What are the current challenges and opportunities faced by urban mobility expansion, definitions of sustainable mobility, and why it is so important – such were the focal themes discussed during a Local Development Forum seminar.

The 24th online seminar organised as part of the Local Development Forum Programme was titled “Sustainable Urban Mobility as an Urban Development Factor”, and broadcast from the town of Pleszew. For the past two years, Pleszew’s municipal authorities have been implementing a compact urban concept to make the town cohesive and optimal, with easy-to-cover distances between a public authority and local library, a shop and outpatient clinic, a school and pizza parlour, work and home. Mayor of Pleszew Arkadiusz Ptak addressed seminar attendants with comments concerning the concept of compact towns – so-called 15-minute towns – in sustainable urban mobility concept.

Crowded streets, insufficient traffic safety, noise and air pollution – such are the issues contemporary cities and towns suffer of. Sustainable mobility is one of the answers. Core transport-related urban challenges include activities targeting change in local community behaviour in terms of transportation choices, expressed as a sustainable approach to issues of mobility and transport planning in urban areas.

“We intend to reduce our environmental impact by any means possible – this is what we mean when speaking of sustainable mobility,” said Michał Wolański, Ph.D., of the Warsaw School of Economics during the meeting. He showcased two factors pivotal to whether local residents choose public transport. Firstly, road development: the larger the number of roads built the more likely we are to drive cars. In view of the above, each local authority should ask themselves the following focal question: how much should we invest in roads vs. public transport? The other factor of influence over transport-related behaviours in cities, towns and rural municipalities involves public transportation “shrinkage”, as proven i.a. by data pointing to reduced mileage covered by public buses over the past 14 years. The correlation could not be clearer: the higher the public bus mileage, the higher the number of passengers.

“Ties to suburban and rural areas are of paramount importance to small and medium-sized towns,” said doctor Wolański. “This is where we have been observing a distinct public transport retreat. Young people driving twenty-year-old cars to secondary schools – such is the image of the Polish automotive sector outside large cities, resulting among others from such areas having been excluded from public transport grids.”

The vast share of 26% of Polish bailiwicks is not reachable by any form of public transport. A huge number of locations is covered by primary school bus service only, petering out after 04:00 p.m. on weekdays and non-existent on weekends. While – as duly emphasised by local government officials – public transport funding remains the real issue, doctor Wolański recommends reducing passenger car road investments in favour of greater public transport assistance.

Electromobility in Polish Municipalities Report conclusions were presented during the meeting. As many as 2,177 municipalities taking part in the survey admitted to an absence of electromobility development strategies. Only 53 municipalities had drafted such documents. Over the years 2017-2020, 1,970 analysed municipalities had taken no action and 260 municipalities had taken some form of action to develop electromobility. Forty-six percent of municipalities, for example, had organised education campaigns to improve electromobility-related awareness in local communities.

Seminar participants were introduced to Lower Silesian voivodship electromobility-related experience, and case studies of compact town concept implementation, operating integrated communication and transport centres in country capitals, and action taken by county-and-municipal administrative units to develop public transport in functional areas.

It is noteworthy that the series of seminars is delivered as part of the “Local Development”
Programme implemented by the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy within the framework of the 3rd edition of Norway and European Economic Area Grants. The Local Development Forum is an open platform introduced by the Association of Polish Cities for purposes of debates with contributions from local governments, the central government and experts, combined with an integrated activity package designed to promote attitudes and tools supporting sustainable and endogenic local development.