Each year from 16 to 22 September, more than 2.000 European towns and cities sign up for European Mobility Week, an annual campaign on sustainable urban mobility financed and supported by the European Commission - DG ENV. Although political commitment at the local level is an essential requirement to join the initiative, the success of EMW really depends on the enthusiasm of thousands of citizens that get involved in a range of public events, such as bicycle masses, car free days, walk-to-school initiatives and many other public activities promoting sustainable and active travel.
Why is it that so many people get inspired and motivated by the topic of urban mobility? One of the main reasons is that nowadays, the majority of Europeans live in urban areas, and all of us want to move around in an efficient, affordable and comfortable manner. At the same time, we also dream of living in a place with lots of parks and green space, where children can play safely, where the air is clean, where you can walk to do your shopping and where businesses can prosper.
In reality however, many towns and cities are still designed to accommodate car traffic, which increasingly results in congested streets, bad air quality, road accidents and noise. Although cleaner cars and smarter telematics resolve some of these issues, they do not change the fact that our car-dependent life style and lack of public space affect our health and our personal well-being.
In order to counter these problems, the European Commission has put several policies in place to support a transition to more sustainable and liveable cities. These policies not only deal with technology and infrastructure, they also underline the importance of awareness-raising, citizen’s engagement and people-focused planning processes. An initiative like European Mobility Week – originally established in 2002 as an environmental campaign – therefore has a crucial role to play when it comes to creating a ‘new mobility culture’.
Although the thematic focus of the campaign changes from year to year – the 2013 edition will highlight the need for better air quality - the key message remains the same: as European citizens, we can only improve our quality of life if we become more flexible in the way we travel, for example by combining walking, cycling, public transport, car sharing and car pooling instead of taking the car for short distance trips. We can also try to avoid travelling by choosing to work from home on a regular basis. European Mobility Week therefore offers an excellent opportunity for local authorities to improve and promote alternatives to individual car use, and for citizens to experiment with the way they travel.
The success of the campaign can be mainly attributed to the involvement of civil society. Together with local administrations, they translate the Mobility Week message into a diverse range of positive, creative and fun activities that attract the interest of the media and the general public. Without the active support from NGOs, public institutions, parents, teachers, schoolchildren, students, employers, commuters, shop owners, local residents and city dwellers of all kind, the campaign would surely have a much smaller impact. This is one of the reasons why cities that want to apply for the annual ‘European Mobility Week Award’ have to be able to demonstrate how they involve citizens and stakeholders.
Thanks to social media, European Mobility Week continues to gain visibility and influence, as Facebook, Twitter and other virtual platforms allow campaigners from towns and cities all over Europe to connect and share their ideas, success stories and experiences. Since June of this year, European Mobility Week is also reinforced by a new EU initiative called ‘Do the Right Mix’, which aims to support the promotion of multimodal travel by setting up a virtual platform for campaigners from all over Europe and by offering financial support to selected initiatives and target countries. Undeniably, European towns and cities have huge challenges ahead, but when it comes to making urban transport more sustainable and efficient, they can rely on thousands of motivated citizens to help create a new urban mobility culture.