What's New in the EU: Europeans seek cleaner transport

Throughout Europe, increased traffic in town and city centers has resulted in chronic congestion, with the many adverse consequences that this entails.

eu flag biz 88 (photo credit: )
eu flag biz 88
(photo credit: )
The G8 members are meeting this week in Japan. It seems as if one of the main issues on the agenda is the environment. The European Commission takes a very "green" stand on this issue. "Towards a new culture for urban mobility" is the title of the European Commission's Green Paper on urban transport. It was adopted last September and opens a debate on the key issues of urban mobility: free-flowing and greener towns and cities, smarter urban mobility and urban transport that is accessible, safe and secure for all European citizens. With this Green Paper the Commission wants to set a new European agenda for urban mobility, while respecting the responsibilities of local, regional and national authorities in this field. The Commission reported it intends to facilitate the search for solutions by, for example, sharing best practices and optimizing financial means. According to European statistics, in the European Union, more than 60 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Just under 85% of the EU's gross domestic product is created in urban areas. Towns and cities are the drivers of the European economy; they attract investment and jobs, and are essential to the smooth functioning of the economy. Urban areas now constitute the living environment of the vast majority of the population, and it is imperative that the quality of life in these areas should be as high as possible. That is why the question of urban mobility is important for any green solution. Throughout Europe, increased traffic in town and city centers has resulted in chronic congestion, with the many adverse consequences that this entails in terms of delays and pollution. Every year nearly €100 billion, or 1% of the EU's GDP, are lost to the European economy as a result of this phenomenon. Air and noise pollution is getting worse every year. Urban traffic is responsible for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions and 70% of emissions of other pollutants arising from road transport. The challenge facing urban areas in the context of sustainable development is immense; the economic development of towns and cities through accessibility must be reconciled with improving the quality of life and protecting the environment. To address these issues, which have many and varied implications, a joint effort will make it possible to encourage the search for innovative and ambitious urban transport solutions with a view to arriving at a situation where towns and cities are less polluted and more accessible and where traffic within them flows more freely. Urban mobility could make possible the economic development of towns and cities, the quality of life of their inhabitants and the protection of their environment. To this end, European towns and cities face challenges that need to be met as part of an integrated approach. According to the Green Paper, experience shows there is no single solution to reduce congestion. However, alternatives to private-car use, such as walking, cycling, public transportation or the use of the motorbike, should be made attractive and safe. Citizens in Europe should be able to optimize their travel through efficient links between the different modes of transport. Authorities should promote co-modality and reallocate space that becomes available after congestion mitigation measures. Intelligent and adaptive traffic management systems have also proven their efficiency in reducing congestion. Promoting walking and cycling The Green Paper suggests that to improve the attractiveness and safety of walking and cycling, local and regional authorities should ensure that these modes are fully integrated into the development and monitoring of urban mobility policies. More attention should be paid, the Green Paper says, to the development of adequate infrastructure. There are innovative ways of ensuring the full involvement of families, children and youngsters in policy development. Initiatives in cities, companies and schools can promote cycling and walking, road safety assessments or educational packages. Optimizing the use of private cars Lifestyles that are less dependent on cars are promoted in the Green Paper. More sustainable use of the private car should be encouraged, for example, by carpooling, which will lead to roads with fewer cars, each of them carrying more people. Other options may also include "virtual mobility": tele-working, tele-shopping, etc. As suggested during the consultation, adequate parking policy is also necessary to reduce the use of cars in the center of the cities. Providing more parking spaces may, suggests the Green Paper, encourage car transport, in particular if they are free of charge. Parking fees can be used as an economic instrument; differentiated fees can be considered to reflect the limited availability of public space and create incentives (e.g. free parking spaces at the periphery and high fees in the center). Attractive Park&Ride facilities can provide an incentive for combining private and public transportation. Seamless links to efficient, high-quality public transportation have allowed easy access to urban areas through integrated transport systems, such as in Munich. In certain cases new infrastructure might be needed, the Green Paper reports, but the first step should be to explore how to make better use of existing infrastructure. Urban charging schemes, such as in London and Stockholm, have demonstrated positive impacts on the fluidity of transport. Intelligent transport systems (ITS) allow for optimized trip planning, better traffic management and easier demand management. Flexible and multiple use of infrastructure, such as in Barcelona (flexible bus lanes, flexible loading zones/parking places), can lead to reducing pressure on road space. Freight transport Freight logistics has an urban dimension. According to the Green Paper, any urban mobility policy must cover both passenger and freight transport. Distribution in urban areas requires efficient interfaces between long-haul transport and short-distance distribution to the final destination. Smaller, efficient and clean vehicles could be used for local distribution. Negative impacts of long-distance freight transport passing through urban areas should be reduced through planning and technical measures. The "service economy" leads to new demands for road space. Courier services often use motorcycles or mopeds. Consolidated distribution in urban areas and zones with access regulations is possible but requires efficient planning of the routes to avoid empty runs or unnecessary driving and parking. The development of these solutions requires the involvement of all Member States of the European Union. Urban freight distribution could be better integrated, the Green paper adds, within local policy-making and institutional settings. Public passenger transport is usually supervised by the competent administrative body, while freight transport distribution is normally a task for the private sector. Local authorities need to consider all urban logistics related to passenger and freight transport together as a single logistics system. [email protected] Ari Syrquin is the head of GSCB Law Firm's International Department.