The EU cities that defend cycling

GRONINGEN, in the north of the Netherlands, has long been championed as a small modern city that cities like Cork should aspire to.

With plenty of public spaces, cycle paths and an overall high quality of life, it would be easy to imagine that a smug and self-satisfied Groningen would be happy to rest on its laurels after having achieved so much.

However, the Dutch city is still tirelessly striving for improvement, with the ambition to be even better when it comes to public spaces and walkability for its citizens.

It has often been cited among academics and social scientists in Cork and beyond as a city that should provide plenty of inspiration when it comes to public transport, cycling and walking.

Influential global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle listed Groningen among its 20 Best Small Cities in the World for 2020: “Groningen is becoming one of the most vibrant and livable cities in Northern Europe… Groningen is a cycling city par excellence: 60% of all trips are made on two wheels… With the decision to eliminate cars from the center, Groningen will become one of the most vibrant and livable cities in Northern Europe.”

That’s not enough, according to Groningen’s own urban planners and political leaders.

His sustainable urban mobility plan calls for a further increase in infrastructure, especially for those who want to walk in the city.

Bicycle parking in Groningen.
Bicycle parking in Groningen.

“Soon Groningen will look very different,” said Deputy Mayor for Traffic and Transport Philip Broeksma, “with more space for greenery, socialising, and for cyclists and pedestrians. Additional space for walking and biking will enhance safety and enjoyment. There will be space to socialize and play. Green spaces too, for the sake of the climate and biodiversity.

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“In short: more space for the people who live and work here. The aim is to ensure that Groningen remains a vibrant municipality with a dynamic economy and a rich social and cultural life, making the entire region a great place to live and work. Groningen is the healthiest city in the Netherlands and we want to keep it that way.”

Despite its notable achievements, Groningen is still dissatisfied with the number of cars on its streets, according to the urban mobility plan, and the city is not afraid to take on car owners.

“Until now, the car has been the main decision-making priority,” said Broeksma, “the quality of public space will be the priority from now on. Cars, in particular, take up a lot of public space, whether they are moving or stationary. This is at the expense of the space required to create a pleasant and healthy living environment.

“In Groningen, we have already dared to lower the priority status of cars on several occasions. Therefore, when it comes to an attractive living environment, we are ahead of other cities.

“With this vision, we are sure to take the next step. The quality of public space is now our priority and guiding principle, and it is no longer space for cars”.

The PLANS include reducing the maximum speed for motor vehicle traffic to 30 km/h on almost all roads within built-up areas, as well as reducing the number of cars parked on the streets.

By 2030 to 2035, fossil fuel vehicles will no longer be able to enter the city center.

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“To ease the transition from fossil fuel to electric transportation, we are installing charging stations and have committed to installing a sufficient number of hydrogen filling stations. We are also embracing the rise of shared mobility such as shared bikes, scooters, and cars. These are sustainable, environmentally friendly and also save space,” said Broeksma.

Bicycles near the University of Groningen
Bicycles near the University of Groningen

One of the world’s most beloved cities, Paris is getting ruthless when it comes to car congestion on its streets.

With a number of low emission zones already restricting heavier, more polluting vehicles from entering Paris, the city is getting tougher in 2024.

Paris deputy mayor Dan Vert told European affairs media network EurActiv that the city has been following a policy of reducing the number of cars in the city for 20 years, and that poor air quality is an important factor in decision making.

Diesel vehicles will be phased out by 2024 and gasoline vehicles by 2030, it said.

That means almost 227,000 diesel cars in two years, he added.

“Our goal is to reduce the role of cars in the city and promote all forms of active mobility. And we are talking, therefore, about policies related to cycling, car sharing, etc., which allow us to be on the right track in terms of reducing pollution.

“Again, the theme is the reduction of the role of cars in the city. And the figures prove us right: the quality of the air in Paris and the Parisian agglomeration has improved considerably”.

Families at the lowest socioeconomic levels will receive financial assistance in the transition, he said.

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Public bicycles at Kent Station, Cork.  Image: Larry Cummins
Public bicycles at Kent Station, Cork. Image: Larry Cummins

“There are already financial aid for individuals and professionals, in addition to aid from the State and the Metropolis. The Paris City Council grants a financial aid of €400 for the purchase of a new bicycle with or without electrical assistance and €600 for a cargo bicycle. For professionals, it can go up to €9,000 for the purchase of an electric, hydrogen or CNG truck of more than 3.5 tons.

“In any case, the truth is that we are asking the State to go much further in supporting low-income households in the Île-de-France, the metropolitan area and Paris itself, to enable this transition towards less polluting vehicles. . and promote smooth, active mobility,” Vert said.

The goal is to make Paris a 100% bike-friendly city by 2026, according to Mr. Vert.

“The bicycle plan represents a budget of 250 million euros for the city in 2026. Our objective is quite simple, it is to promote the use of the bicycle in Paris on all the streets. This means that we will continue to build new cycle paths.

“We have already reached 1,000 km of bike paths, so it is a very important effort. And we want to add 180km of new safe roads. It also means providing more parking spaces for bicycles: our goal is 130,000 new spaces in Paris.”