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Citizens help invent the mobility of the future


Cities are increasingly soliciting public opinion on how to improve transport systems.

The implementation of effective mobility strategies will be an important challenge for cities in the years ahead. The goal is to develop environmentally responsible, time-efficient transport solutions for towns and their inhabitants, particularly in the face of growing population pressure due to the massive rise in tourism.

Madrid – peaceful coexistence between motorists, pedestrians and cyclists

The urgency of the situation has prompted some cities to turn directly to residents for advice in developing mobility plans. In Madrid, where Mayor Manuela Carmena has initiated an ongoing public engagement process, residents were asked to submit ideas for improving transport in the Spanish capital. One of the major projects being undertaken is the remodelling of Gran Vía, one of the city’s main arteries. Begun in March, the 10-month redesign aims to transform the avenue into a friendly place for enjoying city life together. Priority will be given to pedestrians, who will benefit from two to four metres of additional pavement space. A new green area consisting of 248 trees will also be planted, and 33 benches will be installed in the middle of the walkways. The number of traffic lanes will be reduced from six to four, with two lanes in each direction. Bicycle mobility will be enhanced as well. The creation of a segregated bike lane will make it easier for different modes of transport to coexist, while also increasing safety for everyone.

Thanks to the development of collaborative digital platforms, interactive urban models and other technological tools, it’s now easier for citizens to get involved. “Madrid’s residents are committed to co-building their city”, said Pablo Soto, municipal councillor in charge of civic engagement and transparency. “The Madrid 100% Sustainable Development project can’t be approved without their consent.”

Brussels – a smart tax to reduce congestion

Brussels is following a similar path. The city’s Good Move Regional Mobility Plan 2018-2028 is firmly rooted in civic engagement. For three weekends, around 40 Brussels inhabitants – picked randomly from a group of 400 participants – met with experts to formulate the plan. The results were in line with expectations. Hundreds of proposals were submitted, 10 of which were approved by vote. Initiatives include creating long bike lanes, implementing a No Cars Sunday, eliminating urban motorways and introducing a smart kilometre tax. This last initiative is also supported by the Belgian Automobile Federation (FEBIAC). The smart tax would introduce a variable kilometre charge based on travel time and location. It could replace the country’s road tax. According to a FEBIAC press release, “It’s not a tax on vehicle ownership but a tax on vehicle usage, based on use and time. The federation claims that the tax would cut traffic by 5% to 10% during rush hour and reduce bottlenecks by 40%. Congestion is one of the residents’ main grievances.

Medellín – the former capital of crime becomes a model of public consultation

Public participation in creating innovative urban solutions is clearly the key to effective urban management policy. Medellín, Colombia is a case in point. Once famous for being the home of a violent drug cartel, Medellín is today the epitome of vibrant, smart-city living. Medellín’s transformation into an attractive urban centre took place over a period of about 15 years, according to the organisers of the Cities for Life platform. Residents were involved in the transition, said project manager Manuela Valencia: “The local platform seeks to promote citizen innovation and improve dialogue between the government and the people.” She also gave the following words of advice: “Political talk isn’t enough. You need to go out into the field, even if it’s much more time-consuming.” It was particularly important to consult with the locals during construction of the Metrocable, the cable car linking disadvantaged neighbourhoods to the city centre. The public was encouraged to follow the work’s progress and to share their opinions about the new cable lines. Thanks to the Civica metro card, city residents have access to all the different modes of public transport. “This has reduced congestion, one of our city’s main problems,” added Ms. Valencia.

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