Let’s move (and make things happen)!

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

Starting the year with a thematic newsletter on mobility may seem odd considering that all of Europe is in the grip of lockdown. No, we are not being ironic here and the idea is not to increase even more the longing we have to get away. It is more a matter of analysing the urban mobility challenges that we will have to face once the health crisis is over, with carbon neutrality rather than large expanses of wilderness on the horizon (although both are not necessarily mutually exclusive!).

An excellent article by Manel Ferri Tomàs, in charge of mobility at the Barcelona Climate Agency, perfectly sums up the evolution in urban transport. First, he reminds us that pollution in urban areas is responsible for 400,000 premature deaths per year in Europe. Any comparison with the current pandemic would be vain, but these invisible deaths are clearly an obstacle to public action.

This article also reminds us that, in proportion, manufacturing 1 million cars creates 1.6 jobs whereas 3 times as many jobs are needed to manufacture bicycles! And that reducing car speed in urban areas has many positive side effects, in addition to reducing pollutant emissions.  

It is the same as with housing retrofitting:  there are only positive side effects, it makes sense from an economic point of view, it creates jobs and our comfort is improved… Yet we appear unable to change gear.

Why is that?

I do not claim to have the answer, but here are two avenues we intend to investigate with our member cities.

We need to give meaning to our action and mobilise stakeholders. Let’s take the example of building retrofitting. It is one of the 7 flagship initiatives of the national recovery plans set up to deploy the 672.5 billion euro European Recovery and Resiliency Facility. And guess what this initiative has been called? “RENOVATE”! Do you find that appealing? Now, if I were offered the opportunity to wean my heating system off its dependency on fossil fuels, to create “zero fossil fuel” or even “zero gas” homes and leave the gas to those sectors which really need it, then at least I would know where I was heading! Both as a user and a citizen. Because I would be able to associate this goal with a common agenda.

We need deep institutional changes to analyse the interrelations and understand the interactions. Asking the municipal department in charge of roadways to anticipate the end of roads is possible but will not necessarily be successful. And when cities or society as a whole have been designed for cars, permeating every facet of town planning, tourism and our collective imagination, the problem is not simply one of removing X number of parking spaces. Manel Ferri Tomás mentions the French law that requires large companies to develop a mobility plan for their employees: the mobility policy must involve new players. Companies which used to ask for public infrastructure to be able to operate are now part of the public transport policy.

This year, for our health, we choose mobility!



Claire Roumet

Publication date

January 20, 2021