This picture is not a fake: Sunday 22nd September marked the climax of European Mobility Week (16-22 September) in Brussels – a car free day. I have not been living in the Belgian capital city for long but the contrast was startling; the congested streets were replaced by cyclists, pedestrians and public transport. Authorised vehicles (such as taxis, buses, assistance services, police and persons with a special permit) had a maximum speed limit of 30km/h and the city and the surroundings were closed to traditional road traffic from 9am to 7pm.
European Mobility Week is an annual campaign supported by the European Commission. It takes place all across Europe. This year about 2,000 cities in 43 countries supported the common goals of promoting a sustainable mobility culture and of raising awareness of the various alternatives to cars. The campaign coincides with the European Year of Air and the review of the Strategy on Air Quality. Indeed, measures and legislation to reduce CO2 and other emissions are under the spotlight at the moment with the focus on the CARS 2020 Action Plan, the preparation of an amendment to the Euro 6 Emissions Regulation and the revision of the Non-Road Mobile Machinery legislation.
Achieving a more sustainable mobility system in cities by fostering the use of public transport, developing cycling, building infrastructure to recharge electrical cars and promoting carpooling would reduce pollution and in turn result in benefits to the quality of life and health of EU citizens, in addition to providing a solution to reoccurring traffic problems. There is nothing new here but what is needed, is strong political will from our politicians to refocus our mobility systems and encourage financial investment. However, this will not happen without a change in people’s mentality. This is why a campaign such as the European Mobility Week is essential.
When I went out on the car free day, I saw that a lot of people actually have a bike or use the Villo! and, most importantly, they seem to enjoy it. The city of Brussels is changing in this respect; it is trying to promote cycling by building cycle lanes and creating a bicycle sharing system. The result is still rather chaotic but it is still a good step forward – Car free day should be utilised more often to initiate real change.
I may sound like an idealist, just like some Green parties in Europe twenty years ago which were not taken seriously when they advocated for a shift from nuclear energy to more sustainable energies and the limited use of pesticides. But the Greens are not seen as hippies anymore; they are governing parties whose ideas are considered, supported by other parties and are slowly bringing change to environmental policy.
As for good practice, the example of Denmark is often cited, as well as the Netherlands in terms of cycling habits. However, increased space for bikes and public transport in cities is often understood as “penalising” car drivers with policies such as increasing the price of city centre parking or setting a toll at the entrance of cities. Fostering sustainable mobility should not be seen as a sanction but rather more as an opportunity for people to change their habits, while of course supporting the creation of park and ride schemes, extending public transport networks and other such programmes.
The European Mobility Week could appear in some lights to have a limited impact but more concrete action will follow at both national and local levels as well as at the European level. But don’t forget, it starts at a personal level with the choice you make for your own mobility.