The EU cities champion cycling

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

With an abundance of public spaces, cycling routes, and all-round high quality of life, it would be easy to imagine a smug self-satisfied Groningen would be happy to rest on its laurels, having achieved so much.

Yet, the Dutch city still strives relentlessly to improve, with ambitions 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, included Groningen among its Best 20 Small Cities in the World in 2020: “Groningen is developing as one of the most vibrant and livable cities in Northern Europe… Groningen is a bicycle city par excellence: 60% of all trips are made on two wheels… With the decision to remove cars from the centre, Groningen will become one of the most vibrant and livable cities in Northern Europe.”

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

It’s sustainable urban mobility plan calls for a further ramping up of infrastructure, especially for those who wish to walk in the city.

Bicycle parking in Groningen.
Bicycle parking in Groningen.

“Groningen will soon look very different,” said vice-mayor for traffic and transport, Philip Broeksma, “with more space for greenery, socialising, and for cyclists and pedestrians. The extra space for walking and biking will enhance safety and enjoyment. There will be space for socializing and playing. Green space too, for the sake of the climate and biodiversity.

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

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

“In Groningen, we’ve already dared to diminish the priority status of cars on a number of occasions. When it comes to an appealing living environment, therefore, we are ahead of other cities.

“With this vision, we are confident about taking the next step. The quality of public space is now our priority and guiding principle – and no longer space for cars.”

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

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

“To facilitate the transition from fossil fuel to electric transport, 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, motor scooters and cars. These are sustainable, environmentally friendly and save space into the bargain,” Mr Broeksma said.

Bicycles near Groningen University
Bicycles near Groningen University

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

With a number of low-emission zones already restricting heavy polluting vehicles from entry into Paris, the city is tightening up in 2024.

Deputy mayor of Paris, Dan Vert, told the European affairs media network EurActiv that the city has been pursuing a policy of reducing the number of cars in the city for 20 years, with poor air quality a major factor in decision-making.

Diesel vehicles will be phased out by 2024 and petrol vehicles by 2030, he said.

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

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

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

Families in the lower socio-economic brackets will be assisted financially in the transition, he said.

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

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

“In any case, what is certain is that we are asking the State to go much further in supporting low-income households in Île-de-France, in the Metropolitan area, and in Paris itself, to enable this transition to less polluting vehicles and to promote soft and active mobility,” Mr 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 €250m for the city by 2026. Our objective is quite simple, it is to encourage the use of bicycles in Paris on all roads. This means that we will continue to build new cycling paths.

“We have already reached 1,000km of cycling paths, so it’s a very important effort. And we want to add 180km of new safe paths. It also means providing more parking spots for bikes – our goal is 130,000 new spots in Paris.”

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