EU policies and projects are helping cities to roll out transport choices that improve air quality and public health.
Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to human health, according to the World Health Organization.
Road traffic is the main source of two of the most harmful pollutants – fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. These cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in Europe’s cities. The EU’s Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy aims to reduce transport emissions by 90% by 2050.
New mobility services, such as car-sharing, bicycle-sharing and smart public transport, could dramatically reduce private car use and air pollution.
These services align with Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 and Green Deal funding for sustainable multi-modal urban mobility, and clean-transport commitments in the New Leipzig Charter. The EU Action Plan: Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil recommends actions that link to Horizon Europe research priorities and the New European Bauhaus initiative.
Cooperation between public authorities, the private sector and communities is key to improving air quality and clean mobility – for example, in EU initiatives such as the Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) and URBACT networks.
Partnerships in the EU’s Urban Agenda for the EU have identified transport-related actions which cities, residents and other stakeholders can turn into polices and projects to improve public health.
Guiding greener choices
In Helsinki, the HOPE project has developed the Green Path app to guide cyclists and pedestrians to choose less-polluted routes. The app uses real-time air-quality data and a crowdsourced database to boost healthier mobility.
One member – the city of Bielefeld in Germany – has set a strategy for cars to be responsible for only 25% of local journeys by 2030. Measures include investing in infrastructure and encouraging cycling and walking.
Cities are also exploring new ways for residents to better access public transport. The INNOAIR project in Sofia in Bulgaria is introducing electric buses that follow timetables and routes based on passenger requests in an app as an alternative to short car journeys.
In addition to SUMPs, there are many global and European frameworks and tools which are helping cities to switch to low-emission transport.
Health Impact Assessment tools created for the Dutch city of Utrecht are available for other cities to calculate the impacts of changes to infrastructure. These Excel-based tools include step-by-step guidance on developing policies for better air quality.
At a strategic level, the EU’s Urban Mobility Package offers cities information-sharing, funding, research and international cooperation to develop strategies for sustainable mobility. Networks, programmes and research from the Global Covenant of Mayors add to this support, helping cities to build on growing public interest in greener, cleaner travel.
Article first published on 12 January 2022.
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