Debate: How are EU cities adapting to be more sustainable & accessible

French Police officers ride their bikes among Parisian bikers on the banks of the Seine river in Paris, Sunday, March 21, 2021
French Police officers ride their bikes among Parisian bikers on the banks of the Seine river in Paris, Sunday, March 21, 2021 Copyright AP Photo/Francois Mori
By Euronews
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Listen to our My Europe debate on what European cities are doing to be more sustainable and accessible.


To mark the end of EU mobility week, Euronews hosted a debate to discuss how European cities are working to reduce cars and encourage more sustainable forms of transportation.

Road transport represents around a quarter of total EU emissions and is a factor behind air pollution in many cities as well as a big contributor to climate change.

But there are a lot of challenges for experts and politicians working to make transportation in cities more sustainable while being more accessible for everyone.

In our My Europe Twitter Space debate, we spoke to several guests working in different European countries about what efforts are under way to transform public transport, reduce cars, and make cities more pedestrian friendly.

But we also discussed how these efforts can be adapted so as to not leave out families and individuals who may have a more difficult time travelling.

Listen to our My Europe debate in the video player above. See below for some of the highlights from our debate.

What efforts are there throughout Europe to make cities more sustainable in transportation?

In Spain, "all the cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, they have to establish low emission zones before 2023. So now right now this is the mandate. It's established in the climate change law," Carmen Duce, the Spanish coordinator for the Clean Cities Campaign, explained.

Duce said this, along with funding from the EU recovery fund geared towards sustainability, are "a big opportunity" in Spain.

"The bad news is that the cities are quite slow and there's a lot of challenges."

She said that while Spanish cities could get rid of cars, there is a "cultural hegemony" of having a car that makes it difficult.

One of the recent measures to come into effect in Lyon, France was expanding a 30 kph speed limit (or lower) from 36% of the city to 84% of the city.

So far, cars are slowing down, and there will soon be a review of the influence of the measure on pollution, noise and accidents as well, explained Valentin Lungenstrass, Lyon's deputy mayor in charge of mobility, during the debate.

Some of the other efforts in European cities include investing in cycling paths and public transportation as well as pedestrianising pockets of cities in addition to creating low emission zones, where high polluting cars are restricted.

What is the challenge towards making transport more accessible?

Member of the European Parliament, Katrin Langensiepen, from Germany joined the debate from a train and said that people with disabilities including herself often use a car because it's more accessible.

"Why are people using the car? Because it is a safe space. When I'm travelling, I'm not travelling by train in Belgium because it's not accessible. When we are talking about sustainable mobility, it must be mobility for all. So accessibility is created by law," said Langensiepen.

"When we are talking about sustainability. I would like to hear how a woman, elderly people and persons with disabilities are seen as clients and customers," she added.

"I can sum up we are not seen as clients and customers, and that is what we really have to work on."

Vincent Liegey, author of the book Degrowth and co-founder of Cargonomia, a bike cooperative in Budapest, Hungary, said that bikes can be adapted for different uses or tandem bikes can be used for some.


"It's a choice of how we develop the cities, it's a choice of your urbanism and...about how to redesign, how to rethink old ways of life," he said.

Langensiepen added that "in the sector of mobility, we and the Parliament fought for more rights and flexibility when it comes to passenger rights."

But, she said, often people with disabilities must apply in advance for assistance to access trains, for instance.

Lungenstrass said that there are exceptions in low emission zones for those with reduced mobility who may need a car and said it's also important to have lifts working in metro stations and accessible platforms on busses.

Duce added that many families are seeking clean air around schools to make the environments safer for children.


"In Spain 30 years ago, children walked to school in groups without parents," she pointed out, adding that cars were not as present and were much smaller. But with larger cars in the streets, it wouldn't be safe.

Lungenstrass said that projects to pedestrianise around schools have been popular with teachers and parents.

What about people coming from more rural areas?

"It's very important to provide public transport and different means, maybe little buses for example," said Duce at the Clean Cities Campaign.

"In a very small village in the middle of Spain, in the very rural areas, the people are now organised in a system of shared mobility, a shared car, sometimes electric cars," she added.

"But there's also a challenge because the charging infrastructure is not so well developed right now, but with shared cars, there are some solutions."


Liegey said that while it's "easy to use your bike" in city centres, "you can totally design the society organised around public transport in particular with a very good train network, our local buses and bike mobility."

He argued there are low-tech solutions to making bikes that are able to carry children or people who are unable to bike themselves, even in more rural areas. He said that advertisements from car companies should be limited.

Is there a political and individual will to adapt?

The Clean Cities Campaign published a recent survey that showed that more than 60% of the respondents would be in favour of one car-free day a week in cities, said Duce.

"But what we are seeing now is that the change is too slow and that we don't have time," she added.

With local elections coming up in Spain next year, Duce said that urban mobility campaigners are worried that cities will not implement new measures.


"Our debate now is to convince the candidates and the mayors that this is something that...the population will support," she said.

"There's a will, but there may be a lack of ambition and we have to face it."

Liegey said that he has observed a paradigm shift recently but that there still needs to be an effort to move toward sustainability.

"I think the summer we all faced in Europe frightened a lot of us and opened a lot of debates, a lot of discussion and the mindset of a lot of people," he said, adding that the energy crisis is likely to do the same.

Lungenstrass said that accompanying people to change their lives and tackling climate change and air pollution are huge challenges.


But despite people being concerned about climate change, he said, "we notice that this link between this global concern and the very actions that are needed is not always directly made," he said.

"So we need to be very transparent that the challenge is huge and we need to make really profound changes," he said.

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