AGORA – Urban mobility: car-free cities?
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Urban mobility: car-free cities?

The matter of mobility is crucial in urban projects. In a context of ecological transition, AGORA is working on the major urban issues of tomorrow through the Belval project. A quick look at mobility, with Thomas Rau, Director of Urban Planning and Infrastructure.

What are the issues for urban mobility within the Belval quarter?

"The project was born in 2001 and at that time the subject of mobility was already very important," declares Thomas Rau immediately. There was real demand from the municipalities concerned to reduce private transport. Their fears were that the project would generate so much traffic that the quarter would not be able to absorb it. “So we have developed an innovative mobility concept: the modal split," he explains. Its objective? To limit car use.

What is modal split?

Modal split is the distribution of use modes of transport. "In Belval, we're aiming for 60% private transport as opposed to 40% public transport," says the town planner. It should be noted that in Luxembourg, in 2017, 69% of journeys were made by car. AGORA's objective is therefore comparatively ambitious, while at the same time moving towards a national policy geared towards more sustainable and pleasanter cities. "The government wants to promote cycling, particularly through the use of good quality cycle paths nationwide," he stresses.

What role does modal split play in Belval?

"We have established a two-pronged concept, which has guided our entire mobility project:

  • A high-quality provision that motivates people to take public transport,
  • Limiting access to car parks.”

The aim is, on the one hand, to encourage the use of public transport as much as possible and, on the other, to discourage users from systematically taking their cars. To achieve this, the working group has adopted several measures:

  • Placing bus stops within 300 metres of each other,
  • Increasing train frequency (every 15 minutes),
  • Offering bus routes for everyone, coming from a distance for cross-border commuters,
  • Restricting parking spaces, even for company car parks.

"Until all transport services are available, we have set up temporary car parks to guarantee access to the site and not penalise users," says the town planner.

Which modes of transport are favoured to replace the car in Belval?

"The idea was to offer a wide and varied range of modes of transport. These would include trains, buses, cycle lanes, fast trams and cars," he states. The means of travel are thus numerous but also frequent. Convenient cycle paths have been laid out on major routes, while Vël'Ok stations offer self-service bikes. From the station, the train line connects the site directly to Luxembourg City. A charging point also allows electric car users to recharge their vehicles.

In your opinion, do you think people will actually shift away from cars to use them?

"Users will weigh up the pros and cons, they will choose the most attractive option: the one that will take them the least time and cost the least. If they have a really attractive transport option, they will choose it," the town planner confidently assures.

How does this improve the quality of life?

"If you reduce the number of cars, the atmosphere is more relaxed," he says. There is less noise and the air is more breathable". Residents are pleased with the lack of traffic jams, although some regret not having access to more parking spaces. "What you lose in parking, you gain in quality of life in cleaner, healthier, more sustainable cities."

What are the inspiring cities in terms of mobility in your opinion?

“Copenhagen! Many people use bikes to get around on a daily basis, even in winter when it’s cold. They don't even think about it. It is a widely adopted mode of transport. In Amsterdam, too, the provision of cycle paths has always been favoured, the city centre is not developed for cars," he explains. The bike seems to be the most virtuous means of transport, especially since it is now possible to travel longer distances thanks to electric models.

Does your study of the mobility of the Belval quarter make you think differently about other projects, such as the one in Esch-Schifflange?

"Yes, especially since mentalities have evolved in the meantime. For the Esch-Schifflange site, we conducted a workshop with four design offices, each of which developed its own project. We had set the promotion of soft mobility as a top priority. By the way, the winning project was from a Danish office, which came up with a car-free concept," declares Thomas Rau. Of course, there are road accesses to the site, but they lead to car parks on the outskirts. The rest is done on foot!

In your opinion, what are the avenues for new, more sustainable mobilities?

In your opinion, what are the avenues for new, more sustainable mobilities?
"I think it would be interesting to create more shared spaces, i.e. traffic spaces for everyone: cars, pedestrians, bikes. Each user then has the same rights, there is no clear separation according to modes of travel." As this type of development calls on collective intelligence, it allows us to avoid wasting space by multiplying the number of lanes, even though they are not all used at the same time. Taking a short break and looking up, Thomas Rau is happy to imagine the digitisation of transport services, making it possible to no longer own a car. If public transport is easy, connected and widely available, and you can rent a car in a click for one-off trips, why continue to use cars?

According to Thomas Rau, it is primarily the supply of transport that will encourage users to favour public transport. The challenge of sustainable mobility is to create a coherent concept between different modes of transport that leaves choice. This is a major challenge for Luxembourg, half of whose workers are cross-border commuters who travel tens of kilometres to work every day.

Urban gardens, smart cities, eco-neighbourhoods or temporary occupation of urban space, Through the voice of experts, "Tell me more! " is a series that explores new trends.

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