Interview: ‘EU must give cities strong tools for sustainable mobility’

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As the Commission prepares to present proposals for a European strategy on urban transport, Klaus Bondam, chairman of Eurocities’ Mobility Forum and vice-mayor of Copenhagen, stresses the need for a “push from above” that would allow EU cities to finance more sustainable transport infrastructure and implement greener urban policies such as congestion charges.

  • Severing our car dependency

Shifting people from their cars to more environmentally friendly modes of transport “is very realistic”, says Bondam. 

In his city, only 25% of households have a car and, what’s more, many of these use it just once a week or less. 

Bondam explains the situation, pointing to Denmark’s tradition of “intense taxation on cars”, which has made ownership something of a luxury, and to Copenhagen’s policy of scrapping parking spaces in the inner city to discourage people from coming in from the suburbs by car. 

But, he adds, the main policy that has encouraged people to abandon their private vehicles is Copehagen’s strong promotion of cycling. 

  • Cycling is the future

“There are a whole range of positive things to be achieved by cycling. You do your part for the reduction of CO2-emissions. You get some exercise, so it is good for the public health. And finally, what I have personally realised is that it is a cell-phone-free zone – a time you have all for yourself,” says Bondam. 

He insists that cycling can offer solutions in many European towns. “Paris introduced its new city bike this year and it has been a huge success…There are many cities that have a very big potential for this.” 

Nevertheless, he adds: “But you cannot bike all the time and on all distances. So, people are of course also very dependent on having a reliable public transport system.” 

  • ‘Copenhagenising’ the streets

Cities must concentrate on creating traffic conditions to the benefit of the softest people – cyclists and pedestrians, explains the vice-mayor. 

In many cities, cyclists have to weave between parked and moving cars to get around, creating a lot of insecurity. But, in Copenhagen, the different modes of traffic have been isolated, with pedestrians on the walkways, then a bike lane, then the parked cars, and then the cars. 

This kind of infrastructural transformation is expensive, acknowledges Bondam, “but it’s a very good and lasting investment”, he stresses. 

  • Congestion charging

Bondam explains that, although the central government prohibits local authorities from introducing congestion charges, his administration already has everything in place to introduce a similar scheme to the ones set up in London and Stockholm “the day we get the permission in law”. 

There is a growing consensus that this will have to be done at some point and that, by relocating traffic, you can offer more quality for more people. 

As for where the additional revenue from such a charge would go, Bondam argues that it should be shared between developing and improving more sustainable modes of transport, including public transport and cycling, and larger infrastructural road investments, which are also necessary to avert congestion problems. 

  • Health and environment over economic interests

Asked whether he thinks Europe’s economic interests could suffer from a stronger focus on sustainability – with freight operators, for example, finding it increasingly difficult to get around and deliver their goods – he responded: “It is important to have a dialogue with those fractions of society. But I think we have to put the consideration and interests of the single individual higher.” 

“I think that a lot of people are willing to pay a little extra for something that is health- and environmentally-conscious…If we have to pay a little more for our goods in order to increase our quality in lives, I think that’s acceptable…The challenge today is transporting people and knowledge around – not goods.” 

He adds that people can also contribute to fighting climate change by cutting down on so-called unnecessary transport: “Another CO2-emission reducing thing you can do is to buy goods that come from you local area, so you don’t need all that transport.” 

  • EU role?

Asked whether he is in favour of EU-level action to improve the situation, he said: “I just hope that they come up with a very strong Paper.” 

“Our state governments will not give us the tools that we need to create sustainable modern city lives. The EU can push from above. And hopefully this can be the start of a Europe of cities.” 

Because, as Bondam explains, whether you go to Copenhagen, to Munich, to Seville or to Turin, “the problems we are struggling with are identical”. 

To read the full version of this interview, please click here.

Background

At the heart of economic activities, cities are major emitters of greenhouse gases. These days, many also suffer heavily from congestion, noise, accidents and air pollution, largely caused by the excessive use of private cars.

Outlining the need for a European vision for sustainable cities, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström, last June, stressed that Europe's "quest for a sustainable future will be lost or won in our urban areas", pointing to the fact that 80% of the European population already live in cities and towns (EURACTIV 13/06/07).

As more than 1,500 cities across Europe are to take part in this year's edition of the European Mobility Week, Klaus Bondam, chaimanr of the EuroCities' Mobility Forum and vice-mayor of Copenhagen, spoke to EURACTIV about his vision of the "future European city", where traffic conditions are geared towards the benefit of the weakest users and health and environmental concerns take precedence over economic interests. 

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