobility and Transport, European Commission

“In the context of the climate emergency, we need to double up our efforts to develop active mobility; to deliver and follow a clear path based on the Paris Agreement. This aims for zero emissions by 2050, which won’t happen overnight, but we must start today […]. Tonight we are here to celebrate municipalities and companies that endorse greener change”: Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mobility of Belgium

“We had again a record-breaking year with over 3,350 municipalities from 45 countries participating, which is enormous. I think this shows the importance of this campaign, because since the beginning we have been uniting people across so many countries”: Herald Ruijters, Deputy Director-General for Mobility and Transport, European Commission

For those who couldn't attend or watch the livestream, view the recording of the ceremony.

Amadora, Budapest and Innsbruck among finalists for European urban mobility awards

8 February 2024

Six finalists have been selected for the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and MOBILITYACTION awards. The awards place a spotlight on awareness-raising and mobility management in the area of sustainable urban mobility and are presented in recognition of activities conducted in 2023. Both winners will be announced at an award ceremony held in Brussels on 14 March.

The nominees for the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK Award 2023 are:

Amadora (Portugal) for partnering with fellow local and regional authorities, including the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon, with brands like IKEA and Decathlon, and with Europe-wide campaigns, such as Kidical Mass, to promote walking, cycling and public transport. Activities and the launch of permanent measures (such as the creation of an inter-city cycle network) were broadcast on local television and radio stations, in addition to being widely shared on social media platforms.

Budapest (Hungary) for an ambitious car-free weekend (16 – 17 September), counting 10,000 participants and featuring activities for children and adults, and a Car-Free Day (22 September) during which the Mayor of Budapest revealed plans for the construction of a new, pedestrian-friendly car-free zone on the Danube embankment. Events on how to 'Save Energy' in the transport sector were also held, alongside close cooperation with the City of Vienna (Austria) to promote best practices in walking and cycling policies.

Innsbruck (Austria) for tackling the 2023 theme 'Save Energy' from all angles. The city promoted energy savings by allowing public transport subscription holders to travel with up to three friends, by hosting an event on the practical aspects of e-mobility, and by offering free rental of city bikes on World Car-Free Day. Innsbruck also focused on shifting space from cars to people by opening parking spaces for pedestrian use in a central square; the action was so popular that it was extended for several weeks.

The nominees for the MOBILITYACTION Award 2023 are:

GSK (Wavre, Belgium) for its comprehensive approach to mobility management, which offered replicable examples for other large employers, including 13 activities on sustainable urban mobility and mobility-conscious commuting. Examples included a car-pool “speed-dating” session; a bicycle maintenance service to ensure that employees are not forced to handle maintenance issues in their free time; and discussions with a representative of the National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB) on transport pass options for hybrid work.

Nahverkehrsgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg mbH (NVBW) (Germany) for empowering students across the entire state of Baden-Württemberg to travel to school safely and sustainably via the ‘MOVERS - Active to School’ programme. In 2023, MOVERS (which is supported by Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and Ministry of the Interior) encouraged pupils to participate in a Germany-wide bike-to-school competition, in addition to supporting schools and municipalities with selected mobility measures.

Nudgd (Helsingborg, Sweden) for its innovative online platform leveraging behavioural science to encourage sustainable school travel habits in Helsingborg. Students, parents, and teachers were invited to join an online platform where they are gently “nudged” with messages, challenges, and quizzes to raise interest in - and show the benefits of - active travel. The platform supports the City of Helsingborg’s goals to enhance cycling, and promote safer, more sustainable travel by the parents/guardians of primary school students.

The EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK award recognises municipalities that have excelled in promoting sustainable urban mobility during the campaign’s main week of 16 - 22 September. Meanwhile, the MOBILITYACTION award was launched by the European Commission in 2022 to acknowledge excellence in mobility management planning solutions submitted by businesses, civil society organisations, institutions, or local administrations throughout 2023. The annual theme for both awards is ‘Save Energy.’

The shortlisted candidates were selected by an independent panel of mobility and transport experts. The two winners will be announced at an award ceremony at La Bellone (Brussels, Belgium) on 14 March 2024. Register for the ceremony here.

Cargo bike solutions from the City of Bremen

18 January 2024

Streets blocked by delivery vans and nowhere for cargo bikes to park: these are some of the daily reminders that European cities were not built for online shopping. Despite the heavy burden on logistics due to the increase in e-commerce, innovation in sustainable logistics is on the rise. According to leading sustainable logistics experts from the City of Bremen - a regular participant in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Germany, where around a quarter of its 570,000 inhabitants are everyday cyclists - there is room for manoeuvre.

Cycling infrastructure is essential

As underscored by the European Cycling Declaration, attractive and inclusive cycling infrastructure is key to improving sustainable transport in cities. Through the recent Urban Logistics as an On-Demand Service (ULaaDS) project, the City of Bremen has showcased how cycle-friendliness is essential to enable the shift from delivery vans to cargo bikes. Additionally, it is necessary for all parties to play their role in implementing and enforcing the given regulations. Loading zones, for example, really need to be available for loading, which is not always the case.

Effective communications for greater acceptance

A key finding for Bremen in its mission to transition to a cargo bike-friendly city, is to ensure effective and transparent communication with all stakeholders. Through surveys, the city was able to learn from the experience of the different parties, as well as by establishing a communications forum for representatives of public authorities, logistics and service providers, retailers, experts and other relevant parties. This has led to greater acceptance and understanding of the needs of each stakeholder group for sustainable solutions. As explained by Michael Glotz-Richter, Sustainable Mobility, City of Bremen:

“We have to deal here with a highly competitive market; […] we have to ensure we have a fair treatment of all market players […]to try to understand each other.”

Cargo bikes for households

The potential of cargo bikes for logistics doesn’t stop at e-commerce. A huge number of individual car trips are for household shopping purposes, which are often short distances and, therefore, have the greatest potential to be replaced by cargo bikes. According to a pilot scheme conducted in Bremen to test the potential impact of cargo bikes at the household level, respondents claimed that 55% of their cargo bike trips replaced what would otherwise have been a car journey.

Get inspired by the activities implemented by Bremen and other towns and cities during EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK 2023.

Learn more about the ULaaDS project here.