Transport is key to city living

SLOWLY but, hopefully, surely the message is hitting home that there are better ways of getting around cities than by car, bus or train.

Many cities in Europe are changing, according to a new report which points to rapid changes in urban transport in some areas. While cycling is becoming the norm in some urban areas — though not yet in Ireland — traditional modes of transport are still major contributors to air pollution and noise, the report says.

There’s been an obvious increase in the number of bikes in Irish cities and towns and Cork is the latest city to approve a bike-sharing scheme of the type reported to be working successfully in Dublin.

Upwards of 300 bikes will be available for rent at approximately 31 stations in Cork and the City Council has to be commended for deciding to proceed with the initiative. Similar schemes have also been agreed for Limerick and Galway. The system is flexible and is a great way of getting through the streets without much hindrance and is also probably speedier than the internal combustion engine.

To make a city truly bike-friendly and safer for two-wheelers, however, cycle lanes are needed and we’re still light years away from what’s available in that regard in cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Urban transport has a marked effect on quality of life for the three-quarters of people living in cities. Road transport is a major source of air pollution in cities, leading to a high proportion of the population being exposed to pollutants above EU and World Health Organisation standards, reveals the latest European Environment Agency (EEA) report. The seriousness of this was underlined in October when the UN classified outdoor air pollution as a cause of cancer.

Traffic noise is also a key health issue in many cities, while quality of life is also affected by commute times — not surprising when you consider many people can travel more than an hour to work, according to a 75-city survey.

Many cities have successfully improved the urban environment by addressing two sides of the issue — encouraging people to switch to the bike and public transport, while restricting car use at the same time. Despite initial opposition, such schemes often become popular with residents, the report notes.

As Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: “City life does not have to mean polluted air, congestion, noise and long travelling times. New ideas in urban transport are transforming many cities into more pleasant, healthy places to live.”

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